Lighter, Brighter Wines for Spring

Lighter, Brighter Wines for Spring

That robust red wine you got in December helped keep you warm on chilly winter evenings. And it paired well with hearty dishes like pot roast and stew. But the weather's changing and spring is on its way with early summer not far behind. Shouldn't you consider some different wine choices?

"I find that the best wines for spring and summer are the lighter, brighter whites and pinks that seem to go well with the wildflowers, fresh air and long days," says Herb Quady, winemaker at Troon Vineyards and founder of his own label, Quady North, both of the Applegate Valley.

"Freshness, fun and light are synonyms for springtime wine," agrees Victoria Guantonio, co-owner of Medford's Pacific Wine Club. "Gone are the winter days of chills and gray skies. Greet the season with wine and foods that reflect this special and uplifting time of the year."

Specific suggestions from Quady, Guantonio and other Southern Oregon wine experts include Pinot Gris, Viognier, white blends and Rosé wines.

"I believe the Pinot Gris grapes grown in the Rogue Valley develop intense varietal characteristics that make it a very distinctive wine from the region," says Anne Root, co-owner and general manager of EdenVale Winery of Medford. "The flavors are of peaches, pears, crisp apple and a minerally finish that is evocative."

Overall, Pinot Gris is a refreshing introduction to spring wine sipping and reminds us of our favorite summertime fruits, Root concludes.

"Southern Oregon's Pinot Gris are bright, fresh and full of melon and citrus on the palate," agrees Guantonio. She recommends two favorites, RoxyAnn from Medford and Cuckoo's Nest from Cave Junction. "Look for a young Gris, either 2006 or 2007," she adds.

RoxyAnn of Medford is one of a number of Southern Oregon wineries that has done well with Pinot Gris. Its 2007 release was voted "Best of Show White" at last August's World of Wine Competition in Gold Hill and went on to be honored as "Best U.S. Pinot Gris" in the 2008 World Wine Championship conducted by the Beverage Tasting Institute of Chicago.

Another lighter white wine, Viognier, has more recently gained a following.

"This wine offers expansive aromas of ripe pears, peach and grapefruit with a vibrant citrus acidity that accents the enticing mineral notes," says Michael Donovan, managing director of RoxyAnn Winery in Medford. He also likes its silky texture and balanced finish that is "long, crisp and refreshing."

"Definitely a spring and summer wine," adds Mark Wisnovsky, president of Valley View Winery in the Applegate Valley.

When his winery celebrated its 30th anniversary last October, Wisnovsky noted that Viognier has emerged as one of its two most popular wines (the other is Tempranillo).

"We made 1,300 cases of 2007 Viognier," he says, which is unusual for a varietal that wasn't made there at all a few years ago.

A small amount of Viognier is a part of River Guide White, a white blend created at Troon. It's 92 percent Riesling, 5 percent Viognier and 3 percent Gewurztraminer.

Referring to it (as well as to a Rosé he makes called Jeannie in the Bottle), Quady says, "Both are great for lunch on the river or for late afternoon deck sitting. They are lower alcohol, bright, fruity and refreshing."

Rosé, a pink wine, is sometimes confused with blush, but they are not the same. Blush wines are white wines made with red wine grapes, mainly Zinfandel as well as Merlot and Cabernet. They came into vogue a couple of decades ago when there was a glut of red wine grapes on the market and Americans weren't drinking enough red wine.

"Rosés are made from red grapes, using a process called saignée, or 'bleeding'," explains Guantonio. "The pulp of most red-skinned grapes is green, producing a clear juice. Skin contact during the wine-making process imparts color. EdenVale's Rosé, made from Pinot Noir, holds good structure with bright acidity and imparts flavors of watermelon and strawberries."

"Rosés are versatile food wines," she adds. "Drink them at brunch, with a light lunch, or on a Sunday afternoon when entertaining out on the deck."

Rosé is "typically a blend of white wines and free-run juice from Pinot Noir," adds Root of EdenVale. "Some winemakers then add a little red wine such as Syrah or Merlot to enhance the color. EdenVale's 2006 is Chardonnay, Viognier and the free-run Pinot Noir plus Syrah for color."

"The Pinot Noir actually brings some of the red wine structure to its complex flavor profile," she continues. "The Chardonnay has a hint of oak with the tropical fruit characteristics of the Viognier bringing the blend together to make a very interesting complex wine that is a friend to a wide range of foods."

Rosés have been around a lot longer than blush wines. One called Almaden Grenache Rosé from California was popular with diners back in the 1960s. When blush wines came along and you could get a glass of "white zin" from a tap in a pizza parlor, Rosés all but disappeared locally. But now they are making a comeback.

What if you're not a fan of white wines, even the lighter ones, and also find that Rosé lacks appeal?

Try Pinot Noir. Yes, it's a red wine but on the light side — one of the few reds that wine fanciers recommend pairing with delicate entrees like salmon.

"Red wine choices should be low in tannin, high in acidity and fruity on the palate," Guantonio advises.

Pinot Gris, Viognier, Rosé and white blends are lighter in more ways than one — they're easier on the budget. While classy Oregon reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah may set you back $25 to $30 (Tempranillo even more), their lighter cousins are priced generally from $14 to $22.

So, sit back and savor the season and the wines.

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