Madison is moving towards its most seductive time of year, when the lakes glisten and the sun hangs in a languid sky. Early summer is the time for al fresco dining, whether at Concerts on the Square, a lakeshore lunch, or a backyard barbeque.

Selecting wines for these situations can be tricky. Typically, these meals are informal, with lots of different components, so they don’t lend themselves to one-on-one pairings. It’s hot, so you don’t want anything too heavy-bodied or high in alcohol, or your guests will be settling in for a nap on the picnic blanket. Plus, tasting outside generally makes appreciating nuances of aroma and taste more difficult. These months call for what the French call vins de soif, or thirst-quenching wines that are tasty and refreshing but do not necessarily invite contemplation. So save your ’71 Barolo for cold weather. Reach for these three thirst-quenchers now.

There is no better match for warm weather than Txakolina wines from the Basque region in northern Spain. They are unlike any other wine, ultra-light-bodied with notes of tart citrus rind and an almost saline finish. Made from the hondarrabi zuri grape, these wines have a prickly acidity that jolts the palate. This, combined with their low alcohol content, makes them thirst-quenching and refreshing. Look for Artomaña Xarmant Arabako Txakolina ($17). It has all of the citrus rind flavors and minerality that is emblematic of the region’s wines, and it also conveniently comes in cans ($7 per 250mL) as well as bottles.

If your conception of the ideal picnic is something like a Seurat painting, a Muscadet is an appropriate choice. The appellation’s trademark minerality is a great accompaniment to summer snacks or a sunset on the lake, and Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu 2020 ($15) is no exception. Made from 100 percent melon de bourgogne grapes, like all wines from Muscadet, this bottle comes from the Côtes de Grandlieu sub-region. Established in 1994, this area is notable for its early ripening and the minimum seven-year age of its vines. These contribute to this wine’s beautiful complexity, with aromas of lemon blossom and a citrus finish.

Just because the weather is warm does not mean that all red wines need to be mothballed with the winter coats. Sfera Rosso ($20 per 1L) is a great example of a charming red wine for summer. This bottling is a project of wine importer PortoVino in which they collaborate with organic wineries to produce refreshing, light-bodied, low-alcohol red wines. Although the exact grapes and regions change from release to release, they are consistently delicious with tart, juicy red fruit. Don’t be afraid to put it in the refrigerator or cooler for a bit. Lighter bodied red wines like this are incredibly refreshing when served with a slight chill on a hot day. 

Bob Hemauer consults with the Tornado Steak House on its wine selections.

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