What defines the start of summer for you? A date on a calendar? Memorial Day weekend? The first day of your children's summer break? The first two sunny days in a row in Seattle?
Whatever it might be, now is the time to begin preparing for a lot more casual dining, and that means affordable wines.
The Northwest is loaded with reds that come in at $20 and under -- a price point that isn't too painful for a Wednesday night. Easy-drinking summer reds generally will go well with any number of dishes, from pizzas, burgers and pasta to grilled steaks and barbecued ribs, along with such sides as potato salad, grilled veggies and corn on the cob.
Want to save even more money on your wine? Buy by the case, and most wineries, wine shops and even groceries will tack on a 10 percent discount (be sure to ask).
Meanwhile, here are 10 reds priced for everyday enjoyment.
Boomtown 2010 Syrah, Washington, $16: Boomtown is a value label for Dusted Valley Vintners in Walla Walla and Woodinville, and the wines are widely available throughout the Northwest. This red offers aromas of Ovaltine powder, black pepper, oak spice and blackberry, followed by rich flavors of blueberry taffy, chocolate-covered espresso beans and ripe plum.
Washington Hills 2011 Syrah, Washington, $10: Here's a tasty red with aromas of black currant, blackberry jam, red plum and spice, followed by rich flavors of black cherry, walnut and blackberry.
Erath Winery 2010 Pinot Noir, Oregon, $19: This is one of the most abundant and widely distributed Pinot Noirs made in Oregon. It opens with aromas of white strawberry, white pepper, cherry and black truffle. On the palate, it provides flavors of cranberry, raspberry and red plum. It's all backed with bright acidity and mild tannins.
Farm Boy 2010 Bunk House Red, Columbia Valley, $16: This red blend includes Tempranillo, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvédrè and opens with aromas of plum, bacon, blackberry and blueberry. On the palate, it gives way to ripe flavors of boysenberry, plum, raspberry and dark cherry.
Desert Wind Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Wahluke Slope, $18: Here is an affordable Cab that gives up aromas of plum, clove, cinnamon bark and dark chocolate and flavors of cocoa powder, red raspberry and ripe plum.
Columbia Crest 2009 Grand Estates Amitage, Columbia Valley, $12: This Merlot-based blend opens with aromas of slate, mint, white chocolate and blackberry jam, followed by flavors of Marionberry syrup, plum and blueberry.
Wind Rose Cellars 2010 Bravo Rosso, Washington, $20: This is a blend of Barbera, Dolcetto, Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo from a winery in Sequim. It provides aromas of horehound candy, chocolate, dark berry and spice, followed by flavors of black licorice, blackberry, red currant and pomegranate.
Sawtooth Winery 2011 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $14: This opens with aromas of black currant, candy, white pepper, plum sauce and oak, followed by flavors of blackberry jam, ripe boysenberry and dark chocolate.
Primarius 2011 Pinot Noir, Oregon, $15: Finding a high-quality, inexpensive Oregon Pinot Noir can turn into a bit of a quest, but we can always count on Seattle-based Precept Wine to come through. It opens with aromas of ripe raspberry, strawberry-rhubarb jam and violet. On the palate, it offers flavors of cherry, peach, raspberry and ginger.
Roller Girl 2010 Jammer Red, Walla Walla Valley, $19: Looking for a red wine with an attitude? This second label from SuLei Cellars in Walla Walla should do the trick. It presents aromas of alder smoke, pomegranate and milk chocolate, followed by flavors of plum, oak and something that reminded us of sizzling ham. It has great structure backing all the flavor and should pair well with grilled steak, meatloaf or ribs.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company.