SUMMIT, NJ - Nothing pairs with a summertime dinner or barbecue quite like a cocktail. As the weather warms up, more people find that dark red wines and cold-weather spirits are a little too heavy when the sun is bearing down.
Fortunately, the increasing popularity of light wines means it's easier than ever to find just the right beverage for your summer festivities, whether it's a quiet patio dinner for two or a full-blown Fourth of July party.
Ivan Ruiz, owner of The Wine List of Summit, says he always reaches for lighter wines in the summer, like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir or a Riesling. His current favorite is an Argentinean white wine called Torrontes, which has apricot and peach notes.
"It's very floral on the nose and very dry on the palate," Ruiz said. If you can't bear to shelve your beloved red wines until the fall, he suggests reaching for a Rosé or a Beaujolais, a light-bodied red wine from France. These wines are particularly nice when chilled.
"You want to stay away from the dark red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Zinfandels during the summer," Ruiz said. "They are way too heavy for hot days.”
You can never go wrong with a Rosé, he said, even if all you're having is hotdogs.
Mixed drinks are also popular during the warmer months, and Ruiz said the Wine List has been selling more spirits than ever. Vodka, tequila and gin are big sellers, particularly when mixed with fresh-squeezed fruit juices. There will be mixologists on hand at the Summit Wine & Food Festival this fall to show how easy - and healthy - it is to make your own juice, which Ruiz said can also be done by children who want to make their own soda.
The Wine List has experts on hand to help you find just the right beverage for your meal. And if you don't have time to prepare a meal, you're in luck. Ruiz said his store is soon going to be partnering with Paolo's Kitchen of New Providence to offer healthy, “heat and eat” meals to go.
Ruiz admits he wasn't sold on the idea at first as he doesn't like frozen food. But the way Paolo's prepares the freshest foods before freezing makes all the difference and now Ruiz swears that once the frozen meals are heated, you can't tell they're not fresh.
"So if you're in a hurry, you worked late, you don't have time to cook, stop by here for a 'heat and eat' meal and a bottle of wine, and you're set," he said.
Now... let's talk about beer.
Ruiz admits that not everyone likes wine or mixed drinks during the summer, and for those people, The Wine List offers an extensive selection of beer, including the craft beers that have put so many regional microbreweries on the beer drinkers' map.
Beer expert Neil Rodriguez can answer most any beer-related question and direct you to just what you're looking for, whether it's a classic pilsner or a fruit-infused brew.
"In the old days, especially in this area, 'beer' almost always meant Ballantine, Schafer or Rheingold," Rodriguez said. "But Americans have begun to reconsider what good beer is all about. It's true that Americans are drinking more wine now, but beer still reigns supreme."
In the summer in particular, beer aficionados reach for lighter brews, like wheat beers, which Rodriguez said are very popular. Many small brewers are rediscovering the flavoring agents of the past, such as citrus and even rose petals.
“Belgian beer styles, for example, feature a broad variety of flavors and more adventurous west coast brewers have ventured into 'uber-hopped' beers that really push the envelope with regards to hop-bitterness and alcohol," he explained.
Thirsty yet? The Wine List of Summit is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon until 5 p.m. on Sundays. They're located at 417 Springfield Avenue and at www.winelistsummit.com