It’s time to break out your summer whites… and we’re not just talking about shoes. Replace those heavy Cabs and dark Malbecs with an array of white wines that pair with summer’s lighter menus.
I’ve been cleaning out closets during the past few weeks, including my wine closet. My brown shoes and quilted jackets were packed away while my heavy, dark wines were pushed to the back corners of the wine frig. I’ll need those items again but, for now, Florida’s warmer temperatures are calling for much lighter things, including food and wine.
Just as there are thousands of summer shoe styles, so are there innumerable white wines with many different flavor styles. It’s impossible to talk about them all, so this month “Saluté” will focus on locally available wines made from the ‘Big Three’ white varietal grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Even if you are an avid red-wine fan, you’ll find these white wines enhance summer dishes just as nicely as reds do with winter’s hearty beef stews.
I’m a huge fan of wines made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes. They are crisp, refreshing, and food friendly whereas that is not always the case with some other white wines. The reason is Sauvignon Blancs have more acidity than other varietals, and it’s the acidity that makes wine pair well with food.
California’s Sauvignon Blancs did not start with great reputations, but Robert Mondavi upped the game when he created a richer style of the varietal. He wanted his wine to stand out from the others so he named it Fumé Blanc. He did not trademark the name so other wineries eventually crafted wine in the same style using the Fumé Blanc moniker. When the Robert Mondavi Winery celebrates its 50th anniversary in July, Fumé Blanc will be featured prominently in the festivities as it symbolizes the late winemaker’s innovative style. Try the 2014 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc ($20) with grilled shrimp or with a crab salad.
The right wine pairing makes even the simplest dish taste elegant. I never dreamed tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich could be so exquisite until I tried it with Cakebread Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($28). Cakebread is one of California’s most respected white wine producers, and most people choose the Chardonnay. I elected for the less expensive Sauvignon Blanc, which was light and had a nice balance of fruit and acidity.
I’m happy to have discovered Franciscan Estate wines this summer. The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($17) has become one of my favorites, especially with rich, creamy Alfredo-sauce dishes. The wine label described notes of grapefruit and lime, but the citrus was not overwhelming. In fact, it was one of the smoothest and velvety tasting wines I’ve ever had.
Although Chardonnay is the most popular white wine consumed in the U.S., it’s not always the best choice for food pairings. Always dry and sometimes very oaky, Chardonnay can overwhelm a delicate dish. However, I’m “wild” about the Franciscan Estate Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay ($32), which was Napa Valley’s first wild yeast-fermented Chardonnay. The winemaker does not add yeast—the French oak barrels are just tucked away in a cellar and the natural fermentation occurs, creating a luscious rich Chardonnay that is a perfect complement to smoked salmon and other rich dishes.
Head up the Pacific Coast for a lighter—and budget friendly—Chardonnay from Washington State’s Columbia Valley. The Mercer Canyons 2014 Chardonnay ($13) was an unexpected surprise with hints of vanilla, pear, and pineapple along with a creamy finish. In fact, the winemaker even suggested creamsicle [sic] textures but I didn’t associate the long finish with that particular summer treat. It’s a delightful poolside sipping wine or one you can enjoy with a hearty summer salad.
Choosing a Riesling to go with a special dinner can be tough because this varietal runs the gamut from pucker-mouth dry to sticky sweet. The best way to know what you are getting is to check the back label for the International Riesling Foundation Taste Profile scale, which tells you the wine’s degree of sweetness or dryness.
The sweet Rieslings—most often from Germany—are an excellent choice if you are serving Asian food or a very spicy dish.
While there are several excellent dry Rieslings from Washington State, don’t forget to look East to New York’s Finger Lakes region. With more than 11,000 acres of vineyards, the Finger Lakes region is the largest wine-producing area east of California. Glaciers formed the deep, freshwater lakes thousands of years ago and left mineral deposits that make the area’s wines unique.
The top-rated and most award-winning Finger Lakes winery is Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars, established in 1962. I tasted the 2012 Dry Riesling ($15) last summer and was impressed with its well-balanced acidity. Wine Enthusiast Magazine gave the recently released 2014 vintage a 91 in its March issue. In fact, five of the Dr. Frank Wines received above 90 scores.
Wines from the Finger Lakes regions are starting to appear in local wine shops more frequently. In the past, fans had to order the wines directly from wineries to sample these delightful and different styles. If you see one, pick it up and try it with your favorite summer menu.