When the weather is warm, it’s a no-brainer to turn to lighter, lower-alcohol white wines as opposed to heavier, cooler-temp reds. You don’t want to get bogged down with heavy tannins and loads of alcohol during the backyard barbecue. This summer, I’ve been forcing myself to try out some new white wines instead of defaulting to my favorites, as I normally do. I’ve made some interesting discoveries—wines from producers running the gamut from Italy to Lodi, and Chile to South Africa.
I have to admit, it was the label on a bottle of Peñalolen 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($11.06) that caught my eye. It’s an ancient artifact—presumably from Chile, where the wine is made—of a nearly faceless human head; only the eyes and a partial nose can be seen. It’s both intriguing and a little creepy. The wine, however, is top-notch. It’s a perfect rendition of a cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc: zesty and brisk, with citrus (grapefruit and lime) and herbal (tarragon) notes. If you want to know what a benchmark Chilean Sauvignon Blanc tastes like, try this one. I had it with Chef Thomas Keller’s gnocchi à la Parisienne, and it was a knockout.
One of my favorite new summer white discoveries is Argiolas S’elegas Nuragus di Cagliari DOC 2010 ($13.07). It comes from Sardinia, off the coast of Italy, and is made from 100 percent Nuragus grapes. Nuragus is one of Sardinia’s oldest grape varietals, as well as the name of ancient stone huts found throughout Sardinia. An image of such a hut is printed on the Argiolas label. The wine is fermented in stainless steel for 20 days, and offers citrus fruit flavors, along with peaches, green apples and herbs. There’s a mineral backbone to this wine that I really like. It’s as if it were made for grilled shellfish—a beautiful summer wine.
While we’re on the topic of Sardinia, we should take a look at Uvaggio Vermentino 2009 ($14.06). Vermentino is a grape that’s indigenous to Sardinia and Liguria, but this one comes from Lodi, in California. It’s a lower-alcohol wine (11.1 percent), and perfect as an aperitif or for sipping on the porch or patio, with melon and lime flavors and hints of mint.
Another California wine I’m very fond of is Curtis Heritage Blanc ($13.07). Curtis is a Santa Barbara County winery devoted exclusively to producing Rhône-style wines. Head winemaker Chuck “Calypso” Carlson makes wines in a fruit-forward style, and this wine is no exception. It’s simply delicious, a blend of 60 percent Viognier and 40 percent Roussanne. The Viognier is fermented in stainless steel, which helps to maintain the Viognier’s prototypical perfumed-fruit aromas and flavors. Meanwhile, Carlson partially ferments and ages the Roussanne in neutral French oak barrels, which lends body and depth. It’s an excellent choice for your next picnic.
Finally, let’s head to South Africa. I have to admit, I haven’t found too many South African white wines that I’m very fond of. Many seem to have an odd petrol note (to my palate, anyway). However, I really enjoyed tasting Indaba Chardonnay 2011—especially for the bargain price of $7.06. According to the winery, Indaba is “the traditional Zulu forum for sharing ideas.” It’s in that spirit of collaboration that the Indaba winemakers create their wines. It’s made with 100 percent Chardonnay, from Stellenbosch, Swartland and Robertson vineyard grapes, where vines range from nine to 22 years in age. There are tropical pineapple flavors here, along with honey and pear, with a hint of butterscotch from French oak.