It’s not that I don’t drink white wine in winter months, I do, but not as often and usually to prepare the palate for things yet to be poured. More and more, however, I find myself getting excited about approaching summer months, just so I can enjoy white wine as a wine for the evening, not just as an aperitif. There is so much to discover, which is half the fun, and like many red wines, the quality of white wine has definitely risen dramatically over the past ten years.
There is, of course, no reason not to drink white wine during winter months or not drink red wine in summer months. It’s only that I gravitate more to a colder, refreshing, mouthwatering white wine as temperatures rise, and living in Austin ensures the arrival of many such days. Speaking of temperature, it is a misguided notion to serve white wine too cold. Part of it is personal taste, but generally serve a good quality white wine between 50 – 55 degrees, and the same with rosé. If it’s too cold the nose and palate will be very muted or even closed and you’ll miss a lot of what the wine has to offer; serve it too warm and it’s flabby and flat.
I drifted away from white wines for many years, perhaps for cause, but more likely because I became distracted by reds. My first foray into wine was as a 16 year old and the wine introduced to me was Chablis. Not the California jug ‘Chablis’ but fortunately Chablis from Burgundy. White wine wasn’t at its pinnacle at that time, for sure. I remember it being pretty harsh on my then tender palate, as was all alcohol, but I stuck with it for a few years and really began to not just acquire a taste for it, but actually enjoy and appreciate the wine beyond the inevitable effects it would have on my young brain cells.
These days I am truly fond of red wine but I’m equally enamored of white wine, if for different reasons. White wines to put on your bucket list include Le Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Charlemagne, Chevalier-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne, Haut Brion Blanc, La Mission Haut Brion Blanc, Viognier from Condrieu and select Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer from Alsace; I’m sure I’m missing many more. As exquisite as these are, they are often as big as red wine, or nearly so. They absolutely demand your attention, and not just because they cost a small fortune ($120 up to about $4K per bottle). They often have the mouthfeel and complexity of great red wines but with different fruit, as expected. These are truly exceptional wines, along with others, that require the drinker’s time to contemplate, marvel, and enjoy with utter concentration, conversation about the wine, and some great food on the side. Like a great red wine, these upper-end whites also require bottle age to really get the most they have to offer. In other words, they’re generally not for casual sipping on a hot summer afternoon.
The white wines I’m talking about are what you order with lunch in France for five to ten Euros per glass. They’re light, remarkably refreshing and flavorful, with balance and enough complexity to keep it interesting. They don’t have to be from Bordeaux but that’s a good start. Bordeaux white wine is often dismissed but unless you’ve had some in recent years, overlooking them would be a mistake. This blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon is one of the very best values to be found at under $30 – $40. Look for whites from Pessac-Léognan or the larger appellations of Graves or even Haut-Médoc. Surprisingly, I have found very enjoyable bottles for $15 – $20 and I try to stock up on them whenever I can (they don’t usually last long)!
Other reasonably priced great whites for summer include white Burgundy such as Chablis, Pouilly-Fuissé, (both are Chardonnay). From the Loire Valley some standouts are Pouilly-Fumé, and right across the river, Sancerre (both Sauvignon Blanc), along with Muscadet (the grape for this is the simpler Melon de Bourgogne, but spectacular with seafood). Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand can be thrilling too and I’ve found great value in some Italian Pinot Grigio and Spain’s Albariño. I already know this summer I’ll go through gallons of Brut Prosecco (dry sparkling wine from Italy) and Rosé from France’s Provence region. These are all simply enchanting wines.
You should be able to find good examples of all of the above (except the bucket list wines) for $40 or less, a lot of it much less. Each wine is very expressive, shows a definite sense of place, and is true to its grape profile in a very pure sense. Crisp, dry, and delicious, with minerality to various degrees, these wines are perfect for summer months and usually very little, if any, oak is used during fermentation or aging.
Unfortunately, I have not included domestic white wine but I know there are some very good wines out there. For me though, the few domestic whites worth drinking are $100 or more per bottle and I haven’t found many reasonably priced US wines that weren’t over manipulated or, they just didn’t measure up to their international equivalents. When I spend $100 plus for a bottle of wine I’d rather buy French wine any day, but then again, French wine is what I’ve known since I was a teenager.
Photo: Château Cos d’Estournel Blanc – only about 300 cases made per vintage, difficult to find but well worth it.