The same year Victoria James could legally drink at age twenty-one, she was certified as a sommelier—America’s youngest. James grew up in Maryland and Virginia, and her fascinating rise through the ranks of restaurants to helm the beverage program at the Michelin-starred Cote in New York City is a fascinating and inspiring story (this spring she released a commanding memoir, Wine Girl). We asked the sommelier for her top wine picks right now, with one extra element swirled in: Which wines are Southerners sure to love this summer? James shared a white, two chilled reds, and two rosés heavy on story and charm, but light and playful on the palate.
When a friend suggested James try this Virginia wine, she was skeptical. “Many are packed with chemicals in order to combat the humid, rot-friendly climate,” she says. Then she sipped Early Mountain Vineyards’ rosé, a onetime Made in the South Awards honoree based in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “I was pleasantly surprised. This wine comes from good elevation and allows for a really clean expression of the grapes—a dry, crisp, mineral-driven wine that is incredibly versatile.”
“During the summer, I am a huge fan of chilled red wines, and this one is available at one of my favorite wine shops, 3 Parks Wine Shop in Atlanta,” James says. In picking up a bottle there, you’ll “support this incredible Black-owned business, and women-owned wineries (like Martha’s!), plus also drink delicious juice.”
“A crushable red that can be served chilled, this is a light summer wine that goes with everything,” James says. And it comes with a Southern story. “The owners of this Santa Maria property in California are originally from Louisiana where they had a family farm on a peninsula that was ‘almost an island,’ or ‘presqu’île.’ After Hurricane Katrina, they moved to California and named this winery as an homage to their roots.”
“This unique wine is a favorite of mine and other wine aficionados, such as Bianca Sanon, who is the general manager and sommelier at the popular Miami eatery Boia de Bianca,” James says, and adds that the “creamy, textural white from Provence” cuts through the heat of a late summer supper.
Domaine de Marquiliani Rosé
“This rosé from Corsica, the ‘island of beauty,’ will give you a bit of wanderlust,” James says—perfect for times like these, when travel is out of the question for a lot of folks. “Many wines that come from islands have great salinity, freshness, and are usually made from fascinating indigenous grapes not seen elsewhere. The talented winemaker and owner, Anne Amalric, creates wines that have been described as ‘like drinking a cloud.’”