Whites for luscious late summer food.
What a marvelous summer it has been in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve sipped and savored in sunny gardens and on shady decks. Now the evenings are starting to pull in, and a bit of the wet stuff may come our way. That however, is no reason to begin banishing white wine from the table. In fact, crisp, fruit-driven, heady whites are the absolute ticket for late summer’s sweet bounty–from squash to tomatoes to corn, peaches to pears; from clams to crab.
These are the weeks to think beyond Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and today’s darling of the wine shelf, Pinot Grigio. They’re all well and good, and comfortably familiar. But there are plenty of other white varietals to discover. The good news? Their flare, richness, and complexity come from little or no oak. There isn’t a two by four in the lot.
Following are varietals that are gaining space in better wine shops and well worth considering the next time you are scouting the shelves.
From rough and rugged Galicia, Spain comes this peachy (literally) little number, cultivated mainly in the area of Rias Baixas. Albarino can taste, well, of peaches but also pear, apple, and citrus peel. It’s weight is lifted by brisk acidity—perfect for the clams, mussels, scallops and other seafood that abound in Galicia’s Atlantic waters and off our Pacific Coast. I have had the pleasure of sipping pretty tasty Albarino from California’s Edna Valley too. The California style, as with many California translations of European wines, are fruitier but still with a nice little zip. The next time you are steaming clams, cracking crab, searing scallops, or concocting a fish stew give this varietal a go.
Incidentally if you are enjoying Portugal’s vinho verde this summer it is quite likely the Portuguese version of Albarino (Alvarinho), which is made into a light, lively low alcohol wine.
When made well, Arneis is one of my favorite aperitif or “starter” white wines. This very dry northern Italian varietal (from Piedmont ) should smack of herbs and blanched almonds, with a touch of peach or apricot. It partners beautifully with a nice big platter of antipasti, soft cheeses, or grilled fish or vegetables. Sometimes I get a whiff of fennel frond from Arneis and, in that vein, like to pair it with roasted fennel and olives. It is also nice with fish, corn, and potato chowders.
Chenin has been around in shops for a long time, but is often given low billing on the wine charts. The grape gets tossed around often with Colombard to make lackluster wine, but has the potential to turn out lovely, crisp wine that hints at musk melon and honey. The Loire Valley, France, is home to Chenin Blanc, which can show up in the bottle from bone dry to lusciously sweet. It is also a major grape variety in the South where, for years, it was known as Steen. (Over the years, though, Sauvignon Blanc is steadily moving in on Steen as that country’s key white varietal.)
California also produces Chenin Blanc and British Columbia does as well. Pine Ridge in Napa Valley and Quail’s Gate Winery in B.C. are delicious examples. For French Chenin, check out Saumur for affordable wine; top-notch Savennieres for a pricey treat; sweetish Vouvray; or bubbly Cremant de Loire. Opulent Coteux de Layon and Quarts de Chaume, the region’s sweeties can be set down for years.
Chenin is very food friendly. Dry to semi-sweet Chenin Blanc makes a delicious change from Riesling and Gewurztraminer for Asian cuisines, sage-flecked pork, spicy food, and fruit salsas with generous smatterings of cilantro and cumin. California Chenin is must-try for honey garlic chicken wings, or squash and ginger soup. Classy Savennieres (best producer is Nicolas Joly) with its racy acidity and fruit-and-nut complexity needs little more than a simply prepared tarragon chicken or poached fish napped with white sauce. Cremant partners well with sushi.
Falanghina, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo
Campania, once called Oenotria (land of wine), was settled by Greeks and Romans and Falanghina, Fiano, and Greco di Tufo vines are Greek in origin. The wines prove very good bang for the buck. Peach and/or pear notes backed by racy minerality bounce off the palate, with Greco being the raciest. These wines, perfect for olive oil and garlicky pasta dishes any time of year are even better in late summer with a Caprese salad—slices of juicy tomato layered with bocconcini (fresh mozzarella) and basil leaves drizzled with extra virgin olive oil
Torrontes is the white wine of Argentina. Reminiscent of Muscat with its floral notes and fleshy mouth feel, it is still dry and crisp and can stand up to lime-laden ceviche or grilled sardines drizzled with lemon (or lime). I like it with smoked mackerel or salmon and a good grind of black pepper.
Happy (late) summer sipping! – by Julie Pegg, RFT Wine & Spirits Editor
If you’re a wine lover, you’ll enjoy some of Julie’s other wine-centric stories: