Summer is in full swing! If you’re like most people that means you’ve likely been drinking a lot of white wine and rosé lately. Sometimes you can fall into a bit of a rut, ordering the same Sauv Blanc every time you see it and not exploring new wines nearly as much as you do throughout the rest of the year. Why is that? Because summer is for relaxing and being lazy! Who can be bothered when you’re sweltering? I get it. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage you to explore.
I Know! Whites Seem So Simple…
As a reformed “I only like red wine” tippler I fell into this trap myself when I first got into wine. I started drinking white wines simply because it was too hot for red sometimes! As I started to explore I realized that they weren’t a necessary evil to get me through summer. Instead, they became something I was learning to appreciate and enjoy. Yet for years I found myself always ordering sauvignon blanc. I had learned quickly that the commonly found butter bomb CA Chardonnays weren’t for me (plus – those aren’t really refreshing summer whites anyway). And while I dabbled with some others like Pinot Grigio (c’mon, I was young!) or Viognier I found that they all kind of tasted similar to me – so why bother? I’d just stick with what I knew I liked and let my wine brain be on summer vacation.
…Until You Realize They’re Not So Simple
Boy was I wrong! And boy was I missing out! I had come to the conclusion that white wines were boring and simple. So I always looked forward to the return of red wine season to indulge the wine enthusiast I knew I was at heart. But once I started approaching whites like I do reds – talking to bartenders/sommeliers, explaining what I was looking for and experimenting – my mind was blown! There are so many unique and interesting white wine varietals out there that truly do introduce unique, complex expressions.
I now wholeheartedly consider myself an equal opportunity wine enthusiast. Whatever time of year, I’m ordering whites and exploring just as much as I do with reds. And I’m working in rosés and orange wines pretty damn frequently these days too. I don’t want you, friend, to suffer the same loss that I did for years. So below, I’ve provided a high level overview of some unique, fun, yet still refreshing summer whites for you to work into your usual rotation. Explore, experiment, be the person in your group introducing your friends to exciting new whites from all over the world! Selfishly, the more I get other people drinking these the more I’ll see them on wine lists too. So help a sista’ out, will you?
I fell in love with this wine on a recent trip to Argentina. So much so that I made a whole video on Torrontés to try to encourage you to try it back then! But if you haven’t tried it just yet (tsk, tsk) now’s the perfect time to do so. Torrontés is the perfect combination of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. So what does that mean?
Well, Viognier lends aromatic floral and stone fruit characteristics (think peach blossoms on a warm day) but from a taste profile it can often be flabby on the acid so it’s a bit less refreshing for summer. But then add in the acidity attributes similar to a Sauvignon Blanc and voilà, you have a lovely refreshing white wine. It also takes the best of both worlds on the palette – a similar flavor profile to Viognier…mango, vanilla and honeysuckle…with the added bright citrus elements of Sauvignon Blanc. Don’t let the nose fool you – this is typically a relatively dry refreshing white despite the enticing yet sweet nose. In fact, in Argentina (where this grape is predominantly grown) they call this the liar wine. Why? Because it tricks you into thinking it’s sweet when you smell it! #liarliar
We’re headed across the Atlantic to Portugal for our next wine, Vinho Verde. The literal translation of this is “green wine”, but when we say green here we mean age, not color. Phew! The grapes for Vinho Verde style wines are simply picked, fermented and bottled. No meaningful aging here at all. That means this wine is all about the freshness of the grape since there aren’t a lot of added aromas/flavors from aging or other finishing approaches.
On the nose you get fresh, grassy notes with lemon, often with pronounced minerality. One fun thing about this wine is that it often has high enough acidity that it can be perceived as being slightly effervescent. I love this! Not all Vinho Verde’s have this quality though. So if it is something you’re looking for make sure to ask if that bottle has this pettilant quality. I honestly find Vinho Verdes without this a bit less exciting so I only order them when they are slightly effervescence. Riax Baixas and Verdejo are two other interesting white wines from neighboring Spain. They are both very similar to Vinho Verde although they don’t typically have quite the fun highly acidic effervescent profiles. Keep an eye out for these, especially if you try and love Vinho Verde!
Greco di Tufo
On to Italy! Greco di Tufo is Campana’s white wine of acclaim. It’s grown in the Tufo soils, known for their porous volcanic rock. So Greco is the grape, Tufo is the region. It’s a difficult grape to grow meaning it can be a bit more on the expensive side for a quality example. When you start exploring whites and finding the good stuff, though, you’ll realize that they’re worth just as much of a splurge as red wines are!
