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The Wines of Summer 2021

July 07, 2021

Story: Megan Krigbaum

art: PUNCH


The Wines of Summer 2021

July 07, 2021

Story: Megan Krigbaum

art: PUNCH

Nine sommeliers and retailers pick the categories, and wines, that will define this season.

In the summer of 2019, I found my glass often filled with one wine in particular: Ciro Picariello’s fiano di Avellino from the volcanic hills of Campania. It reminded me of the donut peaches I hoard around the same time of year—fragrant, quenching, the stony quality of the wine somehow recalling the fuzzy texture of the peaches themselves. I kept bottles in the fridge and drank it whenever I saw it on wine lists. By the time summer 2020 rolled around, I didn’t have it in me to test out the new-new, so I went right back to Picariello and was happy to have it define that season, too.

Every summer heralds a signature wine, just as it heralds a signature song; certain wines have a way of ruling a restaurant or wine shop or even a whole city for those few months. Eager to know which wines will take hold during a summer with an outsize import placed on freedom, kicking back, socializing, pure release, we reached out to a bunch of wine people from all over to get their predictions for this year’s Wine of Summer.

First, a look back. Maybe unsurprisingly, what goes around just goes around and around and around. In some parts of the country, orange wine was the hit of summer 2019 (“anything amphora,” says Mary Kurth of Spoke Wine Bar in Boston). For others, that season was all bubbles, “mainly pét-nats in the $20 to $30 range and red bubbles from Italy,” says Dominique Henderson of San Francisco’s Gemini Bottle Co. Joe Catalino, now of online retailer What to Drink, concurs. He estimates that he probably sold 10,000 bottles of fizzy Ameztoi txakolina rosé at San Francisco’s Slanted Door in 2019.

For a summer as dizzying and unpredictable as 2020’s, the “anything goes” rule was in full effect. While she moved a lot of aromatic Italian skin-contact wines last year, Henderson says that “every wine seemed to be the wine of summer 2020… With people stuck at home, wine seemed to be their only transport to a faraway place.” Others reported chilled reds (Atlanta), gamay of all sorts (Los Alamos, California), German riesling (San Antonio), cloudy pét-nats (Detroit) and natural wines from Greece (New York City). Each style, it seemed, had its own moment in the sun (no pun intended).

So, what of 2021, the summer of our great rebirth? Here’s what the wine people doing the pouring had to say.


“Technically, it’s not considered wine but it’s [made from byproducts of winemaking], the seeds, stems and skins, which are rehydrated and fermented into a low-alcohol, effervescent, no-fuss juice that’s refreshing.”

Wine to try: Old Westminster Blinded by the Light | $22
“Old Westminster [in Maryland] produces the best representation of this style in the U.S. They understand the necessary components to produce a piquette with character. Blinded by the Light is kombucha-like, citrusy and spritzy.”

—Janeen Jason, VinoTeca, Atlanta 

Playful, High-Acid California Wine

“I’m really looking forward to the négociant projects that are happening out West. And we’ve seen a push for more New World wine. I think that the smaller producers, who mostly don’t own the vines, are really showing us innovation and freshness at an excellent price point. The demand for high-acid, crushable California wine is palpable on our patio. The wines are an homage to the classics but have a playfulness that makes them infinitely pleasing while having fun in the sun.”

Wine to try: Idlewild Flora & Fauna Red 2019 | $24
Sam Bilbro, who comes from a long line of winemakers in Sonoma, makes this aromatically lifted blend of three red Piedmontese varieties: barbera, dolcetto and nebbiolo. The grapes come from the Fox Hill Vineyard in Mendocino, a plot that benefits from a bit of altitude, giving some crunch to this mixed berry basket of a summertime red.

—Mary Kurth, Spoke Wine Bar | Somerville, Massachusetts 

Light Reds and Dark Rosés

“Darker rosés that drink more like red wine and lighter reds that drink like a rosé. The category of Cerasuolo-esque wines seems to be big with producers all over the wine-producing world.”

Wine to try: La Cave Apicole Hobo Red Blend 2020 | $27
“This wine is a blend of syrah and lledoner pelut (a red grape found mainly in the Languedoc-Roussillon of France and in Catalonia, Spain). It has dusty, fresh-picked brambly fruit, violet and white florals all packed into a lean, high-acid package.”

