Spring is here, and it’s time to start shifting from heavy winter red wines and Ports to light, refreshing white wines that would reflect the seasons crisp breezes, green lawns, budding flowers, and sunny days as well as its rainy ones.
But, how do you break away from the same old, tried-and-true, go-to wines? One way is to make a pact with yourself to try at least one new grape varietal each month. Or revisit wines you have not sampled in a long time.
Personally, as soon as the weather warms up I slowly wean myself away from big and hearty dark reds to fabulous Rosé.
A current favorite everyday Rosé is Chateau Routas Rouvière Rosé from Provence. A blend of 55% Cinsault, 23% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, it boasts a beautiful deep rose color and a wonderfully floral nose. The mouth feel and body are outstanding due to the skin contact used during the fermentation process (which also provides the great color). Super juicy berry taste coupled with great acidity balance this wine perfectly. A natural for a bacon-infused risotto or grilled fish with an herb rub.
Another favorite is Pedroncelli’s Dry Rose of Zinfandel. Pedroncelli is a fourth-generation California winemaker, and the family takes great care with what it does—supplying quality wine at good prices—and this wine is no exception. This Rosé is a terrific choice because it’s got some heft, as it’s made with 100% Zinfandel, yet it’s fun and fruity and easy drinking all the same. It is dry and crisp, with some minerality. It has a slight floral nose, heightened by aromas of just-picked strawberries followed by a sort of savory, herby element. Juicy berry flavors of red raspberry, currant and plum with a hint of watermelon are highlighted in this crisp, enjoyable wine. Chill this (especially this summer) and drink it on its own or with any summer food—burgers and barbecued chicken, roast chicken or grilled salmon, it’s perfect.
Of course, my first wine choice for this article was Sauvignon Blanc. There’s something innately Spring-like in the herbaceous aromas and zingy acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. Dry and crisp, with a herbaceous, grassy nose and flavors of citrus, vanilla, and melon can complement almost any warm weather menu.
Sauvignon Blanc is grown in many wine areas of the world. Interestingly, its grassy, herbaceous, and crisp characteristics are almost always present regardless of where it is grown. (The name “Sauvignon” is derived from the French “sauvage” meaning “wild.” Say Sauvignon Blanc to many a wine lover, and New Zealand or the Loire’s Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé come to mind.
In France, the grape is aromatic and fresh in the Sancerres and Pouilly Fumes of the Loire Valley. Pouilly-Fume is the firmer, drier and more elegant of the two and Sancerre is a little more fruity. A favoriet Sancerre is Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Chateau du Nozay 2010. Chateau du Nozay is one of the most storied properties in Sancerre. Pascal Jolivet is the sole producer of this domaine. grapes a distinct characteristic of smoothness and elegance. This single estate wine combines softness, roundness, generosity and mellow exotic fruit. Due to its great aptitude for ageing, the wines of Nozay will only improve with time.
Sauvignon Blanc is also grown in Bordeaux, where it is often blended with Semillon. An inexpensive choice would be Mayne Sansac, Bordeaux, which is a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Semillon and 25% Muscadelle. It has all the elegance and finesse of the best wines from the most famous vineyards in the world. It is the perfect expression of the best soil and premium varieties of Bordeaux.t is obvious that this wine has been extremely well made and aged. Brilliant color, fruity, floral bouquet and excellent balance on the palate. Starts out crisp and fresh. This full-bodied white wine has a brilliant color, a fruity, floral bouquet and excellent balance on the palate.
Sauvignon Blanc wine is perfect for just sipping by itself on the deck and Chile and New Zealand offer plenty of great value wines. Look for Marlborough on the label of Kiwi wines and the Casablanca Valley on Chilean wines. These are the most respected regions.
