The summer wind came blowin’ in
From across the sea
It lingered there to touch your hair
And walk with me
Let’s break outside the bottle this summer and try whites that are not the Queen Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc, and Riesling we are most accustomed to pairing with summer and sunshine. Look for these food-friendly whites next time you need something crisp and refreshing to share with friends. Your friends will thank you for introducing them to something new.
Spanish Albariño, or Alvarinho in Portugal, is a great summer medium-bodied white with a citrus scent, especially grapefruit, and a minerality from the soil in which it is grown. Look for great examples from the Rias Baixas and Galicia regions in Spain, and Vinho Verde in Portugal. This thick skinned grape grows in tight clusters and can often be found in Spain trellised on pergolas called parron. In Portugal it is often found in an even older style allowing the vines to grow up the poplar trees that grow along the edges of the vineyards. Enjoy with cerviche, grilled fish, paella, and salads. Many good examples can be found for under $15 including Martin Codax Rias Baixas Albarino.
Gewürztraminer, go ahead and say it (gu-VERTS-tra-MEE-ner) is one of the great aromatic grapes. In fact it has a reputation of being a very in-your-face scent. I for one consider it a grape that delivers a lot of pleasure before the wine ever passes your lips. It’s most characteristic aromas include lychee, rose petal, and tropical fruits. It has minerality to convey it’s terroir and makes a great summer stand alone patio sipper or pairs well with Asian-influenced dishes, curry, ginger (get the spice theme here?), and from it’s Austrian birthplace, sausages. You can go traditional with a Gewurzt from Austria but there are some fine examples being made in the Finger Lakes region of New York, especially, from Glenora Wine Cellars, Wagner Vineyards, Red Newt Cellars, and Casa Larga. All are priced under $20.
Orvieto is a dry Italian white from the Umbria region. This wine has historically been the wine choice of popes. Floral aromas combine with pear, honey and almonds to balance with its acidity and the minerality of the chalky limestone soil of the Umbrian tufa. Harder to find than most of my other suggestions but worth the hunt. Ruffino makes an Orvieto for around $10. Pairs well with antipasto, calamari, light fish dishes, or prosciutto with melon.
Pinot Blanc is at home in Alsace and also in the Pacific Northwest. Often left behind as a choice after so many other dominant white grapes it does bear paying attention to as it is an extremely food-friendly wine. It is subtle rather than assertive in its spice and minerality with green apple, melon, and pear fruit flavors. Try with roasted chicken, flounder, or pan-seared scallops, and other simply prepared dishes. This wines works with a meal that you don’t feel like working too hard to make stand out. Sometimes simple companionship is all you need. If you want something similar but slightly bolder then go with a Pinot Gris!
Torrontés is Argentina’s singular white grape and an excellent representative of the aromatic grapes. Growing in popularity and availability this wine has a flavor profile of tropical stone fruits, honey, and spice. Pair with shellfish, grilled chicken, summer salads, and seafood. Many good choices under $15, including Doña Paula, Trivento, Crios by Susana Balbo, Hermanos, and Catena.
Vermentino is a soft (by soft I mean not powerful, but by no means flabby), dry expression of tropical citrus fruits and floral aromas, making it a good alternative to Pinot Grigio if you’re looking for an Italian white. Best wines come from Tuscany and Sardinia but some is now being grown in California. Try California’s Uvaggio Vermentino for about $15
Viognier is perhaps the Queen of the aromatics. Oz Clarke called this a wine to swoon over. Famous in the northern Rhone valley of Condrieu in recent decades Viognier has enjoyed a new celebrity in the new world. This full-bodied white is brimming with floral scents of jasmine, honeysuckle, and primrose, and the stone fruits of apricot and peach, just to name a few, this wine barely requires one to tilt a nose towards the glass to begin to glean its delights. This is a fine sipping wine that can start a convivial conversation all on its own. No food necessary to enjoy this one. In the United States many east coast growers choose this grape. In fact the state of Virginia favors this grape as its signature white. With food try buttery sauced dishes, or cream sauces. This wine has the substance to stand up to heavier or richer foods. It is not often found in the value category but many can be had in the low $20’s.
My fickled friend,
The summer wind
The summer wind warm summer wind
Mmm the summer wind