Certain flavors embody the sweetness of summer and we crave them throughout the hot months. You need to treat nature’s finest gifts with the respect and care they deserve. That means matching summer meals with the right wines. You can’t just keep pairing California sauvignon blanc with the season’s signature dishes night after night. It’s the best season for eating fresh food and the right wine can unlock flavors you’ll remember all year long.
For guidance on which bottles to reach for, we turned to acclaimed chef James Peterson. Trained in the best kitchens in France, the author of 15 cookbook titles and the winner of seven James Beard Awards, there’s no better guide to matching summer meals with wine than Peterson. Here, he shares his recommendations.
Barbecued Chicken: Sancerre
One of the true hallmark tastes (and scents) of summer is chicken grilling on the barbecue. It always makes a simple, hearty meal which Peterson says shouldn’t be paired with anything too complex. He recommends reaching for a Sancerre that’s “not too intellectual and is eminently quaffable on those warm summer nights.”
Chilled Tomato Soup: Cabernet Franc
Known as a master of soups, Peterson likes using “chopped ultra-ripe yellow tomatoes and that’s it. After chopping them I let them stand for a bit and they tend to just sort of liquify on their own.” Ripe tomatoes are one of summer’s sweetest gifts and a chilled tomato soup lets you enjoy them on a hot day without having to turn on your oven. “Red wine goes better with tomatoes, which are notoriously difficult to match,” Peterson says. “Chinon is a country wine but has lots of complexity.”
Fettuccine with Clams: Muscadet or Chablis
Few foods scream “summer” louder than bivalves. Clams are one of the less expensive options in this category. When steamed and tossed with pasta, butter and parsley, they call for a white wine with a bright profile.“The idea is to have the acidity cut the pasta and butter,” Peterson says. “Bright and acidic Muscadet is underrated. Go for a Chablis if you’re feeling rich.”
Grilled Shrimp Tropical Fruit Salad: Macon Villages
This dish combines fruit of the sea with some of the sweetest fruits found on land for a refreshing protein-rich summer salad. “I like to dice tropical fruits like pineapple and mango and toss them with just-grilled shrimp so the whole dish warms a bit,” Peterson said. “This is an assertive salad and will overpower anything too delicate. A Macon is a great Chardonnay, especially for its normally modest price.”
Panzanella: Bandol Rosé
A Tuscan salad of bright tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, mozzarella cheese and croutons soaked in red wine vinaigrette and topped with fresh herbs takes advantage of the best of the season’s produce and doesn’t require an oven. For this celebration of summer, Peterson pointed to a French rosé known for its red berry notes and bright acidity because it “has enough strength to hold up to the forthright flavors of the Panzanella.”