Spring’s Eternal Blessings

Spring celebrates traditions and cultures and new beginnings. This month’s celebrations include the Passover, Easter and a  birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Easter and Passover are time honored traditions filled with family, friends and feasting. At the Passover Seder, people of the Jewish faith celebrate their freedom from Egyptian slavery and Christians rejoice at their savior’s resurrection. Pagans had their own springtime traditions that involved Ēostre, a Germanic goddess of fertility, bunnies and eggs.

All this celebrating begins as Mother Nature sheds the cold, wet blanket of winter and displays the many shades and hues of green and the occasional clump of sunny daffodils.

Spring brings verdant fare with fresher, lighter dishes and wines on our tables. From appealing asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, to fresh sliced radishes on buttered toast points or crackers, lemony sorrel, the zingiest garden green ever, sautéed leeks and morels, roasted spring lamb with fresh peas, new potatoes with chive butter, juicy, sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb, and the emergence of abundant mint family, there are many refreshing ways to celebrate spring.

Below are some adventurous wines that play nicely with spring’s bounty. But first, my “Spring Wine Rules.”

  1. Spring wines can be complex wines. Color outside the lines with wines that are not your usual fare. Resist the urge to be safe! Be daring! Be adventuresome!
  2. The delicate flavors of spring wines have notes of herbs, grass and slightly tart fruit which are the perfect match for spring vegetables. The brighter the wine, the better the match.
  3. No new oak. These wines should be herbal and crisp; it’s lighten up time! Stainless steel fermentation insures a crisp and fruit forward flavor. Oak does not.
  4. Kosher wines are fairly plentiful and very good. They can range from big and hearty to lower alcohol, fruity Moscatos. From Italy to Israel to southern California, winemakers have been making these wines for decades.
  5. It’s not the perfect guideline for spring wines but wines that will age usually have a cork. Times have changed; screw caps do not necessarily mean bulk wine any more than corks signify high quality wines.
  6. No Chardonnays or Pinot Grigios.

Here are my plucky proposals for spring whites. These are not the easiest wines to find, so go with the region or the grape.

PINOT BLANC – This grape is a member of the mutant ninja Pinot family. Being a mutant ninja has to do with the ease that they can change skin color. The red skinned grapes are Nero or Noir and Meunier and the gray skinned grape is Gris or Grigio. White is Blanc or Blanco depending on where in the world it is made. Today, Pinot Gris or Grigio is more fashionable than Pinot Blanc.

But Pinot Blanc has the body of a Chardonnay and an easy drinking style that is likely to surprise and delight. And it does not see oak! Instead, it spends time in a great big barrel that is more often than not, lined with centuries of tartaric crystals. I often recommend an Alsatian Pinot Blanc as a choice for seafood, vegetables and roasted chicken salads.

As the third most mountainous country in Europe, Greece’s distinct topography enables the cultivation of 350 indigenous cool weather varietals in a warm weather climate. Somewhat unexpected after seeing all those movies of very sunny, sandy beaches in Greece.

One of Greece’s greatest white wines comes from the MOSCHOFILERO (Mohs-koh-FEE-leh-roh) grape. The wine is super dry but has an aromatic and floral nose. It’s a great wine for spring entertaining. Most Moschofilero can be found in Mantinia, a region in the middle of the Peloponnese Peninsula.

ALBARIÑO is native to Spain’s Rias Baixas region. It’s crisp, refreshing and reminds me of a blend of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Albariño can be lovely with an exotic aromatics and crisp citrus character. That makes it great with fish with a sorrel sauce or ham and pea salad. Zingy in style, it has enough fruit for great balance.

GROS MANSENG is a country white from Gascony, in southwestern France, and it delivers a terrific bang for buck. The Gros Manseng grape is filled with fresh, clean, herbal flavors and Armagnac brings more weight than most simple table wines. It’s hard to find a more versatile spring – or summer – wine.

MENETOU-SALONS made from Sauvignon Blanc are in the grassy, minerally flavor realm.  Its racy acidity is ideal for the tender spring vegetables.  Hailing from the Loire Valley, where Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé set the bar, the appellation of Menetou-Salon is just west of Sancerre. The chalky soils are similar to the vineyards of Chablis and the resulting flinty minerality of those wines. Pair it with asparagus and scrambled eggs or a pea risotto as a spring treat.

VINHO VERDE is a fizzy Portuguese white. The fresh citrus and-herb packed flavors, low alcohol and fizzy personality make it the perfect spring wine. The lighter alcohol content is perfect for a light spring brunch of frittata, fresh fruits, and hot cross buns.

PICPOUL, native to the Rhone Valley and Languedoc, tends to be crisp and green similar to a Sauvignon Blanc.  Picpoul de Pinet from vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean Sea can show richness that makes them one of the best value choices out there. Use it to begin dinner as it pairs especially well with clam linguine, barbequed oysters or crab cakes.

VERDELHO plays nicely with spring fare with scents of chervil and thyme and lots of citrusy brightness. It has sweet peachy flavors that add a bit of weight to the mouthfeel. The grape is Portuguese, but it has found home in California, where its ability to hold acidity in the heat make Verdelho a winner. It also shines Hunter Valley where it is blended to brighten up the mellower Semillon. Chill it up and pair it with sardines, olives or a chicken salad.

Another grape to consider is the CHENIN BLANC grape from France, South Africa or Washington. It has a steely, aromatic profile with ripe peach flavors that pairs well with the season’s flavors. Consider a bottle of this with your smoked trout or fresh fruit salad.

May your springtime celebrations be sunny with lighter fare and adventuresome wines!

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