With blossoms blooming and the sun shining, spring has officially sprung. And the longer days and floral aromas can only mean one thing (besides allergies): you’ll likely be dusting off the hiking boots for a picnic, heading to the beach, or doing some outdoor entertaining. All these activities inevitably lead to the nagging question—what shall I drink?
It’s a question that never lags for long, at least among my friends, who’ll drink just about anything. But if you’re looking for complimentary flavors, the best place to look for wine suggestions might be your plate, since the foods you’re eating will give you a clue as to what to pour. The following wines go well with just about any warmer-weathered fare, including grilled pork, chicken, and seafood, as well as seasonal vegetables like artichokes or asparagus. Though, far be it from me, an equal opportunity drinker, to say that these types of wines should only be reserved for the time when tulips blossom. Drink these wines whenever. But when you’re on the patio, taking in the fragrant jasmine, and watching the late evening sun dip below the horizon, you might just be happy one of the wines happened to land in your glass.
Chardonnay, the classic white, can be hard to classify at all. Many of the traditional California chardonnays have big oak and a buttery finish, while more contemporary styles lean toward the crisp end of the spectrum. That’s why it’s a good idea—whether it’s Easter brunch or a patio barbeque—to offer both options and let your guests (or you) pick and choose. It’s also why Tulocay Winery’s 2006 Chardonnay fits the bill—there are two wines in two distinct styles. Made with grapes from the Coombsville area of Napa, one lot was aged in oak, giving it a big, full finish, while the other went straight to stainless, leaving it with a crisp, delicate feel with notes of citrus.
The Tulocay 2006 Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay ($30) was aged in specially-toasted French oak, unfiltered, and is a big chardonnay, not meant for the wimpy palate. (The “NASCAR of chardonnays” according to the winery’s Web site.) With 15.6 percent alcohol, you’ll want to serve this one with food. According to Bill Cadman, Tulocay’s owner, it would go great with a rich dish, such as Stuffed Chicken with Wine Reduction Duo; for an easy brunch you might try it with Gorgonzola, Pear, and Walnut Grilled Cheese, and for a Sunday supper try it with Smoked Salmon Tartar.
Tulocay Winery Cadman Label 2006 Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay ($30) is a crisp chardonnay made in a sauvignon blanc-style, with notable acidity, and initial scents of orange blossom and lemon. It’s versatile in its pairing; I’ve had it with everything from cheese plates to shrimp. Bill thinks it would go great with oysters on the half shell; it would also work well with Butter Bean, Tuna, and Celery Salad or Seafood Skewers with Cajun Red Butter.
Sauvignon Blancs are crisp white wines with clean, citrus, or sometimes grassy notes. They pair well with many types of food, but especially creamy cheeses and fish, and springtime vegetables like peas, asparagus, and artichokes.
The 2007 Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc, which you can usually find for around ten dollars, makes a great option for the budget minded, I have-to-bring-something-to-this-party-but-I’m-broke group. No one will snuff their nose at this wine; it’s light and easy to drink, with citrusy overtones. Great to have on hand for an impromptu dinner party or a day in the park. I think it would go well with Linguine with Spinach and Capers; or with goat cheese, fruit, and a baguette for a picnic.
Rosés are crisp, light wines that have the fruitiness of a red with the drinkability of a white. Though they’re sometimes grouped—based on their color, presumably—with sweet wines like white zinfandels, they shouldn’t be. In France for instance, rosé sales have surpassed white wine sales, and a glass of dry rosé served with olives and fish during the heat of summer is a standing tradition.
Rosés are traditionally made by leaving the skin of red wine in contact with the juice for a few hours, enough to impart color, but little of the tannins. Because they’re light and versatile, they make a good accompaniment to appetizers, an outdoor party, picnics on the beach, or dessert. My pick in this category goes to 2007 Bunter Spring Winery’s Rosé ($15). Made from Syrah grapes, it was left on the skins for over a day, so it has beautiful, rich color and is meatier than your average, run of the mill rosé. After drinking a bottle of this recently, after not having had a rosé in, well, years, I found myself wondering where I could get another bottle, ASAP.
Bunter Spring’s winemaker Mark Bunter suggests having the rosé with a pasta salad, grilled sausage, or your Easter ham. I also think it could do well with Pork with Herbs de Provence.
Not a usual suspect on the American wine circuit, Viognier is a varietal normally found in the Rhone Valley of France. Stateside, most of it is grown on the west coast. Typified by a powerful fruity aroma reminiscent of apricots and orange blossoms, it’s a perfect wine for spring. Despite its sweet aromas, it’s usually made in a dry style with a spicy, mineral finish and a golden color. It pairs well with a variety of foods, but does especially well with bold flavors.
A nicely balanced Viognier is K Vintners Viognier 2007 Columbia Valley Viognier ($20). Spicy with a mineral finish and fruit aromas, try it with chicken with coriander glaze.
Riesling is a white wine consumed throughout the world, though its birthplace is Germany. Ranging from sweet to extremely dry, Riesling usually has a good amount of acidity that keeps it crisp and nicely balanced. Aromas range from green apple to orange/nectarine. Because it’s so versatile, it is often considered the easiest white wine to pair with food; it goes well with everything from barbeque ribs to pad thai, coconut curries, and pork.
A good choice is V. Sattui’s 2007 Anderson Valley Riesling ($21), which is semi-dry, with citrus aromas and apple flavors. Try it with Spicy Thai Noodles or Yellowtail Ceviche.
There are many more spring wine options to add to the roster; pinot grigio, pinot gris, and sparkling wines among them. And there’s definitely time to try them all. Because by the end of spring, you’ll be faced with summer and a whole new array of wine drinking opportunities.