A nice cold glass of white wine is perfect for these hot summer days. There are so many different white wines out there and so many different styles that it can get a little overwhelming and confusing. We hope that this will serve as your summer white wine guide and will help you to choose a varietal and style that perfectly suits your taste.
In each region where Sauvignon Blanc is grown, the grape and resulting wine expresses a unique set of flavors and styles. Sauvignon Blanc thrives throughout France, and especially within Bordeaux, where it is the prominent grape varietal in Bordeaux Blanc blends and the coveted dessert wines of Sauternes . The climate of Bordeaux allows the Sauvignon Blanc grapes to ripen more slowly than in other areas, giving a wonderful balance between acidity and fruit. The climate is also an important factor in the development of the wine’s aromas. The flavors in these wines are fruitier than those from other regions in France. These wines can also age a bit more than the Sauvignon Blancs that are produced elsewhere.
The Loire Valley is the home of Sancerre, producing some of the most celebrated Sauvignon Blancs in the world. Sancerre is considered an elegant wine that is vibrant and crisp. Sancerre has good fruit and minerals, which combine to make a deep and complex Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit flavors that are typically present in Sancerre are from the citrus family, including lemon, lime and grapefruit. However, when the grapes are really ripe you can taste pear, quince, and apple. The wines that are produced in Sancerre have a good acidity, making them among the most refreshing wines out there.
California Sauvignon Blanc is made in a variety of styles, some of which were inspired by the regions of France. Fume-Blanc is a “French look a-like” that came into being when Robert Mondavi began using oak aging to remove some of the grassy flavors that were showing up in his California Sauvignon Blanc.
The flavors that are present in Sauvignon Blanc/Fume-Blanc, grown in California, tend to be minerally, grassy, and tropical. The wines that show more tropical fruits tend to be mixed with Semillon, which helps add ripe and aromatic fruit flavors. In addition, there are wines produced in California that offer citrus fruit aromas, showing notes of passion fruit, grapefruit, and lemon. On the other hand, the Fume-Blanc style shows melon flavors, as well as some other tropical fruits.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is very tropical and refreshing when the weather is really hot. There is also something about New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that I really enjoy in general, but especially in the summer. Just like all Sauvignon Blancs that I have covered here, they are bright, refreshing, and crisp. Marlborough is the most well-known area in New Zealand where this grape variety is grown and produced.
A typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is very aromatic with tropical notes of pineapple, passion fruit, grapefruit, melon, gooseberry, and other citrus flavors. Some of these wines can have grassy and floral notes too. The cool climate that the grapes are grown in allows for these flavors to be quite intense, but also gives a good balance between sugars and acidity. Moderate to high acidity is typical for these wines.
Chardonnay is the chameleon of the white wine grapes, having a variety of expressions depending on the region and the winemaker’s influence. Chardonnay is one of the most popular and widely planted white wine grapes in the world. Chardonnay is a native grape varietal to France’s Burgundy region. Consumers always get confused when it comes to Burgundy – red or white. It seems confusing with the different appellations within a village, the many different growers within the same vineyard, and then of course you sprinkle in the negociant. When it comes to White Burgundy, the first thing you need to know is that 95% percent of the time, the white wines produced there are made from Chardonnay! And Burgundy produces some of the finest and most age worthy Chardonnays in the world. Depending on the area of Burgundy, the flavors that can arise range from citrus fruit to licorice and spice notes, and can be rich and creamy in style or very racy and brisk. Chablis is perhaps the most distinctive expression of Chardonnay within Burgundy. View all White Burgundy available on our website.
Chablis will always be 100% Chardonnay, no blending of any kind. Because of the cool climate that the grapes are grown in, Chablis is always refreshing and very crisp, but don’t let that fool you, Chablis can be aged. Expressing a deep mineral character in its youth, the wine tends to softens with age and develop floral and honeyed notes. Another typical characteristic of young Chablis is a green apple-like acidity, as well as a flinty-mineral flavor.
