Spring bottlings capture essence of the season Wine: Young, fresh and fruity samplings go well with good friends and simple foods on warm evenings.

Vintage Point

May 06, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Wine Critic

The wines of spring are not weighty or profound. The wines of spring don't force us to think. The wines of spring are all about uncomplicated delight.

Yes, you can uncork a bottle of classic 1982 Bordeaux in May. And it will probably be wonderful. But it is a wonder that exists apart from the season.

The wines that truly capture the essence of springtime -- and which provide refreshment through the summer -- are young, fresh and fruity wines with a pleasing acidity in the finish.

They are well-suited to quaffing with good friends on a warm evening on the deck or patio, washing down simple food such as fried chicken. Most are white, though pink wines and lighter reds can also qualify.

If there is one single wine that exemplifies what a spring wine should be, it is the aptly named 1997 Spring Wine ($8) from Chaddsford -- easily the finest winery on U.S. 1 in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The 1997 Spring Wine is a racy, not-quite-dry but not-too-sweet wine with fresh, floral aromas and bright flavors of apple, peach, melon and honey. It's the kind of wine that makes you want to kick off your shoes and put your feet up. A few spicy shrimp hot from the grill and nirvana is at hand.

A springtime wine does not need a lofty pedigree. A pure chardonnay lineage is not an advantage. For instance, one of the better whites tasted in a recent hunt for the best spring wines was the 1997 Boordy Seyval Blanc ($7.49) from Baltimore County.

Some snobbish wine connoisseurs avoid this varietal because of its hybrid heritage -- a result of some viticultural fraternization with native American species -- but that's their loss. The crisp, fresh Boordy seyval resembles a fine chenin blanc with its peach, honey, apple and spice flavors.

Of course, a wine doesn't have to hail from the mid-Atlantic states to be a satisfying springtime quaff. California and Europe do make a few decent examples as well.

The 1996 La Petite Vigne ($8) from the Napa Valley's Pine Ridge Winery was one of the few 2-year-olds to show well in the tasting. This dry, crisp white has held on to its freshness, and its apple, spice, pear and mineral flavors still display grip and intensity.

Sauvignon blancs, when they are not made in an oaky style, can rank among the finest springtime whites. Their fresh, herbal flavors and crisp acidity make them very refreshing, and they show especially well with seafood. It might take a little while to get used to the "grassy" style of some young sauvignon blancs, but these wines have a way of winning you over if you give them a chance.

Some of the world's finest sauvignon blancs come from New Zealand. Take, for example, the 1997 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc ($12) from the Marlborough region. Its snap-pea crispness, gooseberry flavors and electric acidity give the palate a real jolt, but if you like the style, you'll love this wine.

In a somewhat more restrained fashion, California's 1997 Meridian Sauvignon Blanc ($8) shows a similar profile that might leave fewer tasters behind. Like the Villa Maria, it offers herbal gooseberry and juniper flavors, but in a less aggressive manner. Serve this little gem with shellfish to unleash its real potential. Equally impressive, and similar in style, is the 1997 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc ($10) from Sonoma County.

Sauvignon blanc is not a traditional grape of the south of France, but recent decades have brought a profusion of new wines from this once out-of-fashion region. One sterling example, well-suited for springtime outdoor consumption, is the 1997 Domaine de Caussergues Vin de Pays d'Oc Sauvignon ($7.49).

Chenin blanc, another white-grape variety associated with the Loire Valley, is another prime choice for springtime drinking. It's a common varietal in California, but only a few vintners seem to understand it.

One that does is Husch Vineyards, which produced a brilliant 1997 Chenin Blanc ($10) from Mendocino County. With its intense lemon, peach and spice flavors, crisp acidity and firm structure, it may have been the best wine of the entire tasting.

Gewurztraminer is best known for the wines it produces in Alsace, but these are usually too heavy and complex for casual outdoor drinking. For just plain fun, you might find just as much satisfaction in a fresh -- no older than 1 year -- domestic Gewurztraminer.

Some excellent examples include the 1997 New Gewurz ($10), a lively, spicy North Coast Gewurztraminer from the Alexander Valley. Washington state's Columbia Crest winery provides a similar 1997 Gewurztraminer ($7).

While white wines dominate the category, pink (rose) wines can be equally appealing provided you always follow one simple rule: No wines over a year old. There are a lot of 1996s still on the market, but generally they have lost the freshness that is their reason to exist.

Some of the better -- and drier -- ones include the 1997 Buehler Vineyards White Zinfandel (an $8.49 pink wine), the 1997 Saintsbury Vin Gris of Pinot Noir ($10) and the 1997 Chateau de Segries Tavel ($12) from France's Rhone Valley. All are well-suited to serving with ham, salmon or fried chicken.

Pub Date: 5/06/98

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