Rich red wines are the perfect accompaniment to cold-weather stews and braises, but once you’ve mopped up the last of spring’s muddy footprints it’s time for a change. A well-chilled white is the prescription for refreshing summertime summertime enjoyment. With their clean flavors and lower alcohol content, they’re a better match for light warm-weather meals and long, lingering summer evenings.
Lush and Slightly Sweet
Some of summertime’s favorite foods are difficult matches for wine. Asian food, spicy foods and rich, smoky barbecued items such as ribs and pulled pork all something a bit off the beaten path. Look for whites that are slightly sweet, but balance the sweetness with a fine and potent acidity. For example Gewurtztraminer is tinged with spicy and citrusy notes, an excellent foil for chili heat. Muscat is typically fruity and floral, excellent with salads and fruit sauces. Riesling, the big gun in this style, has the acidity and depth of flavor to stand up to rich and porky barbecue.
Crisp and Refreshing
Most whites are dry rather than off-dry, and tend to go in one of two directions. Some are austere and bone-dry, with herbal, mineral or even steely notes. Seasoned wine drinkers favor them for drinking alone, or with shellfish such as oysters and clams that echo their mineral flavors. Other whites are more ingratiating, showing plentiful fruit, berry and tropical flavors. They tend to be more generally food-friendly, good with fish, chicken and mayonnaise-based picnic salads. Popular grape varieties such as sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, semillon and viognier tend to fall into this grouping.
White wines from the same grape can be sharply different, depending on the winemaker’s whim. For example the widely grown Chardonnay grape can be made steely-dry, fresh and fruity or even toasty and buttery, depending how it’s handled. Riesling, though it’s mostly thought of as sweet, can also be bone-dry and mineral-rich. Even sauvignon blanc, usually mineral and crisp, can be vinted in a fruity and full-bodied style. Learning which wines are made in each style takes time and a lot of tasting. It can be helpful to build a relationship with a good wine store in your neighborhood. Good staffers quickly learn your preferences, and can help you find other wines based on the ones you already like.
White wines are often chilled and ready to drink at the store, but sometimes you’ll need to bring one down to drinking temperature in a hurry. Restaurants do this all the time, and you can use the same technique at home. Fill a small bucket or container — your kitchen sink, in a pinch — with ice and then water. Add a generous sprinkling of salt, which interferes with crystallization and lets the water cool to below freezing. Slide your bottle or bottles deep into the ice, then go back to setting the table. Your wine will be chilled in just minutes, about half the time needed in your freezer.
References and ResourcesRed and White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass; Natalie MacLean
Wine Enthusiast: White White Basics
Salt 101: Beyond Seasoning -- Other Good Uses for Salt