When the temperature hovers in the mid-90s, I usually lean toward well-chilled whites and roses, but by August, I'm starting to crave a little more variety. I want something red—something on the lighter side of the flavor spectrum. Carbonic maceration is a process in which whole uncrushed clusters of grapes begin fermentation under a controlled environment that excludes oxygen. Carbon dioxide gas blankets the grapes that, over several days, begin to convert sugar to alcohol while losing about half of their harsh malic acid. The result is a wine with very soft tannins, bright acidity and enticingly fresh fruit flavors. Best served slightly chilled, it's the perfect formula for a summer red. Here are three of my favorites:
2006 J. Lohr Wildflower Valdiguie, $9.99
Valdiguie was once thought to be the gamay noir grape of Beaujolais. Turns out to be a rather obscure variety from southwest France instead. No matter what the origin, it's a remarkably versatile and refreshing red that works great as an aperitif and goes wonderfully with a wide range of summer foods. Fifteen percent carbonic maceration helps to lighten things up. Bright cherry and soft plum on the nose with blackberry, plum and sweet cranberry in the mouth. Light tannins and crisp acidity help make this a great summer red.
2005 Luberri, $8.99
This blend from Rioja is primarily tempranillo with about five percent white viura grapes added to the mix. Fermentation is 100 percent carbonic maceration in stainless steel (no oak). The resulting wine is best described as fresh and fruity with smooth cherry and plum aromas backed by hints of chocolate and licorice. Very fruit forward with creamy cherry and berry flavors, soft tannins and a long crisp finish. Serve it at cellar temperature (around 55 to 60 degrees).
2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir, Whole Cluster, $18.99
Food-friendly pinot noir, with its style and grace, stands as one of my favorite year-round reds. This Willamette Valley wine is the most elegantly structured and best balanced of this group. Whole cluster carbonic maceration makes for remarkably fresh fruit flavors with soft but persistent acidity. Floral strawberry, juicy cherry and subtle spice dominate both the aroma and flavor profile. The finish is soft and supple with good length. At its best lightly chilled.