You’d think “patio sipper” would be a pretty uncontentious expression. As in: “This dry, exotically perfumed muscat is a sublime patio sipper.” But when you write for a large-circulation newspaper, there’s no telling where the forces of political correctness will strike. When I used the expression in a springtime column a few years ago, a reader sent me a finger-wagging e-mail noting that not all Canadians are wealthy enough to own patios.
That’s certainly an iron-clad point (and I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t say “cottage-dock” or “poolside” wines). But my meaning was not entirely literal. I had not been referring to wines appropriate only for spaces furnished with $2,000 chaises and $8,000 marble-topped barbecue islands. I’ve done my time in apartments with balconies the size of broom closets and surreptitiously uncorked my share of bottles in city parks. I just think “patio” sounds better than “balcony overlooking a parking lot” or “picnic table defiled by pigeons.”
As penance, I’m offering the suggestions below. I believe they can make you feel like you’ve got one foot on a patio even if you’re stuck indoors. They can beam you outside in a figurative sense with their sunny fruit and lifted, floral-herbal aromatics. And because, like most good wines, they are expressions of local soils, landscape and weather conditions, they can – not unlike the recipes and cocktails featured in these pages today – transport your mind even farther through the magic of vicarious wine travel.
But I would still categorize them as patio sippers simply because they are imbued with a flavour profile that scores in the outdoors, where competing scents of greenery, gas-powered lawnmowers or pungent sardines on the neighbour’s barbecue can overwhelm less punchy wines. The bonus: They’re nice on their own but also versatile with an array of vegetable- or fish-centric dishes, including spicy fare.
JoieFarm “En Famille” Reserve Muscat 2017, British Columbia
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $27.90
Muscat is not a grape. It’s an umbrella word that covers more than 200 distinct varieties. What they have in common is their ability to yield wine that, unlike most other wines, actually tastes like grapes (rather than other fruits), specifically fresh white table grapes. Heidi Noble of JoieFarm has fond memories of a particular muscat that she came across in northern Italy. It’s called moscato giallo, or yellow muscat, which she planted on a couple of acres on her estate vineyard in the Okanagan. It has yielded magic, thanks also to her wisdom and gifted touch in the vineyard and cellar. This is world-class white wine, a vivid, dry muscat that tastes like a wine category unto itself. Moscato’s beautifully floral fragrance and fresh fruitiness are spared the cloying sweetness of so many New World moscatos that are riding the grape’s wave of popularity among young people. Silky and remarkably substantial for 11.4-per-cent alcohol, it is brimming with flavours of fresh grape, crisp peach, grapefruit and lemony tartness as well as the aroma of a flower shop’s walk-in fridge. A wine that could wake the dead. Available direct (joiefarm.com) and at various prices at select private wine stores in the West.
Mullineux Old Vines White 2016, South Africa
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $36.95
Not your everyday white, and not just because of the premium price. It comes from South Africa but the blend tastes like a tour de France. It combines chenin blanc – a South African specialty as well as a Loire Valley signature – with Rhône Valley varieties grenache blanc, viognier and clairette with Bordeaux’s sémillon. The distinguished Mullineux winery put it all together and bottled it unfined and unfiltered to preserve as much flavour as possible – damn the potential sediment. Full-bodied, it’s fleshy, round and ripe, with well-integrated oak supporting and drawing out the plump tropical fruit and honeyed tones with nuances of vanilla, butter and toasted nuts. This might make a more intriguing pairing for substantial fish on the grill or a lobster boil than the usual suspect, buttery chardonnay. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Kim Crawford Small Parcels Favourite Homestead Pinot Gris 2016, New Zealand
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $24.95
Kim Crawford’s superpremium Small Parcels line represents a clear step above its hugely popular standard range. That’s evident in this pinot gris, medium-bodied and displaying great depth of flavour. Luscious yet refreshingly dry (and drier than many of its New Zealand kin), it’s succulent with ripe pear and aromatically musky, with a whisper of flintiness on the crisp, bright finish. Available in Ontario.
Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, California
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $22.95
St. Catharines, Ont.-native Megan Schofield has, since 2015, been the winemaker responsible for this and several other products at the iconic Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. I don’t recall a poor year for Mondavi’s fumés in my quarter-century of familiarity with them, and it’s nice to see a great execution here. Medium-bodied, it’s classic, with a smooth, trademark contribution from deft oak contact, just enough to tame sauvignon blanc’s greener side with subtle vanilla while letting well-ripened flavours of tropical fruit, green melon and lemon zest shine through. Sauvignon with finesse. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in British Columbia and Alberta private stores, $24.99 in Nova Scotia, $30.27 in Newfoundland.
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2017, New Zealand
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $21.95
This white, a step up from Villa Maria’s “Private Bin” bottling, ably captures all the defining flavours of sauvignon blanc from the Southern Hemisphere’s “savvy” capital, New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Light-medium-bodied, it’s wonderfully vibrant with citrus and grass. Imagine lawn bowling with grapefruits. There are peaches and lemongrass in the flavour mix, too. Available in Ontario at the above price, $22.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $22.99 in Manitoba, $25.99 in Nova Scotia, $20.99 in Newfoundland.
SpearHead White Pinot Noir 2017, British Columbia
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $24
Yes, you read the wine’s name correctly. It’s not easy to make white wine from red pinot noir grapes. Nor is it common to do so, not least because a producer can usually fetch a significantly higher price from the red stuff. But the process, which involves fermenting clear juice away from the dark, colour-bearing skins, can pay dividends, as it has for some Oregonian wineries and, now, for SpearHead in the Okanagan (which, incidentally, has changed the spelling from SpierHead and has hired gifted pinot noir specialist Grant Stanley as winemaker). This is pale yellow, resembling an Italian pinot grigio. Very dry and crisp, it shows lemon, pear and lemon fruit accompanied by an uncanny aromatic quality of stone dust (as in being downwind from a working quarry). Let it warm up slightly after you pull it from the fridge; it opens up. Available direct through spearheadwinery.com.
Keint-He Voyageur Riesling 2015, Ontario
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $20
Light-medium-bodied, slightly off-dry but, admirably, in that German-riesling way – with well-layered flavours and zesty acid balance. The sweet-crisp tension serves as a fine backdrop for notes of lime, green apple, stone fruit, lemon candy and nuances of petrol and stone. Available in Ontario Vintages stores and direct through keint-he.ca.
Crudo Catarratto Zibibbo 2017, Italy
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $14.95
It’s organic, which should draw the interest of a significant audience. And that’s fortunate given that this cheerful Sicilian white must work especially hard to overcome the marketing obstacle of two grape names that will be unfamiliar to most drinkers. Catarratto is a big player in Sicily and can make superb wines, while “zibibbo” is the local name for muscat of Alexandria. The wine is off-dry, with a fruit-punch-like quality, redolent of sweet table grape and apple cider along with honey and a floral aroma. I’d prefer a touch more acidity for lift, but this is a fun and out-of-the-ordinary match for spicy fare or for pork, either from the oven or on the grill. Available in Ontario at the above price, $17.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $16.02 in Manitoba.