Spring is here. The markers of fragrant, delicate blooms and emergent green growth are abundant. My garden literally teems with explosive life, and as I gather up this season’s lettuces, herbs and vegetables I naturally begin planning for a spring dinner fête with friends. Of course, my mind wanders to wine choices and they are all fresh, light, lively and white.
I sip what the season dictates, and there can be no better match with fresh green salads, spring pea soup and herbed and grilled fish and chicken than a crisp, chilled glass of lovely white wine.
The great thing is that no matter what your palate, there are so many lovely choices at this time of year, all anchored in great wine traditions from around the world. For me, wine is a passport. During the times in my life when I could not travel, I found myself cultivating a passion for foreign wine. By picking out a nice wine from a particular country, I could literally taste the region. Fine wines from around the world, made with care and with respect to long-standing wine traditions, have the power to transmit culture and place.
For those of you who typically dismiss white wine, now is the time to take a sip. More than any other season, springtime has the power to convert nonbelievers into white wine lovers. So, if white wine is your terra incognita, or if you are already a fan and want to expand your horizons, I invite you to take an international tour of the wonderful world of white wine. To keep one foot rooted in the bounty of our local wine scene, at several stops along our tour I have featured a local pour along with a foreign pick. In this way, one can compare and contrast a foreign bottle with its native cousin.
It’s fitting to start off in France, where in the Loire Valley, the classic spring varietal Sauvignon Blanc finds its ancestral self as Sancerre. At a glance, most Sauvignon Blanc is characteristically medium bodied, high acid and very aromatic, steely, herbaceous and dry. It’s usually fermented in stainless steel, which maintains its characteristic freshness. In France, Sancerre at its best provides an underlay of chalk or stone, adding minerality alongside the fruit and grassy notes. What makes this wine so perfect for spring is its crisp acidity, which acts as a squirt of lemon to any dish. It is perfect with salads, grilled seafood or chicken, and goat cheese. Roland Tissier produces a Sancerre that showcases the classically clean characteristics that define this region. Delicate white flowers mingle with crisp, flinty minerality.
Local pour: Try Osseus, a handcrafted single-vineyard Sauvingon Blanc from Santa Ynez. It is full of ripe fruit, but maintains balance.
Next, let’s travel to the Friuli region of Italy, the natural home of Pinot Grigio. At a glance, this varietal is characteristically delicate, light, cool and clean, with more mineral than fruit qualities. However, in Friuli, Pinot Grigio achieves a richer, fuller-bodied incarnation. When aged in oak, these wines can be reminiscent of Chardonnay and can stand up well to heartier fare, such as pasta dishes with cream. There can be no better match for pasta primavera than a glass of Friuli Pinot Grigio. I prefer it with a nice plate of fresh calamari fritti. Try the Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio, round and full-bodied, with notes of honeydew melon and lemon.
Local pour: I am a big fan of Palmina’s Cal-Ital wines, and their Pinot Grigio is made from Santa Barbara fruit. It is zesty, and packed with stone fruit flavors.
Let’s go north now to the Mosel region of Germany, where we can explore Riesling, a varietal that is often misunderstood and overlooked. Among sommeliers, German Riesling is coveted for its purity of fruit and expression of place, or terroir. German Riesling is low to medium in body, naturally high in acidity and incredibly complex with age. Notes of green apple, pear and peach mingle with lemon, lime and white flowers and minerals. At their best, German Rieslings are taut, delineated, juicy, pure, crisp and mineral-packed. They are made in a variety of styles, according to their “sweetness” or residual sugar. Even the sweetest wines maintain balance, however, due to their high acidity and complex minerality. Perhaps no other varietal is as “transparent” as Riesling, in that the geography of the vineyard can infiltrate your senses with every sip. I love to drink it with smoked fish, rich, creamy cheeses and with spring pea soup. I even pour a little into my bowl and swirl it around to bring out the natural sweetness of the peas. Dr. Loosen has established high quality with long- standing tradition. The pure blue slate of these ancient vineyards gives these wines their complexity. Dr. Loosen makes wines at various price points, and this “blue slate” bottling is a great entry-level experience.
Local pour: The Ojai Vineyard makes a fantastic Riesling!
Traveling to South America and the high-altitude regions of Argentina we can next try Torrontes, a grape that is gaining in popularity. At a glance, it is lively, medium bodied, perfumed and packed with delicate fruit flavors. When made well, Torrontes has structure and acidity. Fruity, floral and still quite dry, this wine has a lot of offer, and it is usually a great value. Given its aromatics and body, Torrontes can stand up to spicy food such as Thai or Indian. Personally, I love it with salads that are rounded out with fruit, such as peaches or pears. Try the Torrontes made by Urban Uco. At $10 a bottle, this is an incredible value. It packs a lot of fruit into every sip. Currently, there is no local Torrontes to be found. This varietal is indigenous to Argentina and is incredibly temperamental in foreign soil.
Our last stop is Spain, where Albarino finds its most authentic form in the Rias Biaxas region along the western coast. At a glance, Albarino is usually pale, floral-scented, delicate and dry, with refreshing tinge of lemon and a light effervescence. It is rarely oaked, in order to maintain this zesty, fresh character. Albarino has fast become deservedly popular beyond the Spanish border. It is just fantastic with fresh grilled fish. Personally, I love a glass of Albarino with a plate of freshly shucked oysters. More and more restaurants are offering it by the glass, because it is such a great food wine, and because it gets such a great response. Produced by a cooperative, Paco and Lola’s Albarino is crisp, tangy and fresh, with apricot and peach aromas.
Local pour: Try the Verdad Albarino, made by Louisa Lindquist, wife of Bob Lindquist of Qupé. Made from a blend of organic fruit from the Ibarra-Young Vineyard and biodynamic fruit from the Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard, this wine has aromas of freshly cut ripe peaches, minerals, bitter almonds and Meyer lemons. It is crisp and full of flavor. So as spring awakens, may we find ourselves sitting at a table on a fresh, bright, crisp day, enjoying a lunch assembled from fresh seasonal fare, with glass of lovely white wine, savoring every sip.
SPRING WHITE WINE PICKS
The following wines can be found at Paradise Pantry, 677 E. Main St., Ventura; 805-641-9440; paradisepantry.com
Lisa Kring lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two children, dog and biodynamically farmed home vineyard. She is a sommelier certified with the Master Court of Sommeliers, the International Sommelier Guild and the UCLA Vintage Program, but her passion for honest wines that taste of place is experienced most happily at a table with friends and good food. She is on the steering committee for Slow Food Los Angeles, and values and supports all products that are good, clean and fair.