The last two days have been quite, quite beautiful, starting mistily, basking midday in an unseasonally warm sun and finishing with an extended dusk that announces that spring is finally here. I immediately want to eat lighter meals: the new season’s vegetables are not quite in yet but I can at least plan for summer and that means a spring clean of the cellar, pushing the full bodied reds to the back and assessing what whites, lighter reds and rosés I still have lurking in the racks.
Now is the time to drink up any lighter wines from last year that may have slipped my notice and make a shopping list for the weeks ahead.
The idea of changing the wine you drink with the season, just as you change your diet and your wardrobe still meets some resistance. People tend to ‘like what they like’ when it comes to wine, drinking the same bottles right through the year. The more pronounced acidity and palate weight of lighter wines may not be to your taste. But try them with the right kind of food and you’ll see how perfectly tuned they are to the flavours of spring.
Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon blends
What more is there to say about Sauvignon Blanc? Only that there is much more variety than ever before and that quality seems on an unstoppable upward curve. Try those from South Africa if you’re not familiar with them. And revisit white Bordeaux and other Sauvignon-Semillon blends.
Best food pairings: goats’ cheese, asparagus, grilled fish and other seafood, dishes flavoured with coriander and dill
No sign of the Grüner bandwagon slipping off the rails. It’s still every sommelier’s darling - less demanding than Riesling, more sophisticated than Pinot Grigio (though see below). Drink young.
Best food pairings: Light Asian flavours e.g. Asian accented salads and noodle dishes, Vietnamese spring rolls
Another fashionable option, Spain’s feted seafood white, which comes from Galicia in the North West of the country, has the intensity to cope with most light fish preparations. A good wine to choose in fish restaurants.
Best food pairings: shellfish, light fish dishes, spring and summer soups e.g. gazpacho, tomato salads
Chablis and other unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnays
If you’re a Chardonnay drinker, time to change the register from oaked to unoaked or at least subtly oaked. (Those rich buttery flavours will overwhelm delicate vegetables and seafood unless they’re dressed with a rich butter sauce.) Faced with competition from the new world, Chablis is better quality than ever and a good own brand buy from supermarkets. Watch out for offers.
Best food pairings: oysters and other seafood, poached chicken, creamy sauces, fish and vegetable terrines, sushi
Like Marmite Riesling tends to polarise wine drinkers - some love it, some hate it. There’s no denying though that its crisp, fresh flavours and modest levels of alcohol it makes perfect spring sipping. If it’s the sweetness you’re not sure about stick to Alsace Riesling, German kabinett Riesling or Clare Valley Riesling from Australia. If it’s the typical kerosene flavours it can acquire with age, stick to younger wines.
Best food pairings: Smoked fish especially smoked salmon, crab, trout, smoked chicken, salads,Cantonese and lightly spiced south-east Asian food
The tide of insipid, cheap Pinot Grigio has given the wine a bad name but the best examples (mostly from the Alto Adige) are elegant minerally whites that deserve a place in your cellar.
Best food pairings: antipasti, light seafood pastas and risottos, fresh tomato-based pasta sauces
The Veneto’s utterly charming sparkling wine, softer and more rounded than Champagne. It mixes fabulously well with fresh summer fruits such as peaches and raspberries as in the famous Bellini
Best food pairings: A perfect spring aperitif or to sip with panettone
I say light because so many rosés now are little different from reds in their levels of alcohol and intensity. Not that that style doesn’t have a place (it’s a great wine to drink with barbecues, for example) but it can overwhelm more delicate flavours. At this time of year try the lighter, less full-on styles from Provence and elsewhere in the South of France or from the Rioja and Navarra regions of Spain.
Best food pairings: Provençal-style dishes such as salad Niçoise and aioli (vegetables with a garlic mayonnaise), grilled tuna, mezze
Light Loire reds
Well, actually not so light if you look at the 2005 vintage but in general Loire reds which are mostly based on the Cabernet Franc grape are light and fragrant, perfect served cool. Examples are Chinon, Bourgeuil and Saumur-Champigny.
Best food pairings:
Seared salmon and tuna, grilled chicken, goats' cheese
Young Pinot Noir
I stress young because you want that bright, intense, pure raspberry fruit rather than the slightly funky notes you can get with Pinot (especially red burgundy) that has a couple of years’ bottle age. The most reliable place to find it currently is in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Chile, California and Oregon have some appealingly soft, fruity Pinots too, though again, watch the alcohol and serve lightly chilled.
Seared duck breasts, salads that include fresh or dried red berries or pomegranate seeds, seared salmon or tuna.