I find it amusing when people misconstrue the vernal equinox as a literal weather statement, as though the sun passing over the equator directly causes a sudden spike in the local temperature. A couple of days after this year’s equinox, as temperatures in Toronto plunged well below zero, I saw a guy booting up Ossington Avenue in a convertible Porsche with the top down. I suppose that’s one way to spend a cold night in a hot car. (My way was to putter around in a Subaru with the windows up and seat heat cranked to high.)
Canadians are famous for pushing the seasons. We have to. When the present is unpleasant, we live in the future, anticipating better days. I prefer to do it with wine. I don’t know what the weather’s like where you are now, but this could be a good time to consider a few lighter and more aromatic styles as a way to conjure the warmth, such as the examples below. It’s not spring in my book until you can taste it.
The ultimate “naked” chardonnay, produced in Burgundy’s eponymous northern district. These white wines are usually unoaked (or at least minimally oaked) and are a like a flavour metaphor for the terroir, capturing the crispness of the cool air as well as the stony minerality of the grey-white soils.
The Loire Valley excels with this white grape, though many are slightly or considerably sweet. South Africa ranks as the world’s biggest producer by far, though, and many examples, such as those produced by Ken Forrester, are superb – a model of that yin-yang balance of subtle sweetness with zippy acidity.
Sometimes described as the gamay of Italy, this light red comes from Piedmont, a region where nebbiolo ranks as the much more vaunted red variety that produces barolo and Barbaresco. Expect more fun than gravitas with this cheerfully fruity grape.
This crisp, light, thirst quencher (or vin de soif, as the French like to say) is usually subjected to minimal oak flavouring, so it’s mainly about the upbeat fruit, though I also love its frequent suggestion of cracked pepper. Unlike me, it loves to be slightly chilled, so stick the bottle in the fridge for 15 minutes. In addition to the French region of Beaujolais, where it’s the signature grape, Canada turns out many fine examples.
Big category, I know. But the vast majority of Italian whites are crisp and vibrant, and many happen to be more intriguing than pinot grigio, such as arneis, garganega (the grape of Soave), greco, falanghina, trebbiano, verdicchio, vernaccia and vermentino.
For pinot freaks, there are four ideal seasons for this grape, not one. I share their view. Yet I think that, for people generally accustomed to heavier reds, spring provides a special window into this thin-skinned grape’s more delicate soul. Get yourself the biggest, roundest glass you can and stick your nose down deep. As with spring gardening, the aromas are half the reward.
This is the all-season tire of white grapes, a flexible variety that can take on pretty much any month or menu. But in spring it comes to life in a special way. Yes, it can be sweet, and in my opinion too many rieslings, similar to processed foods, could do with less sugar. Dry or off-dry riesling is what you want at a time like this, racy with acidity, generally moderate in alcohol and brimming with tree-fruit flavours. Look to Germany, Alsace, Canada and, for my money, Australia, which makes the freshest, driest and most underappreciated rieslings of all.
Before the pink-wine market shot skyward like a runaway Champagne cork and half the world started guzzling the stuff year round, this was the quintessential wine of spring and summer. While the lean, super-dry style made popular by Provence is all the rage, for spring I’m fond of dry rosés with bigger flavour. The best and biggest tend to come from the district of Tavel in the Rhône Valley.
Austria’s signature white grape produces a generally dry, nervy wine that can range from light and citrusy to rich and nutty. The better ones (and it’s hard to find a truly bad one) tend to come with a nose-tickling suggestion of white pepper.
Classic aromas include citrus and grass, like a grapefruit caught in a lawn mower. Arguably the most elegant styles are labelled Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, two French wines from the Loire Valley. Sauvignon blanc also happens to be one of two key varieties, with sémillon, in white Bordeaux, a much-improved category. For punchier, more outgoing styles, look to New Zealand, Chile and South Africa.
Put albarino and verdejo on your spring wine-shopping list if these crisp and generally unoaked grapes are not already there. It could be said with confidence that you’ll not often overpay for the pleasure. Like a lot of European varieties, they can be hard to locate simply because producers prefer to rely on geographical labelling rather than listing the grapes on the main label. Look for the designation Rias Baixas for albarino and Rueda for verdejo.
When you’re stuck in hibernation mode, torrontes is the wine equivalent of smelling salts. One sniff is all it takes to conjure visions of fresh white table grapes, zesty citrus and heady flowers. It’s the signature white of Argentina, almost always dry and unoaked, brilliantly fresh and aromatic.
Portugal may not have invented warm weather, but it is the home of the skimpy bikini of wine. Lighter than helium, usually very low in alcohol and sometimes with a vague spritz, vinho verde may be the least pretentious fine wine on the planet.
Ceretto Langhe Arneis Blange 2017, Italy
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $37.99
This is the top-selling wine from a great Piedmontese estate and something of an iconic Italian white. Medium-bodied and with good, oily concentration, brimming with subtle flavours of lemon, pear, grapefruit and tangerine as well as notes of almond and stone. And it’s organic. Available at the above price in Ontario only by the six-bottle case direct from importer Noble Estates via nobleestates.com, various prices in Alberta.
Château d’Aquéria Tavel 2017, France
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $23.95
Full, silky and richly fruited, suggesting cherry and raspberry. Nicely poised. A blend of grenache, clairette and syrah. Available in Ontario.
Culmina R&D Rosé Blend 2018, British Columbia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19
Light peachy-pink in colour and silky, with fresh, uplifting notes of watermelon and strawberry. Joyous and seductive, with a perfect dollop of sweetness to underscore the fruit, though finishing dry. Lovely stuff. Available direct through culmina.ca.
Kitsch Maria’s Block Riesling 2017, British Columbia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $25
Light-bodied and off-dry, showing fine balance and flavours of lime, peach and green apple. Almost effervescent. Perfect riesling for spring sipping. Available direct through kitschwines.ca (minimum of six bottles required for shipping).
Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2017, British Columbia
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $22.90
Light and juicy, displaying good ripeness. Like eating cherries and cranberries with nuances of herbs and pepper. Fermented and matured in previously used, neutral-oak barrels. Available direct through bluemountainwinery.com.
SpearHead Pinot Noir GFV Saddle Block 2017, British Columbia
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $33
A juicy, wild-ferment pinot with jammy concentration and notes of cherry, tobacco, spices and cured meat. Available direct through spearheadwinery.com, and from Christopher Stewart Wine & Spirits (604-274-8481).
Rosehall Run Acid Head Riesling 2016, Ontario
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $24.95
By the colourful, psychedelic label, you’d think this was the official wine of the Grateful Dead. But it’s teasing us to drop a different sort of acid, the kind found in grape juice. Riesling is known for high acidity, which is very much in evidence in this juicy, electric white. It’s light, tight and bright, and very right for spring and summer sipping. Produced by a Prince Edward County winery from Niagara grapes. Available direct through rosehallrun.com.
- More weekly wine reviews:
- Drappier Brut Nature Champagne, France
- La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2016, California
- Moon Curser Dead of Night 2016, British Columbia
- Staete Landt Annabel Sauvignon Blanc 2017, New Zealand
- Travaglini Gattinara 2013, Italy
- Pick of the week: Monmarthe Champagne Secret de Famille Brut Champagne, France
Join wine critic Beppi Crosariol and other Globe and Mail journalists this July aboard the Globe Portugal Cruise. For itinerary and booking information, visit globedourocruise.com.