Asking anyone to switch to white wine in the middle of a red wine frenzy might seem a little off-beat. But one thing British Columbians do better than most other North Americans is live at the edge of wine fashion.
Two decades of food and wine tasting/pairing has not been lost on the growing numbers of chefs, sommeliers and restaurant owners in Whistler. One of the benefits has been the trend to embrace seasonal foods and appropriate wines to match. That makes the month of May "lighten up" time across the village, and as menus and wine lists are transformed to coincide with the warmer days of spring and summer, consider doing the same at home.
A number white grapes are making the move to prime-time drinking, each hoping to push chardonnay from its dominate position as the white for all occasions. Heres a trio worth looking at: viognier, riesling and sauvignon blanc.
Viognier is the quirky member of the group, but over the last decade its quickly spread from its Northern Rhone base to Australia, California, Chile and even B.C.s Okanagan Valley.
Its not an easy grape to grow. Mildew is a problem; yields are less than ample and seldom unpredictable. But when its right, viogniers golden colour and the aroma of fruit and flowers can be shockingly good. The colour and nose often suggest a sweet-tasting wine, but viognier is invariably dry.
Australian Robert Hill Smith, owner of Yalumba winery and a viognier enthusiast, describes viognier as quixotic, not exotic.
British wine writer Robert Joseph says, "The only thing I know about viognier is that if you think you know the answer, you didnt understand the question."
Also pushing hard to be the white wine of choice is riesling. Another UK wine writer, Jancis Robinson, describes it as "indisputably aristocratic and ludicrously unfashionable."
The unfashionable part is changing fast here because the floral, perfumed aromas and racy acidity of riesling is perfectly suited to spicy foods, particularly the Pan Asian dishes that are so much a part of West Coast dining. Whatever success riesling undergoes in Germany, where, by the way, its back on top of that market in a big way, its the resurgence of this noble variety in other parts of the world that will be key to reversing its fortunes.
The last member of summers white wine trio worth a try is sauvignon blanc. Much of the new interest in sauvignon stems from its affinity to pair seamlessly with seafood, spanning just about everything from antipasto to fish in cream sauces or even Mediterranean-style fish and chicken.
Today, most sauvignon blancs share an affinity with one another. Gone are the excessively vegetative, bell pepper and canned asparagus notes as well as the bitter, citrus rind flavours that marked so many examples of the last two decades. The "grassy" component is still there, but it appears in a much more balanced arrangement surrounded by fresh grapefruit, green apple, kiwi and mineral notes.
With few exceptions, most sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling is best drunk young when the fruit characters and the acidity are in balance and the wine is fresh.
To get you started on your move away from reds, heres a case of current favourites, many of which youll find in Whistler-area restaurants, government liquor stores and private beer and wine stores.
Bonterra Vineyards Viognier 2001 Mendocino County, California
This all-organic viognier is ripe, round, fresh and crisp with elegant spicy, honey, vanilla, orange mango flavours and a nice creamy, dry finish. $24.99
Cono Sur Viognier 2002, Valle del Colchagua, Chile
The Cono Sur viognier is bargain. Look for a fresh, crisp entry with dry honey, mineral, and citrus rind and baked pear flavours with a mineral, citrus, green apple undercurrent. $10.99
Moillard Viognier Huges le Juste 2001, Vin de Pays dOc, France
Typical spicy, floral, meaty nose with citrus/honey/peach flavours. A bit warm on the finish but simple, fruity and likeable. A good-value introductory European viognier. $11.75
Yalumba Viognier Y Series 2003 Barossa Valley, South Australia
This is great value viognier. Look for an expressive nose of citrus apricot, honeysuckle and orange spice and rich tropical fruit flavours. Delicious. $17.99
Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2003, Marlborough, New Zealand
Appealing passion fruit and melon aromas mixed with mineral and chalky notes. Fine chalky, grapefruit rind, passion fruit and jalapeno flavours finish clean and fresh. $23.99
Obikwa Sauvignon Blanc 2003, Western Cape, South Africa
Kiwi, bell pepper and jalapeno notes mark the nose of this straight-forward medium intensity sauvignon. Fresh and clean with a citrus and passion fruit finish. Drink all summer. $8.99
Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc 120 2003, Valle del Rapel, Chile
The 120 has an intense fruity lime rind and citrus nose. More lime/lemon green fruit flavours dominate on the palate. Think oysters. $10.99
Sterling Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc North Coast 2002, North Coast, California
Mineral and creamy lees mix with grapefruit and grassy notes. Its round, rich and creamy on the palate with vanilla, lees, mineral, melon, grapefruit flavours. Sip before dinner. $23.95
Lingenfelder Riesling Bird Series 2002, Pfalz, Germany
This is a modern, dry, fruity German riesling filled with limey/lychee fruit flavours and spiced apple flavours. Clean and crisp, its the perfect summer sipper. $15.99
Quails Gate Dry Riesling Limited Release 2003, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Soft, round and fresh with buttered apple, mineral, lime and green peach flavours. An attractive style for restaurants or passing the time on a summer afternoon. $14.99
Selbach Riesling Kabinett (Fish Label) 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany
Round, elegant and soft with fresh citrus, slatey mineral, green apple flavours and a delicate finish. Tasty, balanced and ready for current consumption. $19.95
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Riesling 2002, Coonawarra, South Australia
Floral, ripe apple nose with streaks of tangy apricot. Similar stylish fruit in the mouth with mineral, lime, apple and nectarine fruit flavours. Killer value. $14.99
Anthony Gismondi is well-known global wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver. For more on wine, visit Canadas leading wine website www.gismondionwine.com