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Better off Med

Suggestions for refreshing white wines from Europe's sunny climes

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Last week's column featured a half-dozen red wines for drinking in warmer weather -- lighter, fruity wines from Ontario that can be served slightly chilled.

This week I'm shifting gears and heading across the pond to the warm, sun-drenched southern European countries for crisp, clean white wines equally well-suited for chilling and grilling. While wine's origins can be traced back to the Middle East, Mediterranean Europe is the birthplace of wine as we know it today, starting with Greece and moving west through Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.

With the exception of those made in France, many wines in these countries are made using indigenous grape varieties that don't see a lot of traction outside their respective regions. For whatever reason, they never gained the worldwide popularity of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and in some cases can really only be found in their country/region of origin. Moschofilero, anyone?

Mediterranean white wines don't typically see much in the way of oak aging -- a good thing when you're looking for a refreshing white wine on a hot day. Oak aging in white wine adds body and roundness to a wine -- think of the difference between water (no oak), skim milk (light oak aging) and coffee cream (lengthy oak aging). Which one would you rather drink in warm temperatures?

The bone-dry minerality of many Mediterranean white wines make them fantastic food wines, especially with seafood. Whether it be sushi, a savoury paella or grilled fish drizzled in olive oil, white wines from this area of the world are extremely fish-friendly.

Temperature-wise, treat Mediterranean white wines like you would a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a racy bubbly or a pale lager -- chill the living daylights out of them. Some of these wines bring a fair bit of minerality and/or acidity -- letting them get too warm will lead to these traits overpowering what might be very delicate fruit. If you're going to be outside, put water and ice with a bit of salt (it makes the ice melt more slowly) in a bucket and stick your bottle in there. Twitter: @bensigurdson


(Bianco delle Venezie, Italy -- $11.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

This blend of Pinot Grigio and, as the label says, "other indigenous grape varieties" is from the Veneto region--near the top of the back of the boot that is Italy. Melon, mineral, ripe pear and peach aromas do well on the nose here. Light-bodied and crisp, the Modello delivers red apple, peach, pear and modest floral notes on the palate. Drink with light cheeses or fresh fruit. 86/100



(Crete, Greece -- $12.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

If the Malvasia di Candia, Vilana and Dafni grapes aren't familiar to you, don't worry -- they're not familiar to me, either. Fresh floral, mineral and perfume aromas are quite intense, barely leaving room for almost-sweet tangerine and peach notes. It's a medium-bodied, barely off-dry and viscous white, with tangerine, peach candy, pear and honey flavours and a hint of spice. The residual sugar is kept in check by light acidity, and that touch of spice adds depth. Good value for the price -- try with tapas. 87/100



(Douro, Portugal -- around $13, private wine stores)

The grapes in this Portuguese white blend are Gouveio, Viosinho, and Moscatel Galego Branco -- I can't say I've knowingly tried any of them before. It's not very aromatic, although the Quintela does offer hints of lemon rind, mineral, melon and white pepper on the nose. Ripe lemon flavours are surprisingly prominent on the light-bodied palate, with melon and green apple notes as well as some light acidity. It's a fairly short, light white on its own, but with mussels this wine should really sing. 86/100



(Vino de la Tierra de Castilla Y León, Spain -- $ 13.99 Liquor Marts and beyond)

Yes, Sauvignon Blanc is a more widely planted grape variety, but it's blended here with Verdejo, and is, in this case, a solid example of Old and New worlds meeting. Grapefruit, chalky stones, herbal and gooseberry aromas are tightly wound; it's light-bodied on the palate and delivers lemon-lime, tart peach and green apple flavours, a slight herbal edge and medium acidity. A stellar wine for simple grilled fish with some lemon. 87/100



(Rueda, Spain -- around $18, private wine stores)

The nose on the Trascampanas -- made with the Verdejo grape -- is intense, with toasted nut, herbal, grapefruit rind and pear aromas showing well. A medium-bodied white, there's just enough acidity in this wine to keep things racy. Citrus and nut flavours are out front, with secondary herbal and green apple flavours, a slightly spicy/sweaty edge and very light honey notes. Try with a spicy fish stew. 88/100

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2012 E4

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