WHITE WINE ALTERNATIVES FOR SUMMER (OR ANYTIME) SIPPING

 

I know it’s a cliché, but I do tend to drink more white wine in the summer that any other time of year. But I also drink my share of whites throughout the year. This article suggests a tour of Europe before heading the U.S. West Coast to find just the wines for any time.

 

German Rieslingis my go to white wine year round but especially in warm weather. Its fresh fruit, bracing acidity and moderate 8%-10% alcohol make for a refreshing drink and a food-pairing paradise. Here are some suggestions at different price levels and different ripeness levels (though I would describe each as moderately sweet).

 

The 2016 Urban($15), from Nik Weiss, owner and winemaker at the celebrated estate-bottled St. Urbans-Hof in the Mosel River Valley, is a non-estate wine including grapes from vineyards owned by family friends. It centers on juicy green apple and tangerine with a racy backbone. From the Rheingau, the 2015 Schloss Vollrads Qualitätswein ($20) shows nice, ripe peach and apple, while the Kabinett ($24) offers citrus and apple with a touch of mineral. Back in the Mosel, the 2015BischöflichesScharzhofberger Spätlese ($30) is an impressive single vineyard expression showing more complexity with honeyed peach, apple and apricot.

 

Alsatian Gewürztraminer has always been my favorite white wine after German Riesling. I love the citrus and lychee fruit and especially the light spiciness, presented along with more body than the typical white wine. These are good introductions:

 

  • 2013 Emile Beyer “Tradition” ($22) off-dry, honeyed citrus
  • 2012 Trimbach ($26) dry with citrus, mineral, forest notes and waxy texture
  • 2011 Pierre Sparr Mambourg Grand Cru ($44) pear and tangerine, creamy and succulent, firm acidity

 

To my delight, I also found that Italy – in its Alpine northeast – does Gewürztraminer surprisingly well. Gewürztraminer from Alto Adige tends to be more delicate and crisp than in Alsace. But high altitude vineyards with terraced slopes and gravelly soil impart an intense, refreshing character to these wines.

 

  • 2016 Colterenzio ($15) lively and floral, quite spicy and dry, will age
  • 2015 Castelfeder Vom Lehm ($19) strong acidity and mineral with honeyed citrus
  • 2015 St. Michael-Eppan “Sanct Valentin” ($32) dry, complex, spicy, flavorful and textural

 

Two other Alto Adige whites worth seeking out are Sylvaner and Sauvignon (what we know as Sauvignon Blanc). The 2015 PacherhofSylvaner, from a grape also grown in Germany, is structured with robust acidity and earthy tropical fruits.The 2015 Tiefenbruner“Turmhof” Sauvignon leans to the fresh apple and citrus, with freshly cut grass side of the grape.

 

Italy’s best-known white wine import, though, certainly is Pinot Grigio. Also from northeastern regions, Pinot Grigio can be produced in a variety of styles but the generally light, brisk melon and citrus notes have been a winning combination with consumers.

 

  • 2015 Luna Nuda Alto Adige($15), crisp, lean and mineral edged
  • 2016 Ecco Domani Delle Venezie ($12) bright, fresh style ideal aperitivo
  • 2016Cantina Riff Delle Venezie($10) from Alois Lageder, bracing and flavorful
  • 2015 Tommasi “La Rosse” Delle Venezie ($17) a single vineyard wine in a somewhat richer style

 

Italy is a distinctive source of diverse grape varieties. There are many mostly regional-focused, small production wines well worth seeking out. Following are just a few.

 

Soave from the Veneto may be the largest production white wine in Italy and most of it is insipid and uninteresting. But in the hands of an attentive winery like Pieropan(2016 Soave Classico, $20) it can be delightfully aromatic and mouthfilling. In Piemonte, Viettihas led a resurrection of the arneis grape from obscurity and we benefit with wines like Vietti’s floral, briny 2016 Arneis ($24).

