By TOM MARQUARDT and PATRICK DARR
As temperatures warm, many of us favor white wine. It’s hard to find a substitute on a nice day on the patio or on the boat. White wine can be chilled, which is the perfect foil for warm temperatures.
Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape variety in the world, so it isn’t a surprise that it’s also the most popular white wine in the United States. Sauvignon blanc is growing in popularity, but maybe this is the year to find something new. We know most of the grapes of California, but European wine growing regions offer unique varieties you may not have heard about. Take, for instance, grillo, marsanne and gruner veltliner.
Although these grapes don’t have the cache of chardonnay, they are equally good companions to most summer foods. We also have found them to be better aperitifs than chardonnay because they generally don’t see any oak.
As you stock your refrigerators with your usual plonk this summer, a whole world of wine awaits you.
Here are a dozen unique wines to get you on a new path:
Lucy Pico Blanco 2021 ($24). This is among our favorite new wines this year. Although Monterey County hosts some of the greatest plantings of pinot gris, not much of it finds
its way to local markets. In this wine pinot gris is blended with pinot blanc to make an exciting, aromatic and delicious white wine to complement a variety of food. White peach and honeysuckle are pronounced on the nose while citrus and ripe peach flavors dominate the palate. Brisk acidity but softness on the finish.
Di Giovanna Vurria Grillo 2020 ($20). We love Sicilian grillo. It’s sort of like chardonnay, sort of like pinot gris. Smooth mouthfeel with citrus, herbal aromas and peach-like flavors. A great match to seafood and chicken dishes off the grill.
Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2021 ($18). This is a wonderful blend of grenache blanc, roussanne, viognier, clairette and bourboulenc. We loved the apricot and fennel notes.
Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers Blanc 2020 ($45). Marsanne is usually part of a blend in Rhone Valley wines, but in the hands of Michel Chapoutier it can stand on its own. Refreshing acidity and forward stone fruit flavors with a hint of almonds make it a nice foil to summer temperatures.
Domaine Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner 2021 ($16). From Austria, this lively wine has green apple and herbal aromas with juicy apple and citrus flavors with a dash of minerality. Crisp acidity makes it a good match for grilled chicken or fish.
Bonny Doon Picpoul Central Coast 2021 ($15), Blended with a little grenache blanc, this very tasty wine is a perfect fit for spring fare. Fermented in stainless steel, it has pure and refreshing pineapple and citrus character with what winemaker Randall Graham calls a “beeswax” scent. The source of the grapes is the Beeswax Vineyard. Of course.
La Cana Rias Baixas Albarino 2020 ($19). From Northern Spain, albarinos have earned a place at the table. Usually medium bodied with refreshing acidity and a briny character, albarinos show off peach and pear notes.
Flora Springs Soliloquy White Wine 2020 ($50). Always a treat for us to break into spring, this blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and malvasia is unique. Citrusy and creamy in the mouth, it has peach and apricot flavors.
Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2020 ($28). We marveled at the uniqueness of the perfect spring wine from the Campania region of Italy. Located near Mt. Vesuvius, this producer has several fascinating wines – the 2020 Falanghina ($23) and the 2019
Fiano di Avellino ($28) — that we loved. But our favorite was the Greco di Tufo, a wine with delicate aromas, fresh acidity, stone-fruit and pear notes.
Esporao Monte Velho White 2021 ($12). Frugal consumers should look to Portugal for some of the best bargains that routinely out deliver. This one from the Alentejo region is a blend of antao vaz, perrum and roupeiro – grape varieties you probably never heard but are common in this region. Tropical fruit flavors with hints of citrus and good acidity. We also loved the Esporao Colheita made from antao vaz and viosinho vio grapes that sells for about the same price.
Stammari Dalila Riserva Sicily 2020 ($20). This is a ridiculously great wine for summer sipping. A blend of grillo and viognier it has the aromatics of the later and the texture of the former. Luscious tropical fruit notes with apricots and peaches to boot. Simply delicious and soft much like you’d find in a pinot grigio.
FEL Anderson Valley Pinot Gris 2021 ($32). Those of you who like pinot gris will certainly enjoy this beauty from the Anderson Valley. Citrus and stone fruit notes with a soft and yielding texture.
Pinot gris is more prevalent in Oregon than chardonnay, but it’s the latter that needs more consumer attention. Although planted since 1961, Oregon chardonnay struggles to get the same acclaim as California chardonnay. Yet it is often more austere, subtle and just as good.
May was Oregon Wine Month, so we decided to recognize the occasion by tasting a number of chardonnays.
Three we recently enjoyed was the Gran Moraine Yamill-Carlton Chardonnay 2018 ($45), a lush wine with tropical fruit notes and a nice coconut character, the Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2019 ($45), which was more austere with lean apple notes and bright acidity, and the WillaKenzie Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2019 ($35), with its intense citrus aromas and mineral notes.
Frescobaldi Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina Riserva 2016 ($33). Part of the Frescobaldi family collection, this luscious sangiovese is fermented in cement vats and spends 24 months in oak barrels with another 3 months in bottle before being released. The result is a wine with generous floral, spice aromas with red berry flavors, concentrated balsamic and fine tannins. Well worth the price.
Flowers Pietra Sea View Ridge Pinot Noir 2019 ($80). From the Sonoma Coast, this beautifully textured pinot noir has alluring aromas of forest floor, spice and dark cherries followed by similar flavors, soft tannins and long finish.
Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($25). This is a great value in the pinot noir field. Lots of extracted cherry flavors with pomegranate and spice aromas. Earthy feel with soft tannins and long finish.