Come Labor Day, the white attire of summer is to go into mothballs until next spring, dictate the more regimented fashionistas. Wine isn’t subject to such tradition, at least hereabouts, where another month or two of warm weather can be anticipated, thus more opportunities to drink white wine.
Here, then, is a roundup of our favorite white wines from the past few months, drawn mostly from sitting on panels at wine competitions, where they were tasted blind among several other entries, but also some from dinners out and at home. In addition to quality and value, these were chosen because they likely can be found in Sacramento or nearby:
Ferrari-Carano 2015 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($23): Being both sturdy and agile, this is an exceptionally versatile chardonnay, able to hold its own as an aperitif for its abundant and stimulating fruit while also primed to accompany a wide range of dishes for its breezy force. Of the 29 chardonnays our panel judged at the Sunset International Wine Competition in Oakland in May, Ferrari-Carano entered four, and two of the four won gold medals (just four golds were awarded). This one got a silver, though I’d voted gold, as with the two that did win gold, the more robust and complicated Ferrari-Carano 2015 Russian River Valley Fiorella Chardonnay ($36) and the lean and lemony Ferrari-Carano 2015 Russian River Valley Tre Terre Chardonnay ($28).
Rodney Strong 2015 Sonoma County Chalk Hill Chardonnay ($22): In smell, this is all traditional California chardonnay – a basket brimming with suggestions of ripe tropical, apple, pear and citric fruit, set off by notes of cinema popcorn and vanilla. It stands apart from most California chardonnay, on the other hand, for its charge and buoyancy; the acid is electric, the oak evident yet relatively restrained, the structure sleek but stable. Serve it with panzanella salad not shy on the parmigiano-reggiano, arugula and olive oil.
Sauvignon Blanc/Fume Blanc
Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 Sonoma County Fume Blanc ($15): In cultivating sauvignon blanc in Sonoma County since 1972, the Stare family has been relentless in its efforts to perfect the varietal. I’m not sure they can get any closer than this. It is the purest take on California sauvignon blanc you are going to find. It is straight-away fruit, fresh and tangy, touching on lemon and lime with a curious but not unwelcome note of artichoke heart off to the side. I wouldn’t hesitate to have this on the table next to a bowl of gazpacho.
Peltier Winery & Vineyards 2016 Lodi Sauvignon Blanc ($16/$18): No need to look to New Zealand for a sauvignon blanc of thrust and spice, not when Lodi’s Peltier is turning out such convincing facsimiles. This 2016 is all about forward, focused and fresh citric fruit and replenishing acidity. This will have no problem singing with the guacamole and salsa on fish tacos.
Handley Cellars 2016 Anderson Valley Riesling ($22): One of four 2016 rieslings our panel was assigned earlier this month at the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, and the only one to draw a spontaneous double-gold from the four judges. A double-gold is awarded when all judges of a panel concur that a wine deserves gold, and to have four agree without discussion is rare. But this is one lean and lively riesling, true to varietal, bone dry, balanced and crisp. Bring on the lime-marinated chicken and the last of the grilled corn-on-the-cob for this season.
Drytown Cellars 2016 Sierra Foothills Estate Riesling ($17): A riesling with this much petrol and peach in aroma, grapefruit in flavor and grip in acidity just isn’t supposed to be possible in the hot Sierra foothills, but Drytown Cellars somehow pulled it off. Our panel at the Amador County Fair Wine Competition in Plymouth this spring awarded it a silver medal. While the wine is lean in build, it has the spunk and spritz to go with the last tomato pie of summer, no matter how gooey the cheese.
Fetzer Vineyards Bonterra 2016 Mendocino Viognier ($15): Brassy in tone, floral in aroma and peachy in flavor, this dry, sleek and persistent take on viognier has both the substance and the drive to pair with heftier dishes of summer, such as a gussied-up potato salad or pasta carbonara with zucchini. The wine was a spontaneous double-gold winner at the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition in Boonville earlier this month.
Eberle Winery 2016 Paso Robles Mill Road Vineyard Viognier ($26): From its bright gold-flake color through its lingering suggestions of apricot and peach, the Eberle viognier carries with grace and gumption the varietal’s classic floral notes, rich fruit and heft. Sip it on its own on the last balmy evening of the season or pair it with penne tossed with goat cheese and roasted cherry tomatoes. At the Sunset International Wine Competition our panel evaluated 34 viogniers. Five of them won gold medals, including the Eberle.
Lange Twins Family Winery and Vineyards 2016 Clarksburg Estate Moscato ($15): Under the stars on a warm evening, this is the kind of sweet and comforting wine you want to sip as you reflect on the passing summer. It is packed with suggestions of apricot and apple, caressing with its jolt of sweetness (nearly 4 percent residual sugar) and finishing with a snap of refreshing acidity that insists on one more sip. We judged nine muscats at the Sunset International Wine Competition. None won a gold medal, but this got silver.
Bray Vineyards 2016 Shenandoah Valley Verdelho ($19): Vintners in warmer areas of California are looking for grape varieties more fitting for their hot sites than, say, chardonnay. Verdelho, at home in such torrid climates as Portugal and Madeira, is one of them. The verdelho made by Bray is light- to medium-bodied, largely dry, spicy and wiry, with citric suggestions in aroma and flavor and just enough acidity to make it perky but not lacerating. In a 10-wine class of assorted whites at the Amador County Fair Wine Competition we voted it best of class.
Bella Grace 2016 Amador County Shenandoah Valley Estate Vermentino ($27): Bella Grace is becoming the go-to winery for vermentino vigorous and tart, and the 2016 measures up to that expectation with equilibrium and poise. We gave it a gold at the Amador County Fair 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.