Seven Quenching Summer White Wines for Under $25
Legal Sea Foods’ Sandy Block suggests a handful of his favorite cool-climate wines for the sultry last days of summer.
White wines may never inspire the same sort of hallowed reverence as their inky, tannic, heavily macerated counterparts, but they at least get their due in the lazy days of summer. Whether dining al fresco or sipping seaside, drinking in warm weather calls for thirst-quenching, guzzable libations that effect a subtler afternoon buzz. People may not always eat lighter, but they certainly feel the intrinsic pull of a good clambake, an oyster roast, and the crackling flame of an open grill. That type of salty, smoky, white-fleshed fare calls for something agile and easy-to-drink. And who better to sort through the sea of effervescent Vinho Verdes and cool climate rieslings than Legal Sea Foods’ Vice President of Beverage Operations, Sandy Block. The certified Master of Wine gravitated toward wines from rocky soils, with palate-cleansing levels of acid, but he also gave a nod to a California chardonnay and a wine region all but written off by hipster oenophiles. Here are seven white wines, all under $25, perfect for enjoying the sultry last days of summer.
1. Leeuwin Estate Artist Series Riesling
Origin: Margaret River, Western Australia
“I’m a real riesling freak,” Block says. “Surprisingly, there’s still some trepidation around rieslings, but without telling anyone what they were drinking, you would think this Leeuwin Estate was a sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley.” Riesling, normally associated with the steep, southern facing slopes of the Mosel, might seem like a stretch in the sweltering Aussie outback. But Leeuwin Estate, located on the westernmost tip of the continent—less than five miles from the Indian Ocean— has a climate similar to Bordeaux. This former cattle farm, hand-selected by Robert Mondavi in the ’70s, produces fantastic rieslings without the polarizing petrol aroma typical of the grape. “It’s bone dry, and has a bold, lemony finish. It tastes to me like it’s got many, many years of age ahead of it,” Block says.
2. Pewsey Vale Riesling
Origin: Eden Valley, Australia
“Being somewhat of a contrarian, I’ve been looking a lot at Australian wines, because everyone seems to hate Australian wines lately,” Block says. “It’s kind of like buying stocks, you have to look where everyone else is ignoring.” First established in the mid-19th century, Pewsey Vale has long been dedicated to growing one lone varietal: riesling. Made in a more delicate, Germanic-style than rieslings from western Australia, Pewsey Vale exhibits characteristics of candied peach, dried herbs, and pineapple. “This is a riesling with tons of green apple and palate-cleansing acid,” Block says.
3. Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli
Origin: Getaria, Spain
The wine that is difficult to pronounce, but so worth the effort. As little as five years ago, it was rare to see a Txakoli’s skinny, signature green bottle at wine bars and retailers, but now producers like Ameztoi are the darlings of Boston bartenders. Located on 35 sloping hectares of land overlooking the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s Basque country, Txomin Etxaniz is one of the most widely available Txakolis on the market. “This is a really vibrant, taut wine with slate, green apple, and mineral notes,” Block says. “They age it on the lees without, so it has a real liveliness from the carbon dioxide. This is just a great oyster wine.”
4. Lícia Albariño
Origin: Rias Baixas, Spain
Grown in a corner of northwest Spain known for its Celtic influence (many locals still speak Gallego, a close relative of Portuguese), the Rias Baixas region specializes in this aromatic, thick-skinned white grape varietal. Almost green in color, this full-bodied example from Lícia offers “bright acid, a little bit of sea salt, and a Txakoli-like spritz,” Block says. “The nose has apple, lemon, and grapefruit notes, which perfectly complements salty foods like smoked fish.”
5. Louro Do Bolo Godello
Origin: Valdeorras, Spain
Like Albariño and Txakoli, Godello is another Spanish variety that has languished in relative obscurity until recently. Winemaker Rafael Palacios is the grape’s undisputed advocate with this elegant, complex version, that shows a softer, rounder texture, than its Galician counterparts. “If you want something without so much acid, this is a gentler take,” Block says. “Godellos are always interesting wines, particularly this one that is aged in oak foudres from Normandy. It has a nice creaminess with hints of melon, apple, and almond.”
6. Domaine des Baumard Savennières
Origin: Loire Valley, France
“I don’t think I’ve ever tried a Savennières that I didn’t like,” Block says. “I’m a huge chenin blanc fan, and Savennières is really the apex of dry chenin blanc.” Produced by Jean Baumard and his son Florent, two of the most highly regarded winemakers in the tiny appellation of Savennières, this Loire Valley property has been churning out stunning whites since the 17th century. “This is like a mouthful of minerals,” Block says. “It’s got this chalky, stony, edginess to it that I find quite thrilling. Even though Baumard is a summer white, I often decant it because it’s always so tightly wound. It’s really an outstanding wine that will stand up to just about anything.”
7. Melville Estate Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay
Origin: Santa Rita Hills, California
Long before the hype surrounding natural wines like Donkey & Goat, cult winemaker Greg Brewer (Brewer-Clifton) made California wine country cool again. This second, more affordable label from Brewer showcases some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that the Central Coast has to offer. “These vineyards bump up right against the Pacific Ocean, so it hardly ever gets above 70 degrees,” Block says. “It’s got this lemon-lime, saltiness on the palate that from soils that have been buffeted with this salt spray and sea plankton. Also, Brewer tries to work in a medium of neutrality as much as possible, avoiding the use of new oak barrels, so it’s not as heavy as other California chards.”