The sun is shining, and the idea of summer entertaining and weekend get-togethers are still a hot topic for many a wine drinker. We all know nothing suits late summer like fresh produce: garden tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, and watermelon dripping down your chin on the back porch,
For the past few years, oaky Chardonnays have been taking a backseat to trendier, unoaked versions, which I personally happen to prefer. Some aficionados argue that this is happening because American tastes are changing, but, the argument could be made that the change could driven by cost—the production of oak barrels and subsequent aging in them is expensive, and this could be a method for wineries to cut costs.
Some winemakers have resorted to inserting oak staves or oak chips, while others have used a “dusting” of oak in the Chardonnay to impart the creamier textures and buttery nuances that oaky style Chardonnay lovers prefer. Whatever the case, it is sometimes better to avoid oaky Chardonnays under $10. Many a Baby Boomer still loves oaky Chardonnays, but the Millennials seem to prefer sleeker, racier Chardonnays with little or no butter or barrel flavors. This burgeoning popularity of unoaked white wines seems to be igniting a larger trend toward aromatic varieties.
So, when it comes to wine, nothing screams summer to me quite like a super aromatic white gem with high acidity like a Riesling, Muscadet, Verdejo or Falanghina. These wines pair well with a wide range of food and are usually affordable. With these off-the-beaten-track wines, you’ll be able to expose your guests to a wine they may never have tried, making it an occasion they will always remember.
If you want a wine with high acidity, start with Riesling. Riesling is juicy, light to medium in body, refreshing and lower in alcohol. Its tangy acidity makes it a perfect accompaniment for all occasions— enjoy it before dinner, as an aperitif or with a meal. Today most German Rieslings are made in a dry style—bone dry—with bracing acidity. With German Rieslings, it is easy to identify which ones the driest, look for the German word: “trocken.” Other terms indicating drier versions of Riesling are halbtrocken (“half dry”) and the unofficial but widely used “feinherb”, meaning “fine dry.”
One bottle I always reach for when I’m looking for a fun label is Selbach Riesling Dry Fish Label 2012 from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. It has the classic aromas of orange blossoms, peaches and mangoes blended with a whiff of ripe strawberries. The bright and fresh flavors of tart green-apple, a bit of apricot and peach are met with steely acidity. The finish is dry and long, offering just the right balance between sweet and tart.
Another German region known for good Riesling is the Rheingau and Josef Leitz Rudesheimer Riesling Trocken 2012 is a well-rounded, fruity and fresh mouthful. This medium-to-almost-full-bodied wine offers good acidity, appealing lemony fruit, tart pear and a nice minerally balance from the pure slate soils. It has a solid fruity/minerally finish.
If you’d like something a little less aromatic, try Muscadet. I love Muscadet. Light-bodied, mineral-edged and made with the white Melon de Bourgogne grape, Muscadet is an amazing food-pairing wine. The Muscadet appellation, mostly south of the city of Nantes on France’s Atlantic coast, is one of the largest in the country; the proximity to the sea moderates the region’s summer temperatures, making the wines lighter and lower in alcohol than those produced inland. Where in the rest of the Loire the dominant white grape is Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet relies on the obscure Melon de Bourgogne.
Lean and acidic from France’s Loire Valley, it’s known for glorious pairings with oysters, but it often pairs just as gloriously with ribs, fried chicken and barbecue. Muscadet works well with spicy foods like those loaded with cayenne pepper because of its non-fruit characteristics: refreshing, citrusy acidity and lower alcohol level. Higher alcohol wines intensify spiciness. Plus, the wine’s flinty notes seemed to intensify smokiness of barbecue and the grill. Keep the bottle nicely chilled, and you’ll find many a match made in heaven.
Two to try are: Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2011 and Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet de Sevre-Et-Maine Sur Lie Selection Vieilles Vignes 2011.
Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2011. This small, family-owned estate located in the village of Muscadet has been organically farmed since 1999 and in 2002, was awarded official certification by ECOCERT. Scents of white blossoms and apple along with saline and herbal aromas are characteristic of Muscadet. The electric acidity makes it incredibly fresh and crisp with a lime and briny, mineral-laden flavor profile.
Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet de Sevre-Et-Maine Sur Lie Selection Vieilles Vignes 2011. From a large estate founded sometime in the 14th century, this light-bodied, lime-scented, wine is crisp and balanced. It also offers a creamier mouth feel than standard Muscadet as a result of extended lees contact. There are subtle apple and citrus aromas followed by a gentle hint of white pepper and a slight salinity. The flavors are a minerally blend of apple and lime that take this food friendly wine clear through the dry finish.
Probably one of the best values for a great white warm weather wine is one of Spain’s most often ignored wines: Verdejo. At its best Verdejo combines richness, freshness and lovely acidity while delivering almond-scented wines that offer a fine blend of near tropical orchard fruits with a fresh zesty edge. This is they type of crisp white I often crave, not only in summer but year-round, for its body and rich flavor. Verdejo makes a terrific food wine. Its citrusy notes and aroma—very similar to Sauvignon Blanc—pair particularly well with salads and grilled foods and it’s a must try for Sauvignon Blanc fans looking for something new.
One thing to note is that Verdejo can vary in style depending on designation. If it is simply labeled “Rueda” it must contain 50 percent Verdejo, and it is typically blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Macabeo, giving it a lighter-bodied and refreshing characteristic. It is fresh, smooth and floral, with a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
If the wine is labeled “Rueda Verdejo” it must contain a minimum of 85 percent Verdejo, but it’s usually 100 percent Verdejo. These wines offer great aromatics and elegant fruity aromas with hints of anisette and fennel. The primary characteristics are fruitiness with a bitter touch. These are dry wines with a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent. Both styles have a soft waxy texture on the palate and are often fuller-bodied. What food you’re pairing it with will determine which style you choose for your menu.
Bodegas Protos Rueda 2009 is made from 100% Verdejo. Fresh and appealing, the wine is fragrant with tart, lemony, green apples, touches of fennel and fresh cut grass aromas. There is a distinctly mineral quality on the tongue followed by a pleasant lemon-lime underlay that provide a slightly bitter almond aftertaste. Dry and lively acidity gives added freshness to this full-bodied and well-structured white. Serve with grilled shrimp, fried haddock, fried chicken.
Bodegas Y Vinedos Shaya Verdejo Shaya 2011. Named for Shaya deer that are native to the vineyards in Rueda, Spain, this value-priced Rueda has the typical tropical touches of pineapple and slightly green aromas we seek. Exotic aromas of mango, melon and gooseberry touched with a “grapefruit zest” are followed by the riper, aromas of baking spices, spring flowers, peach and minerals. The flavors tease the taste-buds first with grapefruit, a touch of peach, some tropical fruit followed by spice flavors with a bit of stony minerality. There is a creaminess to the texture, vibrant acidity, and intense flavors that lead to a lengthy, fruit-filled finish and slightly bitter finish.
You may be familiar with Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo from Campania, Italy, but there is a third white grape varietal from Campania: Falanghina. Although I enjoy both Fiano and Greco, this medium-bodied wine offers such a fresh, clean, dry taste, great acidity, and a long and floral finish. It’s almost like it was made for summer weather–the typical flavor profile is ripe fruit in the peach/lemon/pineapple realm with good acidity—more ripe and “tropical” than many wines from Friuli and Alto-Adige regions.
Cantine del Taburno Falanghina 2011 comes from the D.O.C. Taburno zone of Campania in Southern Italy. This refreshingly crisp wine sees no oak and shows citrus notes of lemon and lime, with green apple and almond tones adding complexity. Aromas of white blossoms, peach, melon and citrus are followed by more stone fruit on the palate, with apricots, almond flavors, tart apple, lemon rind, a touch of honey and a stony minerality. It is well-rounded and has great acidity and a long, clean finish. Serve well-chilled as an aperitif or with mussels, antipasto, fish, shellfish, roasted vegetables, lemon roasted chicken, pork and a variety of Italian dishes.
Capolino Perlingieri Sannio Falanghina Preta 2010. This easygoing wine is a lean, compact expression of Falanghina, opening with bright citrusy lemon, pear and kiwi aromas with the slightest a hint of banana. The flavors are full of sweet tropical fruit, peach, lemon and banana, but there is a lot of fresh focused acidity and it delivers a classy minerality on the surprisingly long finish.
There you have it, eight fun, whites to coolly sip through to the end of summer, and a perfect fit for lighter and transitional dishes this time of year. Just remember these food-pairing, aperitif wines skip desserts, sweetness is always a problem for these high-acid whites, as it makes them taste thin and aggressively sharp and not much fun at all.