If you’re ever craving a strong, acidic wine with some serious backbone, give Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011 a try. With intense passion fruit and gooseberry fruit characters, this wine is a classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is dry and crisp acid full of lime, grapefruit, and underlying rich tropical fruit flavors that lead to a sharp and fruity finish. (About $17)
From Casablanca, Chile there is Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc 2010 This wine also has intense grassy and citrusy notes on the nose. The palate is juicy, crisp and zesty, with flavors of fresh lettuce, lime, grapefruit and green herbs leading to pure flavors of nectarine and white peach. It has a light and delicate finish. (About $9.99)
you fancy a change from the Sauvignon norm, sniff out a bottle of Assyrtiko (a-SEER-ti-ko) from the Greek Island of Santorini (Around $16). Banish all thoughts of evil Retsina and open your mind to the zesty, mineral intensity that the Assyrtiko grape produces on Santorini’s volcanic soils. Racing, even austere in its minerality when young, Assyrtiko gains secondary flavors and aromas that lean towards petrol, paraffin, and other phenolics over time. Santo Wines Santorini Assyrtiko White is light gold in the glass, with aromas of lemon zest, wet stones, and hints of baked apples. In the mouth the wine is zingy and bright with lemon pith and super juicy acidity. Notes of wet chalkboard linger in the finish. Bright and crisp and quite refreshing, in a way that belies its 15% alcohol. This is always a good one to taste blind and to play “guess the country”.
Feelin’ groovy with Grüner Veltliner.
This is a white grape primarily grown in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Grüner, GV or Groovie, as wine lovers call it, is made in both dry and sweet styles. It features lemon-lime and peach flavors joined with occasional notes of white pepper and vegetal tastes, such as green beans and celery root.
Grüner’s signature is a spicy, peppery nose, and its high-acid and refreshing flavors will knock your socks off with asparagus, artichokes, vegetable dishes and vinaigrettes on salads. Or drink it by itself, as it’s nowhere as heavy as Chardonnay and has a tad more personality than Sauvignon Blanc.
Laurenz V. und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner This is ultra-refreshing with zesty lemon-lime flavors, along with notes of green beans and delicate white pepper. With the high acid in the wine, you’ll find a perfect food partner for fish, veggies, pastas and most appetizers. The grapes for the Singing Grüner come predominantly from the Kremstal area of lower Austria with a portion of the grapes coming from the Weinviertel region. The first sip of this dry, light to medium bodied white yields apple, peach and citrus flavors along with a typical Veltliner spiciness and, most notably, hints of white pepper. The soft and juicy palate is supported by fine acidity.
A soave little wine: Soave
In years past my experience with Soave was a tart-lemon dry wine with a bitter almond taste that was just wretched. Today, this lovely, lively dry white wine is made from Garganega grape (at least 70 percent in the wine), plus Trebbiano di Soave and Nestrano grapes grown in the Veneto region and province of Verona in northern Italy. Soaves are generally light-bodied and straw-colored with flavors of pear, lemon and green apple; notes of floral; and a hint of almond.
Allegrini Soave 2010 , Veneto, Italy (About $16.99) has soft aromas of wild flowers, pink grapefruit and lime. It is supple and elegant on the palate, with light minerality and an aromatic finish that suggests good ageing potential. This is a smooth and graceful wine, releasing a sensation of freshness and persistent aromatic notes. Ideal as an aperitif wine, this bright, straw yellow wine pairs well with raw fish dishes, tempura, sushi and sashimi, as well as spicy and sweet and sour dishes typical of Asian cuisine. Try this with an antipasto platter, a big bowl of mussels in white wine sauce, grilled seafood and shellfish. The best way to appear suave is to drink Soave.
Now for a grape you will surely want to add it to your list of regular wines: Riesling. No, it’s not all sweet; in fact, most of the Riesling produced in Germany is dry, and most of this dry Riesling is kept in the country for the citizens’ consumption. I absolutely adore German and Alsatian Rieslings for their bracingly high acidity; slate and mineral notes; and flavors of peaches, green apple, sweet pear, apricot and lemon-lime. Dry Riesling is the most food-friendly style of wine found anywhere…and the best value.
Often German Rieslings can have a touch of sweetness, even at QbA level, and pair well with spicy food. But more and more, dry German Riesling, known as Trocken, Kabinett Trocken or Spätlese Trocken versus just plain Kabinett or Spätlese, which are off-dry (slightly sweet) styles. Sweet Rieslings work beautifully with rich foods, such as foie gras, or spicy foods, but they don’t work with every food item on a restaurant’s dinner menu like dry Rieslings do. Dry Rieslings even have enough body to hold up to beef in the scheme of food and wine pairing.
