I have the joy to live in a place that is warm all year, meaning refreshing, juicy, balanced white wine is ideal all year long…even during winter months when the rest of the country is frozen (sorry in advance.) I can drink a Chardonnay wine any and every day, but I find myself looking for something a little more out of norm lately. Enter, crisp, dry Chenin Blanc, Riesling, and fruity, fresh Pinot Gris. Each will pair with anything from roast chicken to pasta to creamy cheese to any fish in the sea. #Cheers!
On its own Chenin Blanc is lovely. The grape of Vouvray, in France’s Loire Valley, with a long growing season giving a wine with a naturally high acid level, making it perfect in dry, sparkling, or sweet wines. I love it vinified dry, highlighting orchard apple and quince notes, as in the beautiful Champalou Chenin Blanc ($30) in Vouvray. In South Africa, the grape is known traditionally as Steen, though you will see Chenin Blanc on more modern-day labels. From Beaumont Family Wines, Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc ($40) is lush, round, and rich, thanks to barrel fermentation, while maintaining lean freshness. Chappellet Signature Napa Valley Chenin Blanc ($45) reveals a crushed-stone earthiness, with ripe stone fruit, and orchard fruit, melding minerality with a structured fruit-filled palate.
Blending Chenin with other varieties to create a dry wine softens some of the powerful acidity, rounding out the palate, as in Abbot’s Passage “Sightline” Chenin Blanc & Verdejo blend ($35) from Clarksburg, CA. Predominantly grown in Spain, Verdejo has a flavor profile similar to Sauvignon Blanc, giving ripe citrus and floral notes to the apricot and nectarine filled Chenin in Sightline. Bright and zesty on the open, the wine finishes rich, with a hint of creaminess. Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc and Viognier ($15) marries the orchard and stone fruit characteristics of both wines creating a layered, approachable wine with golden apple, ginger, grapefruit, and crushed stone.
Riesling lovers know that the grape shines in both dry or sweet forms as the racy acidity in the wine can be fermented completely dry or with a bit of residual sugar remaining to round out the palate. Riesling wines are highly aromatic, layering wisteria and jasmine with apricot, pineapple, oranges, and lime.
Firesteed Dry Riesling ($16) from Willamette Valley melds pineapple, lychee, and white flowers. With a hint of an orange tint thanks to leaving the juice on the grape skins for an extended period, Banister Riesling ($28) brings in stone fruit notes of golden peach, melon, and spice with a well-rounded palate. Germany is known for its Riesling wines, ranging from dry to sweet. If you prefer the dry style, look for the word “Troken” on the label, or just pick up a bottle of Von Buhl Bone Dry Riesling ($20) from Pfalz, Germany. Crisp, lively, clean, and delicious with apple, peach, and spice. Trefethen Napa Valley Dry Riesling ($26) shines with floral jasmine and plumeria, with golden apricot, nectarine, and orange blossom. If you prefer a sweeter-style Riesling, The Schmitt Sohne family has been producing Riesling for over 200 years in the Mosel region of Germany. Their Kabinett Riesling layers ripe pear, green apple, and lemon pie, adding a very affordable price of around $10 to their golden wine.
Though there is confusion, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the exact same grape, the difference is where it comes from. Pinot Gris is the classic French grape, grown predominantly in the Alsace region, thought to be a mutant clone of Pinot Noir. Italy is the home of Pinot Grigio, predominantly in the Lombardy region, but my favorite examples come from Alto Adige, from wineries like Tiefenbrunner ($20) and Alois Lageder ($15.) Pinot Gris tends to be a little richer, with a medium-bodied palate, compared to light, fresh Pinot Grigio, but all contain the classic characteristics of lemon-lime and tangerine citrus, white flowers, and orchard fruit.
The first white wines of Willamette Valley were Riesling and Pinot Gris, both made in an Old World style, highlighting the character of the fruit, flourishing in the cool climate terroir. Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris ($17) focuses on the aromatics the region allows, giving layers of orange blossom, white flower, and honeysuckle to a fruit-forward, refreshing white wine. Celebrating all that is delicious in the Northwest, Cedar + Salmon Winery Pinot Gris ($19) shines with stone fruit notes of white nectarine and apricot, melding with tropical guava.
From Anderson Valley, FEL Pinot Gris ($25) highlights freshness that can be obtained when grown in the cool climates of Northern California. The opulent wine is also fresh and bright, with peach, pear, wildflower, and lemon zest. Fresh and fragrant, Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris ($17), plays to the citrus aspects of the variety, with juicy tangerine, mandarin, lemon blossom, and lime leaf. Also from the Willamette Valley region, Duck Pond Pinot Gris ($14) melds ripe lychee and apple with soft spring flowers.