Sipping Pretty: Winning Wines for the Spring Season

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by Courtney Cochran
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When the weather turns warm many of us feel inclined to pursue decidedly spring-like activities. Our short list of favorites includes spending time outdoors, foraging for fresh produce at farmer's markets and seeking out new wines to pair with the season's exuberant flavors and favorable forecast. Read on for some of our favorite selections for spring, along with - naturally - advice on food pairings and occasions for sipping. Santé!


All Aboard for Albariño

This easy drinking white from northwestern Spain is quickly catching on stateside, where the cognoscenti are calling it the next Sauvignon Blanc.  Produced primarily in the Rias Baixus (REE-us BY-shuss) region near Portugal, the aromatic varietal is made most often in an unoaked style that preserves its fresh fruit flavors and begs pairing with a wide variety of seafood and chicken dishes, light tapas and cheeses - i.e. perfect picnic fare.

Sauvignon Sensations

It's tough to come by a more versatile white for food than Sauvignon Blanc, and with the grape's signature grassy aromas, this widely produced variety may just make the ultimate wine for the outdoors. Our favorites hail from California's Napa Valley - where a warm climate translates to the most full-bodied renderings of the grape - and Lake County as well as New Zealand and newly hot Sauvignon spot, Chile. Top pairing: Goat cheese.

Pretty In Pinot
Pinot's penchant for marrying ripe red fruit flavors with juicy acidity and velvety tannins makes this medium-bodied red a shoe-in for picnic fare. We love lush versions from So Cal's Santa Rita Hills as well as food-friendly renderings from California's Central and Sonoma coasts. Those from Oregon's Willamette Valley recall suave versions from France's Burgundy (ground zero for Pinot), and all go down swimmingly with charcuterie and assorted soft cheeses.
 
Rightly Riesling

We say "rightly" because Riesling - with its delicate aromas of minerals and fresh flowers - might as well be called spring in a bottle. And while the most famous renderings of this elegant white variety hail from Germany, fantastic versions can also be found in France, Australia, New York and northern California's Mendocino County. Match up both dry and subtly sweet Rieslings with pâté, foie gras and spicy Asian fare.

Floral Favorites

And while we're on the subject of flowers, several lesser-known whites deliver serious floral aromas alongside light bodies perfectly befitting fresh springtime fare. To wit, a trio of Italian charmers - Falanghina, Arneis and Moscato - smell like veritable bouquets in your glass and are all increasingly available stateside. Pair up floral whites like these with simple fruit salads, seafood and savory starters such as prosciutto and melon.

Bubbling Beauties

Aside from New Year's Eve, few other occasions inspire a thirst for sparkling wines like spring. Fruity bubblies from Italy's Prosecco grape top our list for spring sipping thanks to their moderate acidity, mellow bubbles (they pack less fizz than Champagne) and signature melon flavors. Sparkling wines from California seem tailor made for spring, as well; Blanc de Noirs versions, in particular, score points for their spring-perfect pink hue.

Minerality Maven

Anyone who's drunk from a crisp mountain spring or enjoyed the freshness of bottled mineral water can attest to the appeal of these earthly elements. And if you're looking for the ultimate expression of freshness in your glass, look no further than Austria's Grüner Veltiner, a fascinating white fairly teeming with aromas and flavors of minerals. Match it up with salads - few other wines pair as well with greens - and sharp cheeses.

Perfectly Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris - which appears more often than not in the US under its Italian moniker, Pinot Grigio - is a medium- to full-bodied white with beguiling notes of pears, spice and smoke that pairs perfectly with richer spring fare. We like versions from Oregon that deliver layered aromas and flavors alongside juicy acidity that fairly calls out for hearty picnic fare such as quiche, potato salad, sandwiches and grilled or fried chicken.

Rhône Resurrection

While the recent surge in interest in so-called Rhône grapes has centered largely on red varieties (think Syrah, Grenache), white varieties originating in France's Rhône Valley also deserve our attention and make fantastic springtime quaffers. Viognier - which does particularly well along California's Central Coast - leads the pack with its full body and heady floral notes, while lesser known Marsanne and Roussanne are worth trying, too.

Cabernet Franc Classic

With roots in Western France's white wine-centric Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc seems predestined for food friendliness. To that end, the medium-bodied red delivers mouth-watering acidity alongside flavors of dark berries and a hint of herbs, making it a shoe-in for pairing with gamey picnic favorites like lamb kabobs and burgers. Watch for versions of this crowd-pleaser from France as well as California's Santa Cruz Mountains.

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