Looking for a great summer wine, but not quite sure where to begin?
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (search) food and wine connoisseur Ted Allen (search) wants to do for would-be wine drinkers what his show has done for sartorially confused guy's guys: Help make sense of what seems to be a too-sophisticated, too-complicated world.
“Wine is a very confusing product to a lot of people,” Allen told FOXNews.com at a tasting event last week in Long Island, N.Y. “The industry has been scaring people for centuries and still does. I enjoy the opportunity to turn people on to it.”
At the tasting, held to mark the launch of winemaker Robert Mondavi (search)'s Private Selections Web site Discover Wine! and the start of Allen's role as spokesman for Mondavi Private Selections, the "Queer Eye" star and other experts provided some insider insight into the season's chic wines.
But with summer officially beginning Tuesday and the warmer weather already here, some wine drinkers think Pinot Grigio (search), a white wine, is more fitting for picnics and barbecues in the sun.
“Pinot Grigio is probably the biggest summer wine right now if you look across the country,” said Andrea Smalling, a marketing director for Robert Mondavi. “It’s very, very light, it’s got a lot of that melon fruit that works so well sitting by the pool when it’s chilled and it’s super simple to drink — really approachable without being overly sweet,” she added.
As for the "Sideways"-favored Pinot Noir, supply is having a tough time keeping up with demand, said Smalling — especially in California.
Luckily for wine lovers, there are other stylish reds, whites and even pinks to choose from this season. Rosés (search), for instance, will likely be gracing more patios and outdoor cafés this year.
“Rosés have come back in a big way,” Allen said. “They’re great for a barbecue — Spanish or American rosés.”
And by rosés, Allen and other experts aren’t talking about the old White Zinfandel standbys.
“I am seeing a lot of rosés on restaurant menus,” said Barb Stuckey, executive vice president at Mattson & Co., a product development firm for the food and beverage industry. “Americans tend to be afraid of pink wines because in the past they’ve always meant sticky sweet White Zinfandel, but now there are a lot of sophisticated pinks closer in drinking quality and flavor to reds.”
But, she added, they’re lighter and more refreshing for summer than a tannin-heavy, peppery red like a Shiraz, Syrah or Red Zinfandel. (Tannins are the astringent substances found in the skins, stems and seeds of grapes and in some oak barrels that can make a wine drinker sleepy or cause a sour stomach.)
For a classy wine to match a snazzy warm-weather meal, Allen recommends a Cabernet Franc (search), which he says is softer than other reds.
“Cabernet Franc is an incredibly elegant red,” he said.
Beaujolais (search) is also a perfect wine in the sunshine and balmy air, because it is light, fruity and versatile.
“Beaujolais is really sexy and flirty,” said Allen.
Among other whites making a splash at the beach and by the pool, Sauvignon Blanc (search) and Riesling (search) have been gaining ground because both are clean-but-complex wines that pair nicely with food.
“In city centers, Sauvignon Blanc is going through a little bit of a rebirth because it’s got the crisp flavors, and they go really well with all the light summer foods you have,” Smalling said. “It’s really for people who find Pinot Grigio a little too light. Sauvignon Blanc is a little more interesting.”
Allen suggests drinking a dry Sauvignon Blanc, called a Fumé Blanc (search), with fish or chicken.
In fact, the trend in white wines has been veering toward the crisper kinds and away from the oaky, buttery Chardonnays that often overpower food.
“Chardonnay is tougher to pair with food,” said Smalling. “It’s a beautiful wine, but it has that oaky vanilla and it’s just not as light.”
"Bubbly wines and champagnes don't have to be saved for special occasions," she said. "They're great for sitting outside in the sun and sipping."
Whether they're choosing to complement barbecued burgers, chicken and franks or a picnic of salad, cheeses and fruits, Americans seem to be gravitating more and more toward wine — slowly but surely.
But Allen thinks latching onto fleeting fads in wine or food is a mistake, since there are so many good choices out there that transcend hipness.
“Trends irritate me,” said Allen. “Fashions change so quickly in food and wine. What’s chic is making your own damn discoveries. It’s not about what some trendy movie is telling you to drink.”