I love the excitement of this time of year: The outdoor grill coming out of hibernation, springtime rain showers washing off the deck—and washing away the weight of winter, for that matter. The fresh produce of the season—asparagus, artichokes, fiddlehead ferns and spring peas—all signal our emergence from cold-weather dreariness.
This renewed and refreshed feeling can spark a new outlook on life, and maybe even a new approach to choosing wines for the season, and the summer season to follow. Instead of going your usual route and looking for specific wines or categories of wines, try branching out from the usual by buying according to climate. And my advice is, when the weather outside gets warmer, think cooler ... cooler-climate wines, that is.
As grapes ripen, acidity levels drop and sugar levels rise. It is the sugar level in grapes that will be converted to alcohol via fermentation, which will determine a wine’s weight, or body. Due to less and/or slower sugar development, wines from cooler climates tend to have more acidity, which makes them more refreshing, and at the same time, will be lower in alcohol, giving them a lighter touch on the palate. As the mercury rises, isn’t nice to sip a wine that is more refreshing and relatively lighter-bodied than what hit the spot in mid-January?
European wines are the best place to begin, as they offer plenty of such choices. Among the places this may lead you for white whines are to Portuguese Vinho Verde, floral Albarino from the Rias Baixas region of Spain, minerally German Mosel Riesling, effervescent Blanc de Blancs Champagne, steely French Chablis, serious Alsatian Pinot Gris, lemony Muscadet or herbaceous Sancerre from the Loire, crisp Italian Soave, or maybe even Austria’s food-friendly Gruner Veltliner. On the red wine side, great choices may include Bourgogne Pinot Noir, refreshing Beaujolais, austere Chinon from the Loire, unusual Austrian Zweigelt, as well as the versatile Italian wines Dolcetto, Barbera, and Valpolicella.
Even in the relatively warmer New World, if Napa Chardonnay is your usual wine choice, try one from north of there—Mendocino, perhaps. If California Pinot Noir was your favorite with that pan-seared duck breast in February, try a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon with whatever you are grilling tonight.
New Zealand is another great bet for cooler-climate New World wines. Australia’s Hunter Valley offers up Semillon that is surprisingly refreshing. The Finger Lakes region of New York state—give those wines a try. The list goes on.
If you are unsure, use the 13 percent alcohol-by-volume notated on the label as a baseline. Anything around 13 percent or lower is what we are talking about drinking in warm weather. Go much higher, and a few glasses on a hot day can put you over the top. Keep in mind this alcohol-by-volume percentage can usually be found on the front or back label and is often a bit difficult to locate.
For me, braised lamb shanks with a bruising red wine is a fading, wintry memory, albeit a very pleasant one. Now, charcoal-roasted lamb ribs with grilled spring onions and tangy goat cheese alongside are a welcome and refreshing change with a cherry-tart Barbera from northwest Italy. Here’s to the spring season and, when choosing wines for warmer times, think wines from cooler places. CW
Gus Magann is a partner at Vine Lore, Inc. a Utah-based wine and spirits brokerage.