As the weather turns warm and I start thinking a lot more about heirloom tomatoes than hearty winter roasts, my palate also turns to lighter wine varieties. Sure, I’ll still enjoy my Zins, Cabernets and big, busty California Chards. But, generally speaking, as the temperatures soar and the cuisine in my kitchen lightens up—more salads, sushi, cold soups and such—I want wines that are a bit lower in alcohol and a little lighter on the tongue than the bruising wines of winter. Here’s a roundup of eight economical wines that are perfectly suited to spring and summer sipping.
As an accompaniment for salads and seafood—even sushi—Sauvignon Blanc is always a good option, and there are two inexpensive ones that I frequently lean on when I’m in the market for crisp, fruity Sauvignon Blanc. SeaGlass ($12.99), from Santa Barbara County, is a solid and dependable Sauvignon Blanc, with sea glass—the kind you might stumble upon during a walk on a Santa Barbara beach—depicted on the bottle label. Grapefruit, lime and lemon aromas mingle with traditional Sauvignon Blanc gooseberry flavors to create a crisp, tart wine that pairs beautifully with crab cakes. Named for a small bay tucked away on New Zealand’s Marlborough Coast, Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc is on sale this month for $7.98 (normally $9.99), which makes it an ideal time to try it. Crisp and lively, this is a prototypical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with passion fruit and grapefruit notes, along with hints of pineapple. Think shellfish.
German and Alsatian grape varietals like Riesling and GewÃ¼rztraminer are perfect for spring/summer sipping, and it’s hard for me to pass up a bottle of Dr. Loosen Bros. “DRL” Riesling ($12.62), from the Mosel region of Germany. Winemaker Ernst Loosen produces a perennial crowd-pleaser with his “DRL”—a wine with beautiful aromatics (peach and white flowers) that’s slightly sweet but fruity and balanced with good acidity on the palate. It’s a terrific picnic wine, and so is my favorite domestic Riesling: Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling ($21.99), from Washington’s Columbia Valley. This is an elegant, well-made Riesling that is, quite simply, gorgeous. It’s called Eroica, but it’s erotic to me, and it partners well with Asian cuisines. Londer Vineyards Dry GewÃ¼rztraminer ($11.99) comes from California’s Anderson Valley. Londer is a small family winery run by Larry and Shirlee Londer, known especially for their world-class Pinot Noir, but I really like this GewÃ¼rztraminer, with its pretty honeysuckle and lychee aromas and crisp acidity. It’s a good match for spicy Indian, Mexican and Asian fare.
A pair of wines from Italy will put a little spring in your step. Beni di Batasiolo Moscato d’Asti ($14.99) is slightly effervescent (frizzante in Italian), soft and a little sweet with flavors of overripe fruit. It pairs nicely with a range of desserts and also makes a good aperitif. More fizzy yet is Ruffino Prosecco ($15.37), from one of Italy’s most enduring and reliable winemakers, known mostly for their Chianti. Easy to spot with its egg-yolk-yellow label reminiscent of Veuve Clicquot, Ruffino Prosecco is extra-dry in style, crisp and clean, with ripe apple and pear aromas and hints of peaches on the tongue. This Prosecco pairs well with all sorts of food, from fried calamari to pizza, white-meat dishes and seafood.
One of the best French wine values is La Vieille Ferme Blanc ($7.99), produced by the renowned Perrin family. This archetypical RhÃ´ne white is soft and fruity, with a bit of clay backbone—perfect as an aperitif or paired with simple summer dishes like chicken salad.