Can you smell spring in the air where you live? I finally can. The Everest of snow I had shovelled onto the front lawn from my driveway in winter has finally melted and the musky scent of damp leaves and grass is rising in its place. It's a beautiful thing (though I live in Toronto and can't rule out one last cruel dump between now and the moment these words are published).
But in a more symbolic sense, spring for me always comes a little early. I've had my hands in soil since early February, when temperatures in much of the East were lower than the Leafs' playoff prospects over the next century. I started gardening indoors seven weeks ago, planting vegetable seeds in trays in anticipation of warmer days. (The second-floor sunroom looks like a baby-kale daycare.) It's my way of thumbing a nose at winter, and compensating for the fact that I don't live in beautiful and balmy Vancouver.
Wine is a helpful tool in this regard, too, I find. You can push the envelope and enjoy spring in a glass if not outdoors. There are many styles that can figuratively melt the snow, with prominent notes of greenery and zesty fruit, such as sauvignon blanc, riesling and gruner veltliner.
I've just twisted open an excellent, grassy New Zealand sauvignon blanc. I was going to save it for a homegrown kale salad, but impatience got the better of me.
Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (New Zealand)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $35.95
The Ibbotson family began tending vines in 1978 during the pioneering days of New Zealand's wine industry, selling their fruit to estates that conquered global markets with the country's hyper-vibrant sauvignon blanc style. In 1994 they made the wise decision to do the crushing and bottling themselves, establishing Saint Clair Family Estate in Marlborough, now one of New Zealand's most respected producers. This herbal-spicy upper-end reserve leads with notes of grass, jalapeno and charred red pepper. There's also plenty of citrus zest in this silky, concentrated white. Available in Ontario.
Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 (Niagara)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $19.95
Always a good riesling producer, Vineland struck gold with this white in the warm 2012 growing season. The wine could ably compare with fine examples from Germany's Mosel region, which many consider the benchmark for opulent and complex riesling. Sweeter than off-dry, and registering a mere 9-per-cent alcohol, it leads with a heady note of pine, joined by tinned peach and petrol. It should gain complexity with up to 10 years in the cellar.
Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling 2010 (Germany)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $17.95
Medium-sweet for a non-dessert wine, this superb German white feels like a tug of war between sugar and acidity, and I'd call it a happy draw. A thick, sweet extract coats the palate at first, but then a citrus-like tang gets the tongue dancing around like an animated broom from Fantasia, mopping up the succulent fruit. Great value. Available in Ontario.
Matahiwi Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (New Zealand)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
Here's another spicy New Zealand white, not from the sauvignon blanc capital of Marlborough on the South Island but from Wairarapa on the North Island. Lean yet polished in texture, it comes across with peppery spice and smooth citrus, vaguely hinting at good tequila (with a lot less alcohol). Various prices in Alta.
Rabl Loss Gruner Veltliner 2013 (Austria)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $14.95
Exports of gruner veltliner, Austria's signature white, continue to rise, particularly in the United States, where the variety has become a darling of restaurant sommeliers. Light-medium-bodied and dry, this one from Rabl, an excellent producer, shows refreshing apple and floral notes framed by electric acidity. It's a serious bargain. Available in Ontario.
Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013 (Niagara)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
Off-dry and sporting just 10.5-per-cent alcohol, the Nadja's Vineyard riesling mixes brilliant green apple, peach and lime notes with a whisper of herbs and mineral-like zip. Through www.flatrockcellars.com.
Trimbach Riesling 2012 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $21.95
Dry and zesty, this classic entry-level riesling from an Alsatian family that's been in the wine business since 1626 is precision-made. Crisp peach, lime and petrol nuances get support from an invigoratingly bitter backbone. $29.99 in B.C., $22.50 in Que.
Sileni Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (New Zealand)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $18.95
Plump and round, with a silky texture, Sileni's light but flavourful cellar selection captures good balance between fruit and foliage, with prominent grapefruit and tropical fruit flavours mingling with grass and dried hay. $16.99 in B.C. (on sale for $15.49 until March 31), various prices in Alta., $14.99 in Man., $19.99 in N.B., $19.29 in Nfld.
Ormarine Picpoul de Pinet 2013 (France)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $12.95
It may not trip off the tongue as suavely as, say, pinot grigio – unless you speak good French – but piquepoul grape (confusingly spelled differently from the Picpoul de Pinet appellation) can reward the intrepid seeker of crisp white bargains. This one, from the dominant co-operative producer in the southern Languedoc region around the town of Pinet, is light but more intriguing and complex than your average $13 grigio. Silky and round, it offers up flavours hinting at green apple, citrus and herbs, with a cheerful nip of bitterness on the finish. $15.99 in B.C
The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol recently took home top prize for best general English cookbook at the Taste Canada Food Writing Awards. Published by HarperCollins.