Hot summer days often find me reaching for a nicely chilled bottle of crisp white wine. Richer wines, both white and red, have their place, of course, but sometimes they seem a little heavy when the heat is on.
There are plenty of racy whites out there. Sauvignon blanc is a natural choice, as is some pinot gris or grigio. Italy is a great source of crisp whites, and options go way beyond pinot grigio. Spain has refreshing wines like verdejo, and Portugal’s Vinho Verde is a natural.
So I went through my tasting notes for the past several months in search of a diverse collection of refreshing whites. I wanted wines that were flavorful, obviously, but the bottles will be served well-chilled, so a ton of complexity wasn’t really necessary. A bonus: All these wines cost $15 or less, so they’re great for entertaining.
When you think of sauvignon blanc, New Zealand comes to mind. Abundant supplies have translated into a lot of inexpensive Kiwi sauvignon blancs, and one of the best I’ve tried recently is the 2015 Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc ($13), with its lively pink grapefruit and passion fruit flavors, accented by a hint of tomato stem. From closer to home, the 2015 J. Lohr “Flume Crossing” Sauvignon Blanc ($14) from Arroyo Seco displays similar flavors and is an attractive choice.
The trouble afflicting a lot of pinot grigio is outright blandness. What’s the point? An exception from California is the 2015 Coppola Rosso & Bianco Pinot Grigio ($12), which is a little fleshy, with bright citrus, apple and a hint of wet stone. Some of Italy’s best pinot grigios come from Alto Adige, but they can be expensive. Those from the broader appellation of “Dolomiti” can be good values, as is the case with the 2014 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio ($15), with its zippy lemon and apple flavors, accented by a touch of almond paste. (The 2014 Lageder Dolomiti pinot bianco is also very refreshing.) Oregon pinot gris is often a little more substantial; a bargain pick is the 2015 Pike Road Pinot Gris ($15), which is bright and fresh, with citrus, white peach and wet stone.
Italian whites don’t begin and end with pinot grigio. A lot of American consumers have written off Soave, and that’s a mistake. There are some delicious examples that are well-priced, like the 2014 Inama Soave Classico ($15), with its tart apple and lemon flavors, rounded out by just a hint of creaminess. From Tuscany, vermentino can be terrific. One to try is the 2015 Aia Vecchia Vermentino ($12), with its racy fruit and note of wet stone.
France’s Cotes du Rhone appellation is much better known for its reds, but the white blends are interesting, too. For example, the 2015 Ferraton Pere & Fils “Samorens” Cotes du Rhone Blanc ($14), a blend of grenache blanc and clairette, is lean and fresh, with white stone fruit, apple and a salty note. The 2014 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc ($15) is somewhat fleshier.
The extremely refreshing 2015 Domaine du Tariquet Classic ($10), a blend of mostly ugni blanc and colombard, is a perennial bargain from southwestern France. It’s crisp and citrusy, with a slight herbal note.
The Iberian Peninsula is better known for reds like Rioja and Port, but both Spain and Portugal produce refreshing whites. The whites of Rioja are made primarily from the viura grape, and many are fresh and zingy, like the 2015 Cune Monopole ($13), which also has nice richness on the midpalate. Marques de Riscal is a Rioja winery, but its whites are from Rueda, to the southwest. The 2015 Marques de Riscal Rueda ($10), made from verdejo, is aromatic and a little floral, with citrus, lime blossom and stone fruit.
In Portugal, the Vinho Verde region in the north is home to whites that are perfect for summer quaffing. (The region is also producing some more serious – and expensive – wines, but I’ll have more on that in a later post.) The more traditional Vinho Verdes – often characterized as “cheap and cheerful” – are usually slightly fizzy and low in alcohol, which makes them very refreshing. A good example is the 2015 Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde ($10).
Finally, a couple of miscellaneous summer whites. Torrontes is the white most associated with Argentina, and the best place for torrontes is the Salta Province. That’s where the 2015 Colomé Torrontes ($14) hails from. It’s fragrant and floral, with white fruit, lime and orange blossom. And one of my favorite summer whites from California is the 2015 Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc ($13) from the Clarksburg region outside Sacramento; the wine is fresh and racy, with bright apple and some creaminess.