—Dominique Henderson, Gemini Bottle Co. and Ernest | San Francisco

Domestic Orange Wines

“I am enjoying those who are following the ongoing trend of orange wines, like the ones of northeast Italy and Slovenia, but are making them with their own twist. They can be elegant and sophisticated and not always as intense and aggressive.”

Wine to try: Fernweh Kontakt Grenache Blanc 2020 | $28
“From Martian Ranch in Alisos Canyon [in Santa Barbara], this skin-fermented grenache blanc is versatile and perfect for a poolside hang, but also goes well with the summer ingredients we will be using at Bell’s.”

—Emily Blackman, Bell's | Los Alamos, California

Natural Fruit Wine

“Grapes and fruit mixed, co-fermented, unfined, unfiltered and gloriously cloudy on purpose: natural fruit wine. Right now, we are still in the pre-underground phase. Right now, the party is in the ‘those that know’ phase, but soon the pin will get dropped, and everyone is going to be there.”

Wine to try: Moonland Wine Apple & Carignan 2020 | $30
“Moonland is a project from the fantastic people at Vinca Minor [a winery in Berkeley, California]. This rosy, pét nat–style bottling is made from co-fermented organic apples and grapes from Mendocino.”

—Randy Clement, Silverlake Wine, Highland Park Wine and Everson Royce | Los Angeles

Friendly Orange Wine

“Orange wines have been our most successful genre so far [this summer]. With different and approachable expressions coming from Germany, Chile, Australia and California, it’s been easier to guide guests into the style over the more natural and austere examples from Italy and France.” 

Wine to try: Cantina Marilina Sikelè Bianco 2019 | $17
“A 13-hour skin maceration of grecanico from southeastern Sicily. For being an Italian orange wine, it’s extremely approachable for beginner drinkers with aromas of blood oranges, peaches, salty pistachios and a light, bitter finish. For a bit of a splurge, my favorite orange wine of the year has been Sybille Kuntz Organic Orange riesling from the Mosel. It’s riesling with five weeks of skin contact and an enormous amount of complexity.”

—Scott Ota, High Street Wine Co. | San Antonio

German Riesling By the Liter

“Liters tend to be a good value—and an excuse to hang out a little bit longer. The format conveys a casualness, and it helps that many of the best importers have their own liter projects. As for German wine, it’s one of those categories that a lot of industry geeks love but has always had issues getting mainstream traction. But we saw a significant uptick in sales of dry riesling during the pandemic, and our theory is that, once freed from having to pick crowd-pleasing wines and getting to choose something just for themselves, a lot of people reached for terroir-driven German riesling.”

Wine to try: Brand Riesling Feinherb 2020 | $18 (1L)
“The slight amount of residual sugar balances the ripping acid, and it’s so charming that it makes friends everywhere it goes.”

—Jarred Gild, Rose's Fine Food and Wine | Detroit

Chillable Reds

“This summer is all about the chillable reds, and domestically, the quality is through the roof. Chillable reds solve the problem for ‘mostly red’ drinkers when the summer heat gets in the way. And sadly, many winemakers I’ve spoken with in Oregon and California were really spooked by last year’s fire season. Many West Coast winemakers experimented with carbonic maceration, and even co-ferments with other fruits, to dodge the smoke taint. If the fire seasons continue, I think we’ll be seeing even more wines made with more carbonic and less skin contact.”

Wine to try: The Marigny Carbonic Pinot Noir 2020 | $27
“[Winemaker] Andy Young’s Carbonic Pinot Noir is a chillable red I want everyone to drink and to drink with everyone. It’s so gorgeously made… fresh and juicy with just the right amount of mineral savoriness.”

—Joe Catalino, What to Drink | San Francisco

“Non-Binary” Wines

“This is the term we’re using for blended rosés that are often not just red juice with white, but skin-contact white and/or white grapes with pink skin like pinot grigio [blended with red grapes]. These [wines] usually showcase field blends of lesser[-known] or unknown grape varieties. They defy standard categorization, but it seems to be the natural evolution of people’s interest after orange wines.”

Wine to try: Zajc Cviček | $15 (1L)
“This style certainly has a long history, as [evidenced by this] classic and inexpensive example [in a liter format]. But we are seeing a lot of examples from young, adventurous winemakers elsewhere, too, like Maloof Where Ya PJ’s At? [from Oregon’s Willamette Valley] and Podrum Franjo Aubiks [from Croatia’s Istria region].”

—Alexis Percival, Kindred and Ruffian | New York City

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