Jane Parkinson suggests some summer alternatives to your usual pinot or sauvignon
When the sun is shining, quenching your thirst with a summery sauvignon blanc or perky pinot grigio seems like a great idea. And it is. But you don’t have to reach for the same wines every time, especially when there are so many other delicious ones out there to try.
For zesty whites with a bit of attitude, Greece has a serious card up its sleeve in the form of its local grape, assyrtiko. A speciality of the island of Santorini, it makes a dry white that’s as crystal clear as the waters that lap the island’s coastline, while its punchy lemon and almond flavour makes it a no-brainer with seafood that’s cooked in a simple way, without too much sauce fanfare.
Closer to home, the time has never been better to get involved with the English wine revolution. And although it’s England’s sparkling wines that usually hit the headlines, the still wines are catching up in reputation.
The English version of sauvignon blanc, a grape called bacchus, is known for its fruity freshness. It’s the wine version of biting into a crunchy granny smith, and what’s not to like about that when it’s warm outside?
Going down a more exotic route, Hungary is building up a die-hard group of fans for dry whites made from the grape furmint. Traditionally used in the production of the hedonistically sweet Hungarian wines called tokaji, today we’re seeing furmint used as a dry table wine, and when you taste them you can understand why.
Their trademark apricot flavour combined with a pine nutty, savoury kick makes them extremely food friendly and a delicious drink to boot. Slovenia also makes some decent dry furmint if you manage to track it down.
Looking at more traditional wine countries, there’s plenty to explore beyond the confines of albariño from Spain, pinot grigio from Italy and sauvignon blanc from France. Italy has a shopping list of native grapes that are perfect for summer drinking: from arneis, which is made in the northwest corner of the country (one of my favourites), to vermentino, which is made on the coast of Tuscany.
But let’s come back to Piedmont for a second. Moscato frizzante and moscato d’asti are made from the moscato grape, and both make heavenly summer drinking with fresh strawberries. Not to be confused with the inferior asti, they are no-brainer picnic wines. They’re low in alcohol, ultra-fruity, slightly sweet and have a light fizz, so they really pep up your palate at the end of a meal.
In Spain, the grape verdejo has made its way onto many a wine list recently, which is understandable on account of its easy-drinking, fresh citrus taste. But I’m always more seduced by another northern Spanish grape called godello. It’s crisp, but not in a searing way like verdejo. It has this mellow, easy-going light peach flavour that’s smooth and supple and glides effortlessly along your tongue.
Picpoul de pinet
Finally, France. This has less surprises wine-wise than other countries because it’s so familiar to us, but even so, it has plenty of wines that have summer written all over them. One good example is picpoul de pinet.
Made in the Languedoc, the picpoul grape makes a wine that’s just as good on holiday as it is when you bring it back home, which is a rarity in itself. Light, fruity and dry, I often find it tastes of camomile tea just as much as it does ripe pears, but whatever the fruit flavor, you can guarantee it’s the perfect refreshing drop on a hot day.
This just scratches the surface, of course. There’s a whole world of zingy, fruity whites to get acquainted with this summer, so make the most of everything that is out there and try not to just default to the go-to names. It’ll be worth the detour.