With summer on its way and everyone optimistic about seeing some sunshine, thoughts start to turn to picnics accompanied by a light, refreshing white wine.
Bearing in mind that the majority of al fresco dining in the UK is enjoyed at lunchtime or in the afternoon, many of us will want to avoid big white wine styles with high alcohol levels unless we are lucky enough to be able to retire to bed afterwards. For those of us who want to be able to function for the remainder of the day a light white wine, with its lower alcohol content, is ideal for a lunchtime picnic or an afternoon barbecue.
The light white wine family includes Riesling, Pinot Grigio and other Italian whites, Muscadet and some Sauvignon Blanc styles such as those from the Loire Valley. All of these white wine styles are fresh and tangy with plenty of crisp acidity and with the added bonus of a relatively low percentage alcohol. Not only are these light white wine styles ideal for avoiding a headache in the (hopefully) hot summer sun but they are a perfect match for light summer picnic food such as salads, white fish and chicken.
Before you prepare the food and pack the picnic basket, don’t forget to put a bottle of light, dry white wine in the fridge to chill. These whites need to be properly chilled to appreciate the crisp acidity and freshness which is their trademark.
Riesling may not be top of the list of many people’s idea of a refreshing dry white wine but it is a perfect summer wine. Whether you opt for a Riesling from Germany, Alsace in France or Australia, the world’s best Riesling producers, you will get a mouthful of white wine which is elegant and yet fun, full of citrus fruit and apple characteristics with a clean, crisp finish.
Aficionados claim that the best Rieslings come from Germany. Many of us are suspicious of German white wine following the popularity of brands such as Liebfraumilch and Black Tower a few decades ago. In addition, the sometimes impenetrable labels make it difficult to know what you are buying. Having said that, a good German Riesling is as good as any other light white wine for a summer picnic and it has the added bonus of alcohol levels of just nine or 10 per cent in many cases.
If you want to try a German Riesling choose a region according to your taste. Rieslings from the Mosel region are delicate; those from the Rheingau region are more steely and full-bodied whilst a Pfalz Riesling will tend to be fruity and juicy.
The other thing to be aware of is the level of sweetness. Germany produces Rieslings ranging from bone dry to sticky sweet so if you want a crisp, dry Riesling look out for “trocken” on the label whilst “halbtrocken” means semi-dry. The top quality Rieslings which have “Qualitatswein mit Pradikat” or QmP on the label are divided into six categories depending on the ripeness of the grapes but generally “kabinett” corresponds to dry and “spatlese” is off-dry.
Rieslings from Alsace look very similar to German Rieslings in that the bottle shape is the same and the labels often use similar Gothic script to the German labels. However, the wine tends to be richer and more full-bodied with higher alcohol levels. Look out for one of the grand crus vineyards. The best Australian Rieslings come from the Clare Valley and Eden Valley regions in South Australia. These wines are full-bodied and sun-kissed with lime as the dominant characteristic but are still refreshingly crisp and steely when young although once aged they take on a wonderful toasty, honeyed character.
White wine from Italy tends to be dry and light with a perfect crisp lemony edge for a sunny day. The styles to look out for are Pinot Grigio, Soave, Frascati and Orvieto but beware that you don’t fall victim to the many dull and bland examples available. If you are prepared to pay a little more than the bargain basement price that many of these Italian whites are available for and ensure you choose a bottle that is fresh onto the shelf rather than one that has been hanging around long enough to collect dust then you should be able to enjoy a light and frisky glass of white wine.
Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley is the epitome of a cool climate, lean and elegant white wine. Forget the burst of fruit you get from a New World Sauvignon Blanc – Loire whites from AOCs such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are bone dry, clean and crisp, perfect for cutting through acidic salad dressings. Try a Loire Sauvignon Blanc with goat’s cheese for a taste sensation.
Muscadet is a much maligned dry white wine from the Loire region. It has often figured amongst the budget wines on off licence or supermarket shelves and the worst examples can be toe curlingly unpleasant. However, if you pay a little more and look out for “sur lie” on the label you increase your chance of finding an enjoyably crisp and dry white wine which goes extremely well with seafood.
Image by Rivard.