During winter, cold weather and too little sunlight make us want to eat heavy. Good hearty comfort food fills our bellies and warms our fearful little beings, providing an imaginary layer of protection against the cold and darkness. Of course, the wines we want are big, bold, earthy, heavy and solid. Deep, rich Cabernet Sauvignon from Pauillac or Rutherford. Leathery Italian bombers like Brunello di Montalcino, or the singular Amarone. Robust Australian Shiraz. Or the great big wines of the northern Rhone Valley, Cotes Rotie and Hermitage—or of the south—Chateauneuf du Pape. Top notch Argentine Malbecs can be just as comforting, as can a blockbuster Merlot (that’s right, I said Merlot) from Pomerol or the Alexander Valley.
When long dark winter nights begin fading out to earlier sunrise, brighter days and later afternoons, it is time to start wiping down the patio furniture, firing up the grill, kicking back with friends and sharing a few hundred bottles of white. When the air is rife with sounds of chirping birdlets crying for food, lawn mowers and weed whackers whining like whirlybirds, children unabashedly crying out in delight at some silly thing or another and baseballs thwacking off whooshing bats, it’s time to break out the wines of spring.
When the weather gets warmer, out go the clothes, the extra pounds, heavy meals with heavy wines. In come the salads, slinkier outfits and sexy, racy wines. Nothing to be afraid of now, the sun will protect us. It’s time to think bright fruit, minimum or no oak, bracing acidity, refreshing and light. Think New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Come to think of it, think Sauvignon Blanc from anywhere, Sancerre, Santa Barbara, anywhere. Think northern Italian like Tocai Friulano, Arneis, Orvieto.
Think Champagne—actually, you should always be thinking Champagne. Think Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Alsatian anything, dry or just mildly sweet Rieslings from Germany, New York State, Ontario or the Pacific Northwest. Think Pinot Gris or Grigio from just about anywhere. Think Gruner Veltliner from Austria, Albarino from Spain.
What the hey, think Chardonnay even, but preferably the less oaked up, fat versions—think Australia, Italy, France, some California—they are starting to appear on the scene from all good regions.
Don’t forget rosés (not roses, rosés). Those delicate, satisfying almost a red wine beauties offer refreshing quality with substantive style. Great ones happen in Provence, much of Italy, Australia, and throughout California. Basically, wherever wines are made, inevitably rosés are produced.
When I asked George Edwards, proprietor of WineMarket in PG and longtime industry guru, what wines he thinks of in spring he immediately responded, “Rosé—dry rosé. You also want Riesling. I see that more that people want Riesling, Gewürztraminer, the Pinot Gris…as soon as the sun comes out, I think whites.”
It’s a natural fact. Springtime wine equals whites and rosés.
If you’re gonna go red, keep it light—Beaujolais, most of the Provencal reds, nice fruity Barberas from Italy. Pinot Noir—not the bulked-up styles, the delicate ones—you’re looking for fruit, acid and flavor, not body, weight, oak and alcohol.
I called a couple other experts around here. Mark Jensen is the Wine Director at Marinus, the great restaurant in Bernardus Lodge. He built a Wine Spectator Grand Award faster than you can learn how to pronounce Wehlener Sonnenuhr. He said: “I think baby vegetables paired next to a spring lamb; a nice Rhone—Syrah, Grenache blend like Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Chateauneuf.”
But Jensen had a caveat when I spoke with him last week: “It’s still cold and rainy out here, I’m not ready for whites yet. Nothing like a nice roasted spring lamb.”
Maybe he’s onto something. Ted Walter, Chef/Owner of Passionfish Restaurant in PG and creator of one of the restaurant world’s most innovative and revolutionary wine lists, seems to agree: “Some heavy, gnarly, brooding Syrah because it’s raining so much…it’s bringing tears to my eyes.”
Uuhhmm, maybe I should rethink this? Nah.