Spring, wrote Shakespeare, “hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” When young, we dress, exercise, work, and play unlike we do later in life. So too, in spring we think, feel, and sometimes even behave differently than we might the rest of the year. Life suddenly seems fresh and bright, the world ever new and alive.
Even the most ardent wine lover has to admit that wine plays a quite small part in this season’s delicious enchantment. But it does play a role. Come spring, we tend to appreciate a different sort of wine than we do in fall or winter. Rather than complexity and seriousness, we value freshness and vivacity, brightness and vitality. No matter their color, we especially admire wines whose exuberance echoes that of the season itself.
Fine wines for springtime savoring tend to be youthful and modestly-priced. An ability to age has nothing to do with their appeal, and as a result, producers and merchants alike tend to treat these wines as the poor siblings of their more prestigious offerings. This time of year, however, there is nothing remotely poor about them. If they often sport fairly low price tags, they do so only because the wine trade has not caught up with consumer tastes.
With the advent of warm temperatures and al fresco dining, the expensive oak-aged Chardonnay that seemed so satisfying back in January can now taste ponderous. So too with a triple digit, firmly tannic Barolo, or a high-alcohol Cabernet. One glass is enough to reveal that spring’s youthful spirit will become enhanced by a whole set of different wines.
But what are they? We all can recognize the high scoring elite wines that garner most of the critical attention these days, classified growth red Bordeaux, for example, or Napa Valley Chardonnay--but what are the best springtime wines to sip and savor? Here are ten broad categories from which to choose. Whether red, white, or pink, the wines in each will provide you with the vim and vigor so characteristic of (Shakespeare’s words again) this “sweet o’ the year,” when “the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale.”
Whites from Italy’s Alto Adige
Given their high elevation in the Dolomite Alps near the Austrian border, grapes grown in Alto Adige sport high levels of acidity, translating into an enticing sensation of crispness on the palate. It hardly matters whether the grape variety is Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or something else, the textural profile is much the same. Producers to look for include Abbazia di Novacella, Alois Lageder Estate, St. Michael-Eppan, and Cantina Terlan.
Barbera from Piedmont
Barbera sports a naturally high level of acidity, something that gives the wines a sense of freshness or lift. The best come from the twin appellations of Alba and Asti. Barbera d’Alba tends to be the weightier of the two, but except for woody (and usually expensive) renditions, it shares the basic profile of deep, ripe flavor coupled with a lively texture and energetic mouthfeel. There are many fine producers, including Bava, for its ”Pimoalto” from Nizza in Asti, and in Alba Fontanafredda and Mirofiore.
Perhaps the quintessential spring time red, cru Beaujolais wines generally offer more interest because more flavors than Beaujolais Villages. But the whole region is experiencing a revival, and even simply labeled Beaujolais (like Jean Paul Brun’s “Terres Dorées”) can offer delicious warm weather sipping. Feel free to chill a bottle in the fridge for half an hour before serving. Fine examples abound in the US market nowadays, but particular favorites include Domaine Anita’s “Reine de Nuit” Moulin a Vent, Damien Coquelet’s Chroubles, and Jean-Claude Lapalu’s Brouilly.
Chardonnay from the Maconnais
These wines won’t usually have the name of the grape on the label. Instead, in true Burgundian fashion, they will identify themselves with the name of the village or commune where the grapes were grown. They also will be unoaked or aged in old, neutral-tasting barrels. The result is a bevy of Burgundy whites that taste of the fresh grape with little if any human intervention. Some widely available quality producers are Bouchard Pére et Fils, Domaine Cheveau, Domaine la Soufrandière, and Louis Jadot (for Pouilly-Fuissé).
South African Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc, or “Steen” as it once was (and sometimes still is) called, is planted extensively in South Africa. The wines used to be heavy and at times oxidized, but modern winemaking techniques, particularly controlled fermentations, have lightened and enlivened them. They now rank among the best values found anywhere. Producers to look for include Badenhorst, Ken Forester, and Raats.
Though firmly tannic when grown in the aristocratic appellations of Barbaresco and Barolo, Nebbiolo becomes softer, more accessible, and, yes, livelier when planted elsewhere in the Langhe region of Piedmont. It retains the seductive bouquet of violets, offers more direct fruit flavors, and tends to finish with a warm but zesty zing. If it lacks the age-worthiness of the more prestigious and costlier wines, it nonetheless conveys the essential character of one of the world’s most seductive grapes. Look especially for wines from Produttori del Barbaresco, Renatto Rati, G. D. Vajira, and Vietti.
Côtes du Rhône Reds
Wines from this seemingly catch-all appellation come in a variety of styles, and the best for springtime sipping are both soft and vivacious. They tend to have some Syrah alongside the more prevalent Grenache in the blend, and they can carry a whiff of saddle leather or animal hides beneath their forward plum-like fruit. Much as with cru Beaujolais, don’t be afraid to chill them slightly on a warm evening. Favorite and quite affordable examples come from Louis Bernard, Chapoutier, Guigal, and Laudun Chusclan.
Dry Australian Riesling
Down Under, where an awful lot of wines come in a big, blowsy, alcoholic style, Riesling is dry. Very, very dry, so exhilarating to drink. If you think of Riesling as sugary, one taste will change your mind. The fruit in these wines often resembles tart limes, and the better examples display an earthy minerality echoing wet stones. Top-notch producers include Best’s, Frankland Estate, Pewsey Vale, and Pike’s.
Rosé from Provence
Good rosé is the ultimate warm weather wine. It offers more depth of flavor than most whites, without irritating tannins that can get in the way of near-term drinking pleasure. Rosé has become so popular recently that seemingly everyone is making one everywhere. But southern France, especially Provence, remains the stylistic trend-setter, with wines that simply taste sprightlier than most others. There is no good reason not to stick with the original. Look for 2019s, which will taste freshest, from producers such as Mas de Gourgonnier, Domaine Hauvette, Chateau Maupague, and for a bit more money, Domaines Ott.
Verdejo from Rueda in Spain
Though long the source of a heavy wood and oxygen influenced wine (much like Sherry), Verdejo today is used to fashion a light-bodied white that, not unlike Sauvignon Blanc, tastes primarily of citrus and fresh herbs. It is a natural food partner for seafood, especially shellfish, as well as being a delicious aperitif sipper all on its own. Top producers include Blanco Nieva, Egeo, Nisia, and Telmo Rodriquez.