California is another popular Chardonnay producing region. California Chardonnay tends to be fuller-bodied in style, filling the palate with rich flavors and textures. Chardonnay is wonderfully versatile, which is why it works so well for all seasons!
Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio is a mutant form of the Pinot Noir grape. The grapes can actually have a purplish hue, although the wine produced is light in color. This is a wonderful warm weather wine and is sure to cool you off on a hot summer afternoon. It tends to be light to medium-bodied in style and is usually very pale in color. It is extremely bright, crisp, and refreshing. Pinot Gris thrives in Alsace, California and Oregon, while Italy is known for Pinot Grigio. View all Pinot Grigio available on our website.
Italian Pinot Grigio is very bright and clean. It is very light in color and in body. Sometimes there is an effervescent feel to an Italian Pinot Grigio. This makes the wine elegant and delicate, which means you want to drink it in its youth.
Pinot Gris is a major grape varietal in Alsace, and is very different from the Pinot Gris/Grigio that is found everywhere else. These wines have very intense flavors, because of the long autumn season, which allows for the grapes to ripen very slowly. The Alsatian Pinot Gris is medium-bodied and can be aged for longer than those of Italy and the United States. Alsatian Pinot Gris can have a nice spice flavor to it, which is unique to this variety. In general, Pinot Grigio makes a great cooler for the hot weather!
On August 2, 2012, I visited Chateau Latour-Martillac in Pessac-Leognan for a tour and tasting with Tristan Kressman, one of the principals of the Chateau, the other being his brother Loic. The Kressman family has owned and operated the vineyard since the 1930’s. The Chateau first appears to be a fairly compact physical structure with the singular exception of a large “Tour” or tower at the front. From this vantage point, the interior of the Chateau grounds and production facilities are hidden from the eye. As one rounds the structure and turns into the interior courtyard , a much larger production/warehouse facility or “chais” is revealed. It is a charming spot on a slope with a nice look-out to the Pessac hills sloping toward the river.
Chateau Latour-Martillac is one of my favorite Chateau because their wines represent to me the essence of the Pessac-Leognan terroir at a reasonable price. The reds display the classic Pessac flavors of cedar, charcoal, cigar-box and powerful dark fruit. The whites are often flinty and tightly wound but are bound up in wonderful melon and fig fruit flavors and aromas. In top vintages, the whites have the structure to age up to 20 years.
The wines have not found a huge press or consumer following in the U.S. and this has helped keep the prices down to earth. It is a friendly and welcoming Chateau with a very nice visitor’s area that features the history of the Chateau and sells the wines to visitors. The wine is made under the direction of the two Kressman brothers, a full time oenologist (Valerie Vialard) and Denis Dubordieu. Dubordieu was the white wine consultant for Chateau Latour-Martillac for ten years and is now involved with the red wine as well since the 2006 vintage. Annual production of the grand vins is about 15,000 cases from 42 hectares. 80% of this production goes into the red wine and 20% into the white wine. The red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The white is usually about 65% Sauvignon Blanc and the rest of the wine is made with Semillon.
After the tour, we tasted a vertical of the red and the white. Below are my notes and few Parker numerical scores.
Grand Vin Rouge
2001 Chateau Latour Martillac Secondary flavors of cedar and cigar now becoming more pronounced in this wine. Ready to drink now.
2005 Chateau Latour Martillac Still displaying the brute force of the vintage. Mouth tightening concentration and tannins envelope this wine in a package bound for long-term development.
2006 Chateau Latour Martillac Pleasingly concentrated and well put together for the vintage. The first vintage under Dubordieu.
2008 Chateau Latour Martillac Excellent freshness and concentration. A value vintage since it was released during a difficult economic environment.
