After a rainy March and early April, it seemed as if the warm spring weather would never arrive here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hearty red wines remained the order of the day. But as summer approaches and the daylight stretches well into the evening, I’m gravitating more toward crisp, refreshing whites.
Sure, I’m still drinking those hearty reds with grilled meats and rich chardonnays with end-of-season Dungeness crab. But I’m getting ready for hot weather by stocking up on bottles that pair well with the lighter foods of the season.
What follows are 10 white wines costing $20 or less. A few may be a little hard to find, but many are available in well-stocked supermarkets or chain wine stores.
Sauvignon blanc can offer a lot of refreshment on a warm day. There’s an abundance of that variety planted in the Marlborough region of New Zealand’s South Island, which has led to some very attractively priced wines. One example is the 2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc ($13), with the typical Marlborough aromas and flavors of racy pink grapefruit and tomato stem. A good California option is the 2017 J. Lohr “Flume Crossing” Sauvignon Blanc ($14) from Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco appellation – an area that grows a lot of excellent sauvignon blanc. This one is fragrant and melony with some citrus overtones.
I’ve been known to deride pinot grigio as the white wine for people who don’t like flavor. That’s overly harsh, of course. There are many insipid pinot grigios (also known as pinot gris), but there are plenty of tasty ones, too. A good California example is the 2017 Hess Select Pinot Gris ($13), which displays lively white fruit as well as some weight and richness. For a completely different take on the grape, there’s the 2016 Attems “Ramato” Pinot Grigio ($20), an Italian white that could almost qualify as a rosé. It has a pale copper color from macerating the juice on the skins (pinot gris/grigio, while considered a white grape, does have color in its skin), along with delicate flavors of citrus, strawberry and a touch of creaminess.
Now back to California. The 2016 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($16) is an 80-20 blend that’s widely available. It’s very fresh and citrusy, with white fruit and a slight herbal note.
France’s Rhône Valley is best known for reds, but it’s also home to outstanding whites. Some are extremely pricey, but the whites from the Côtes du Rhône are affordable. One example is the 2016 Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Reserve Blanc ($12), which offers bright apple flavors, some fleshiness and a mineral note.
Argentina is also best known for red wine (malbec), but the country has a signature white grape called torrontés. The 2016 Susana Balbo “Crios” Torrontés ($15) is typical of the variety — very floral, with bright white fruit and a slightly drying finish.
I love the crisp whites of Italy – another country, incidentally, that’s more associated with reds. The 2016 Rocca di Montemassi “Calasole” Vermentino ($15) from Tuscany displays zippy lime and green apple with a hint of candied lime. There’s also the 2016 Pieropan Soave Classico ($20), from one of Soave’s top producers. The wine has some weight and richness along with its racy green apple, citrus and almond paste flavors. 2016 was the 50th vintage for Leonildo Pieropan, who died in April.
As albarinos from Spain’s Rias Baixas region have gained acclaim, the wines have gotten more expensive. But the 2016 Martin Codax Albarino ($14) is still a good value, and it’s relatively easy to find. The wine brims with racy green apple and citrus flavors, accented by a stony, mineral note.
Beyond those 10 wines, I have to mention a couple of others. From my hall of fame, there’s the Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc ($15). I haven’t tasted the current vintage (2017), but this wine is consistently a winner, so I won’t hesitate to recommend it.
There’s also an honorable mention that didn’t make the list because of its price. Nevertheless, the 2017 Tablas Creek Vermentino ($27) from the Adelaida District of Paso Robles is always a favorite of mine. It’s fresh and racy, with lime and white peach flavors and a stony note on the finish. It also has a modest alcohol content of 13 percent. (In some vintages, it’s been even lower.) It’s a truly delicious wine at any time of year, but especially when the weather is warm.