Wine is the one fashion accessory that’s always been exempt from the old sartorial rule about no white after Labor Day. Can you picture even the most punctilious of swells giving up his chardonnay just because of the quiet segue from summer to fall? Not a chance.
Besides, that segue is quieter than ever these days, with summer lingering right up to Thanksgiving, especially in California.
In short, there are plenty of sunny days and warm evenings left to savor white wines. Here are several of my favorites gleaned from wine competitions, winery visits and home tastings so far this year:
Francis Ford Coppola Winery Director’s Cut 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($21): Speaking of segues – or sequels – Francis Ford Coppola’s directorial way with wine is almost eclipsing his success with film. Coppola simply has become one of the more reliable brands in the business, as shown by this seamless chardonnay, a dry, vibrant, balanced, medium-bodied take on the varietal. The fruit is clean and refreshing, the spice alluring, the acidity crisp, the oak well integrated. Our panel gave it a rare unanimous gold at the Riverside International Wine Competition.
Chateau St. Jean 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($20): Another gold-medal winner from Riverside, but a more steely take on the varietal, its fruit sunny, its acidity snappy, and its finish surprisingly enduring for a wine so leanly built.
Trione Vineyards & Winery 2011 Russian River Valley River Road Ranch Chardonnay ($37): This was elected the best overall chardonnay at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in June, a surprise given its wiry structure, uncomplicated fruit and restrained oak. Maybe the sun really is setting on the era of overblown chardonnay smacking more of butterscotch and lumber than fruit. In contrast, this is all snappy apple and zesty acidity, putting “refreshing” back into the definition of chardonnay.
Flora Springs 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($20): That said, the Flora Springs nevertheless harkens back to the traditionally big style of California chardonnay, its color deep, its texture creamy, and its flavor a touch smoky with oak. Nonetheless, it’s mostly a celebration of fruit – pineapple, mango, lemon and apple, a fetching still life in a sweet little heirloom of a bowl.
Jordan Winery 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30): A theme is developing here, and it’s called Russian River Valley. Maybe I’m just a sucker for essence of apple in my chardonnays. That’s the fruit most closely identified with Russian River Valley chardonnay, and while this one is ample with Granny Smith, it also shows shades of the citrus and tropical-fruit families, as well as a thread of minerality.
Rapaura Springs 2013 New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($17): Exhibit A as to why New Zealand sets the standard for sauvignon blanc of unequalled vitality and persistence. Given its notes of grapefruit, green garlic, lemon and lime, this can be savored all on its own as the sun sets, but it also has a slatey feel and a bracing acidity to make it the ideal companion when raw oysters and grilled shrimp are on the menu. Our panel was quick to give it a double-gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Bodega Garzon 2013 Uruguay Sauvignon Blanc ($17): Uruguay, you say? The country most identified with the hearty red wine tannat is branching out to other varietals, here presenting sauvignon blanc in a style refreshing both for its suggestions of grapefruit and peach and its novel traces of pomegranate and artichoke, making for a complex interpretation, despite a build svelte and a finish brisk.
Claiborne & Churchill 2013 Monterey Dry Gewurztraminer ($22): Why isn’t gewurztraminer more popular in the United States? Must be the challenge of the name. Certainly can’t be a lack of character. As this rendition shows, gewurztraminer can yield an exceptionally hefty, complex and captivating wine. In smell, it’s all rose garden; in flavor, it’s all grapefruit, pineapple and lychee; in texture, it’s lush without being ponderous. Overall, a very dramatic wine, which explains why it was chosen the best of its class at the Central Coast Wine Competition at Paso Robles in June.
Claiborne & Churchill 2013 Central Coast Dry Riesling ($22): Those guys again. But when it comes to taking advantage of California’s cool coastal climate – in this instance Monterey County and the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo County – Claiborne & Churchill have Alsatian varieties dialed in. This riesling won just a silver medal at the Central Coast Wine Competition, but it could be mistaken for a classic German interpretation of the varietal, given its forthright yet charming fruit, biting acidity, dash of spice and lean build.
Borra Vineyards 2013 Lodi Nuvola ($19): With this uncommonly stylish and dry take on gewurztraminer, winemaker Markus Niggli turns the table on the perception that gewurztraminer is always sweet and that Lodi is too warm to do justice by green grapes that thrive best in cool climates. This is a fascinating gewurztraminer, carrying suggestions of rose petals and lemon zest in the smell, spice, lychee and grapefruit on the palate, and a minerality that evokes river pebbles under chilly runoff from the Sierra, perhaps in the stretch of the Mokelumne River that borders the vineyard. “Nuvola,” incidentally, is Italian for “cloud.”
Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards 2012 Monterey Gewurztraminer ($19): While Thomas Fogarty is best known for chardonnay and pinot noir, this is the winery’s 30th gewurztraminer. In 1983 it was made with grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains, but nowadays fruit for the wine is harvested at the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains on the west side of Salinas Valley. The result is classic gewurztraminer – rose petals, grapefruit, lychee and spice – all delivered in a sleek package fruity yet sharp, assuring a refreshing quaff on its own or an able partner at the table when paired with seafood, poultry and pork in a variety of arrangements.
Vina Robles 2013 Paso Robles White4 ($16): Vintage after vintage, this is one of the better values to come out of California’s central coast. When winemaker Kevin Willenborg combines four pretty good varieties – the wine is 46 percent viognier, 19 percent verdelho, 19 percent vermentino, 16 percent sauvignon blanc – the result truly is more resounding than each of its parts. While the wine, referred to as The Power of 4 on the vineyard’s website, is dry, you wouldn’t know it for all the sweet fruit it packs – melons, pears, peaches and some exotic things found only in Southeast Asia.
Mariposa 2013 Edna Valley Albariño ($23): Not much albariño is planted in California, but more will be after growers get a taste of its potential. The Mariposa is the place to start. This wine, crowned best of show at the Central Coast Wine Competition in Paso Robles, is forward, frisky and fruity, with revitalizing acidity, surprising length, and a hint of almonds to make it an unusually complex white.
Amalaya 2013 Argentina Salta Torrontes/Riesling ($11): For an inexpensive introduction to Argentina’s husky and layered torrontes, you won’t go wrong with the Amalaya. It’s a big white wine, though it hasn’t seen a lick of oak aging. It’s as perfumey with fresh-cut flowers as you will find outside of a supermarket’s floral department, followed by vigorous and cleansing flavors of grapefruit, apple and peach. The 15 percent riesling lighten the wine’s natural viscosity, provides a note of minerality and intensifies the refreshing acidity. A unanimous gold at the Riverside International Wine Competition.
Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.