February 23, 2005
The Rim is alive with the sound of . . . birds, the smell of wildflowers and luscious white wines. I have spent many weekends in Payson and Prescott, picnicking on cold fried chicken and chilled Alsace, a light, aromatic white wine from France.
Insert mental image of Julie Andrews frolicking in Tonto Creek with a drumstick in one hand and a champagne flute in the other. Well, maybe not. How about those two ding-a-lings from "Sideways"? That might be accurate.
Whatever picture you paint in your mind, this time of year beckons outdoor activity and fun, bright whites. The wines for spring also pair well with many of our seasonal favorites, such as salads, grilled seafood and vegetables, salsas and cold pasta dishes.
Just be sure you don’t overpay; you don’t have to. There are many great value-focused wine options out there that will leave money left over for your Great Escape. Money for gas, perhaps.
Australia is a good place to start. I’ve said it many times before — there are great, affordable wines coming from this island nation. I recently sampled Alice White’s new 2004 chardonnay from the heart of the southeastern growing region, and it simply bursts with tropical fruit flavor and gorgeous green apple aromas. Savor it on its own or with grilled salmon and vegetables or shellfish. All this flavor for less than $7.
Just across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand, you’ll also find nice, moderately priced wines for spring. Many of my favorite sauvignon blancs derive from Kiwi country, including Stoneleigh’s stunning new 2004 offering. The wine is fresh, clean and full-bodied with intense passion and stone-fruit aromas and flavor. Think of a perfectly ripe nectarine, just before it becomes too soft. Now take a sip. The wine possesses a succulent, rounded mouth feel, yet is balanced with nice acidity. Serve with cappino or seafood salsa.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t address blush wines. These are what springtime is all about. The wines are light, fruity and typically lower in alcohol, which makes a big difference as we migrate toward swimming season. If you’ve sipped a big, fat zin while sunbathing, you know what I mean. Someone call 911.
There are terrific French, Italian and Spanish rosés on the market that are clearly worth exploring, but most of us are accustomed to the berrylike California varieties. These are versatile wines that go with many types of foods, especially spicy dishes, and can be mixed with soda or put on ice.
Sutter Home is one standout in a sea of somewhat onedimensional domestic blushes. At about $5, this winemaker leans toward the drier side with relatively high acidity and lower sugar levels. Aromas of sweet strawberries and a little melon lead to a drinkable, berry-infused experience. Serve chilled by itself or with cold shrimp or a Caesar salad.
Also from California are two value-focused wines from Bronco Wine Co.: 2003 Crane Lake merlot and Silver Ridge chardonnay. The merlot is a steal at $5, packed with plum and cherry flavors. You’re going to grill some burgers the next few months, right? This is a good fit. The chardonnay is more sophisticated, with layers of tropical fruit, honey and spiced apples. Pair this nice $10 bottle with a soft cheese course — or some cold fried chicken.
With the money you saved on these springtime wines, you’ll have a few bucks in your pocket to paint red rock country . . . red.