Hugel’s “Classic” Riesling 2010 comes from Alsace. Etienne Hugel is one of Alsace’s most renowned producers. Zesty, refreshing, full-bodied and loaded with flavors of apples and pears, this dry, elegant, fresh wine is lively, frank and refreshingly quaffable, ideal for all those who appreciate classic Riesling. You will love the fruit character of green apple, white peach, citrus, grapefruit and spring blossom agains the limestone, slate and minerals background. The wine is jam-packed with minerality, rich with ripe fruit and has searingly high acid. Think of this white wine as your squeeze of lemon over broiled fish. It’s perfect as an aperitif, with oysters, seafood, smoked fish and cheese. (About $21)
A less expensive and sweeter option is Fünf 5 Riesling “Sassy White” (About $8). Fünf 5 Riesling is a deliciously sweet white that always proves to be a crowd pleaser. Light, crisp and refreshing with a fruity, green apple taste, this bottle is great for spring time outside.
Gewürztraminer (geh-vertz-tram-eener) is under-rated, it’s partly to do with the tricky pronunciation of the grape. But don’t let that put you off because these can be sublime, especially from Alsace. They can be very floral and tropical, smelling of roses and exotic fruits, and usually full-bodied and heady.
Hugel’s “Classic” Gewürztraminer 2010 is a tangy white wine with apricot and spice notes. The aromas are floral—think honeysuckle, rose, and orange blossom—with a hint of the oriental. The flavors follow with orange blossom, tangerine, lychee and hint of pear. On the palate, the wine is dry, yet rich, fine and elegant, with excellent balance. It’s perfect for warmer weather and pairs beautifully with food (about $21)
Pinot Grigio from Italy will usually run you less than $20 a bottle and these are easy drinking wines. They mainly come from the cooler reaches of northern Italy, in Trentino Alto Adidge and Friuli. They are dry, light to medium in body and always marked by crisp refreshing acidity. Try them with scallops and crab cakes, or simply on their own. Pinot Gris from Alsace, France, tends to be full-bodied and unctuous, full of spice notes and peach and apricot flavors; Northern Italian Pinot Grigios are bright, light and zippy, with white peach or nectarine flavors and tingly acidity. New World versions are essentially divided into these two styles, and the wines tend to be labeled Gris or Grigio accordingly.
One New world Version to try is Bethel Heights Pinot Gris. This Pinot Gris is dry, with a strong citrus backbone. There are fruit forward citrus aromas of Meyer lemons, mandarin, and lime blossom. The palate showcases a refreshing focused core of citrus fruits over bright acidity, carrying the wine to a long finish. This wine exhibits grace and it’s perfect for warmer weather.
What about reds?
Very light reds, like Beaujolais, which work really well slightly chilled, are all about Summer drinking, but Pinot Noir is a supremely flexible grape which can suit many different foods and occasions. Pinot Noir’s low tannin and softly spicy fruit are the keys to its adaptability—it’s great with or without food, and is light-bodied enough to match up to warming weather.
A Pinot that recently came into my glass is Astrolabe Pinot Noir, from Marlborough, New Zealand and it’s is certainly worth a try. It’s a bright medium red offering up inviting red currant, raspberry and spice aromas on the nose. It is sweet and plush, but with a firm shape to its red berry and cinnamon flavors. There is a light dusting of tannins and persistent fruity finish (About $20).
For a fun summer red, try Pedroncelli Friends.Red it is a lovely red table wine to share with friends and family. A proprietary blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah and Sangiovese, this red shows soft, rounded and tasty fruit notes. Black cherry and vanilla aromas are followed firm plum and toasty oak flavors that lead to an enjoyable finish. This is a graceful and well-balanced wine, that will pair beautifully with braised lamb shanks, seared salmon with balsamic sauce, barbeque chicken, couscous salads or simply your favorite appetizer.
The list could go on, given the multitude of other varietals that are available, and more importantly, enjoyable, but we’ll leave the rest for another time. So, whether cooking at home or visiting a local restaurant, try some adventure by ordering wine a little off the beaten path. It may be a home run.