That’s cool: summer whites for $20 or less

Heat waves, wildfire smoke, a surging pandemic – I don’t know about you, but I need a refreshing glass (or two) of white wine.

Even in the best of summers, I’m in the mood for something cold and crisp at this time of year. Whether it’s for an aperitif on the deck or a bottle with a light meal, a racy white wine seems more appropriate than a tannic red or even a heavier white like many chardonnays.

For this type of wine, the sweet spot for price is usually around $15-$25. The recommendations that follow are all $20 or less.

Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma County is celebrating its 50th harvest this year, and a perennial favorite of mine is the winery’s dry chenin blanc, made these days from grapes grown in Clarksburg, outside Sacramento. The 2020 Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc ($16) is lively, fresh and dry, with white fruit and green fig flavors. I find this year’s bottling even more interesting than usual.

One of the lesser-known wines from California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard is the 2020 Picpoul ($15) from Beeswax Vineyard in Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco appellation. The wine displays racy green apple fruit, with a hint of white pepper and a flinty note. And it’s refreshingly low in alcohol, at just 12.5 percent.

The acidity in riesling is always a pick-me-up, and that’s the case with the 2019 Poet’s Leap Riesling ($20) from Washington’s Columbia Valley. It’s just off-dry but with bracing acidity, along with the characteristic flavors of lime and a bare hint of diesel.

From Sicily, the 2020 Cottanera “Barbazzale” Bianco ($15) is catarratto, a white grape often associated with Mount Etna, blended with a small amount of viognier. The wine is fleshy and a little creamy, with golden apple and a hint of brininess.

I’m always amazed at the freshness of white wines from Portugal’s Douro region, a place that’s downright hot. That freshness is on display in the 2018 Crasto Douro White ($20), a blend with plump flavors of white peach and pear and a touch of dry honey.

Freshness is more to be expected in Portugal’s cool, rainy Vinho Verde region. Over the years, Vinho Verde has been known for wines that are cheap, slightly sweet and a little spritzy. Those wines can have their charms, but the region is producing more serious wines, too, like the 2020 Portal da Calçada Vinho Verde Reserva ($14), with its white peach and Meyer lemon flavors and persistent finish. The wine is a blend of loureiro, alvarinho, arinto and trajadura.

Blends like that are most common in the region, but increasing numbers of producers are making single-variety wines. Alvarinho (known in Spain as albariño) is particularly common; one example is the 2020 Quinta das Arcas “Arca Nova” Alvarinho ($16), whose pleasantly bitter/salty finish adds a nice counterpoint to the sweet, plump white fruit.

Domaines Paul Mas in southern France produces the 2019 Côté Mas Sauvignon Vermentino ($15/1 liter), a 70-30 blend that’s bright and creamy with peach and citrus and not a trace of grassiness. The liter bottle is particularly good for a small gathering.

Also from France is the non-vintage Licence IV Blanc ($6), the first Muscadet packaged in a can (in this case, 250ml). The wine is light and fresh, with a slight spritz and flavors of apple, lime and a saline note. The package is convenient for taking to the beach or on a picnic. (The brand takes its name from the license in France that allows restaurants and other establishments to serve alcohol.)

I’ve written before about the Floriana Gruner Veltliner from Hungary, one of the greatest deals I’ve found at Trader Joe’s in recent years. (The price there is $5; some other retailers sell it for closer to $10.) Now the 2020 vintage is here, and it offers racy, fresh white fruit and a touch of spiciness.