by Tyler Morrison
The idea of changing the wine you drink with the season, just as you change your diet and your wardrobe still meets some resistance. People tend to ‘like what they like’ when it comes to wine, drinking the same bottles right through the year. The more pronounced acidity and palate weight of lighter wines may not be to your taste, but try them with the right kind of food and you’ll see how perfectly tuned they are to the flavors of spring. And although it may not seem like it, spring is coming eventually.
Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon blends
What more is there to say about Sauvignon Blanc? There is much more variety than ever before and that quality seems to be on an unstoppable upward curve. Try those from South Africa if you’re not familiar with them. And revisit white Bordeaux and other Sauvignon-Semillon blends.
Best food pairings: goats’ cheese, asparagus, grilled fish and other seafood, dishes flavored with coriander and dill.
No sign of the Grüner bandwagon slipping off the rails. It’s still every sommelier’s darling - less demanding than Riesling, more sophisticated than Pinot Grigio. Drink young. These can often be found at little expense.
Best food pairings: Light Asian flavors e.g. Asian accented salads and noodle dishes, Vietnamese spring rolls.
Another fashionable option, Spain’s feted seafood white, which comes from Galicia in the North West of the country, has the intensity to cope with most light fish preparations. A good wine to choose in fish restaurants. Make this wine very welcome at a fish fry.
Best food pairings: shellfish, light fish dishes, spring and summer soups e.g. gazpacho, tomato salads.
Chablis and other unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnays
If you’re a Chardonnay drinker, time to change the register from oaked to unoaked or at least subtly oaked. (Those rich buttery flavors will overwhelm delicate vegetables and seafood unless they’re dressed with a rich butter sauce.) Faced with competition from the new world, Chablis is better quality than ever before and a good own brand buy from supermarkets. Watch out for offers.
Best food pairings: oysters and other seafood, poached chicken, creamy sauces, fish and vegetable terrines, sushi
Riesling tends to polarize wine drinkers - some love it, some hate it. There’s no denying though that its crisp, fresh flavors and modest levels of alcohol it makes perfect spring sipping. If it’s the sweetness you’re not sure about stick to Alsace Riesling, German Kabinett Riesling or Clare Valley Riesling from Australia. If it’s the typical kerosene flavors it can acquire with age, stick to younger wines, unless that’s your thing.
Best food pairings: Smoked fish especially smoked salmon, crab, trout, smoked chicken, salads, Cantonese and lightly spiced south-east Asian food.
The tide of insipid, cheap Pinot Grigio has given the wine a bad name but the best examples (mostly from the Alto Adige) are elegant minerally whites that deserve a place on your shelf.
Best food pairings: antipasti, light seafood pastas, and risottos, fresh tomato-based pasta sauces.
The Veneto’s utterly charming sparkling wine, softer and more rounded than Champagne. It mixes particularly well with fresh summer fruits such as peaches and raspberries as in the famous Bellini.
Best food pairings: A perfect spring aperitif alone, or to sip with panettone.
I say light because so many rosés now are little different from reds in their levels of alcohol and intensity. Not that that style doesn’t have a place (it’s a great wine to drink with barbecues, for example) but it can overwhelm more delicate flavors. At this time of year try the lighter, less full-on styles from Provence and elsewhere in the South of France or from the Rioja and Navarra regions of Spain.
Best food pairings: Provençal-style dishes such as salad Niçoise and aioli (vegetables with a garlic mayonnaise), grilled tuna, mezze.
Light Loire reds
Well, actually not so light if you look at the 2015 vintage but in general Loire reds which are mostly based on the Cabernet Franc grape are light and fragrant, perfect served cool. Examples are Chinon, Bourgeuil, and Saumur-Champigny.
Best food pairings: Seared salmon and tuna, grilled chicken, goats' cheese.
Young Pinot Noir
I stress young because you want that bright, intense, pure raspberry fruit rather than the slightly funky notes you can get with Pinot (especially red burgundy) that has a couple of years’ bottle age. The most reliable place to find it currently is in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Chile, California, and Oregon have some appealingly soft, fruity Pinots too, though again, watch the alcohol and serve lightly chilled.
Best matches: Seared duck breasts, salads that include fresh or dried red berries or pomegranate seeds, seared salmon or tuna.
If there is anything in this list that land a bit outside your comfort zone, find an excuse to give it a try. Even if you don’t love it, you can strike it from the list of adventures you're undertaking this year. What have you got to lose? The worst case scenario is that you drank some wine.