Spring is upon us. And this means more activity, whether it’s spending time at the beach, sidewalk shopping, dining al fresco or working in the yard and getting that never ending “to do list” whittled down. With winter coming to an end I tend to shift my pallet to lighter, more crisp wines. Seeing as how the days can be warm and the nights can be chilly, I switch back and forth between whites or rosés during the day and reds at night.
While I am active, I tend to work up a thirst. And this is where the white wines come in. While a chardonnay will go right down, I lean towards something more refreshing. I like Chablis in the chardonnay category. It has great minerality and is crisp, unoaked, with great acidity, and therefore falls into that light and crisp category. The easy choice is a sauvignon blanc. Keep in mind that terroir affects these lighter, more aromatic wines. Sauvignon blancs from New Zealand have that grapefruit kick, while one from Bordeaux has more minerality, and elegance. And a Sancerre from Loire is quite complex.
While these are the more common grapes, I also am a big fan of being more adventurous with wines like dry riesling and torrontés. Riesling is the most versatile grape out there, and ranges from bone dry to dessert sweet. The best come from Germany. And there is a precise code to them, as Germans tend to be precise. Look for the words “trocken” or “dry.” These have minerality, and are harvested before they ripen to the point of developing residual sugar. Torrontés is a relatively obscure grape that is primarily grown in Argentina and Uruguay. It is like gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc came together and had a kid. You get this white floral and honey note on the front of the pallet, which is then washed away by this amazing grapefruit acidity. There are other grapes that fall into this group, like pinot grigio, albariño, marsanne, and roussanne, that fit the bill nicely.
Rosé, unlike what many people think, is not typically sweet. It is dry, and a little more complex than the summer white wines. You usually get primary notes of strawberry and cherry, with varying secondary notes, depending on the grapes used, as well as the method used to make the wine. The most common way to make a rosé is by limiting the maceration (or soaking time with the skins). The longer a red grape soaks with its skins, the darker the wine gets. Therefore, by limiting the amount of time, you get a wonderful pink hue and a lighter wine. There is also the direct press method, where there is no maceration. These tend to be lighter in color than those that go through maceration.
Another method is the saignée method, where the rosé is a by-product of concentrating a red wine. Early in the maceration process, they “bleed off” some of the juice. This comes out with a pink color and tends to be richer than the direct press wines. The last method is blending, where a white wine and a red wine are blended. This method is banned in France (except for Champagne). Wines made by blending can vary quite significantly in flavor as it depends on what grapes are being used.
I choose these wines at this time of the year as they are crisp, lower in calories, and tend to go with my “New Year’s resolution diet” food choices. They also don’t weigh me down, so I can stay active throughout the day. While I might be mad (about wine), there is a method to my madness. I hope this helps you with your daytime wine selections for spring. I love to sit down in my backyard, take a break during a day of yard work and enjoy one of these wines. When I am at the beach, enjoying some shopping, or on a bike ride through Seaside, I’ll stop at 45 Central Wine & Sushi Bar and enjoy a glass with some sushi. It allows me to stop and enjoy all that Seaside has to offer with my favorite thing … wine!
When it comes to red wines in the evening, I immediately go to merlot. While it has lost its luster since the movie “Sideways” came out and the words “I’m not drinking any (blank) merlot!” were shouted, merlot sales plummeted, and pinot noir exploded. It’s sad, really, because merlot is a lovely grape. The reason the character said that phrase in the movie is because merlot was his ex-wife’s favorite varietal, which was disclosed in the book. The wine he drank at the end of the movie, from a Styrofoam cup in a fast food restaurant, is one of the best merlots in the world, Cheval Blanc (from the Right Bank Bordeaux area), and one of their best vintages. He drank it then because he realized there was no point in saving it, as the chapter of his life with his ex-wife had come to a close. Now you’re in the know. Merlot is known for softer tannins, with primary notes of plum and cherry. It is food friendly and easy to drink. It’s not as heavy as a cabernet sauvignon, which is why I like it for nights as the weather warms.
Garnacha (as grenache is known in Spain) and sangiovese are also great choices for this time of year. Garnacha is the primary grape in most Spanish reds, as grenache is the primary grape in Southern Rhone wines. In Rioja, it is a blending grape, and tempranillo takes center stage, another elegant and softer varietal. Since Southern Rhone wines often use more varietals in their blends, there is some variation that can occur, and the reason I tend to stick with merlot or rioja. Sangiovese is most commonly grown in Tuscany, Italy. While it is the primary grape in most wines from this region, you can find 100 percent sangiovese in Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino. Brunello isn’t cheap, but it is wonderfully food friendly. If you want the same type of food friendliness, or a wine to just enjoy, the Rosso is a more economical choice.
These are some of the wines I enjoy pairing with different foods during the spring evenings. They pair great with charcuterie and meats, but if you can a find a place that makes paella, a good rioja will illustrate the magic of pairing food and wine together. 45 Central is fortunate to have the paella queen, Joyce Russell, making paella on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights. They have some great selections, like the ’14 Vivanco Crianza by the glass. By the bottle, I would choose either the ’12 Marqueesde Vargas Reserva, or the ‘09 Muga Prada Enea Gran Reserva. I hope I’ve helped guide you a little further on your wine journey and exploration, pointed you in the right direction, and shared some industry knowledge with you. Until next time, may spring bless you with abundance and growth.
Tom Ward is the owner and operator of ATL Vineyard Express wine tours in Atlanta, Ga. He has worked in the wine industry for more than 25 years and has his Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 certification. Tom loves sharing his passion for wine with those who want to learn more. If you have any questions for Tom, you can email him at info@ATLVineyardExpress.com.