Sara Sparks has been intrigued by wine since she was of legal drinking age. While attending college at the University of Virginia, vineyard trips were a weekend staple in the Monticello AVA—and good local wine was everywhere. A few years later she chose to formally pursue a career in wine while working in NYC restaurants. In honor of National Wine Day, we sat down with Sotheby’s Wine’s fine wine sales lead for New York, Sara Sparks, to pick her brain on exactly what, why, and how you should be drinking this summer.
What wines pair well with lighter summer fair like grilled fish, chicken, and veggies?
The goal is to choose a wine whose flavors won’t overpower those of the dish. White wine or rosé is the go-to for light fare, but don’t limit yourself if you prefer to drink red, even in summer. (I say the same about white wine in winter!) Chill light reds, such as Beaujolais from France or Schiava from Italy, for a fruity and refreshing summer sipper.
What’s your go-to wine to pair with a cheese platter for an informal summer get-together?
Cheese is an easy pairing for any wine, so don’t overthink it if you want to use a bottle already on hand. A simple trick for wine pairing is to think about the origin of the cheese and the type of wine made there. Goat cheese from the Loire Valley, such as Crottin de Chavignol, is divine with a crisp Sancerre. Spanish Manchego, while commonly paired with red from Rioja, is fantastic with Godello or Cava. My advice: don’t overlook white wines, they have a natural affinity for cheese.
For a party of 8 outdoors, how many bottles should you purchase? Should you get a variety of wines or just serve one type?
Depending on the crowd, allot two drinks per person for the first hour, and one drink per person each additional hour. A 750ml bottle yields 5-6 glasses.
When deciding what to serve, consider the food and type of festivity. I like to pair wines based on cuisine and give at least one white and red option. Eliminating choice helps to keep it simple for guests and avoid party mishaps. If you’re showing off new carpet or furnishings, I’d stick to white so an accidental spill doesn’t ruin the day.
For casual gatherings, you can use the opportunity to crowdsource the opinions of your friends. Consider setting up a blind tasting of wines by covering up the labels and seeing which bottle performs best.
Why choose dry rosé? Does it pair well with a certain kind of food?
The word dry is an important tasting descriptor, but one that is limited in scope and often misunderstood. If you’d like to use it, be sure to offer additional descriptors to explain why a wine doesn’t or does appeal to you. If you feel uncertain about what you’re smelling and tasting, make a note of the grape and producer of a wine you do like, and use it later as a point of reference.
What’s the best way to chill wine outdoors so it will be served at the right temperature? Ice bucket? Insulated decanter? Reusable ice cubes?
Reduce, reuse, recycle in any way you see fit. Simple things like positioning your bar inside or in the shade help mitigate outdoor heat. A cooler filled with ice is the surest bet to preserve a chill on your wine. Be sure to secure open bottles with corks or wine stoppers so they don’t become buoys and tip over into the water once the ice melts.
What are the best summer wines for under $20? under $50? under $100?
Under $20 I love to drink white Italian varieties like Vermentino and Gavi. Under $50 I might treat myself to a French rosé from Sancerre or Bandol. With a budget of $100, you’ll find me looking for a bottle of vintage champagne.
What’s the best wine to bring to a summer party as a gift for your hosts?
The best bottle is one your host likes to drink! Everyone’s palate is different; unless you already know what your friend likes, I suggest doing a little research. Make a mental note next time you’re together of the wine she or he orders at a restaurant, or ask a spouse what’s the current house wine. Armed with this intel, head to your favorite wine store and ask the staff for recommendations within your price range.
Are sparkling wines a good choice for summer entertaining, or should you stick to the non-bubbly varieties?
Sparkling is a personal preference, and there are people who don’t like carbonation in general. You likely will ask your guests about food allergies and dietary restrictions; consider adding a question about alcohol if you want to cover your bases. Sparkling wine is festive, delicious, and I like serving it at day-soirées because it feels less intimidating than a full glass of red before noon. Sparkling is also conducive to easy cocktails. Showcase fresh-squeezed fruit juice as a topper for citrusy Spanish Cava, and easily substitute seltzer water for family-friendly mocktails.