Spring is well underway, and I’m excited about the warmer days and opportunities to dine outside. Although the gardens aren’t in full summer swing, there are many early seasonal veggies like young greens, tender asparagus, snow peas, beets, broccoli, turnips and spinach. Here in the mountains, we can’t forget ramps! As the farmer’s markets open back up after their winter break, many booths will already have fresh produce coming in from getting a head start, utilizing greenhouses and cold frames. The local cheeses (featured at the Cheese Store of Asheville at the Weinhaus) take on new flavors as the cows, goats and sheep graze on tender spring grass. All this fresh bounty, along with the wonderful breads made by local bakers, call for us to break away from the stews, roasts, root vegetables and heavier fare that gave such comfort through the winter. Eat light, get outside, work in the yard, ride a bike, take a hike!
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]long with the lighter food styles of spring comes the opportunity to enjoy lighter wines. I’m thinking of the crisp, zingy wines we love to sip as we get out of the house and onto the deck to relax. Wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albariño, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc. The softer, more delicate wines might also be something you enjoy. These would include Viognier, Reisling, Gewurztraiminer, Torrontés, Vernaccia, Jacquère, and the Rosé blends of Provence. That’s a lot of different grapes, some you may not be familiar with, and those are just a few of the white wine grapes! I’ll give the quick lowdown on these grapes to peak your interest and give you a heads up when you are at a party and someone offers you a glass.
Sauvignon Blanc is certainly familiar to most of us wine drinkers, but there are a few styles that vary widely. From New Zealand, Sauvignon Blancs feature a grassy, gooseberry, citrusy flavor with lots of acidity and zing. Those that come from France’s Loire Valley often take on lemon-like citrus flavors and are more delicate. The Pinot Grigio wines from Italy can be tart and crispy in the northern regions to a “fatter,” less acidic style further south in Italy. This grape is grown from the most northern wine growing regions in Italy’s Alps, all the way down to Sicily. In France and in Oregon, Pinot Grigio is known as Pinot Gris. These grapes are often grown in cooler climates and can be more delicate than some of the bold Pinot Grigios of Italy.[quote float=”right”]The Pinot Grigio wines from Italy can be tart and crispy in the northern regions to a “fatter,” less acidic style further south in Italy. [/quote] Perhaps a little less known are some of the white grapes coming from Europe and South America. Starting in Germany and the Alsace region of France, there are the Reisling and Gewürztraminer grapes. These can be a wonderful balance of acidity and sweetness, or bone dry (as is the style in Alsace). Gewürztraminer also adds a bit of spice to the flavor. Jacquère is a lovely, delicately flavored grape that grows in the Savoie region of France and Switzerland that is used in a favorite wine of ours—Apremont. Over in the Loire Valley of France, Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted white grape. It also varies in style from dry to dessert sweet. Viognier and Roussanne are white grapes found in the Rhone Valley of France and can be very flavorful blends for a fuller bodied wine like Chardonnay. In Italy, a delightful grape that pairs so well with seafood is Vernaccia, grown along the Mediterranean side of Tuscany. Another great fish/seafood wine pairing is Spain’s Albariño grape, which is found in the Rias Baixas region along the Atlantic coast of Spain. Down in Chile, there is a lesser known grape, Torrentes, that exhibits some lovely floral scents, perfect for spring time sipping!
I can’t let the thought of spring (and summer for that matter) go by without mentioning the wonderful Rosés of Provence and the south of France. These are wines that range from delicate, strawberry-scented wines to powerful, medium-bodied wines with layers of complexity. The grapes used are the same grown for red wine in that region, such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedré, Carignan and Cinsault.
I have left out all the great choices of softer, easy going red wines that would be an easy transition from the heavier, bolder reds of winter, but space and time won’t allow me to get into that side of the wine spectrum. So I encourage you to give some of these whites a try as the fresh scent of new-mown grass, and the backache of digging in the garden gives way to a relaxing evening of sitting on the deck with a glass of wine! Cheers!