It's officially spring! Everything is starting to bloom, the grass is getting greener, the temperature is warming up, and I'm getting thirsty. This is the perfect time of year to enjoy crisp, herbaceous, grassy, floral, tropical—the list goes on and on—wines. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and even Chardonnay can fit the bill.
Sauvignon Blanc is a varietal that thrives, quite literally, all over the world. These days New Zealand is making some of the most memorable Sauv Blancs. Pretty much across the board, these wines are over-the-top citrusy and tangy, with grapefruit and tropical fruit flavors dominating the palate. The vast majority of these wines are fermented in stainless steel casks, as opposed to oak, which results in a very crisp, acidic wine with its true fruit character shining through, unmasked by wood. A few of my favorites are:
Spy Valley (about $15)—this is one of my go-to wines. It's a great one to offer to your guests at a party, or it's an ideal one to take to your host at a party. Herbal, grassy notes, along with zesty lemon and grapefruit flavors leap out of the glass. Dry, crisp and refreshing, it's better than lemonade on a hot day.
Nobilo (about $12)—this one has a little something different going on. The fruit character of this wine is more along the lines of fresh peach, along with the tell-tale herbaceous quality so prevalent in all Sauvignon Blanc. This is also one of the only Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand that still has a cork closure—the screwcap is very prevalent among the wineries there.
If you're a fan of a wine with a bit of residual sugar (just a bit), you might go for a Gewurztraminer (pronounced guh-VERTS-trah-meener). These wines are extremely floral on the nose and display distinct litchi and spicy aromas. On the palate, these wines are really mouth-filling and are made in varying levels of sweetness. For the purposes of this article, I'll stick to the dryer style.
In general, this grape varietal does not do very well in California, save for the warmer areas. A fantastic one to try is Thomas Fogarty (about $15) from Monterey. The first thing I think of when this wine hits my palate is ginger—yep, this is a spicy one. Once you get past the spice, you can't believe how floral it is … yet surprisingly dry. Very unusual, but worth the trip.
Pinot Gris has been in vogue for a few years now, and I don't think it will be going the way of Blue Nun anytime soon. To be clear, Pinot Grigio is Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris made in Italy is called Pinot Grigio—they are the same varietal. The difference is in the taste. I find that Pinot Grigios are a bit fruitless, compared to most Pinot Gris I've tasted. Pinot Grigio has lots of mineral notes, and can often taste like you've licked a wet rock. (Not that I've ever done that.) My faves come from Oregon, which has a wet, cool climate in which this varietal thrives. I really like the King Estate (about $17), which is a great little winery that has come out of nowhere in the last 10 years, making some of the best wines in Oregon. Their estate Pinot Gris is aged partially in oak, which adds just a touch of richness to the wine, but leaves plenty of great acidity. It also boasts soft pear fruit character with a crisp, dry finish. It's one of the more elegant examples of Pinot Gris on the market, I think.
Most Chardonnays do not fit into my idea of a crisp, cool springtime sipper because of the overuse of oak and malo-lactic fermentation. However, lots of delightful wood-free Chardonnays are starting to pop up in the market, which has me all giddy. Be sure to pick up a bottle (or two) of the Wishing Tree Unoaked Chardonnay (about $9) from Australia next time you're stocking up at your favorite retailer. Winemaker (and a personal friend of mine) John Larchet named these wines after a big tree that, as a child, his parents told him would make dreams come true if you sat underneath it and made a wish. I have wished for years that I could actually taste the fabulous fruit offered by the Chardonnay grape without having to deal with all of that creamy, oaky business—and POOF! The Wishing Tree arrived on the scene. Fresh apple, pear and peach flavors abound in this wine—and that's it. It's so refreshing, in more ways than one.