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Food & Drink

Unusual summer whites

Rosés, sparkling wines and lighter reds from Beaujolais or the Loire are some of the real joys of summer drinking. But it’s also interesting to uncork a few of the more unusual white varieties that can be forgotten about in the rush for a chilled chardonnay or pinot grigio


For summer drinking, especially sitting outside on a pavement café at lunchtime, the golden rule for me has to be keeping the alcohol to a reasonable level. Leave the blockbusters for a winter evening in front of the fire, when you don’t have far to stagger up to bed – a more gentle 12 percent or 12.5 percent is just about the limit for a perfect summertime wine. And try to concentrate on grape varieties that have a high degree of natural acidity, because that’s going to help them stay fresh in the glass – perhaps try sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, arinto or gruner veltliner. And make the most of the fact that in summer, more than any other time of year, a glass in the middle of the day should be positively encouraged.

Pirie South 2006 Pinot Gris (approx £10)
Tasmania really is as cool climate as the Australian continent gets, and Andrew Pirie is making some of its most exciting wines. Okay, so pinot gris is in fact pinot grigio, but it’s given such a spicy, elegant twist here that it has become an entirely different prospect altogether. Think of it rather as more closely related to its distant and ever-so-elegant cousin, pinot noir. Its nose is a bit muted, as is usual with this family, but it comes into its own on the palate, particularly when paired with a white meat such as chicken or pork, preferably grilled or barbequed after a good long time marinating in soy sauce and ginger.

S de Sudiraut 2005 (£18.95)
A little known fact about Sauternes, the great sweet white wine region of Bordeaux, is that its chateaux have started in recent years to produce dry white wine aswell. Whether or not this is for economic reasons, as sweet wines becomes slightly less fashionable, isn’t really the point – because the best of these dry whites have a distinct whiff of noble rot about them that gives a gorgeous round, rich note to the wine, but with all the freshness of a dry wine. S de Sudiraut is made by AXA Millesimes, the owners of Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron. The deep yellow colour is the first clue to the richness of the taste – actually, your mouth isn’t quite sure which taste to process first, as the exotic, almost gingery edge contrasts quite strongly with what is still a very dry wine. Would be sensational with a spicy prawn salad.

Cuvée Denis Dubordieu 2005, Millesimes Koshu Project
Japanese wine hasn’t exactly set the world alight until now. Partly because of the climate (up to 2,500mm of rain annually in some parts of the country), partly because of the viticulture (wine in Japan was traditionally made from the leftover table grapes that had been deemed unsuitable for consumption and then, once made, sold to people who couldn’t afford saké). But the Koshu Project is looking to change all that – this wine is the first to be made from 100 percent Japanese grapes, and is hoping to receive a ‘Certified for Export’ stamp, making it the first Japanese wine to be suitable for sale in the EU. Unoaked and very delicate, this has pale green hints and a fresh, citrus nose. Just 1 percent alcohol means this goes perfectly with fresh dishes such as sushi or even a mozzarella and tomato salad.

Sérame Viognier Reserve 2006 (£5.99)
The Languedoc has slipped a bit of late. It was heralded for a few years as being one of Europe’s most exciting wine regions, and then everyone seemed to somehow forget about it all over again. But almost 80% of the vins de pays in France are made here, and there really are some fabulous wines that offer excellent value for money. This vineyard is run by Dourthe Wines, and has undergone major investment in recent years – largely where it matters: in the vineyard. They have produced here a fantastically bright viognier, that could have been dragged out of an apricot bush. Night time picking and a long, cold maceration has helped to maintain the rich flavours of the fruit. At 13.5º, this is tipping over my alcohol requirements for summer time, but it has the roundness to make it work perfectly with heavier food such as a halibut in a buttery sauce, so you can use that to balance out the booze.

Xuri, Cave du Pays Basque, Irouleguy 2006 (approx £8)
If you want to support an undeservedly overlooked white region, look no further. Irouleguy is a tiny, picturesque part of southwest France, down in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, where the unusual grape varieties of Petit Manseng and its big brother Gros Manseng are grown. Petit Manseng is more usually known for the noble and long-living sweet wines of Jurancon, but its high aromatics and acidity work perfectly in dry wines also. This good value co-operative grown bottle makes use of both varieties, and translates them into intense lemon and lime flavours that give a freshness and sense of summery abandon to what the rounded core of this barrel-aged wine.

Quinta de Azevedo, DOC Vinhos Verdes 2006 (£5.49)
An area of Portugal that, like Beaujolais in France, deserves a re-examination. This Vinho Verde white has the naturally low alcohol and slight CO2 sparkle that lifts the crisp melon and green apple flavours around your mouth, and makes it perfect for a hot summer afternoon. This is made from the Loureiro and Arinto grapes, two varieties that manage to keep their freshness even in the searing heat of a Portuguese summer, and helped even further by a long, cool wine making process.

Pazo de Seoane, Albarino, Rias Baixas 2006 (£8.49)
Spanish whites have got to be among the most exciting finds of the wine world this year. Rias Baixas is the most celebrated wine zone in Galicia, northwest Spain – and with reason, as there are some great bottles to explore. This medium-weight wine has plenty of pear and white flower notes, and a gently fragrant nose. Slightly lower acidity than the others on this page, but still with the necessary freshness to make it a foodie wine, perfect for a buttered sole or a mackerel pate.

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