From Austrian Rieslings to Albariño to Vermentino, spring white wines for your table
It’s well into spring. Time to wake up your mouth and dispatch the heavy red wines to the cellar, where they can slumber for the next six months — they’ll be all the better for it — and embrace youth, by which I mean vintages 2016 or 2015. And above all, let’s make it white.
Only white wines, matured in neutral vessels, and hardly at all, will do. The modus operandi is vibrancy, immediacy — dry, crisp, lean, mouthwatering wines with an emphasis on purity and freshness. Bonus points if, in honor of the season, the wine gives an impression of greenness, whether in color or flavor; a young un-oaked white wine will have a pale grassy hue, which hints at its flavors as well as its potential energy — the amount of mouthwatering propulsion it’s packing.
Whether dry German and Australian Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs from Chile and New Zealand, Pinots Gris and Blanc from Oregon, Corteses and Arneises from Piedmont, Assyrtikos from Santorini, Chenins and Muscadets from the Loire — and those explored below — think of this category as a seasonal imperative. From A to V, these wines are simple and swift, but they can soar.
You’d do well to start your tour in Austria, a wine industry more or less obsessed with purity, driven perhaps by the flavor profile of its indigenous white, Gruner Veltliner. With its leafy aromatics and notes of pea-tendril, sorrel, and tarragon, these are the ideal wines for spring vegetable dishes — fava beans, English peas, snap peas; the country’s Rieslings, meanwhile, are powerful and racy, and its Weissburgunders (Pinot Blancs) are snappy and salty.
But just to be contrary, I’m going to suggest a class of wines that blends all of them, called Gemischter Satz, a traditional field blend that originates in Vienna’s urban appellation; the wines are glugged down by the gallon in the city’s heurige (taverns). These blends routinely include fruit from as many as a dozen varieties, all of those mentioned above plus exotics such as welschriesling, orangetraube, and traminer. The best of them seem effortlessly complex, with intermingling green and ripe flavors. Look for wines from Weininger, Groiss and the impressive Jutta Ambrositsch; the 2015 blend from Zahel — flavors of lemon, apple and a whiff of bitter almond, and irrepressibly jugendlich (youthful), as the German press says — is about $16 at Woodland Hills Wine Merchant and Lou Wine Shop.
You’d expect the wines of green Spain and Portugal, in the verdant northwest quadrant of the Iberian Peninsula, to lay claim on a few green wines. Miles from the Mediterranean and buffeted by Atlantic winds and weather, Spain’s Rias Baixas and Portugal’s coastal Monção and Melgaço subregions are home to Albariño, a quintessential variety for spring.
It’s a grape that’s well suited to inclement weather, with thick skin and a sturdy disposition, resulting in a wine with complex phenolic flavors and impressive textural persistence. Few white wine varieties offer more compelling texture than Albariño, which often gives the impression of weightiness even as it zips along the palate like a lime wedge spritzer. The variety’s other great hallmark flavor is salinity — a taste of the sea, and a mouthwatering minerality that inevitably brings seafood to mind.
Among Spanish Albariños, look for the stellar wines of Do Ferreira, especially his Cepas Vellas (old vines) bottling. Look too for the wines of Pedralonga, while the lean, saline Lagar de Cerveras is a regular on the shelves of area Whole Foods Markets, as well as Monopole in Pasadena (about $20).
Vermentino is a classical white variety at home near the sea in Mediterranean settings, such as Corsica, Liguria, Sardinia, and southern France (where it’s known as Rolle). Its French roots are what compelled Tablas Creek Vineyards, the French-American partnership based in Paso Robles, to bring it to this country, along with the other Rhône varieties it imported and propagated on U.S. soil.
No one could say how Vermentino would fare in California soil but it has been a great success here: Drought tolerant, robust on the vine, requiring no oak treatment and minimal handling, it was grown with relative ease in California vineyards.
But it has proved capable of delicious, vibrant wines, zingy, lemon-and-apple scented, with the capacity to keep its acidity even in the warmest of global-warming vintages. Tablas Creek, Ryme Cellars, Tendu and Broc Cellars all make cheerful Italianate Vermentinos from California fruit, while others such as Mick Unti of Unti Vineyards and Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John blend their Vermentino with Grenache Blanc for wines with a little more depth of flavor. Everson Royce, Domaine LA and K&L Wine Merchants will have a selection.
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