I can't remember a time when there were as many refreshingly drinkable reds for summer as there are today. I don't think it's just my own taste that's changed but I am increasingly attracted in summer to red wines that are light to medium in body, that have little or no oak, and that, lightly chilled, are wonderfully refreshing. These are wines that don't leave you feeling that you've been dealt a right hook of oak, an uppercut of tannin and then a knock-out blow of high alcohol levels.
The New World deserves a share of the responsibility for a loss of interest in the pleasures that used to come with France's lighter reds such as Beaujolais and the Loire's Chinon, Saumur and Bourgeuil. Beaujolais shot itself in the foot by twisting the gluggy gamay grape out of all recognition, and Italy didn't exactly cover itself with glory when it came to valpolicella and bardolino. Yet, so much has changed for the better and today we can look once again to the refreshing qualities of the gamay grape of Beaujolais or cabernet franc from the Loire, to the juiciness of local Italian reds and to the charm of New World pinot noir.
The mouthwateringly fresh and vibrantly pure fruit quality of Gianni Voerzio's 2007 Dolcetto, £14.25, Lay & Wheeler (0845 330 1855), with its undertones of black cherry and dark chocolate, is irresistibly seductive and beautifully balanced; equally Vincho-Vaglio's fresh, ripe dark berryish 'I Tre Vescovi' Barbera, £7.99, Waitrose. Same goes for the summer puddingy 2008 Morellino di Scansano, £12.95, Lea & Sandeman (020-7244 0522). For something a little more unusual, yet lightly spicy and peppery, the Verduno Pelaverga, Fratelli Alessandria, Piedmont, £13.25, Berry Bros & Rudd (0800 2802440), is a distinctive, charming summery red made from the obscure pelaverga grape.
The Loire is home to the cabernet franc grape and its deliciously herbal, vivid qualities are beautifully encapsulated in the 2007 Saumur Champigny from Château de Targé, £9.99, buy 2 = £7.99, Majestic, a wine whose vibrant cherry fruit makes it the perfect picnic red. A tad more serious with a sweet-red-fruits quality tinged with capsicum, the 2008 Saumur-Champigny Tuffe, from Château de Hureau, £11.43, bottle/case, Haynes, Hanson & Clark summer offer (01451 870808), is classic and beautifully balanced. The Languedoc can do this too, even if the slightly more rustic qualities of the 2008 Domaine Les Yeuses Cuvée Le Sirius Rouge, £6.99, buy 2 = £5.99, Majestic, is better suited to barbecues.
I'm in no rush to return to Beaujolais, having devoted a recent piece to its renaissance, other than to mention the succulent 2008 Beaujolais Villages I tasted recently from Domaine Rochette, £10.75, Lea & Sandeman, £9.75 bottle/case. No cornucopia of summer reds would be complete without the class of New World pinot noir, of which I have two current favourites, one from Chile, the other, New Zealand. From Chile, the opulent rhubarb and red-berry-fruits flavoured 2008 Viña Leyda Cahuil Pinot Noir, £14.99, Waitrose wine direct, is full of savoury-fresh acidity. From New Zealand, once again, the excellent Craggy Range comes up trumps with the 2008 Craggy Range Zebra Vineyard Pinot Noir, Central Otago, £17.49, Majestic, a fragrant pinot noir that's irresistible.