Light reds, whites best for summertime refreshment

What wine are you drinking this summer?

With temperatures in the Grand Valley soaring and early forecasts calling for near triple-digit temperatures, the heavyweight reds are going to stay cool and comfortable in the basement.

That doesn’t mean, however, there isn’t something for those whose prefer red wines. There are plenty of lighter reds that go well with summer fare.

Zinfandels and pinot noirs, for example, are great for the barbecue season. Both are a bit spicy, with plenty of juicy, red fruit flavors and even a little smoke to go with whatever’s cooking on the ‘cue.

Merlot, still one of America’s favorite red wines in spite of that movie, is making something of a comeback as California producers have cut back on mass production and instead are focusing on proper planting sites.

The result is a better wine with dark fruits (think blackberry and blueberry), herbs and enough spice to handle that barbecue sauce.

Other choices include American syrah (or shiraz, for the Australian version), Spanish tempranillo and Italian dolcetto.

Surprise yourself and your guests by serving these a bit chilled. There’s no heresy to adding an ice cube or two to a red wine. It’s rather common, in fact, in many other countries.

If you’ve ever summered in Italy or France, you’ll remember how in the heat of July and August the caf&233;s and bistros start adding a little chill to the vino rosso.

This pulls double duty: They complement the light summer meal and it refreshes you.

You also can put the wines in the refrigerator 20 minutes or so before serving.

Truly, though, summer is the time for white wines and chilled ros&233;s.

A great summer white, in my opinion, is one with low alcohol, so it doesn’t make you want a nap after one glass, and enough palate-cleansing acidity to prepare your mouth for another bite.

Sauvignon blancs and rieslings dominate the landscape around my house with a bit of an international feel to the selections.

Chilean sauvignon blancs, particularly those from the cooler areas of the Leyda and Casablanca valleys, are among the favorites.

These areas are northwest of Santiago and much closer to the Pacific Ocean (most of narrow Chile isn’t very far from the Pacific, but some of these vineyards are within 2 miles), which means the intense Chilean sun is moderated by coastal breezes.

This gives the ripe grapes wonderful flavors along with the vibrant acidity to go well with a wide range of food.

A word of caution: Sauvignon blancs can be decidedly different from country to country. It can show a surprising range of flavors, from fresh-cut grass to melons, apples and figs, or even a green vegetable flavor (think asparagus).

This is a response to the geology and the microclimate where the grape is grown, something often referred to as terroir.

Perhaps the real chameleon among white wines in terms of response to terroir is riesling.

“Rieslings are absolutely transparent,” said restaurateur and sommelier Paul Grieco at a riesling seminar in Aspen earlier this summer. “It gives absolute voice to its terroir.”

The comments about sauvignon blanc may be repeated nearly verbatim for rieslings.

Look for low alcohol and enough crisp acidity to balance its sweetness, which can range from dry to sweet.

Generally – very generally – rieslings may be labeled dry (“trocken” in German), off-dry (semi-sweet, also “halbtrocken”), or sweet.

Delicious rieslings are available from Germany, France, the United States, Australia and even Tasmania.

Western Colorado, with its near-perfect combination of hot days (for ripening fruit) and cool nights (for retaining acidity), makes excellent rieslings.

One of the best is Carlson Vineyards’ 2009 Riesling ($12.45 at the winery), which this spring won double gold at the prestigious Eastern International Wine Competition in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

His Laughing Cat 2009 Gewurztraminer won a silver medal at the same competition.

The Eastern is where Carlson’s 2004 Riesling won the World Riesling Cup, besting rieslings from around the world for the title.

Winemaker Parker Carlson said he made his 2009 from all Mesa County grapes, most of which he grows on a couple of acres of near his winery on 35 Road.

If the popular 2004 vintage was any example, this latest award-winner should sell out before autumn arrives.

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