Spring fever has set in, and I feel the need to get up and out. But no mountain climbing or cross-country bike trips for me. I do my exploring in wine stores.
This is a great season to experience the wide variety of wine from around the world, especially white wines. I’m not one to say whites are to be enjoyed only from Easter to Labor Day, but it is undeniable that the refreshing acidity of many whites makes them ideal for warm weather.
So here’s a suggested itinerary: Start high in the foothills of the Andes in Argentina with torrontes, a spicy, flowery wine that is rapidly becoming the white counterpart to Argentina’s malbec as a signature wine. Crisp and refreshing, it combines the floral attributes of muscat and the spicy notes of Gewurztraminer. Most hail from Mendoza, Argentina’s main wine region, and Santa Julia is a reliable brand. But look especially for those from Salta, an even higher, more remote area farther north where torrontes excels. Colome winery boasts the world’s highest vineyards at 10,000 feet. Its torrontes is widely, and justly, considered Argentina’s best expression of the grape.
The Portuguese know about refreshment, of course, as they sit at sidewalk cafes munching on grilled sardines and linguica sausage while listening to fado music and washing down the experience with vinho verde. Okay, I’ve run out of Portuguese cliches, but vinho verde is an underrated wine that is ideal for hot weather. Fresh, tart and acidic, it is fine by itself and pairs well with garlicky appetizers. It won’t win points for complexity or dominate your conversation. Don’t be put off by a little spritz; that adds to the pure, simple fun.
Do you love seafood salads and grilled fish? Then you should explore albarino, the premier white wine from northwestern Spain. Albarino’s flavor profile resembles that of Riesling, but it is invariably dry. Taboexa is a new label available in this area and a nice value at about $16. Albarino also has become a hit with local vintners; look for offerings from Chrysalis and Willowcroft in Virginia and Black Ankle in Maryland, though they will be pricey.
France’s Rhone Valley is known for its red wines, but its whites are underappreciated. Part of the problem is that they feature some unfamiliar flavors and grapes (when marked on the label, which is rare).
In the southern Rhone, grenache blanc is prominent in the blend. It’s a racy grape that is becoming trendy in California. Farther north, viognier dominates. I’m especially fond of the E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone white, a 50-50 blend of viognier and marsanne. The viognier offers richness and floral notes, while the marsanne tempers the viognier’s lushness and provides structure and minerality.
I also enjoy quirky blends that don’t fit a standard model of what wine should be. The Old World doesn’t blend chardonnay with sauvignon blanc, viognier and Gewurztraminer, but Adam Lee does for his Novy Family Vineyards Four Mile Creek white wine. This is the type of floral, fun, off-dry white that defies any attempt at stereotyping.
And for life’s daily celebrations, such as a minor victory at work or just an easy commute home after a busy weekday, bubbles are in order. My favorite sparkler for this time of year is Spanish cava. It can be a downright bargain, at $8 to $10 for Segura Viudas Reserva, or a mini-splurge of up to about $20 for a more complex version. Juve y Camps Brut Nature Reserva de la Familia 2007 (see the accompanying recommendations) is an excellent example of what Spain can produce in a sparkling wine. At $20, it tastes like a $40 champagne. You could fool your friends, but Spain deserves the recognition.
Whatever you drink this season, don’t rely on the same old stuff. Follow a different path.