The approaching days of spring and summer are perfect for enjoying the fresh and vibrant flavors of white wine. With warmer weather comes more backyard grilling and increased outdoor activity. It’s the perfect time to transition from heavy red wines to lighter, crisper summertime wines that pair easily with less filling menus of salads, grilled seafood and chicken. Some of the more common white wines include sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, albarino, roussanne, viognier and lighter-bodied chardonnay.
Sauvignon blanc offers different flavor profiles, each dependent upon the origin of the grape, always representing the terroir. California sauvignon blanc is herbaceous, offering nuances of fresh-cut grass, with a crisp and vibrant acidity on the palate. From New Zealand, this wine has a very prominent grapefruit presence, accompanied by kiwi and other tropical fruits such as pineapple and passion fruit. The sauvignon blanc from South Africa has a distinct lemon zest presence, a great pairing with grilled tilapia and a fresh squeeze of lemon.
White wines labeled “Sancerre” are from the town of Sancerre located in the Loire Valley of France. These wines made from the sauvignon blanc grape are recognizable from their steely mineral style with an appealing gooseberry charm. The Sancerre wines can also be described as racy, pungent and drier than other fruit-forward California and New Zealand styles of wine. (Red Sancerre, made from the pinot noir grape, is not to be confused with white Sancerre.) Some sauvignon blanc producers include oak as part of the vinification process, thereby changing the flavor profile and the weight of the wine.
Pinot grigio, also known as pinot gris, is best produced in cooler climates. The typical flavor profiles can include melon, peach, orange blossom, pineapple and apricot. Some of the best pinot grigio comes from the northern area of Italy. The cool climate of this region equates to high acidity, giving the wine its renowned crispness. Other planted areas for this grape include Australia, New Zealand, California and Oregon. Pinot grigio is great as a quaffing wine or can be paired with lighter salads such as field greens topped with feta cheese and pine nuts with a light vinaigrette dressing (a heavier dressing would overpower the delicacy of the pinot grigio).
The albarino grape, most notably from Galicia (pronounced Ga-lee-thea), the northwest area of Spain, is distinctive with its floral component on the nose and vibrant fruit flavors on the palate. Known as alvarinho in nearby northern Portugal, albarino has flavor profiles typically including peach, apricot, green apple, pear, pineapple and mango.
Roussanne is a fashionable grape of the Rhone region of France. Although it is not as well known in North America, there are some plantings of this grape in California, and these can be stunning wines. A unique and palatable wine, the roussanne has a wide spectrum of aromas and flavors that can include pineapple, passion fruit, apricot, orange zest, jasmine, vanilla and honeysuckle. With age, the flavors of this wine have been known to transition into beautiful mandarin orange with an element of ripe peach liqueur. Roussanne is one of a few white grapes approved for the production of the red wine Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Viognier (pronounced vee-awn-yay) is best known for its aromatics in the glass, with a bouquet of flowers and a sweet essence of honeysuckle on the vine, distinctive and indicative of classic viognier. This wine can vary in style from a thick, syrupy, one-dimensional wine to one of crisp acidity, with layers of flavors that can include apricot, lemon-lime, melon, lychee, grapefruit and apple. Although the viognier grape is produced in California and other parts of the world, the best-known wines from this grape are from the Rhone appellations of France known as Condrieu and Chateau Grillet.
Chardonnay wine with a lighter body and fruit-forward expression (as opposed to a heavier, full-bodied oaky wine) is best suited to warmer weather. Produced from numerous countries throughout the world, chardonnay has one constant flavor profile — apple. Additional flavor profiles vary, and depending on where the wine is produced, include pear, peach, pineapple, banana and other tropical fruits. White Burgundy, which can be produced in a soft French oak style or stainless steel, is the most highly regarded of all chardonnay. The smaller pores of the French oak have a softer influence on the wine, emitting nuances of vanilla and caramel, while American oak can be harsh, imparting an oaky component.
Although white Burgundy chardonnay is exceptional, Heron chardonnay from California is classic. The fruit for Heron is sourced from three significant and prominent California AVAs (American viticultural areas) for chardonnay: Russian River, Carneros and Santa Maria Valley. All three areas offer unique and complex components to the wine with Russian River contributing to the elegance, finesse and minerality of the wine; Carneros to structure and complexity; and the Santa Maria area to fragrant aromatics. Along with the exceptional fruit, Heron chardonnay is barrel-fermented in French oak, and the average age of the vines is 22 years. Aromas of white flowers, citrus, pear and apple fill the glass. The wine is fresh and vibrant, showing elements of green apple, Bosc pear, caramel and a hint of peach that mingle seamlessly on the palate, gaining depth and ripe tropical fruits on the finish.
Whatever your style, white wines are right at home in spring and summer. Enjoy the discovery of a new favorite white wine for the change of season and warm Texas weather.
by Denise Easdon
Denise Easdon is a certified sommelier and a certified
specialist of wine.