We prize it in apples, potato chips and linen suits, yet crispness is an underrated virtue in wine, I think. That's the case here in North America at least.
European drinkers tend to place greater value on acidity, partly because many of the continent's classic growing regions - Chablis, the Loire Valley and Piedmont, for example - enjoy brisk weather, which preserves a grape's tartness. It's also partly because more Europeans tend to view wine exclusively as a food accompaniment, not a stand-alone cocktail. Acid cleanses the palate, leaving the mouth refreshed between bites.
Suggestions: The splurge, the deal, the domestic
Acid also is an especially desirable attribute in the summer, regardless of whether food is involved. What follows is a list of wines that I hope will tickle your palate (and your fancy).
Chablis, the northernmost district of Burgundy, is the spiritual home of crisp chardonnay. Many new fans of the grape are discovering that the variety, so often grown in hot climates to mouth-coating ripeness and then oaked till the wine tastes like vanilla extract, can in fact be crisp. (It's hardly news to lovers of white Burgundy, though.) For a fresh treat, look for Domaine des Malandes Chablis Montmains Vieilles Vignes 2007 ($26.95 in Ontario, product No. 16626; $33.50 in Quebec, No. 11094760). This is textbook Chablis, a premier cru with a medium body, notes of citrus, green apple and slightly underripe peach, all etched into a backdrop of stone. Pair it with anything from raw oysters to chicken.
From the same district, look for the more widely available William Fèvre Champs Royaux 2008 ($22.10 in Ontario and $20.25 in Quebec, No. 276436; $28.99 in British Columbia, No. 25270). It's medium-bodied, and its flavour reminds me of sucking on a peach pit. It's also got a slightly brittle, chalky texture and lively acidity. This is impressive chardonnay elegance for the money. Try it with salmon, pork chops or veal.
Acidity is an unapologetically prominent virtue in most wines from the Loire Valley. A good example is Roland Tissier et Fils Sancerre 2008 ($21.95 in Ontario, No. 108514). Lean and crisp, it reveals a subtle grapefruit core and mineral-like finish. Great for light vegetable dishes and salads where the vinaigrette is not too strong.
From the same valley comes Michel Delhommeau Cuvée Harmonie Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine 2008 ($12.95, No. 164624). Muscadets tend to be lean and almost neutral-tasting, consummate oyster wines. This one's got considerable flesh, with a silky texture and almost-sweet core that evolves into a long, mineral-tinged finish. Pair it with oysters Rockefeller or grilled shrimp.
Also from the Loire, Domaine de la Pouvraie Vouvray 2008 ($14.95, No. 169706) is good value for a Vouvray, made with the chenin blanc grape. It's almost off-dry, with flavours of lemon curd and apple.
A promotional note from Cave Spring winery in Niagara offered a patriotic descriptor for the crispness of the estate's 2008 rieslings: "Look for precise, skate-blade acidity," it instructed. While the sunny and much-praised 2007 vintage yielded higher grape sugars and body, 2008 was more typical of Niagara's generally cool climate, producing fruit with higher acidity. This gave especially nice balance to Cave Spring Estate Riesling Beamsville Bench 2008 ($17.95 in Ontario, No. 286377), dry and complex, with a medium body and flavours that include green apple, lemon and pear. A versatile wine for summer - as an aperitif, with light appetizers or even with grilled fish or poultry.
From New Zealand comes the new vintage of a consistently good white, Astrolabe Voyage Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($19.95, No. 10421). There's a big asparagus note here and an essence of tomato leaf, although this could admittedly just be the aroma of my clothes after spending so much time in the garden lately. In any case, it's a great effort and a fine choice for summery salads.
Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2008 ($22.95 in Ontario, $16.50 in Quebec, No. 221887) is the latest vintage of a popular premium white. Though it's briefly aged in a barrel, the flavours are lively and finish very dry, leaving impressions of lemon, asparagus, a fresh garden breeze and hints of flintiness and spice.
And I love the bitter, briny quality of Cusumano Insolia 2009 ($11.95 in Ontario, No. 173336; $17.99 in B.C., No. 141242). I also love the Ontario price, a bargain. Light medium-bodied, it's smooth with a mossy, lemon- and apple-like profile. Did I mention crisp?