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My Top 10 Odd Summer Whites

Here in Chicago, we’re blessed with an array of well-stocked wine shops and adventurous wine bars and restaurants. It’s surprisingly easy to find exciting white wines far outside the American comfort zone of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. But that’s not necessarily the case for people living elsewhere.

In this 2011 article in The Wall Street Journal, New York wine critic Lettie Teague condescendingly writes that she’s “willing to declare [Chicago] the second-most important wine city in the country right now.” Her jaw dropped “incredulously” when a Chicagoan had the temerity to assert that our city is actually the most important wine city, with a better scene than New York’s. But her article goes on to prove just that, citing our diverse wine bars, low prices relative to New York’s, and huge stores like Binny’s (where, admittedly, she correctly notes that the service is crap).

Because my readers from New York and other such cities may have trouble finding some of the individual wines I write about from week to week, I thought it might be useful to list a number of favorites all in one place. Hopefully a wine shop near you will have at least one or two of my Top 10 Odd Summer Whites:

Picpoul de Pinet: The last time I tried this inexpensive Languedoc wine, it was like summer in a glass, with bright apply flavors, lemony acids and a mineral finish.

Austrian Riesling: German Riesling gets all the press, but Austrian Riesling can be just as delicious and food-friendly (if not more so). After a scandal in the 80s, Austria tightened its regulations, and now its wines are some of the most reliable you’ll find.

Viognier: I love this variety, with its exotic flavors and aromas of flowers, pineapple, lychee and all manner of tasty things. Condrieu in France sets the standard, but a number of different regions produce fine Viogniers these days. If you can find a Viognier from Virginia, snap it up.

Something from Lebanon: The Bekaa Valley has produced fine wines for thousands of years — they know what they’re doing. The Massaya winery, a French/Lebanese partnership, makes a memorable and widely available white blend.

Godello: This obscure variety grows well in Galicia, the rainy northwestern region of Spain above Portugal. The World Atlas of Wine calls the best of these wines “delicate, lively and aromatic.” True to form, the Finca Os Cobatos I tried recently tasted juicy and floral.

Huff Kerner: Kerner, a cross between Riesling and Trollinger, doesn’t have a great reputation, but well-made Kerner is a delight. I enjoyed Huff’s, a wine with fairly widespread distribution.

Welschriesling/Grasevina: This variety seems to do particularly well in Croatia, a country we can expect to produce some great stuff, since it’s just across the Adriatic from Italy. Expect flavors of apples, apricots and white pepper.

Dry Furmint: Much of this variety finds its way into sweet wines like the wonderful Tokaji Aszú, but Hungarians have discovered the joys of dry Furmint as well. The last one I tried tasted rich and exotic, with bright acids and a bracingly mineral finish.

Crémant de Loire: Although I must admit I turn to Prosecco more often than Crémant de Loire, this delightful white sparkler makes a fine change of pace. The bubbles are often larger than in Prosecco, but complex flavors and minerality compensate admirably.

Pessac-Léognan: This little appellation in the Graves region of Bordeaux (near the city itself) makes “some of the most characterful dry white wines in the world,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, and I must agree. I love the voluptuous, ripe and often exotic fruit flavors. Expensive, but worth the splurge.

Now get outside and drink some wine!


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