Where I live, spring has been…transitional. True story: It was so hot one day that my kid’s soccer game was stopped early. The next, we were on the pitch in boots and heavy coats.
But it got me thinking about wine. It’s not consistently warm enough to start drinking whites, but it’s too warm for the rich, heavy reds that help ward off the winter chill.
The answer? Wines that carve out a middle ground: medium bodied, with hints of fruit and earth (for the reds) and a rounded texture for the whites. Even better, the list focuses on grapes not on the average drinker’s radar screen, making this season a great time to try something new.
Grenache: This grape is believed to have Spanish origins. It makes wines with bright strawberry and raspberry notes, and has hints of cinnamon. The grape is often blended, usually with shiraz and/or mourvèdre. Some of the best are from Spain, Australia, and France’s southern Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon areas. Try the Glaetzer Wallace Shiraz-Grenache ($25); Bonny Doon Vineyard Clos de Gilroy Grenache ($17) or Las Rocas Garnacha ($12).
Cabernet Franc: This grape is cultivated to great success in France’s Loire Valley, though it also plays an important role in the country’s Bordeaux blends. The wine is notable for its peppery aromas and flavors of cassis, violet and tobacco. Good cabernet franc is also made on the North Fork of Long Island. Try Lieb Family Cellars Reserve Cabernet Franc ($25) or Château de la Roulerie Cabernet Franc ($17).
Carménère: This grape was once a key player in Bordeaux, but is hard to find there today. Instead, the grape thrives in Chile, where these fines were first planted in the 1850s. The wines are redolent with red fruit, spice and berry, with hints of smoke and earth. Try carménère from Montes Alpha ($19) or Root 1 ($10). If you’re feeling really crazy, go for the Oveja Negra Reserva Cabernet Franc-Carménère blend ($10).
Valpolicella Ripasso: This wine is a particular style of Valpolicella from the Veneto region in northern Italy. Made with native varietals, it is crafted by letting juice sit with the skins and other leftovers from making Amarone wine, making a vibrant and flavorful cuvée. Try Tommasi Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($23); Speri Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso ($23); or Poggio al Lago Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore ($22).
Albariño: This grape grows in Spain and Portugal, and is being increasingly planted in California, Oregon and Washington. The wines are quite distinctive, with floral aromas and flavors of peach and apricot. Albariños to try includes Martin Codax Burgans ($14); Condes de Albarei Salneval ($12); and Klinker Brick ($14).
Sémillon: Famous as a blending partner with sauvignon blanc (think white Bordeaux and Sauternes), this grape makes a delicious, full-bodied dry wine that shares the richness of chardonnay with the crisp texture of sauvignon blanc. Flavors include lemon, grapefruit, apple and pear. Try Torbreck Woodcutter’s Sémillon ($17); L’Ecole No. 41 Sémillon ($15) or Chateau Tuilerie Pages Sémillon-Sauvignon ($19).
Torrontés: This grape primarily grows in Argentina, producing aromatic wines with flavors of peach and apricot. Try wines from Dominio del Plata Crios de Susana Balbo ($13); Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Unoaked Torrontés ($14); or Nieto Senetiner ($15).
Verdejo: This is another Spanish grape, producing fresh, flavorful wines with notes of lime, lemon, grapefruit, grass and fennel. Look for wines from Bodegas Ordonez Nisia ($15); Marques de Riscal ($8) or Bodegas Garciarevalo TresOlmos ($18).
(Note that prices gives are average & might be a little higher or lower at your local store.)