Wines of summer, Part I

I got a request for my recommended wines for summer (honest!).  I’ll introduce some off-the-beaten path varietals that will still appeal to all of you Pinot Grigio drinkers out there.  Summer’s certainly about drinking wines that are light, crisp and refreshing, but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring.  Today, we’ll start with the letter V. 

First up is Verdejo (vehr-DAY-ho); aromatic and herbaceous, it’s Spain’s Sauvignon Blanc.   Rueda is the spot in Spain to find Verdejo.  It’s northwest of Madrid in Castilla y León.  Wine has been made in this region since the Middle Ages, but found its stride in the 1970s, when Bodegas Marqués de Riscal of Rioja recognized the area’s potential for dry, white wines.  They began selling fresh Rueda alongside their Rioja reds and in 1980 Rueda was awarded its DO status (Denominación de Origen; controlled appellation, think France’s AC). 

Verdejo is sometimes blended with Viura (also known as Macabeo), the white grape of the Rioja region or with Sauvignon Blanc – in both cases, Verdejo must account for at least 50% of the blend.  If the label says Rueda Superior, the wine must contain at least 85% Verdejo.  Verdejos are fragrant, often with notes of apple, mint and fresh-cut grass.  In warmer years, they can take on aromas and flavors of tropical fruits.  When they’re well done, they have both juicy citrus as well as an underlying minerality.  Here’s more good news – they’re usually inexpensive – you should have no trouble finding some in the $9-$15 range.  Here are some producers to look for: Cuevas de Castilla “Con Class”, Martínsancho and Bodegas Hermanos del Villar “Oro de Castilla”. 

Next up is Vermentino (ver-mehn-TEE-noh), which is also called Rolle in Provence.  It’s grown primarily in Sardinia, Liguria and Corsica, with increasing amounts in Languedoc and Roussillon and a touch in California and Australia.    Some think the grape has Spanish origins, while others think it’s related to the Malvasia grape and to a grape called Favorita grown in Piedmont (who wouldn’t want to drink that?).  Vermentino produces a lively wine, with lots of citrus and great acidity.  Acidity=refreshment during the heat of the summer.  It’s a great partner with seafood or grilled vegetables.   Styles from Liguria tend to be a bit lighter than those from Sardinia.  Check these out: Cantina Santadi “Villa Solais”, Santa Maria la Palma “Aragosta” and Bibi Graetz “Bianca de Casamatta”. 

Last but not least for your summer sipping I present Vinho Verde DOC (VEE-nyoh VEHR-deh) (Denominação de Origem Controlada; again, controlled appellation).  I’ve switched gears now from varietal to region and I’m taking you to northwest Portugal.  Vinho verde means green wine, but not like green beer for St. Patrick’s Day – the green here refers to the youth and vivacity of the wines from this region.  These wines are slightly effervescent too, and you know how I feel about wines with bubbles.  Whites from this region are crisp, fresh and quite zippy.  They’re made from these grapes: Alvarinho (yup, Spain’s Albariño), Loureiro, Trajadura and Avesso.  Look for these in the store: Sogrape “Gazela” (I’ve seen it for $4.99!) and Auratus – a mix of Alvarinho and Trajadura and a bit more complex than most on the market. 

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