THE DRY WHITE SEA­SON

Los Angeles Times - - SATURDAY - BY PA­TRICK COMISKEY food@la­times.com

Here it is, the height of sum­mer, when the mer­cury flirts with the 90s and the 100s. It’s the time of year for wines that whine, wines so dry and high-pitched they seem al­most mean — but none is bet­ter at quench­ing thirst on a hot day.

Be­fore we go fur­ther, let’s make one im­por­tant point: Even the dri­est of wines aren’t al­to­gether dry. They’ve sim­ply got enough acid­ity to off­set sweet­ness. Most wines, in­deed, most bev­er­ages, are built around this bal­anc­ing — main­tain­ing ten­sion, pro­vid­ing con­tour, can­tilever­ing the wine’s sug­ars with com­ple­ments of acid.

Imag­ine a teeter-tot­ter, with the sweet com­po­nent in one seat, acid on the other. Evenly weighted, the wine will not be per­ceived as too sweet, or con­versely, too raw or bit­ing. The best sum­mer whites have lev­els of acid­ity that make them thrillingly, sear­ingly dry — in fact if it weren’t such a pe­jo­ra­tive, now would be a good time to use the word “shrill.”

This is just a frac­tion of what’s out there, fall­ing roughly into three broad cat­e­gories; any one of th­ese will feel like slap­ping your taste buds in the face.

Guided by bub­bles

This is the “not-so-still wines” cat­e­gory, not to be con­fused with sparkling wines. It’s the type of wine that goes to bot­tle so fresh, and so young, that CO2 pro­duced at the tail end of fer­men­ta­tion gets trapped in the bot­tle. That ad­di­tional fizz makes th­ese wines es­pe­cially mouth­wa­ter­ing.

Sev­eral coun­tries have a wine tra­di­tion with mod­est nat­u­ral fizz, but right now the most pop­u­lar seems to be Ibe­rian, like Avinyo’s Petil­lant from Cava country (about $17), a vi d’ag­ulla (Cata­lan for “prickly wine”). Vinho Verde, the re­mark­able green wine of Por­tu­gal, made from mul­ti­ple va­ri­eties, is light in al­co­hol, bone dry in most in­stances and thor­oughly re­fresh­ing. Look for Bartholomew Broad­bent’s pale green ver­sion, or the 2016 Min­hadega (around $10).

More re­cently the wines of Basque Spain known as Tx­akoli have taken over the spring white set, made with Hon­darrabi Zuri and other in­dige­nous va­ri­eties, with fizzy, pithy, cit­rus rind fla­vors. For years now the stan­dard­bearer for the re­gion has been Ge­tari­ako Tx­akolina from Amez­toi (about $19).

The key of cit­rus

A low pH fairly en­sures a dry, crisp style. Citric acid, along with malic acid, are the very driv­ers of lemons, limes and ap­ples, re­spec­tively; all con­trib­ute the im­pres­sion of green or tart fla­vors, lime, lemon, Granny Smith ap­ple.

White wines from north­ern Italy — Kerner, Sau­vi­gnon (Blanc), and a new find (for me), Fri­u­lian Ver­duzzo, will com­ply with lean, ra­zor-sharp tex­tures. Amer­i­can Trousseau Gris, from Wind Gap or Arnot Roberts, will also fit the bill. Ger­man dry (trocken) Ries­lings are so des­ig­nated be­cause, ac­ced­ing to de­mand, they’ve com­mit­ted to drier styles — the dry wines of Donnhoff, Leitz, von Win­ning and Pf­effin­gen are es­pe­cially elec­tric.

But if I re­ally want to put my tongue in a socket I turn to Aus­tralian Ries­ling, grown in high el­e­va­tions in the Eden and Clare val­leys, where cool nights and thick skins re­sult in a style of ex­cep­tional brusque­ness; herby, min­eral and sharp, like suck­ing white rocks spritzed with lime juice. Gros­set’s Pol­ish Hill and Pewsey Vale’s the Con­tours are two of the cat­e­gory’s go-to whites.

Min­eral baths

Speak­ing of rocks, many dry wines pos­sess an ad­di­tional, last­ing im­pres­sion of gran­u­lar, dusty min­er­al­ity. In France, vine­yards planted on chalk, lime­stone, gneiss, slate and not least the myr­iad ge­o­log­i­cal strata of the Mas­sif Cen­tral, of­ten ex­press a stoni­ness par­tic­u­lar to their re­gion. The re­gions of Cham­pagne, Bur­gundy and the Loire Val­ley amount to poster chil­dren for min­er­al­ity. In Bur­gundy the dri­est, most stri­dent, most min­eral el­e­ments are still from its north­ern reaches in Ch­ablis, with Pi­uze, Dampt and Fevre be­ing three ex­cep­tional do­maines.

In the Loire you’ll find min­er­al­ity in Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, as well as Mus­cadet from the coast, while Chenin Blanc, in its drier it­er­a­tions (“sec”) from Vou­vray, Saven­nieres and An­jou, can be lean and tangy.

But a string of warm vin­tages and cli­mate change have, for the mo­ment at least, im­peded the in­her­ent nervi­ness in some Loire whites, al­low­ing an­other in­dige­nous va­ri­ety, the late ripen­ing Ro­morantin, to emerge as one of the re­gion’s as­cen­dant lip smack­ers. The best ex­am­ples come from Cour-Chev­erny, es­pe­cially the old vine white from Philippe Tessier, Les Sables. You won’t find a more as­sertive white wine in the mar­ket today.

Un­less, that is, you stumble upon a Fur­mint, the wild, stony Hun­gar­ian white with off-the-chart lev­els of acid­ity: Wheaty, brisk, sa­vory and com­pact, the best of th­ese, like the brac­ing Bir­tok from Samuel Ti­non, are like suck­ing a lemon in­fused with a slurry of min­er­als, a salty, lemony bee sting of a wine — which is all you can ask for on a sum­mer day.

Banana Pan­cake / Getty Im­ages

NOTH­ING QUENCHES a pow­er­ful thirst quite like a dry white wine — bub­bly, cit­rusy or min­er­ally.

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