The arrival of invites to picnics and early summer parties reminds me that in spite of the cool spring weather, and the lingering COVID, it is already early May, when I like to buy a case or two of wine to have on hand for company. Nothing rich or particularly pricey. I’m looking for wine that pairs well with food, but doesn’t require it, on the balance more fun than cerebral — mainly whites, a couple of rosés, a light red, a sparkler — because they are joyful and versatile — but I want one that I wouldn’t feel guilty serving also as a cocktail or spritz.
Lately, my habit has been to drive the 15 or so miles from Old Lyme to The Wine Thief in Madison, where I enjoy chatting with Janine Sacco about Japanese vermouth, Nebbiolo and the Italian reds which have attracted me most for the last year or two. The last few visits, we’ve tried the Greek whites, which have particularly excited Sacco (an enthusiasm shared by chef David Standridge at Shipwright’s Daughter).
This time I asked her for her thoughts on a few wines for the spring, something in place of nondescript Sauvignon Blanc and ho-hum rosé…
JS — Yeah, so springtime wines… thinking about the flavor profiles that go with early spring — lots of greenery, fresh peas, asparagus, things along those lines. We just came across this fantastic little white that I feel like I may have pointed this out..
GS — To one of the Greek ones?
JS — Yeah, because honestly, I am the biggest fan of Greek whites, and reds too, but mostly the whites — achingly rare varietals — very very few producers are actually making wine from this varietal. It’s coming from the Peloponnese.
This (Parparoussis Sideritis at $23) is not commonly found in Connecticut. We had to do a little begging to get this brought out here. But this guy, you know, those aromatics really pushed you into that fresh spring greenery.
GS – That’s kind of what we had for dinner last night — peas, scallops, mint…
JS – Even a spring risotto would be gorgeous with that – that touch of grapefruit as well you get in the aromatics. That bright touch of citrus is a wonderful alternative to the Sauvignon Blancs of the world as well.
It’s just a fun alternative, a great springtime wine that has a little bit more body to it as well. I’ve also really been digging some of these Italians… one of my favorites is Villa Russiz (at $22).
Villa Russiz is a family-run estate. Way back at the end of the 19th century, they put an orphanage on the winery’s site, and so all proceeds from all the Villa Russiz wines go to support their philanthropic efforts …. so benefit humanity to go along with your wine — this too is a wonderful alternative to the Sauvignon Blanc. If it were grown in France, the grape would be called Sauvignon Vert. Aromatically we’re in the lime blossom, orange blossom end of the spectrum, it has a beautiful minerality to it, but such a gorgeous little expression. Another one that pairs beautifully with those springtime flavors.
JS – I feel like we also, especially for this time of year, Txakoli are also just so fun. So, these guys are made with an interesting varietal called hondarrabi zuri. This is coming from the northern Basque region right along the Atlantic coast. Ameztoi is one of the most well-respected producers of this style (at $25) … I love the kind of crunchy seashell, kind of an aromatic, this coastal salty tone that comes out…
GS – Something that really interests me – wines that have this saline character…
JS – Yeah, so we really find it with these guys, the vineyards are incredibly close to the Atlantic, so that coastal influence really does wonders for these wines, and it does naturally have a little bit of dissolved carbon dioxide in so it will have a little tap dance, that little sparkle right across the palette. So a wonderful alternative to the sparkling wines of the world. So it’s a wonderful aperitif. But if you use it along with any kind of springe canapé, this would be such a little stunner.
GS – People often think that cheese and white wine goes well together, particularly I get these bloomy rind cheeses, like camembert, and it brings out the bitterness… and so for these people that just want to have these bloomy rind cheeses…
JS – Yeah, that is a little bit of a toughy, but honestly my favorite place to got when we’re looking to stay white is an orange wine.
So that little extra bit of skin contact is really going to help out when we’re looking at that bloomy rind kind of style. So things that are really standout in that category — this beautiful little Nosso Verdejo (at $30).
This varietal, Verdejo, actually has a lot in common with Sauvignon Blanc, but it pushes more into the peach category, with a little bit of a Marcona almonds nuttiness that comes in towards the finish, that nutty slightly bitter finish. It’s a natural companion to go with those kinds of styles (of cheese), but that lift of acidity through the mid palate is going to cut like an extra knife through those.
Or something like this little Vin de Savoie (at $32) — I really feel like the wines from Savoie are about to explode — grapes like Mondeuse for the reds, in this case Roussanne.
GS – So, in this case, that’s a mountainous area, so it’s a cooler – because some of these, as with Austria as well, as it’s gotten a little bit warmer sometimes these… the very very north of Italy, or the south of Germany, have some interest for reds as well.
So this would be so this is probably up in the hills someplace…
JS –Yeah, exactly. So, we do have that classic mountain wine here. It really has this kind of mountainous herbaceous quality, but we’re looking more into also a citrus component, lemon, lime, spiced orange – that mineral salty-kind-of-tone that comes out as well.
Of course rosé is something that needs to be mentioned…
GS – Absolutely
JS — I personally need a rosé that’s got a little bit more guts than what we’re getting from like the classic of Vins de Provence. I’ve been really excited by some of the wines that are coming out of Austria.
So this from Heidi Schrock Tour de Rosé (at $20) – it’s cerebral and complex but also yummy at the same time, which is kind of hard thing to do. It’s dry, but broad on the palette, think spiced watermelon, raspberry little touches of currant, really nice minerality through the palette, but we have a really fun little set of grapes here – it has Zweigelt, Blaufrankish, teraldego, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir — if it grows in Austria. It’s a kitchen sink Rosé blend, but so cool.
But the Von Winning (at $23) — I love a little touch of fruit. Like I feel like you’re a bit of a coward if you’re afraid of sugar in your wines a little bit. You know, it’s got this fruitiness, you know she’s a little loose with her fruits — if you don’t mind a little bit of that — but a nice lift of acidity, but it’s just the yummiest little thing on the planet for a picnic outside.
GS — So let’s think sparkler…
JS — So, some of the things that I’ve been most excited about lately — this little Crémant de Limoux (Domaine Collin at $16) is phenomenal. So, this is a district in France that has been producing Champagne-style wines for hundreds of years. They actually predate the champagne district for sparkling wine by 200 years. So they’re the original style.
This guy is made with a combination of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, and I loved the complexity in the aromatics — a little bit of yellow Apple and toasted croissant that comes out. It’s really delicious and very much overdelivers for the price range. Great on its own, but something if you did want to make a little spritzer with it. Additionally, I’ve been really loving something even inexpensive like this, Henri Varnay (at $12). I use this for making French 75 and those kinds of things.
Later in the afternoon, I had the chance to try three wines from Frank Family Vineyards — a 2019 Carneros Pinot Noir (at $38), which was a lively juicy expression of the grape, plenty of strawberry aromatics. As the winemaker puts it, “We’re not trying to make a Burgundian Pinot Noir. We are blessed with California sunshine and we have to farm with that in mind.” Their 2019 Carneros Chardonnay ($38) balanced with plenty of acidity, apple, toast, pear and banana.
Both are good values.
But it was the 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which stood out. Made from 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot, it’s just a great bottle to drink — all finesse, black currant, vanilla, sugared pistachios — at around $50 in Port Chester or Hartford, an excellent value.