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Friday Fishwrap
Twelve Bottles Guaranteed To Beat The Summer Heat

By Stephen Eliot

There is lots of talk lately that there is no need to go simple in Summer, that complex white wines and rosés are unwisely overlooked when the mercury rises, and I would not disagree. The lighter meals that warm weather prescribes do, in fact, afford great opportunity to pull out serious Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings, White Rhônes and the like. Still, when slaking thirst and combating the heat are the primary concerns, then I am not looking for fancy. Brightness and bounce are what I want from my wines, and the less expensive the better.

We have had more than a few steamy days hereabouts of late and the mercury looks ready to rise again. I fully admit that I can get a bit cranky when temperatures close in on triple digits. The vines handle the heat far better than I do, and, while I suppose than an icy cold lager will do in a pinch, a well-chilled bottle of something lively and white is even more likely to take the edge off my day.

Finding the right bottle is not at all hard because there are simply so many to be had, but those that provide especially good value, those that refresh without making me think about budgets, seem a little more soothing yet.

Here, then, are a few recent, easy-to-recommend, warm-weather favorites from 2011 that fill the bill without breaking the bank. Most check in at $15.00 or less and are likely to be found in most major markets, often, I suspect, at discounted prices. Make no mistake; they are all very good wines in the own rights and are not second-string substitutes to be played when the game is out of reach. They may not be expensive, and they may not have the cachet of rarity, but they are all solid performers and outstanding values as well.

88 LINCOURT Steel Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills 2011 $18.00
Here is the successful unoaked Chardonnay that actually tastes like the grape from which it made, and its fine combination of brightness and persistent, very buoyant young fruit make it an example well worth emulation. It is medium-full-bodied and is balanced to crispness, yet it achieves a real measure of inviting richness as only well-made Chardonnay can.

87 SANTA BARBARA WINERY Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2011 $14.00
If always a lesser wine in terms of extract and intensity, this one does a nice job at honing in on defined Chardonnay fruit. It is sweetened by a bare touch of oak and smacks of green apples from front to back with a subtle note of minerals peeking out in its firm, acid-framed finish. It will provide useful drinking with all sorts of seafoods, and it hits the mark for honest value.

87 J. LOHR Bay Mist White Riesling Monterey County 2011 $10.00
Smelling for green apples and citrus with fragrant touches of honeysuckle thrown in for good measure, this affable, slightly sweet Riesling delivers lots of straightforward appeal. It tends to roundness in feel but finds just the right note of firming acidity at the finish, and, while it is thoroughly enjoyable now, it is also certain to keep well for several years.

87 PACIFIC RIM Riesling Columbia Valley 2011 $11.00
Checking in at just over 3% residual sugar but neatly balanced and never mawkishly sweet, this engaging, easy-to-quaff effort is long on light-hearted appeal. Its themes of juicy peaches and jasmine lend it an indelible varietal stamp, and it will make for friendly drinking on its own or with a wide range of Asian fare.

88 ERATH Pinot Gris Oregon 2011 $14.00
Clean, fresh and fruity with an engaging mix of ripe pear, citrus and minerals in the nose, this briskly balanced bottling shows a nice sense of palatal richness and weight that goes beyond the varietal norm. Its flavors are graced with a nice touch of juice, and its finish is bright and sustained. It is, in short, all that we seek in a useful and wholly affable Pinot Gris.

87 J WINE COMPANY Pinot Gris California 2011 $15.00
Showing a mix of peaches, pears and kiwis with a scant touch of leafy greenness in its aromas, this rounded, nicely balanced Pinot Gris follows through on the palate with mildly minerally flavors that key first and last on peachy fruit. There is a slight tilt to freshening acidity at the end, but the wine never gets overly tart or stiff, and it should prove a useful and easy-to-place wine with sundry seafoods and milder chicken dishes.

88 ANCIENT PEAKS Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles 2011 $14.00
Fans of intensely grassy, insistently herbal Sauvignon Blancs are bound to find a good deal to like here, and those who favor a little balancing fruit as well will be doubly pleased. The wine is nicely structured and charged with lots of enlivening acid, and, while its brisk balance makes it a fine choice milder seafoods in the immediate term, this is a wine that promises to show more range and polish with age.

87 JOEL GOTT Sauvignon Blanc California 2011 $12.00
Here is a no-nonsense, free-of-frills effort that gives a good look at essential Sauvignon Blanc character. It is lightly grassy with a good bit of melony, citrus-tinged fruit, and it is moderately full and firm on the palate. It makes little pretense to nuance or to unfolding complexity in the future, but it is tasty, well-made and balanced, and it will make a versatile accompaniment to a wide range of foods over the next two or three years.

88 CLINE Viognier North Coast 2011 $11.00
Full-on varietal fragrances of apricot, peach and orange blossom are accents with touches for fresh herbs in the distinctive, well-focused aromas of this one, and its wonderfully buoyant young flavors are charged with lots of juicy fruit that extends through a lengthy, acid-firmed finish. It may not be quite as rich or as layered as the very best of kin, but this is a tasty, very well-made Viognier that is an absolute bargain at the price.

89 TANGENT Paragon Vineyard Viognier Edna Valley 2011 $17.00
Stepping back several steps from its opulent and more highly ripened cousins, Tangent's lively look at Viognier shows a lean, slightly citrusy bent and is balanced to crispness. It hints quietly at the floral qualities of the grape and is marked by the slightest spritz on the palate, and it is certain to make a refreshing foil to a wide range of lighter seafoods ranging from crab cakes to sole.

90 ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Sparkling Wine Anderson Valley $23.00
Dollar for dollar, Roederer Estate ranks among California's best sparkling wines, and, if not an extravagant wine or one that competes with those that have had years and years en tirage, this one is a composed, keenly balanced and entirely classy effort. Its subtle yeasty complexities and its fine, wonderfully persistent mousse are uncommon at the price, and, while a complete and thoroughly enjoyable wine at the moment, it is one that should last and last in the cellar.

87 KORBEL Blanc de Noirs Sparkling Wine California $13.00
Fresh, fruity and very modestly yeasty and charged by a fine and lively stream of small bubbles, Korbel's Blanc de Noirs is a crisp, well-balanced effort that steers clear of the candied simplicity that is common in inexpensive sparklers. It is not a challenging wine, but it is an eminently drinkable one, and it earns a very enthusiastic thumbs-up vote for value.


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