Winespeak — Wines For Summer; Anything But Chardonnay

By Selene Alice Wayne


It’s the middle of summer and it’s hot. Big rains did come but heat has been the big player. The last thing I want to bring to the campfire or picnic table is red wine. Even a light and fruity Beaujolais seems too heavy in this weather. That’s when I reach for a white wine.

The realm of white wine is vast, yet the space devoted to chardonnay seems to rival all other varietals combined. If a producer makes white wine, the first one was more than likely a chardonnay. Now, there’s nothing wrong with chardonnays, there are quite a few I actually like for not being a fan. There are just so many other whites that are more interesting, I’d rather reach for something refreshing, uplifting, sassy or citrusy.

The choosing-the-right-bottle battle remains the same. With colors ranging from almost clear to yellow to almost green and plastered with labels touting words like minerally, grassy, stone fruits and zesty, the decision seems as easy as picking the winning lottery ball from the barrel. Just like learning about red wines, once you demystify the words describing white wine, the search is easier and more fun.

Stony and minerally roughly equate to the earthiness of reds. Instead of sponging through a mossy forest full of mushrooms, imagine sitting on a rock by a gravelly stream cut through layers of shale and schist, and it’s windy so you can taste the air. Somehow that’s minerally and stony. Whereas red wines are filled with fruits like red raspberries, cherries and strawberries, the fruitiness of whites lie in peaches and nectarines (stone fruits), melons and citrus, including grapefruit and lime. Grassy is one of the more unlikely describing words. Unbelievably, it tastes exactly as it sounds and it’s great with fish and salads. When whites are sweet, they can be rich like honey or have just the sweetest accentuation of the fruit flavors already present. A floral presence in wine seems odd, but hints of a light perfume can boost dishes like jasmine rice or summer rolls.

Outside of chardonnay, the most recognizable white wines are pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and riesling. Pinot grigio is a nice entry level white because it is usually on the dry side, can taste anywhere from stony to fruity but hardly ever are the flavors startling or overpowering. Pinot grigio is also very food friendly. Most of the time, a sauvignon blanc is stony, minerally, grassy or citrusy. They are uplifting and leave your mouth refreshed rather than coated. When presented with a riesling, my first thought is that it is sweet but, in fact, there are many that are dry. Rieslings can be quite the chameleon on the table since they pair wonderfully with hot and spicy but also spices like cinnamon and still yet desserts like bread pudding and cheesecake.

Selene Alice Wayne jpgThere are also quite a few lesser known white varietals that should also be considered in hot weather. Albariño is a more elegant sauvignon blanc. Torrontes and viognier can have that floral quality present. Vermentino and falanghina are fun to say and just as tasty. Chenin blanc, Soave, moscato, the list goes on.

Heavy meals aren’t what’s for dinner this season, so why should you keep reaching for those winter wines that keep you warm inside? These two whites offer a change from the typical chardonnay and give your mouth a welcome lift on a hot day:

Matanzas Creek Saugvignon Blanc: After just one sip, I wanted to eat some “stinky” cheese like blue or gorgonzola. It was melony but grapefruity and there was a hint of sweetness on top of just a bit of mineral. I gladly drank what was left the next night.

Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino: This beautiful wine is from Sardinia off the coast of Italy and made by a father and twin son team devoted to keeping Sardinia’s wines and vines native. Full of citrus and tropical fruits with a touch of honey, this wine would be a perfect complement to Asian fusion foods and other summer seafood fare.

Thanks again to Ryan at Kadota Liquors for supplying ideas on both subject matter and which wines to experiment with.

Selene Alice Wayne writes from Puna.


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