As the weather turns from beautiful, balmy spring days and nights to the swelter of summer in Savannah, my thoughts turn to wines that can cool you down, quench your palate, and deliver a big dose of refreshment.
Obviously, we are not talking about California Cabernet here!
Quite the contrary, in fact, as this article, as well as the next, will explore the world of these white wines.
Oftentimes as I'm traveling on wine trips around the globe, the focus is on the region's red wines, with little attention paid to the whites of the area.
This is true in most of the famous wine producing regions: Bordeaux, Tuscany, Rhone Valley, Napa Valley and Rioja.
Even in Burgundy, where the most famous white grape, Chardonnay, hails from, the precious red wines made from the Pinot Noir grape take the lead role, with chardonnays relegated to the role of understudy.
On these trips, I often find myself craving high acid white wines! Rieslings from Clare Valley in Australia or the Mosel in Germany, Chenin Blanc from Vouvray in France or the Cape of South Africa, Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in France or Marlborough in New Zealand, Gruner Veltliner from the Wachau in Austria, Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain, Muscadet from the Loire Valley - these are the wines I cry out for after having sat through and tasted dozens of big, hearty reds.
Wines that refresh the palate while cooling me down, with racy crispness that makes me crave the next sip.
One can't begin to talk about high acid white grapes without first mentioning the Riesling grape. Hailing originally from Germany, this grape has also found a home in Australia, Washington, France, California, New York and Austria, to name a few locations.
What I love - and I really do mean love - about this grape is its complete versatility. Riesling can be everything from bone dry, like the ones generally produced in the Clare Valley of Australia or in Alsace, France, to the sweet whites that are picked from late harvested fruit found in the Trockenbeerenauslese in Germany, as well as everything in between.
There are three main components in a great Riesling, and when they come together and are beautifully balanced, there is no better wine for my money!
These components are fruit, acidity and sweetness. Oftentimes, you can find a sweeter Riesling with a higher level of sugar, but the acidity and fruit are so prominent, as well, that the wine is balanced and wonderful. These are most often found from Germany.
I know a lot of people are reading this and saying, "Really, Riesling, that sugary sweet stuff from Germany?" but I would advise you to try again. Ask at your local wine shop for one that's not so sweet and they will guide you to a plethora of wines that will knock your socks off.
Another good way to judge the level of sweetness is by the alcohol percentage listed on the bottle.
Generally, the higher the alcohol percentage in the wine, the lower the level of sugar it will possess.
Riesling, in the 6-7 percent alcohol by volume level, will most certainly be sweet, with the drier styles usually coming in at 10.5-12 percent or higher.
The middle ground, in the 8-10 percent range, is where you'll find most of my Riesling consumption.
There are many famous producers from the Mosel in Germany whose wines can almost always be trusted. These producers include Joh. Jos. PrÃ¼m, Dr. Loosen, Willi Schaefer, Joh. Jos. Christoffel, Dr. Thanisch, Max Ferdinand Richter and Stephen Ehlan. If you want to try the drier style from Clare Valley, Australia, look for wines from Grosset, Leasingham, Petaluma and Leo Buring.
Perhaps my favorite region to drink white wines from is Vouvray, France, in the Loire Valley.
These wines are almost always made from the Chenin Blanc grape. Chenin Blanc has a lot in common with Riesling.
Both make wonderful wines that are versatile, encompassing the range from bone dry to sticky sweet.
Chenin Blanc wines are characterized by the grape's natural high acidity and rely on a pulsing acidity for structure, balance and freshness.
Dry or sec styles will have more noticeable acidity than the sweeter demi-sec and moelleux.
Depending on the style, Vouvrays can exhibit notes of honey, nuts, ginger, fig, apples and white flowers. Since these wines can have a range of sweetness, the wine labels may indicate the sweetness level by the terms Sec, Demi-Sec, Moelleux and Doux, with Sec being the driest and Doux being the sweetest.
These wines, especially the sweeter ones, can age beautifully. In fact, one of the best wines I ever drank was the 1989 Domaine Huet "Cuvee de Constance" Moelleux Vouvray.
It was at a dinner at a chef/friend's home with three Master Sommeliers, the chef and I, and as we sipped this wine, the room literally fell silent as we all sat in quiet contemplation of this beauty!
My favorite producers of Vouvray are Domaine Huet, Domaine FranÃ§ois Pinon, Champalou and Domaine du Clos Naudin.
Stay tuned for part two, where we will explore Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino.
Douglas Snyder is a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Before relocating to Savannah, he was the import and pacific northwest manager for Juice Wine Purveyors, a wine wholesaler in North Carolina. He has more than 20 years' experience in the wine, spirits and hospitality industries. He is the wine director and general manager at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Savannah. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.