White Wines of Summer
NOW THAT WE GET TO ENJOY the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer in the Hudson Valley, think about enjoying crisp, refreshing white wines—lighter, simpler, fruit and acid-driven dry or slightly off-dry whites, served well chilled and without fanfare. These are wines that are comfortable on the lower rungs of the food chain, compatible with salads, fresh cheeses, veggies, fish, seafood, mollusks and white meats. This gazetteer of summer whites is just a jumping-off point for those of you who may want to find a favorite or for those who want to try as many wines as they can during the summer months. Just remember that when you eat lighter, you drink lighter. When it comes to the value-for-money proposition, French whites are incomparable. French white wines are first in the world for not only the widest variety of styles (especially the wines of the Loire Valley, Alsace and Burgundy), but also—and this may surprise many readers—the widest range of prices. It’s easy to pay a lot of money for French white wines, but some of the best bargains reside in this category, as well. And it’s not just that the wines are really affordable, it’s that the quality is high.
There are other countries and many regions to explore for great summer whites.
In the New World of whites, there aren’t many surprises. In the heat of the summer, well-chilled Sauvignon Blanc remains the go-to wine, whether from New Zealand, Chile, Australia, or California. New World Sauvignon Blanc delivers fresh fruit flavors in the attack, high acidity to refresh and stimulate the palate, and a finish of almost under-ripe tropical fruits and a pleasant grassiness that is its signature. I am also a huge fan of crisp, refreshing, fruit-driven dry Riesling, especially from the vineyards of the Finger Lakes. Locally, some Hudson Valley white hybrid-based wines are impressive, including unoaked Seyval Blanc, and especially Traminette, which, while maintaining its light body, manages to exude the exotic spiciness of its vinifera parent, Gewürztraminer. This summer, don’t hesitate to try something new and different. When you pair summer whites with summer foods in the company of good friends and loved ones, you just can’t go wrong.
Starting in the Minho region of Portugal, the quintessential patio pounder is Vinho Verde, an ultra-light, often spritzy white that should be drunk as young and fresh as possible. Some Vinho Verde wines are vintage dated (about $10 to $12), some are not (well under $10), but all, by law, must print on their back labels the year that the wine was bottled, and that’s the most important date for this wine (though it will probably be in microscopic type). Do not buy a Vinho Verde that was bottled more than two years ago. Enjoy with a salad of local greens, local cheese, and fruity vinaigrette, or with cured, poached, or fried fish, fresh sardines, and salty, spicy, smoky snacks.
Verdejo, a medium-bodied white from Rueda, in Spain, is amazingly floral on the nose, redolent with the aromas of honeysuckle, tulips, orchids, as well as the alluring smells of tropical fruits. On the palate, Verdejo is fruit-driven but with a dry finish and medium-bodied. It’s the ideal wine for tapas-style dining— anything from camarones (shrimp) to jamón (cured ham) and everything in between. Albariño from Rías Baixas, another medium-bodied Spanish white, cries out for fish and seafood stews, and is the perfect accompaniment to bouillabaisse, cioppino, zuppa di pesce or paella.
Italy has a wide variety of affordable dry whites ($10 to $20) that marry well with the foods of summer. These light-to-medium bodied wines are at their best served with fish and seafood—they are fresh and crisp, bringing out the salinity of the dish and the fruit in the wine. Some favorites:
- super-fresh Gavi and the slightly more complex Arneis from the Piedmont region;
- Soave Classico from Veneto;
- Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Tuscany;
- Frascati Superiore from Lazio;
- Verdicchio from Marche;
- Orvieto Classico from Umbria;
- Friulano (formerly Tocai Friulano) from Friuli-Venezia Giulia;
- Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige;
- Falanghina from Catarrato;
- Ansonica/Catarrato blends from Sicily;
- Vermentino di Gallura from Sardinia.
If you’ve never tried the great whites of Greece, this summer is a good time to start. Try Moschofi lero from the Mantinia wine region on the Peloponnese (about $15). A white wine made from a pale-red grape, it features seductive aromatics: rose petal and ginger, with tropical fruits on the palate.
When it comes to Germany, just remember two words and one region: Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel. These are the best examples in the world of ripe Riesling in a dry to semi-dry style that will pair beautifully with pan-fried freshwater fish, poultry and pork, as well as a plate of local cheeses and locally cured meats. Riesling Kabinett also marries especially well with spicy vegetarian dishes (as do all of these summer whites). Prices start under $15 and peak in the mid-$20s.