Is it spring yet?
I don’t choose wine by the calendar. Champagne isn’t just for New Year’s Eve and weddings, hearty reds match steak on the grill as well as winter stews, and port is as delicious on the patio under the summer stars as by the winter fireside.
But is it spring yet?
This recent warm-weather spell has tantalized my palate after February’s big chill. Even before the mercury scratched its way above freezing, I was itching for lighter wines tasting of warmth from the sun rather than heat from a fire.
Rosé, for example. The first of the 2014s are reaching the market, bringing racy freshness and vibrant strawberry fruit. On a recent trip to northern California, where I enjoyed an early taste of spring, I flipped for two voluptuous rosés of pinot noir from the Russian River Valley: the Endless Crush from Inman Family and the Gary Farrell. Unfortunately, they are available only from the wineries. But the Domaine Bellevue rosé from Touraine in France’s Loire Valley is in stores now, and many more from Provence, the Rhône, Spain, Italy and elsewhere will soon follow. Demand for rosé has exploded over the past few years, and the available selection has expanded accordingly.
I’m also hankering for crisp, aromatic white wines, like assyrtiko from Greece, Rueda from Spain and the delicate Italian white wines of Greco, falanghina and fiano. Locally, I’m looking for the new release of Barboursville’s vermentino, Keswick’s verdelho or albariño from Chrysalis, Ingleside, Black Ankle and Old Westminster. And Virginia viognier should be in season.
My excitement also builds for minerally, floral Grüner Veltliner from Austria, Riesling from anywhere, sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley or New Zealand, and flowery torrontés from Argentina. Those beautiful whites are refreshing and are excellent partners to lighter foods of the season.
Let’s not forget red wines. Warmer weather has us cleaning off the grill with primal dreams of meat, from steaks to chops to burgers. Pinot noir is ideal any time of year; in spring, the more floral pinots seem to match the season’s warmth and cheer. A fine example is the Underwood 2013 Pinot Noir from Oregon, whose cherry flavors blossom from the glass like an impromptu bouquet of spring flowers. At $14, the price tag is almost as friendly.
Portugal’s Douro Valley produces some exceptional reds that are often very good values. The Douro can be torrid in summer, yet these wines tend to be supple and lithe rather than hot and heavy. While easy to drink, they can be hard to pronounce. The Muxagat Tinta Barroca 2013, at $20, starts earthy and then reveals bright fruit flavors as invigorating as a fresh breeze.
Finally, some advice on serving your springtime wines at the best temperature. Remember that we tend to drink our whites too cold and our reds too warm. In spring and summer, however, I find these lighter, crisp whites and rosés can be more refreshing when well chilled — not to refrigerator temperature, but colder than I like them during winter. (Pop them in the fridge for 45 minutes, or stick them in ice for 30.) Reds still show their fruit best when cool or slightly chilled, and that will be even more apparent in warmer weather.
Enjoy these springtime wines now, because before long, we’ll be complaining that it’s too darn hot outside.