What Wines to Drink in Spring

With heavy rain lashing against the window British Summer Time, which officially began at the end of March, seems a lifetime away. Although balmier days remain a rarity the clock change and the bloom of spring certainly represent a psychological turning point and a catalyst to breathe new life into our wine choices. The blustery and hurried fluxes of this varied season can provide a tricky yet intriguing tapestry for choosing your wines. It is very much a season in flux but fortunately it’s not the weather that should lead your wine choices so much as the food. Suggesting wine at any time of year can be hard to negotiate because everyone has their favourite tipples, but pairing wines with seasonally relevant foods is a good place to start. Greengrocers and farmers markets are alive with the sights and smells of spring and that warming sentiment alone should compel us to enlighten our palates for the welcome seasonal switch.

Weight, not colour, is the crucial factor in determining your wine choices for spring so don’t feel obliged to bury your big-bodied reds just yet. Inevitably though there is slight shift towards lighter-bodied wines, and crisp, approachable whites with a pronounced acidity.

An enchanting white wine to accompany this beautifully florid season is Viognier, a grape varietal commonly synonymous with perfumed aromas of apricots, peaches and May blossom. The heady and arresting fruit and flower spectrum of Viognier, traditionally grown in Condrieu in northern Rhône but now cultivated in virtually every corner of the wine world, has an excellent synergy with this infuriating yet delightful season. The finest Viognier will marry a distinctively seductive aroma with real density and extract on a dry finish, and the vast majority of these wines are more than 13% alcohol. If the grape is not allowed to fully ripen then its iconic combination of perfume and body is lost and this is why it is often cited as a tricky varietal to manage in the vineyards.

"Viognier could truly be said to be the hedonist's white grape variety, even if it is often the vintner's headache…for it has to be left on the vine for a very long time before its characteristic heady aroma fully develops." Jancis Robinson MW

The most prized and highly sought-after expressions of Viognier are still from Condrieu, but this attractively perfumed, low-yielding and hugely fashionable variety is producing beautiful versions in northern California, Australia and Chile despite its challenging nature. Best drunk young, Viognier is increasingly blended with other Rhône varieties like Marsanne, which underpins the blend with a handsome richness and a full body, and Roussanne, which imparts liveliness and elegance. Blends like the aforementioned tend to be both affordable and produce approachable wines that are fresh, vivacious and perfect for this time of year.

Crisp Sauvignon Blancs will inevitably find their way back into our dusty picnic baskets but if you wanted to hold those back for hotter days there are plenty of interesting alternatives available. Picpoul, which literally translates as "stings the lip", and references this increasingly popular grape's mouth-wateringly high acidity, comes from the sun-baked vineyards of the Languedoc in southern France. The eponymous Picpoul de Pinet is a cru located in the Basin De Thau, south-west of Montpellier, and these lemony-fresh wines combine fine acidity, a rich texture and a vibrant poise of spice and minerality. Bracingly-dry, made without oak and commonly sold in elegant, slim, emerald green bottles, Picpoul De Pinet is a real favourite with sommeliers and heavenly with a freshly shucked oyster or pan-fried fish.

A deliciously dry Riesling from Alsace has a great affinity with the distinctive smell after one of April’s perpetual deluges, but if you wanted something a little less demanding but equally intriguing, then Austria’s indigenous Grüner Veltliner has an awakening freshness apt for spring. An ever-present on wine lists up-and-down the country courtesy of its wonderful character and consistently high quality, cool-climate regions in the New World, like Marlborough in New Zealand, are now producing strikingly aromatic versions that merit exploration. Often described as being tangy, slightly tart and with a hint of spice, they are normally fermented in stainless steel and aged in tanks with no new oak influence, and the best are worthy rivals to top white Burgundy.

The equally unpronounceable Gewürztraminer (phonetically speaking Ga-vertz-trah-meen-ur) is a pleasant substitute for Sauvignon Blanc. An alluring and powerfully scented wine from Germany, or Alsace in eastern France, the best versions are noted for their lychee-like scent, full-body and savoury finish. Interestingly, and like Pinot Grigio, the skin of a Gewürz (German for ‘spiced’) grape is actually pink and the subsequent wines are instantly recognisable by their deep colour, bright acidity and unforgettable smell.

When the wintery weather abates and we are graced with provocatively blue skies, other sprightly whites like Albariño, from Galicia in Spain’s drizzly North West corner, are beautifully evocative of the summer months to come. Temptingly acidic and brimming with aromas of white peach; Albariño produces easy-going wines that are frequently well-priced and excellent with lighter foods like spring salads and white fish. Likewise, Chenin Blanc has the capacity to make some beautifully invigorating wines that can boast an abundance of green apple notes and a citrus zest. Chenin is often referred to as the chameleon of grape varieties for its capacity to produce a diverse and wide range of styles, including sweet or sparkling wines. For this time of year seek out the rich and vibrantly acidic versions from its home in the Loire, or the jaunty and refreshing offerings from its adopted home in South Africa.

There is always a place for pure, precise Chardonnay, from Chablis or New World interpretations like those from Australia’s Yarra Valley and Chile's burgeoning cooler climate regions, but why not brace the nippy infancy of spring with a glass of rosé. With its plethora of different styles rosé can be a wonderfully compatible wine to enjoy during the next few months of shifting temperature. The pale, light, Provençal versions will always have their place but could just as easily wait until summer should we be graced with one. For alternatives why not look to the slightly riper, fuller rosés from Spain and Chile for the archetypally inviting aromas of strawberry, red cherry and cranberry. Sweeter versions from California or South Australia can be slightly hit and miss and not to everyone’s taste but there are a number of excellent offerings that defy the heavy, sweet, high-alcohol stereotypes.

There is an inevitable tendency to lean towards energetic whites when the sun softens the ground beneath but there is ample room for red wine too. In a similar vein to the whites, continue the common theme of freshness and youthfulness when selecting reds for this season when birds do sing.

Made from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais has an appealing versatility that makes it an excellent transitional wine. The ten famous crus named after their respective villages are in the north of the region and carry a premium due to their complexity and ageing potential. Yet don't be deterred from venturing south of Beaujolais’ more vaunted enclaves, as relatively recent efforts have been made to produce tasty offerings at more accessible price points.

A subtly fragrant Cabernet Franc - normally the overshadowed preserve of Bordeaux blends to add bouquet and complexity to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot - epitomise the fruity, effervescent reds to seek out in spring. Slightly more tannic than Beaujolais but equally vibrant, Cabernet Franc is widely planted in the Loire and southern France but the New World are also reaping the benefit of giving this aromatic variety centre stage. The Valley de Uco in Argentina and intriguingly some of America’s emerging cool-climate areas like Washington State and New York’s Long Island are producing beautiful 100% varietal expressions of this often under-championed grape.

From a lightly chilled and abundantly fruity Barbera, to a tantalising Nebbiolo, the interchangeable nature of spring provides a great platform to be fluid in your red wine choices. Whilst white wine is the instinctive choice as soon as the sun appears, as suggested, let weight and food lead your wine selections this spring.

Three Wine Men Spring wine choices

At their brilliant Christmas tasting last year, CellarVie Wines tracked down two thirds of the Three Wine Men, Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin MW, in order to ask them they will be drinking this spring…

"Spring is here. Yippee...bring out your Sauvignon Blancs - as fresh and crunchy and crisp as a Bramley apple straight off the tree!" Oz Clarke

"I can never quite face drinking rosé in winter - it's like wearing shorts in the snow - but now is the time for a glass of Côtes de Provence." Tim Atkin MW 

Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 


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