There are frequent references in wine articles and wine books to "seasonal" wines — wines that are better for summer, fall, winter, or spring. How can a wine be better suited to one season rather than another? What makes one wine more of a "summer wine" but another more of a "winter wine"?
There is no simple formula for wines being seasonal; instead, it's a question of what wines feel like and how a wine pairs not just with food, but also with the surrounding temperature or weather.
Food Pairing & Wine Body
If you are drinking wine with food, a primary consideration in what sorts of wines qualify as "winter wines" or "summer wines" will be how well they pair with the "winter foods" or "summer foods" you are eating. Winter foods tend to be heavier and thicker, have more meat and fat, and tend to "stick to the ribs." This is not the sort of food which a light, acidic white wine is likely to pair well with. Instead, you'll want to eat these winter foods with wines that are themselves heavier and thicker — usually deep, strong reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Zinfandel.
Summer isn't the time for thick stews, but rather for lighter fare: salads, fruity dishes, seafood, and so forth. It wouldn't be appropriate to pair such foods with a heavy Syrah; instead, you'll want to have light and fruity reds and rosés, or light, acidic whites like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc. You'll want a refreshing wine that brings you up, not a heavy wine that feels like it is weighing you down at all.
Another important consideration in what makes a wine a summer wine or a winter wine is the temperature at which the wine is best served. If a wine is best served a little warmer, then it's a better wine to drink during the cold winter months when you probably don't want a cold drink. If a wine is best served colder, then it's a better wine to drink during the hot summer months when a colder drink is more welcome and more refreshing.
Fortunately, this closely matches the differences we find when taking into account wine pairing with good: the wines the go best with heavier winter foods are also best served a little warmer while the wines that pair best with lighter winter foods are also best served a little colder. You don't want a Cabernet Sauvignon that's been chilled as cold as champagne and you don't want a Riesling served at room temperature — especially temperature of a room in the middle of summer!
Another wine temperature factor to keep in mind is that there are wines which are actually meant to be served after they have been heated, not simply served "a little warmer," as in room temperature. Heated wine drinks, which include mulled wine and mead, are traditionally drunk during the cold winter months when hot beverages of all sorts become popular. You don't drink hot chocolate during the middle of summer so of course you're going to find many people drinking hot mulled wine during the summer either.
There is nothing wrong with drinking any "winter" wines during the summer, but here are a few wines which are common to have in colder weather and/or with winter foods:
Characteristics of winter wines:
- Best Served at Room Temperature
There is nothing wrong with drinking any "summer" wines during the winter, but here are a few wines which are common to have during warmer weather and/or with summery foods:
Characteristics of summer wines:
- Best Served Chilled