If the term “summer whites” has you fearing only fruity, grassy wines Greco di Tufo be the new summer white for you! It has smoky, flinty characteristics but still has a lot of acidity so it is refreshing. It’s pretty structured and has a mouthfeel that’s rare for white wines. The mouthfeel almost leads you to believe it’s tannic, like a red wine. Which makes it a great choice when you’re wishing it wasn’t too warm for a red with your meal (or cheese!).
Also known as Txakoli, this is a Spanish wine style that is similar to Vinho Verde in the sense that you can also find slightly effervescent versions. When this wine is effervescent, however, it is purposefully effervescent. That means it is intentionally carbonated, not just high in acid leading to a perception of carbonation. Another nice thing about Txakolina is that you can often find quality bottles on a budget.
If you’ve ever had Spanish Cider, Txakolí can often be served the same way. Poured from high above to add the (extra) carbonation and release the aromatics. On the nose it has almost a salty green apple note with minerality. It continues in that tone on the palette. It has ripe, almost bruised apple and a bit of flintiness or wet stone. When carbonated, this is honestly one of my all-time favorite white wines!
While many of us a familiar with Rieslings as sweet wines there are also some delightful dry Rieslings for you to be on the lookout for, particularly from the Alsace region of France, the Eden Valley region of Australia or New York State. While we see a lot of sweet versions here in the states these three regions tend to produce predominantly drier styles of Riesling. So looking for these regions is a pretty easy shortcut to finding dry. In terms of German or Austrian Rieslings, look for the word “trocken” on labels. Funnily enough those countries actually do make a lot of dry Riesling. They mostly export sweet ones to the US and keep all the yummy dry stuff for themselves! It’s our own fault I guess, our country is known for having a sweet tooth!
If the Rieslings of your past were too sweet yet you were intrigued by the underlying flavor then dry Rieslings are going to be your new summer white bestie. Beautiful floral notes with honeycomb, citrus, and at times, a bit of petrol or rubber. On the palette you can expect ripe apple alongside all of those classic summer fruits – peach, nectarine, pineapple, and at times a bit of lemon or lime. Don’t be scared off by the sweetness you may have experienced in the past. Dry Rieslings truly are a delight!
Sancerre and Chablis
While these two wines are very different wines from each other – I’m putting them together because they are a fun, easy departure if you already love (or kind of like but are still looking for one you do love) Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, respectively. I think of them as the French versions of each. Keep in mind, in France they name their wines for the region in which it’s produced vs. the grape as we name wines here in the states. I have to say, I prefer the French counterparts 99% of the time. So let’s take them one by one:
Sancerre is a French expression of Sauvignon Blanc. They tend to be less citrus driven, drier and less fruity than US Sauvignon Blancs. They often can tend to have more minerality and I find them to be weightier (although my somm SO disagrees with me on this!), smoother and easier drinking than Sauvignon Blancs. I don’t know how to describe it, but I find them kind of seductive. I pretty much always choose Sancerre over Sauvignon Blanc when I have the option.
This is the same story for Chablis, but with Chardonnay. One of my main issues with Chardonnays in the US, particularly California Chardonnays, is that they are often (not always!) very buttery and oaky which I just don’t love unless I’m eating popcorn. But Chablis…oh Chablis! These are not aged nearly as long in oak and when they are it’s often neutral oak. Therefore the grape really shines thorough without so much of the heavy-handed finishing attributes. Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chablis are aged a bit more so if you are less averse to the oaky butter bombs we often find here and want a middle ground I’d focus there. Similar to Sancerre, I now almost always choose Chablis over Chardonnay.
Croatian and Slovenian White Wines
These are fun simply because there are currently a lot of really good quality wines coming out of these countries at amazing price points. So I encourage you to take risks here and not judge a bottle by it’s price point. You can seriously grab a few $12-$20 bottles and explore and likely find ones you love. Since the varietals and winemaking processes vary depending on what you’re grabbing I can’t really give you notes on what to expect. Trust me though, get on the train early with these…be a trendsetter!
So there you have it! Next time you’re getting drinks or out brunchin’ it with friends look at the white wine list a bit more discerningly. Ask some questions and take a leap! Drinking wine should be an experience and a moment to transport yourself with a taste of place no matter what time of year. So get that sleepy summer brain up and use this glorious heat as a reason to explore, try and conquer the incredible and unique white wines of the world. And if you already have, share some of your favorites in the comments below. Now that we’ve started exploring we can’t stop! #cantstopwontstop