Has winter been long and cruel where you live? Don't get me started. People have trotted out the word "summer" in my presence lately and they might as well have been speaking in Sarcee. I have no recollection of what earthly reality the word refers to, unless they were talking about Donna Summer, in which case I and my wide-lapel jackets remember fondly.
Today's vernal-equinox wines are my attempt at breaking the spell. I think of them as transition whites, substantial in weight for cool weather (if you're still experiencing it), yet imbued with aromatic verve and vigour for a sunny lift. Oak fermentation and barrel-aging make their appearance in a few cases, but the wood in these examples is applied judiciously, without masking the herbal, citrus and musky-spice notes inherent in some of the grape varieties.
And in my search for those aromatic notes, I have mostly settled on oddities – grapes, appellations or unusual blends worthy of greater attention. It's as good a time as any to awaken from a chardonnay slumber, don't you think?
Wines to try
Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Collio Riserva Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Italy
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $48.95
This is sauvignon blanc from northeastern Italy, a place most Canadian wine drinkers might know merely for pinot grigio. Don't let that stigma keep you from this beauty. Crafted patiently, it was fermented 30 per cent in oak and 70 per cent in steel, then left to mature for about three years in contact with lees. Medium-bodied, it's rounded and oily, with notes of green melon, grapefruit, peach and herbs. Great spicy lift on the finish, too. In remarkable shape at six years of age. Available in Ontario.
Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Fumé Blanc 2013, California
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $59.95
Medium-full, substantial and chewy for a sauvignon blanc, this was fermented almost entirely in French oak and kept in contact with its lees for nine months to add dense, creamy texture. Notes of melon, crisp peach and lemon mingle with subtle vanilla, set against a tart spine. Available in Ontario. Incidentally, this sells for US$50 at the California winery, which is roughly $65 – pricier than in Ontario.
Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New Zealand
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.95
Another beauty from the great Kevin Judd, formerly of Cloudy Bay. Light-medium-bodied and silky, with a sophisticated flinty essence cutting through the grass and grapefruit. Succulent and tuned like an S-Class Mercedes fresh off the line. Available in Ontario at the above price, $29.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $28.25 in Quebec.
Carol Shelton Coquille Blanc 2015, California
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $29.95
Veteran Carol Shelton helped blaze a trail for female winemakers in California since starting out in the late 1970s. This white displays a seasoned hand as well as a refreshing stylistic approach. A Rhône-style blend from Paso Robles, it combines grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne and viognier. Voluptuous, it suggests ripe peach, mandarin orange and honey. Think of it as a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape at about half the cost. Available in limited quantities in Ontario.
Tenuta Ulisse Pecorino 2016, Italy
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $20.95
Medium-bodied and juicy. Notes of peach, apricot, almond and stone, with a musky bouquet lurking in the background. Available in Ontario.
Mulleri Soffio Vermentino di Sardegna 2016, Italy
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
The vermentino grape excels on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, evidenced by this fleshy-ripe and well-priced example. Medium-full and silkier than silk. Peaches, pears and honey along with talcum-powder on the nose, with well-integrated acidity and an enticingly bitter, nervous tension. Available in Ontario.
CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2016, British Columbia
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $23.99 in B.C.
Sweeter than off-dry, with smart balance. Brilliant green-apple, lime and peach fruit with a whisper of slate. A gently sweet white suitable for grilled pork, salty ham, cheeses and mildly spiced Asian dishes. Available through cedarcreek.bc.ca.
Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2015, Ontario
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
Made from an especially aromatic clone of chardonnay, hence "musqué," which has become a Niagara signature. Medium-bodied and dry, this displays a soft centre of melon- and pear-like fruit, with whispers of muscat grape and orange, framed by just the right level of acidy. Vinified in stainless steel, it's balanced and ever-so-subtly floral. Available in Ontario at LCBO stores and through cavespring.ca.
Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling 2016, Ontario
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
Off-dry and ethereal, a puffy cloud of a riesling, with delicate notes of lime, flowers and mineral. Well-chiselled with acidity. Available in Ontario.
Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Vinho Branco 2015, Portugal
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $16.95
This is a traditional Douro Valley blend with subtle support from wood aging. Light-medium bodied, it's slightly oily, with succulent tropical fruit and apple caressed by smooth vanilla. Available in Ontario.
Hester Creek Pinot Blanc 2017, British Columbia
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.49
Pinot blanc doesn't get much attention. It's neither noir nor grigio, and to be fair it's often much more neutral in flavour. Here's a standout, though. Medium-bodied and unoaked, it's ripe, dry and vibrant, with pear, citrus and peach joined by stony minerality. Available at BC Liquor Stores at the above price (not including tax), at VQA and private British Columbia stores and at the winery through hestercreek.com.
Nadler Grüner Veltliner 2016, Austria
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $16.95
Light, dry and tense with lemon, orange and melon fruit along with spice and stone. An electric white with energy and balance. Available in Ontario.
Gardien Frères Le Nectar des Fées Saint-Pourçain 2016, France
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $20.95
Worth the money? I'm not entirely sure. But it might be worth a try if you're an intrepid sort keen to tick off tressallier from your wine-grape bucket list. That variety makes up just 30 per cent of the blend, with 60-per-cent chardonnay and 10-per-cent sauvignon blanc filling out the rest. An oddity from the Loire Valley, this leans on the bitter side, with crabapple fruit and herbs delivering a clean, crisp performance. It begs for an open mind and also begs for food, such as salad or cheese. Available in Ontario.
Globe and Mail Update