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30 May 2022

7 expert tips on choosing the best wine for summer celebrations

How to pick wines that match the mood – and your food
Drinking glasses of wine outside in summer

If you’re planning a long-overdue reunion, summer party, or celebrating the upcoming Platinum Jubilee, we've got the inside track on picking the best wine for the occasion.

We've gathered tips from wine experts Helen McGinn, Peter McCombie and Sam Caporn, who judged our 2022 summer wine taste test.

Whether you’re looking for advice on choosing a wine to match your spread or tips on low-alcohol alternatives, our experts have you covered.

They also blind-tasted 29 supermarket wines as part of our independent tests to uncover the best bottles to buy this summer. 

Discover which wines they recommend, and what food they go with, in our guides to the best sparkling wine, best red wine, and best rosé wine, and read on for tips on choosing a bottle to match your bash.

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1. Highlight your headline flavours 

Glass of wine with summer salad

If you're choosing a wine to serve with food, matching the main ingredients in your dish can help the flavours to really sing.

It also creates balance, thereby avoiding any one flavour dominating the other. For example, heavy, slow-cooked dishes or sticky barbecue food pair best with a rich wine, while fish goes better with lighter wines.

For food that's big on savoury umami flavours (oily fish, for example), opt for a low-tannin wine such as pinot noir, as high-tannin wines don't work well with umami.

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2. Don’t rule out a darker rosé

Glasses of rose wine

Rosé wine is beginning to be taken more seriously by winemakers and our experts said they've noticed a step up in quality, although some can still be a little dull and lacking in flavour. 

When you choose a rosé, you may think that a deeper shade of pink means you’re getting a sweeter flavour, but according to our experts, that’s not necessarily the case. 

A darker colour generally indicates that the wine has had a longer contact with red-grape skins, which translates to a more intense flavour. If you usually stick with a pale rosé, it could be worth branching out.

3. Consider alternatives to low-alcohol wine 

Glasses of sangria

Alcohol plays an important role in wine, holding the structure together and carrying flavour, so alcohol-free wines can be a disappointing substitute. 

If you're cutting back on booze, try mixing wine with soft drinks instead to lower your alcohol consumption. 

Make up a jug of fruity sangria with red wine, lemonade and fresh fruit, or top up a glass of wine with soda water for a simple, refreshing spritz. 

If you're going fully alcohol-free, you might want to consider alternatives such as tonic water or kombucha, which have warmth and edge without being too sickly.

For more, see the best low and no-alcohol alternatives to wine.

4. What grows together, goes together

Italian vineyard

A simple rule of thumb for picking a bottle to go with your meal is to stick to the same region – for example, if you’re cooking an Italian dish, pair it with an Italian wine. 

If you’re unsure which region to pick, Italian wines can be a good all-round option as they tend to be high in tannins and acidity, which means they pair well with most types of food (except high-umami dishes). 

The A-Z of wine pairings - expert tips on the best wine pairings for your favourite foods

5. Serve spicy food with fruity wines 

Drinking wine with curry

Choosing a wine to go with spicy food can be a challenge, as chilli heat affects the trigeminal nerve, making flavours sharper, which causes alcohol to taste stronger. 

If you're dialling up the heat in your dish, our experts recommend choosing a fruity, less acidic wine. Refreshing, unoaked white wines such as chablis typically make a good pairing for spicy food.

6. Don’t dismiss cheaper wines

Buying bottle of wine

You may think that spending more is the best way to guarantee a great-tasting bottle, but our taste tests show you don't need to splash out to get an excellent wine – and there are some brilliant bargain bottles around. 

Our tests uncovered cheap and cheerful wines from supermarkets including Aldi, Iceland and Lidl that beat pricier options, despite costing as little as £6 per bottle. Equally, some premium bottles proved disappointing.

See our roundup of the best cheap supermarket food and drink to find out where to bag the best-value supermarket staples including baked beans, orange juice and peanut butter.

7. Pair your pud with pink prosecco

Eton mess

While salt is a friend to wine when it comes to food pairings, choosing a dessert wine can be more difficult.

Desserts go best with a sweet wine – ideally one that’s sweeter than the food. For light, fruity summer puddings such as berries or Eton mess, our experts suggest a pink prosecco, rounding off celebrations with a bit of bubble to add to the sense of occasion.

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