As the mercury rises and the sun hangs longer in the sky, guests gravitate towards chilled, refreshing white wines that partner perfectly with sandals, short sleeves and seasonal cuisine. Wine professionals offer up their thoughts on some of the white-wine trends for summer, from the popular varietals and styles to refreshing finds from unsung winemaking regions.
From Italy, With Love
Matthew Carroll, the beverage director for the 110-seat Belgian restaurant Brabo in Alexandria, VA, has seen increased interest in white wines from northern Italy. “There are some incredible whites being grown in Alto Adige other than pinot grigio,” he notes.
Carroll points to small producers of high-quality wines including Muri-Gries and Abbazia di Novacella, which are revitalizing interest in grapes such as sylvaner, müller-thurgau, pinot bianco and kerner. Brabo champions the cause with bottles such as the 2012 Abbazia di Novacella Praepositus kerner from Alto Adige ($60 a bottle).
“These wines manage to maintain a balance between delicate fruit and herbaceousness that makes them incrediblly versatile at the table,” Carroll says. Brabo’s wine list has 750 bottles, a third of which are white, and eight white wines by the glass.
At the two locations of A Voce, a contemporary Italian restaurant concept in New York, wine and beverage director Oliver Flosse has also seen an uptick in the popularity of restrained white wines from northern Italian regions Alto Adige and Friuli. “People are looking for lighter, more elegant and balanced wines with higher levels of minerality,” he says.
A Voce carries several crisp whites, including the 2010 Strasserhof sylvaner ($39 a bottle) and the 2012 Manni Nössing müller-thurgau ($62 a bottle). A Voce Columbus boasts a wine list of 2,700 bottles, while A Voce Madison’s has 650; nearly half of each list is committed to white wines, and there are eleven and six white wines by the glass, respectively.
In Italy’s warmer southern regions, such as Sardinia, Campania and Calabria, varietals including grillo, fiano and greco entice due to their soft, round, full-bodied style, which appeals to chardonnay fans. Fiano is also floral and spicy, drawing comparisons to viognier or torrontes, and a great partner with Asian or other spicy cuisine.
A Voce carries the 2008 Sannio Torre Gaia fiano ($40 a bottle), while Brabo has the 2011 Terredora Dipaolo, Fiano di Avellino ($50 a bottle), both from Campania on Italy’s southwestern coast.
Pino grigio is the white wine most often associated with Italy, but Carroll has seen a slight downturn in request for the varietal. So has the 60-seat Flight Wine Bar in Washington, D.C. “But recently, there has been a growing interest in quality pinot grigio,” says co-owner Swati Bose. “By nature, they are simpler and lighter-bodied wines, but the good ones have slightly more body and complexity of flavors.”
Flight Wine Bar carries three pinot grigios from around the world, including the 2010 St. Michael-Eppan pinot grigio from Alto Adige ($36 a bottle). Its list has 70 wines by the bottle and 30 by the glass.
A Case for Riesling
While the aromatic varietal has long been a sommelier darling, Carroll says that many guests have a preconceived notion about riesling’s style. Dispelling their misconceptions isn’t easy, but he typically tries to suggest one of the dry rieslings on Brabo’s list.
“The lean brightness and precise acidity make these wines incredibly agile and easy to use with pretty much anything being served from the kitchen,” Carroll says. He likes to recommend the 2012 Paul Blanck & Fils, Rosenbourg from Alsace, France ($60 a bottle), as well as the 2012 Pewsey Vale riesling from Eden Valley, Australia ($44 a bottle).
Joshua Orr is adept at winning over the riesling-averse. “I love the astonished looks that come across guests’ faces when they taste the wine and find it refreshingly dry, and not sweet as they assumed,” says the sommelier/bar manager for the 300-seat Marina Kitchen at the 1,360-room San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina.
Orr uses wines such as the 2010 Schloss Schönborn Estate dry riesling from Germany’s Rheingau region ($10 a glass) to prove the varietal’s versatility. Marina Kitchen has 350 wines by the bottle, with 40% dedicated to white wine, and eight wines by the glass.
“Riesling is a great summer white wine,” says Andre Compeyre, beverage director for the 135-seat Regency Bar and Grill at the 379-room Loews Regency Hotel. “We find that the drier, the better, in terms of popularity.” Overall, more guests are requesting cleaner, easier-to-drink wines, he notes.
Compeyre offers selections like the 2013 Paumanok Vineyards semi-dry riesling from Long Island ($10 a glass; $45 a bottle) and the 2011 Domaine Marcel Deiss riesling from Alsace, France ($85 a bottle). The Regency has 600 bottles on its wine list, with 40% dedicated to whites, and seven white wines available by the glass.
