Labor Day is often said to be the unofficial end of summer. It sure doesn’t feel like that here in Northern California, where we’re facing another severe heat wave this weekend. Time to stock up on some zippy, refreshing white wines.
In a normal year, I might be looking for wines for a crowd (read: not too expensive). Everyone loves a bargain, of course, but without the usual holiday parties, I can spend a bit more. Still, the dozen whites that follow all cost less than $25. A few are very easy to find, while some may be more limited.
Some of my favorite crisp whites hail from Italy. Italy has hundreds of indigenous grape varieties, so there’s no shortage of interesting whites. I’d encourage you to look beyond grapes such as pinot grigio and chardonnay and search out something a little different.
I’m a big fan of whites from the Marche region on the Adriatic coast. The best known is Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, and Umani Rochi is a very good producer. Its 2018 Umani Ronchi “Villa Bianchi” Classico ($17) offers racy lemon-lime flavors, some weight and richness and a salty minerality.
Head south along the coast, and you’ll arrive in Abruzzo. The 2018 Masciarelli Trebbiano d’Abruzzo ($14) is a little leaner than the verdicchio but has a similar briny character. The wine also has decent length, especially for the price.
In Puglia, the “heel” of the Italian boot, Masseria Li Veli produces a complex white from the verdeca grape. The 2019 Li Veli Verdeca ($20) has plenty of racy white fruit, accented by a note of dry honey and a refreshing finish that has a pleasantly bitter edge.
Our tour of Italy ends at Lake Garda in the north, home of the Lugana appellation. The whites of Lugana are made from turbiana, sometimes called trebbiano di Lugana. The 2018 Tommasi “Le Fornaci” Lugana ($20) displays flavors of juicy green apple, lemon, a touch of apple peel and a hint of almond paste.
Next stop, France. The 2017 Jean-Luc Colombo “Les Abeilles” Côtes du Rhône Blanc is mostly clairette blanche, with a dollop of roussanne, which adds some fleshiness. The wine has a firm core of acidity, a slight mineral character and a persistent finish. It costs $10 at my local Costco; an online search turned up other stores that sell it for more.
Maison les Alexandrins is also in the Rhône Valley, though the winery’s 2018 Viognier ($18) is labeled with the broader Vin de France designation. The wine has the fresh, floral character you expect from viognier, along with white stone fruit and a lean stoniness.
Portugal’s northern Vinho Verde region has a reputation for “cheap and cheerful” whites, but the 2019 Quinta da Lixa “Aromas das Castas” Alvarinho-Loureiro ($13) is a step up. It’s spritzy, like a lot of Vinho Verde, with green apple and nectarine fruit and crunchy acidity.
Alvarinho is the same grape as Spain’s albariño, a variety that’s found a comfortable home in California’s cool Edna Valley. That region is the source of the 2019 CRU Albariño ($20), which is fragrant and very fresh, with tart green apple and lemon-lime, coupled with some weight and richness.
Lodi is a California region best known for reds like zinfandel, but the area also produces some interesting whites. The 2019 Markus Nativo ($22) is interesting in the extreme, an unexpected blend of mostly kerner (a German grape) with some riesling and bacchus (a German cross of an unnamed sylvaner-riesling cross with müller-thurgau). It’s a steely wine with lime and lime zest, a touch of fleshiness and a persistent finish.
I drink a lot of sauvignon blanc in the summer, and New Zealand has become synonymous with this variety. One to try is the 2019 Mohua Sauvignon Blanc ($16), with its racy lime and pink grapefruit flavors. It’s also a good value.
The Mohua isn’t overly grassy, as some New Zealand examples can be, but if you prefer something a little creamier, there’s the 2019 Matanzas Creek Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($20), a fragrant wine with melon and pink grapefruit flavors and an appealing texture.
Finally, an Oregon pinot gris is a nice choice, particularly the 2018 Ponzi Pinot Gris ($19). It displays lots of crisp white fruit, like peach and golden apple, and a slight floral note.