April 23, 2011

White Wines for Summer

We recently took a quick trip to North Jersey for a wine tasting. It's an annual affair hosted by the Women's Club of the community I grew up in, Indian Lake.

The room has been packed year after year, but this time a focus solely on white wines lessened the crowd to half its normal size. We are not that picky but I guess some people really are just red wine drinkers. Hey, for the $15 entry fee, I'd drink just about any 5 glasses of wine you put in front of me. Except port. I despise port.

With summer rapidly approaching, I know I'm looking forward to some warm nights outside a BYOB or on the back patio sipping white wine. Here are some brands and tips to keep in mind as you gear up for white wine season.

Tip #1: Bring a lot of food. You're probably not going to get 5 full glasses of wine at a tasting, but you will drink a fair amount so snacks are key. Be festive - grapes, cheese, nuts... and of course don't forget your wine-themed napkins. (P.S. favorite line from The Office this week - Meredith: "You should stay. I have Vienna sausages... and napkins." Love it!)

The first wine we tried was a 2009 Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. If it sounds familiar, it's because they've been advertising a lot and are apparently a staple in chains like T.G.I. Fridays and Outback Steakhouse right now. Best word I could think of for it was "thick." It is pretty dry with grapefruit/pineapple flavors, and leaves a strong aftertaste. At about $8 a bottle, it's a decent pick when you want something different than run-of-the-mill chardonnay or pinot grigio, but only buy it if you plan to have just one glass. It's a bit much for two.

Next was a Clos du Bois 2009 North Coast Chardonnay, a very typical California chard. Really mild, light apple and butter flavor. It was the easiest to drink and would make a good summer wine, especially for a BYOB or party. This one is simple enough to drink several glasses of before your taste buds start to tell you it's time to switch to beer. Should be about $12/bottle. And the name sounds french so it might make you look fancier.

After that, we had a 2008 Louis Jadot White Burgundy. Fun fact: white burgundy is the exact same thing as chardonnay. French wineries have recently had to abandon efforts to market their traditional labels like "white burgundy" because us clueless Americans browsing though the liquor store have no idea what it means. Note the word "chardonnay" in big letters across the front of the bottle, while "white burgundy wine" is pushed to the lower right corner. They're trying to maintain the original name, but have to include chardonnay otherwise it would never sell.

The wine itself had a hint of peach and a lot of oak. It's aged in steel and then french oak to limit the acidity, but you can really taste the oak. Another good pick for summer, but as an import it's slightly more expensive at around $20/bottle.

By now, most of the crowd at this tasting was anxious for the pinot grigios. Here's another thing I learned: if you are offering/drinking a variety of white wines in a single sitting, always serve the pinot grigio last. Once you have multiple wines back to back, you realize how much more sugary the pinot grigio is than any chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. If you drink the sugary wine first, the sweetness will stick with you, and all hope for experiencing the real flavors of the other wines will be lost. Noted.

And so we ended the night with two pinot grigios, a 2010 Ruffino Lumina from Italy and a 2008 Pavi from Napa Valley. The first went down easy (then again, what doesn't after you already had three?) with taste of pear. It never sees oak during the aging process and you can tell that flavor is absent. A bit fruity for my preference, but it is 12% alcohol and only $8-9, so depending on your objectives, it could be a good pick. Most people who "know" Ruffino" apparently know the brand for its Chianti, but its whites are equally as good.

On that note, the Pavi is 13.9% alcohol, so choose your BYOB victim wisely! And try to remember to take a picture, because I didn't. The Pavi has a difficult finish, in which you can actually taste the alcohol content. I think serious pinot grigio fans like my mom liked it best, but I'd go for the chardonnay instead.

Pavi does have a good story though. It's a California winery but the owner's wife (named Pavi) is Italian. She convinced him to transplant real vines from Italy to Napa soil. So if you prefer Italian wines, you still get the traditional Italian grapes with this one, only "made in America."

Another tidbit: You may already know that white wine should be served chilly but not right out of the fridge. Most people say to take it out about 20 mins before opening. But if you realize you only have bad-tasting wine and are desperate to serve it, keep it really really cold, serve right out of the fridge and no one will notice the difference. The coldness will take out the flavor but not the effect of the alcohol.

Last tip: Bring your mom and dad. It will be fun, I promise. Wine tastings are a great way to bring the family together and enjoy all that is good about wine and life.

Whether it's a quick, local gathering like we went to, or a weekend trip to the Finger Lakes (highly recommended. Love it there, especially Seneca Lake) wine tastings can be great events to enjoy with friends/family, and teach you a few things too. Bring on summer!

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