Warm Weather Wines

July 19, 2013

A great guide to summer wines!

Red wine in the winter, and white wine in the summer isn't necessarily a rule, but almost. Red wine generally goes with heavier foods, and white wine with lighter foods.

Here's a look at what's to offer in white wines:

Chardonnay has always led the pack, with the biggest share of the market, not just in white varietals, but in all varietals. Chardonnay is a wonderful grape, and we get some of the finest white wines in the world from this grape. After all, it's used to make all the best French White Burgundy.

A good and sometimes bad thing about Chardonnay is that it's often put through a second fermentation process known as "malolactic". This cuts the acid and creates a softer, often buttery wine. Some winemakers will put only a percentage of the wine through the malolactic process, wanting to preserve the crispness and fruit of the wine. Some people like the round, buttery taste of this type of Chardonnay and some don't.

But Chardonnay isn't the only white grape. Other really good white grape varietals that are often overlooked as one heads for the Chardonnay section, are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, and Viognier.

Riesling is a light, dry or semi-dry wine, low in alcohol, crisp, with a fresh, young fruit-forward taste to it. It's great for lunch, or with appetizers because it's low in alcohol, and has a brightness that's refreshing. You can get good Rieslings from France, California, Australia and Germany.

Gewürztraminer can be dry or sweet. It has a lot of flavor and can go with an abundance of summer dishes and desserts. In the U.S. we think of it only as a dessert wine, because we have always had the late harvest kind, which is sweet. But don't limit yourself to the sweet Gewürztraminer. Try the dry ones. They're wonderful. You can get good Gewürztraminer from Germany, California, and France.

Also look at Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris. Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for the grape varietal Pinot Gris. It's a light, fruity wine, and can be quite inexpensive. It's great summer fare for salads and seafood. Italy, of course, is the most famous producer of this varietal (Pinot Grigio), but France, Germany and Oregon make some exceptional Pinot Gris.

Viognier is becoming more popular every year. It's a dry, medium-bodied wine with a burst of fruit and floral aromas, perfect with appetizers and seafood, and a very nice change of pace. It's being produced in France and the U.S. Bonterra Winery, Mendocino County, California makes an excellent organic Viognier.

Sauvignon Blanc in a crisp, herbaceous wine. What we mean by "herbaceous" is that its aromas remind one of herbs and grass more than the fruity aromas of many other white varietals. This can be a good thing. The grape is grown in so many places around the world, that it has a number of different characteristics, although when well made, it is always crisp. On a hot day, crispness can be a highly desired trait in a white wine.

Sauvignon Blanc is made in New Zealand (very "grassy" there) South Africa, Australia, France, Italy, California, Oregon, and Washington, so you can imagine the range of flavors, coming from all those very different climates.

There is no doubt that Chardonnay is a great varietal, and with warm weather coming on, I am sure it will hold its lead this year, and for many years to come. But with so many choices out there, it's a shame not to experiment the other varietals.

By Dennis Manuel