Hold the Oak
While rich, barrel-fermented and aged chardonnay still has legions of fans, many patrons are gravitating to the other end of the wine spectrum. “Unoaked, mineral-driven whites with crisp, clean, mouthwatering flavors seem to be the most desirable at the moment,” notes Orr.
He has seen lots of request for grapes such as albariño, chenin blanc and grüner veltliner. Marina Kitchen carries wines by the glass like the 2009 Iberian Remix from Edna Valley, California ($14 a glass) and the 2011 Domaine Wachau Federspiel grüner veltliner from Austria ($11 a glass).
Gino Santangelo, executive sommelier for the 151-seat American steakhouse The Forge in Miami, has noticed that grüner veltliner is becoming more mainstream. “These wines are semi-aromatic, with a trademark hint of pepper; dry, crisp and medium-bodied, they are beautiful wines for summer.”
The Forge carries the 2012 Fred Loimer “Lois” grüner veltliner from Austria’s Kamptal region ($52/bottle.) The Forge’s list has 559 total wines by the bottle, and 80 by the glass; it offers 133 bottles of white wine, and 20 available by the glass.
“There has been a dynamic shift in style of white wine being requested,” says Kevin Bratt, concept wine director for the three locations of Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab, headquartered in Chicago. “Guests are asking for lighter, crisp and aromatic styles of white wine.”
Joes’ carries the citrus- and peach-tinged 2012 Columna albariño from Spain Rias Baixas region ($11 a glass), as well as the spritzy, lively 2011 Niepoort Dócil vinho verde from Portugal’s Douro Valley ($45 a bottle). Bratt says that these wines pair well with seafood and lighter summer fare. Joe’s offers 493 wines by the bottle, and 30 wines by the glass.
Loving the loire
Bratt also points to the tremendous amount of value-driven wines from France’s Loire Valley, made primarily from the sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne grapes. “It’s a great place to turn if you’re looking for food-friendly wines that really deliver a sense of place at a great price.” Joe’s locations offer Loire wines including the 2011 Domaine Michaud Touraine ($32 a bottle), the 2012 Domaine de la Perrière sancerre ($16 a glass) and the 2012 Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre & Maine ($32 a bottle).
The Fountain, a 94-seat upscale, hyper-local restaurant located at the 357-room Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia, offers 16 Loire Valley selections on the Lean White Wines section of its menu. These include the 2010 Domaine Lucien Crochet sancerre ($90 a bottle) and the 2005 Masson-Blondelet “Villa Paulus” pouilly fumé ($65 a bottle.)
“An oaky chardonnay is still our top seller,” notes supervisor Kyle Trebilcock, “but Old World sauvignon blanc is on the increase.” The Fountain has 480 wines by the bottle and 27 by the glass, including 150 whites by the bottle and nine by the glass.
Eastern European Finds
Under-the-radar European countries are a treasure trove for white-wine lovers, says Trebilcock. “Look into the Balkan wine regions, like Slovenia, Hungary and Croatia. There are some amazing wines that are consistently overlooked, and the quality for the price is great.”
“The Balkans are particularly hot right now,” agrees Bose. “Winemaking in the region has been revived with political stability and financial resources, and some great wines are making their way into the American market.” Flight carries the 2011 Giocato pinot grigio from Primorje, Slovenia; it’s available for $4 for a half-glass, $8 for a glass and $32 a bottle.
Compeyre notes that the region’s large amount of indigenous grapes means wine lovers can find a wide variety of styles, from light and crisp to robust and full-bodied. Pošip is an approachable, easy drinking varietal from Croatia’s Dalmation Coast that goes well alongside seafood, poultry and light cheeses; The Regency Bar and Grill carries the 2011 Zlatan Plenkovic pošip from Hvar, Croatia ($65 a bottle), as well as the 2011 Tilia Grace from Slovenia ($75 a bottle), made with with crisp, floral-driven ribolla gialla. Marina Kitchen has the 2008 Movia Ribolla Gialla Primorska from Slovenia ($60 a bottle).
Though wines from this region, with its unfamiliar and hard-to-pronounce grapes, may prove to be challenging, guests are becoming increasingly open to off-the-beaten-path wines, says Carroll. “We’ve been seeing more and more guests who are willing to follow me ‘off the reservation’ and let us bring lesser-known varietals or regions to the table.”
Comprehensive staff training is essential in marketing some of the lesser-known white wines. Your servers must understand and be able to convey the characteristics and taste profiles of the different varietals to guests. “Remember that your staff is where the rubber meets the road,” Carroll says.During the easy, breezy days of summer, guests are more relaxed, and life seems to move at an enjoyably slower pace. In other words, it’s the perfect time to spice up wine lists with unique offerings that will pique and refresh palates, and sing alongside seasonal cuisine.