2009 Chateau Latour Martillac A beauty. Sweet and perfectly integrated tannins bound up in glorious fruit. A great wine from this estate and meant for long term cellaring. RP 94
2010 Chateau Latour Martillac Bottled in May and showing it. Has the fruit concentration of 2009 , one will have to see if the tannins and oak round out as nicely as the 2009. RP 90-92
Grand Vin Blanc
2005 Chateau Latour Martillac Blanc Just coming out of its shell now.
2008 Chateau Latour Martillac Blanc Powerful acid and fresh fruit but less complete than the others whites.
2009 Chateau Latour Martillac Blanc Packed with great fruits characteristics and framed in wonderfully intense acid. Will age for a long time. RP 94
2010 Chateau Latour Martillac Similar to the 2009 but with perhaps a touch less fruit. Also build to age. RP 90-93.
With such a charming name, it may be hard to turn down a chilled flute of Stéphane Coquillette’s NV Carte D’Or Premier Cru Brut $45/btl. Located in Chouilly, a Grand Cru classified village in the Cote des Blancs, Champagne Coquillette is run by fourth generation winemaker Stéphane Coquillette. Stéphane’s grandparents established Champagne Saint-Charmant (see, it’s all about the charm) in 1930, which Stéphane’s father, Christian, then took over in 1950. When it came for Stéphane’s turn, his father sent him off to start his own brand, hence, Champagne Stéphane Coquillette.
To fully appreciate and understand Champagne Coquillette, it is crucial to go back to the roots…literally. The vineyards are planted in limestone soil and chalky rock, stretching tens of meters deep. This type of rock, called “roche mère” is capable of soaking up water in order to supply the vines with adequate hydration during dry spells. This particular soil is key to contributing specific aromas and flavors of the wine.
Coquillette offers several excellent champagnes, but our favorite is the NV Stéphane Coquillette Carte d’Or Premier Cru Brut, a blend of Grand Cru and Premier Cru Pinot Noir (about two thirds) and Chardonnay (one third). This pale yellow bubbly exhibits citrus-rich aromas of lemon and grapefruit, blackberry fruit and hints of smoke and vanilla. Some of the lemon and citrus notes carry on over to the palate which brings a refreshing flavor to the taste buds. Also present are floral notes, which carry through to the energetic and pleasant finish.
The great thing about champagne is that in can be enjoyed in accompaniment with almost anything: various appetizers, desserts, cheeses, or nothing at all! For Coquillette’s Champagne, we have chosen a stellar match: crab cakes topped with a mango salsa. This duo is one you don’t want to miss out on, so check out the simple recipe above and grab yourself a bottle of NV Stéphane Coquillette Carte D’or Premier Cru Brut to charm away any dinner party!
Le Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet first saw mediocre success under the ownership of poet-vigneron Roland Thevenin in the 1950’s and during the 30 or so years that followed. In 1985, he sold the property to the Chablis firm Laroche, which several years later passed on the estate to Credit Foncier, a subsidiary of Caisse d’Epargne, who produced commercially-popular wines. Then, in 2002, BNP banker Etienne de Montille took over as director of the estate and the makeover ensued. His first major move was to transition to organic and biodynamical viticulture, which he successfully achieved by 2005. Additionally, under Etienne’s reign, the Domaine has grown from 15 to 21 hectares (37 to 51 acres) of healthy, fruitful vineyards. Not only did he work deliberately at transforming this estate, he also began taking a more active role in his family vineyard in Volnay, Domaine Hubert de Montille.
The Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet estate covers 23 appellations in the Burgundy region including some prestigious ones such as Chassagne-Montrachet and Nuits-St.-Georges. Most of the production consists of Chardonnay wines, although 7 out of the 20 hectares are dominated by the noble Pinot Noir. The 2009 Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Bourgogne Blanc Clos du Chateau $24/btl is a product of 4.5 hectares (slightly more than 11 acres) of vineyards in the heart of le village of Puligny-Montrachet, one of the best Chardonnay-producing areas in the world. The “Bourgogne” title, whether rouge or blanc, covers wines that are produced in locations that do not have specific appellations and can be produced from grapes in one or more of 300 communes.
With the first swirl of this lightly golden wine, wafts of lemon verbena, straw and ripe citrus first awaken the nose. On the palate, floral notes and minerality are present with slight acidity and a long finish to bring an overall harmonious presentation in the mouth. Grab a bottle to see for yourself!