In the heat of summer, you want a wine that’s cool, clean, and refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, I love reds. But sometimes I want to savor the elegance and crispness of a white, particularly as a prelude to a summer evening.
White wines run a huge gamut: from pale, translucent, thin Spanish Albarinos to heavy, oaky Chardonnays and everything in between. The common denominator of most whites is that they need to be chilled (not ice cold, mind you—this isn’t Bud Light) and they are best served with fish, shellfish, chicken, or by themselves. But, having said this, drink whatever you want with anything. The wine police won’t catch you.
Chardonnay is the queen of white wine. Grown virtually everywhere, each region stakes their claim to making the “best” chardonnay imaginable. Some are light, some butter and oak bombs, some fruity, some highly alcoholic, some astringent, and others weak and flinty. You have to try many Chards to see what style suits you best.
As an American traditionalist, I prefer the Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay. This is the type of wine that put California Chardonnay on the international map, and it is still one of the leading names in the category. Big, luscious, buttery, and smooth, this is a wine for the ages to savor. A close second is Clos Pegasse’s Mitsuko's Vineyard Chardonnay, a peachy enticing “can’t miss” wine. (You will thank me later.)
A few years ago, Sauvignon Blancs were MIA, with only a few daring to stick up for this white varietal. But times have changed and today Sauvignon Blancs (or Fume Blancs—same grape) are everywhere. Some fine ones hail from California, such as the Davis Bynum Fume Blanc. Others from Italy, Canada, France, and Australia are noteworthy as well. But the Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand are truly superb. The Kiwis are the champion of this varietal, producing steely crisp, slightly grassy, and citrusy wines that are usually a great value to boot. For a treat, try the medium dry Mills Reef Sauvignon Blanc from the Hawkes Bay region.
Blends. There are some white blends out there that are definitely worth sampling, such as the refined Ariadne, produced by Napa’s Clos Du Val. Ariadne is a combo of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Pale golden amber with hints of honey, oak, and pear, this is an outstanding Bordeaux style white blend at a pretty good price.
White wine can be groovy, as is the case with Grüner Veltliner (nicknamed GruV), an Austrian grape varietal that’s pretty hot nowadays. Most often unoaked, this wine’s floral aromas and green apple flavors make it bright and easy drinking. It goes great with cheese, or even a hot dog. The Weininger Gruner Veltliner has a pleasant zestiness that’s fun and a bit wild.
Pinot Grigio is another popular white. Quite pleasing in its simplicity, the right ones have a slight but noticeable bite of citrus, with the palest hint of toffee that works well with sushi. Some Pinot Gris (same wine as Pinot Grigio) from Oregon, New York, and Washington are beginning to gain a presence due to balanced citrus and proper winemaking techniques. Still, for my money I’d go Italian—with a Santa Margherita from Liguria or the Gabbiano from Venizia. And I’d recommend drinking Pinot Grigio the coldest of all wines.
Rieslings are still out there, having gone back and forth in vogue on the American palate. Many Rieslings are wonderful wines and should be tried. An excellent German Riesling is the Dr. Loosen Riesling, an amalgam of melon, spice, and body. Not cloying, but sweet as a morning spring rose. American Rieslings are getting much better, and my favorite domestic selection is the Cellermaster’s Riesling from Columbia Winery in Washington. With its touch of delicate sweetness, balanced acidity, structured body, and lovely color, this is a perfect pre- or post-dinner wine.
There are, of course, many other white wines to sample this summer. You can spend a little or a little more—whites are usually not that expensive. Try some new things once in awhile. You’ll be glad you did. Stay cool and pop that cork…Cheers!
Napa-based writer Bob Ecker was the president of Bay Area Travel Writers. He’s written about wine for such publications as Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, Modern Luxury, the Boston Globe, New York Daily News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, to name just a few.