Happy spring! I love this time of year because it’s all about rebirth, freshness, and growth. Everything seems new and full of potential. The downside of this time of year is that everything is still pretty in-between. It’s not totally warm or cold; it’s somewhere in-between. Flowers are starting to bloom, but the garden isn’t completely blanketed in color. Food is also stuck in the in-between- soups are too rich, but salads are too light.
The same thing goes for the wines many of us drink at this time of year. It’s a little too warm for Syrah and Malbec, but it’s not quite hot enough for Riesling and Pinot Grigio. Fortunately, there are two great categories of wine perfect for this time of year: full-bodied whites and light-bodied reds.
Full-Bodied White Wine
Full-bodied white wines have just the right balance for this time of year to either drink alone or pair with many of the foods you’re probably eating right now. These wines tend to have bolder flavors than light-bodied wines and many have a rich creaminess due to oak aging and malolactic fermentation. Two of the most popular full-bodied white wines are Chardonnay and Viognier.
Chardonnay can be either oaked or unoaked, but I would recommend holding the lighter, unoaked Chardonnays for summer. Oaked Chardonnays are pretty easy to find at any wine store- many California wineries have a long-term love affair going on with oak, but you can also get great oaked Chardonnays from Australia for a really good price. Oaked Chardonnay often has strong tropical fruit flavors, like pineapple and starfruit, as well as lots of cream and butter.
If oaked Chardonnay isn’t your favorite, try a Viognier. It’s often recommended as an alternative to Chardonnay because it has some similar flavors and can also be oaked, but it tends to be just a touch fruitier and lighter-bodied than an oaked Chardonnay, as well as a touch more aromatic. France and Australia are the two biggest producers of Viognier. Since France is generally cooler than Australia, you’ll notice more citrus and floral notes in the wine, versus more tropical and stone fruits.
Light-Bodied Red Wines
Light-bodied red wines are some of the most versatile and food-friendly wines out there. These wines are usually lower in tannin than medium and full-bodied reds, so you notice the fruit more. They also tend to have high acidity. Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are both very popular examples of light-bodied red wines.
Pinot Noir is probably the most well-known of the light-bodied wines. It is widely grown around the world but is terribly finicky, leading to a hefty markup for a good bottle. It is known for its cherry and strawberry flavors, as well as some spice from New World countries. If you prefer something a little earthier, try a Burgundy. Pinot Noir is the grape used in red Burgundies and there are some very good (and rather pricey) examples from that region.
Beaujolais is made in the Beaujolais region of France from the Gamay grape and is often considered a good alternative to Pinot Noir. Overall it tends to be a little lighter-bodied and lower tannin than Pinot Noir, with nice raspberry and violet notes. It is meant to be drunk young, so don’t look for a 20 year old vintage- keep it under 5 years. Gamay is almost exclusively grown in France but you can get reasonably priced bottles pretty easily because it doesn’t require extensive aging. If you want to try something really special, look for Beaujolais Nouveau in December. It is the first Beaujolais released after a very short period of aging and is intended to be consumed immediately. It’s even lighter than a standard Beaujolais and has the slightest touch of effervescence.
Whether you like to switch up your wines by season like me, or prefer to drink the same thing year-round, cheers!