 

If your adventurous (and even if you are not) I suggest you try these rare varietal wines from other Italian regions. First up is the pecorino variety indigenous to central Italy. The 2015 Ciù Ciù“Merlettaie” ($18) is from the still largely undiscovered region Le Marche. It is a fine example of the region’s boom in organic viticulture, offering a nice balance between quality, tradition and price. The 2016 Niro($18) comes from neighboring Abruzzo and is a bit fuller bodied yet well balanced with refreshing tropical fruit and herbal notes.

 

Vermentino is another rather rare variety, grown mostly on the island of Sardegna (Sardinia). The 2015 Olianas($15)is a worthy proponent, with bright citrus, a toasty note and lightly spicy. The 2016 Cecchi“La Morra” ($20) by the well-regarded Chianti estate supplies nice floral and savory stone fruit from Tuscany.

 

And if you want a really unique wine, try the 2015 Li Veli Verdeca ($18),the fruition of a special Le Veli project to revitalize ancient grapes of the region of Puglia (in the heel of the boot). Here, the verdeca is blended with fiano minutolo to produce tropical fruit notes that mingle with fresh spices and pear.

 

On to Spain, where the region of Rias Baixas in Galicia just north of the border with Portugal, has been making waves withalbariño. If you like Sauvignon Blanc but not the herbaceousness so much, you’ll love the bracing citrus and savory qualities of albariño.Here are five fine ones for you I’ve listed in order of preference:

 

  • 2016 Pazo Señorans ($20)
  • 2016 Fillaboa ($20)
  • 2015 Gran Vinum “Nessa” ($17)
  • 2015 Eidosela “Néboa”($15)
  • 2015 Lagar de Bouza ($15)

 

Verdejo from Rueda, an area neighboring the esteemed Ribera del Duero, may be the best kept secret in the wine world coming from Spain. Another grape whose wine has been compared to Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes Pinot Grigio, it is typically lighter with pear, citrus and pleasantly bitter qualities. Two good examples are the 2014 Beronia($14) and 2016 Vega de la Reina($14).

 

Finally our last stop in Europe, Hungarian Furmint is making a bid for consumer attention. Furmint is the main grape in Hungary’s famous dessert wine, Tokaji but increasingly producers are making dry versions. The 2015 OremusMandolás”($25) is fresh and crisp but oaky with textural richness. Oremus was established in 1993 by Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most iconic wine estate.I also enjoyed its lightly spicy character.The 2015 Patricius($16), whose origins date to the 18thcentury, is driven by minerality and complex stone fruit flavors.

 

Now, on to the American the West Coast; I have a variety of “alternative” whites for you to try.

 

Pinot Gris/Grigio has grown in popularity in recent years. I prefer the drier, more full flavored style, usually labeled Pinot Gris. Here are four 2016 favorites listed in order of preference:

 

  • Nine Hats “Benches Vineyard” ($15) Washington
  • Left Coast Cellars “The Orchard Vineyard” ($18) Oregon
  • J Vineyards ($20) California
  • Cline ($13) Sonoma Coast

 

But you are missing out on a lot of good wine, if you drink only the most popular varieties. There are interesting wines all over the state.

 

In Edna Valley, Ninermakes an intense 2016 AlbariñoJesperson Ranch ($20) and Zockerproduces a savory 2014 GrünerVeltliner Paragon Vineyard ($20). By the way, if you must have one of those light, fruity Pinot Grigios, Edna Valley Vineyards (2016, $14) makes a nice one.

 

From Napa Valley, Priest Ranchoffers a delightful, stony Grenache Blanc(2016,$22). For 45 years, Dry Creek Vineyardhas made a highly regarded Loire Valley style Dry Chenin Blanc (2016, $15) from vineyards near Clarksburg.

 

If you are one of those consumers I have read about who is showing more interest in blends, check out the 2014 Conundrum($25), a juicy, aromatic mélange. Another good one is the rich, honeyed 2014 Murrieta’s Well“The Whip” ($24) from Livermore Valley.

 

Finally, I was especially impressed with the 2014 Buty($25) labeled simply “60% Semillon, 22% Sauvignon, 18% Muscadelle” from Washington’s Columbia Valley. And from Oregon, I enjoyed the light cherry notes of the 2016 Left CoastWhite Pinot Noir ($24).

 

With all these intriguing wines to try, you should have a white wine available for any occasion.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.