The cruel winter that bled into an insultingly frigid spring (at least where I live) failed to squelch my gardening impulses. Since February I’ve been nurturing about 500 microplants: kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes, eggplants, onions, herbs and various heirloom lettuce varieties. It’s part of the joy – and burden – of starting plants from seed in a second-floor sun room. Outside temperatures be damned; it’s springtime inside the house.
One thing the horrid weather continued to mess with, though, was my thirst calendar. It may be a month or so before I feel like plunging headlong into the world of grassy sauvignon blanc or lean muscadet. I generalize, of course. And it always depends on what’s for dinner. But my table these days tends to be set with what I think of as transition wines, as in fresh but filling whites and lively but substantial reds.
Tyler Colman, the New York-based writer and academic who blogs under the alias Dr. Vino, has some fine early-spring ideas in his seasonal-sipping book A Year of Wine, including two underappreciated white grapes: chenin blanc and gruner veltliner. I’ve got a few more suggestions.
Domaine du Tremblay Cuvée Vin Noble Quincy 2012 (France)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $20.95
Okay, so this does happen to be made from sauvignon blanc, but it’s a relatively weighty, succulent example that stands in contrast to the gossamer versions of nearby Sancerre. Ripe and succulent, it’s teeming with sweet peach, gooseberry and floral notes enhanced by a suggestion of stone. Available in Ontario.
Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko 2012 (Greece)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $23.95
If you can’t go to Santorini, let Santorini come to you. This lean, crisp white offers notes of white peach and lemon with a whiff reminiscent of a rock baking in the hot sun. It’s the Sancerre of Greece. Available in Ontario.
Tedeschi Capitel dei Nicalo Appassimento Valpolicella Superiore 2012 (Italy)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $16.95
Considered fine accompaniments to spring lamb, the appassimento wines of Valpolicella are refermented in spring with added grape solids left over from the previous fall’s winemaking. The result is generally a richer red than standard Valpolicella. Tedeschi’s Capitel dei Nicalo is usually a standout for the money and that’s the case with this 2012. Full-bodied and smooth, it hints at plum, dried cherry, espresso and dark chocolate, with pleasantly sticky tannins. Available in Ontario. $17.80 in Quebec.
Umberto Fiore Barbaresco 2009 (Italy)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.65
One might justifiably associate Barbaresco – a regal, cherry-like red based on the nebbiolo grape – with fall and winter since it’s an ideal wine for dishes featuring earthy mushrooms and truffles. But this one’s medium-bodied and delicate for the style (not to mention unusually affordable). At almost five years of age, it’s also defiantly fresh, though there’s a trace of classic mushroom in the background. Available in Ontario.
Ulisse Unico Pecorino 2012 (Italy)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
The wine has got nothing to do with the cheese. Here, “pecorino” refers to a white grape popular in central Italy, the name possibly owing to a tendency of the local pecore (sheep) to feed off the vines. The wine is light and zippy but highly expressive and aromatic, with an aroma of cherry blossoms and flavours hinting at peach, strawberry and more peach. What a lovely fruit salad and fine change of pace from, say, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. Available in Ontario. $19.25 in Quebec.
Gray Monk Unwooded Chardonnay 2012 (B.C.)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.19
Chardonnay usually benefits from time in oak, which imparts vanilla richness and toasty complexity to the fleshy fruit. But I’m glad the inspired folk at Gray Monk did not attempt to awkwardly dress this nakedly sexy example in a barrel. Medium-full bodied and ripe, it’s round and impressively balanced, with apple-peach fruit and a clean finish. It’s ideal for grilled salmon. $16.99 in B.C., various prices in Alberta, $20.65 in Saskatchewan.
Durnberg Gruner Veltliner 2011 (Austria)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $24.95
Light but silky smooth, with notes of lemon, spiced pear and herbs, this is an elegant and subtly complex white based on Austria’s signature grape. Available in Ontario.
Sumac Ridge Private Reserve Gewurztraminer 2012 (B.C.)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $14.99 in B.C.
True to the gewurztraminer grape’s classic characters, this dry yet round and luscious white unfolds with white table grape, apple, rose petal and ginger. Poised and precise, it represents excellent value. Try it with fragrantly spicy Asian foods, a cheese course or liver pâté. $13.49 in Saskatchewan.
Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2012 (B.C.)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.99 in B.C.
Prominent B.C. winery Mission Hill recently gave its Five Vineyards line a packaging makeover. The goal was to distinguish the labels – now displaying a large numeral five – from higher-end “Mission Hill” offerings. The fine quality-price ratio remains, and this 2012 pinot grigio is a charmer. I think it genuflects more in the direction of Oregon (or British Columbia) pinot gris than cheap-and-cheerful Italian pinot grigio (same grape, different style). In other words, it’s a bargain. Faintly coppery in colour, owing to contact with the grape’s grey skin, this light, dry, juicy white tickles the palate with crisp pear, tropical fruit, lemon peel and bitter herbs. Take it for a walk in the backyard air or introduce it to an appetizer course of prosciutto with melon. $14.99 in Saskatchewan, $18.49 in New Brunswick.
Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois White 2011 (California)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $16.95
One of the bestselling premium imported whites in the country, this subtly off-dry blend hardly needs a professional endorsement. A fragrant, fresh mingling of chardonnay, chenin blanc and moscato, it tastes of candied citrus and peach supported by lively acidity. Nice on its own or with light curries and other spice-rich fare. Available in Ontario.
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The Flavour Principle, by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol, was named best Canadian Food & Drinks Book in the 2014 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Published by HarperCollins.