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Seasonal Sipping: Out-of-the-Ordinary Summer Whites

I tend to be chilly fall through spring, so I welcome the summer heat. However, I appreciate its antidotes even more. From June through the sweltering end of August, I crave a plunge in the ocean and a glass of chilled white wine.

As a city girl without wheels, the former can be hard to satisfy. But the latter is almost enough to make up for my bathtub being the biggest body of water I’ve set foot in lately.

My favorites are whites with zesty acidity, but they need to also have intriguing flavors, a little texture, or something out of the ordinary to keep my attention. Here are a few varieties that I’m gravitating toward this season:

Chenin Blanc: Funky is the best word for this grape. I love the ones from the Loire that smell like over-ripe apples, chalk, wet wool and honey – aromas wildly different from ubiquitous citrusy whites. Chenins are produced in a variety of styles – dry, off dry, sweet, still and sparkling – but it always has zippy acidity that makes a great match for a wide variety of foods. Some of them are aged on the lees – the spent yeast left after fermentation – and these wines offer up a whiff of mouthwatering pastry aroma. I poured an older sparkling Chenin from the Loire’s Saumur region at a Thai-Filipino BYOB last weekend, and its creamy, yeasty, apple and floral flavors were a perfect foil for spicy dishes. The Chenin’s acidity cut through the fat of the pan-fried scallops, fried tofu with a hen-of-the-woods sauce and a chili-laced sausage dish, and I was seriously tempted to run back home for another bottle.

Grüner Veltliner: A better representative of Austria than Arnold could ever hope to be, Grüner has a medium to full body and natural vivacity that steroids could never duplicate. Hailing from the north, Grüner grows in what is (counter intuitively) known as Lower Austria that runs through the Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal regions. Riper versions can show notes of citrus, peach and honey, but the majority is herbaceous with a serious kick of celery, mineral and pepper. Supremely mouthwatering, I like pairing these wines with salads, grilled fish, pork chops with fresh fruit sauces and of course, Wiener Schnitzel.

Albariño: This is Spain’s ultimate white wine. Slightly round with exotic, subtle aromas of peaches, flowers, herbs and stone, Albariño has a verve that is immensely pleasing on hot summer nights. Most often from the cool, damp Rias Baixas region in northeast Galicia, Albariño retains its acidity well in these conditions. The wines are becoming increasingly popular, and lucky for us, the region is booming with more wineries and a greater focus on quality. I could drink Albariño with a number of summer dishes, but given its origin next to the Atlantic, I find it pairs best with seafood. Open a bottle with steamed mussels, clams, ceviche or grilled spicy shrimp.

Now if only I could get myself to the Atlantic. Until then, these awesome whites are my summery escapes.