The heat is here. Let these summer white wines save you by Tom Ward
Here we are facing another summer, and I try to stay away from the heavier wines. I cellar my reds until the weather gets “cooler,” unless it’s on a mild evening, or I’m grilling a steak and eating it inside. To beat the heat, I prefer a dry, light to medium bodied, crisp white wine. There are a few favorites I have for this time of the year. They are refreshing and bright, tending to go with a time of the year when it stays bright longer, and we are more active. After 25 years in the wine industry, I try to stray from the usual wines, and go out on a limb with my choices.
One of the lightest varietals is grüner veltliner. It is a varietal that is mainly grown in Austria, although there are some excellent ones being grown in the U.S. and other parts of Europe. It is light bodied, crisp and minerally. It is super food friendly, as most of the wines in this installment are. This varietal will not overpower your food, so on a day when the heat has gotten to you, or you’ve pushed a little too hard, it will pair wonderfully with the lighter cuisine that most of us are drawn to in those cases. Single vineyard versions of this grape, while rare, will usually have more body to showcase the terroir of the vineyard.
Another lighter white wine is from the Loire Valley in France, muscadet. Not to be confused with moscato or muscadine, muscadet is made from the melon de bourgogne grape. The French felt that they needed to craft this wine to have more body, so they use a process called “sur lie.” This process is an aging of the wine on the spent lees, or dead yeast cells, after fermentation. It works beautifully to create a light and crisp wine, with light to medium body, that does wonderfully with lighter fare.
The final wine in the super light category would be Albariño. A very crisp, light bodied, Spanish wine that can stand up to the seasoned dishes from Spain. It’s a great accompaniment for seafood dishes with lighter sauces, or those summertime dishes with a touch of sweetness from ripe fruit, due to its thicker skins which can add some tannic bitterness.
Any Italian white wine is going to do the trick as well. There are so many choices outside of pinot grigio that I encourage people to try them. Like most Italian cuisine, the wines are delicious as well, and should not be overlooked. This is an area where I won’t recommend anything, rather, I encourage you to search and try for yourself. You won’t be let down.
Two of my favorite summertime white wines are torrontés and riesling. Riesling is a fruit driven varietal and extremely terroir driven. Nothing can hold up to an Alsace or German riesling, although there are some areas (like the Finger Lakes of New York), that are doing amazing work with this grape. Most people think of the grape as being sweet, but a “troken,” or dry, riesling is amazing. They can often be as dry and crisp as a sauvignon blanc, but with different types of unripened fruit and more of the terroir being shown. Still one of, if not, the most food friendly grapes in the world, a dry riesling should be enjoyed with seafood or lighter fare, or simply to drink on its own. It has more body than the previous varietals that were mentioned, and yet still won’t overpower your food. A dry riesling is my “go to” wine with most seafood and chicken dishes.
Torrontés is usually produced in Argentina and some in Uruguay. A friend of mine once described it like this; “It’s as if sauvignon blanc and gewürztraminer got together and had a kid.” It has amazing aromatics and it can often have floral characteristics and mandarin orange on the pallet. But on the finish, there is a citrusy acidity that washes your pallet clean. I love this wine for the summer and try to have some at home for whenever I finish doing anything outside. Try one of these whenever you see one.
When it comes to the full-bodied white wines for summer, I go with a white Rhone blend, or one of the common grapes in those blends, viognier. It is aromatic, full bodied, and in the best cases, unoaked. It can still be creamy, but showcasing amazing fruit and floral notes, like peach and magnolias. This will stand up to heavier food and is a great stand-alone wine.
These are some of the lesser known, summertime varietals that I prefer. When you go into someplace and they have a good wine list, you should have several of these to choose from. I can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine or cooler evening and enjoy one of these, by the bottle or glass, and not feel weighed down. A place with a wine list like 45 Central, and a knowledgeable staff such as theirs, can guide you through your selection process based off your food choices, the weather, or how adventurous you’d like to be. Beat the summer heat in the hands of some trusted wine people and enjoy your wine journey. I hope that some of these choices have made your mouth water and will find their way into your cellar and hearts.
Tom Ward is the owner and operator of ATL Vineyard Express wine tours in Atlanta, Ga. He has worked in the wine industry for more than 25 years and has his Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 certification. Tom loves sharing his passion for wine with those who want to learn more. If you have any questions for Tom, email him at info@ATLVineyardExpress.com.
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