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Feel free to ignore the Gris

Avoid summertime blues with vintage alternatives

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Last year around this time I wrote a column espousing the virtues of drinking Pinot Gris/Grigio in summertime.

I'd like to apologize for that. In that column, I warned of the possibility of buying insipid Pinot Grigio, calling it "peachy grape-water." Sadly, over the last year, most Pinot Grigio I've tasted has been just that.

This year, I'm imploring summer imbibers to branch out -- there are far too many fresh, exciting wines in our market that don't break the bank to play it safe.

In the New World, for example, Argentine Torrontés is one of the best examples; it's highly aromatic, brings plenty of stone fruit, lemon and spice notes and typically costs less than $15. Pop over to New Zealand and there are all sorts of racy, citrus-driven Sauvignon Blanc to be had for a few bucks more.

Ever since visiting Portugal last February, I've been a big proponent of Portuguese whites from the Vinho Verde region. These ultra-fresh wines are made using indigenous grapes, often bringing bright acidity and a hint of effervescence at a ridiculously low price. Those looking for lower-alcohol wines, take note: Vinho Verde is often in the 10-11 per cent alcohol by volume range (versus the typical 13-14 per cent table wine).

Producers in neighbouring Spain also do a great job of making fresh, lighter white wines that pack plenty of flavour. Many are made using the zippy Verdejo grape, which is typically picked at night when the temperature is lower to help retain the freshness of fruit.

Spain also does a great job with bubbly -- namely, Cava. Made in the Catalonia region, producers also use indigenous grape varieties -- Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada -- to create dry, crisp, lemony fresh sparkling wines that typically sell for under $20.

While we're in Europe, Greek white wines are certainly worth a look for fresh, fun new summer wines. Again, the grape varieties may not be familiar -- Assyrtiko and Moschofilero are two of the most common -- but lovers of fresh, fragrant white wines will be suitably pleased with both the flavour and the price.

Viognier is a great alternative for those that prefer a slightly heavier white wine but are looking to avoid the pitfalls of overripe, oaky Chardonnay. Producers from Chile, France's Rh¥ne Valley, and the Okanagan Valley all do well with this grape, producing medium to medium-plus bodied whites that deliver ripe tropical fruit, melon and spice flavours.

Now, need I once again espouse the virtues of a beautiful dry rosé on a warm summer day? I didn't think so. Buy 'em, drink 'em. Let's move on.

In the red wine department, avoid wines with heavy, dry tannin. I'm a big proponent of Gamay, which is made very well (and in good quantity) in France's Beaujolais region as well as in Ontario.

The odd California red blend can work in summer, but this is a bit of a minefield -- many have far too much sugar, and it's tough to pick those out until you've popped and poured. Typically Merlot- or Zinfandel-based, those that aren't overly sweet bring deep dark fruit flavours and little in the way of tannin.

Pinot Noir is another hit-and-miss category; yes, they're lighter-bodied, but it can be tough to find good ones that are $20 and under that qualify as patio wines. New Zealand is probably your best bet here, followed by Niagara.

No matter what your choice for a red, chill it down for 20 minutes for maximum summer enjoyment.

Twitter: @bensigurdson


Trevo 2012 Vinho Verde (Vinho Verde, Portugal -- $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Pale straw in colour, the Trevo is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grape varieties: Loureiro, Trajadura and Arinto. There's plenty of grapefruit, lime, and chalky minerality on the nose, as well as a modest floral note. It's dry, light and crisp, with lifted citrus notes and more modest herbal and chalky flavours. Fresh acidity and modest effervescence make this an ideal summer wine. 3-1/2 stars


Casa Silva 2013 Reserva Viognier (Cochagua Valley, Chile -- around $14, private wine stores)

Bright gold in colour, this Chilean Viognier is highly aromatic, with intense peach, mango, tropical fruit, coconut and spice aromas. It's a rich, medium-plus bodied white that delivers the tropical fruit flavours as well as nectarine, clover honey and spice notes, all while remaining dry. Only 10 per cent of this wine spends time in oak barrels, meaning there's no whack-you-over-the-head wood treatment. 3 stars


California Square 2012 Three Red Blend (Paso Robles, Calif. -- $19.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

This mashup of five grapes -- Merlot, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Syrah -- in a rectangular bottle is bright ruby in colour, and brings aromas of plum, blueberry jam, black pepper, vanilla and cherry. It's a medium-plus bodied red that delivers ripe blackberry, plum, and blueberry notes with some simple oak and (thankfully) very little residual sugar. 3 stars

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2014 D14

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