"Come, ﬁll the Cup, and in the ﬁre of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance ﬂing."
--From ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam’
Buds are breaking, the grass is greening, the glass of wine in front of you should be overﬂowing with the ﬂavors of spring. It should be light with lively acidity, it should be fragrant and ﬂoral, it should have over-the-top-of-the-glass aromas that will not be lost in a breeze, because you are going to drink it on the deck.
Let us put the question more formally: What wine will go well with Hawaiian shirts?
Among the answers are Riesling, chenin blanc, gewurztraminer and viognier.
Ah, poor Riesling! A noble grape, so ignobly treated, its reputation diluted by the cloying ﬂood of Kool-Aid out of California.
But there are dry Rieslings out there, whose aromatic detail will dazzle your jaded synapses. Seek out a dry one from Washington, or, better still, Alsace. (Examples include, but are not limited, to Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Washington, or almost any label from Alsace.)
That said, don't dismiss slightly sweet ones too readily. That way lies the dark slide to wine snobbery. Off-dry Rieslings from the Mosel, of Germany, whose lively acidity is not entirely swamped by sucrose, can be quite refreshing, paired not with dinner, but with a warm spring afternoon, fresh fruit and old friends.
Gewurztraminer, the most aromatic of grapes, has suffered even more than Riesling from a reputation deﬁned by the California cookie-cutter. A dry gewurz from Navarro, say, or Gundlach Bundschu (both from California, neither from a cookie cutter) or one from Alsace, will have penetrating aromas of tropical fruit, of mangoes, papaya and peaches, aromas that are not easily blown away.
Chenin blanc, redolent of honeysuckle, is an excellent springtime wine. It is at its best from Vouvray (both dry and sweet variations), but there are examples from this country which deliver on its promise. L'Ecole, of the Columbia Valley in Washington delivers, as does Yellowstone Cellars in Billings, whose winemaker, Clint Peck, goes to the Washington for his grapes. Take either wine hiking, chill it in a mountain stream, drink it on a ﬁeld of wildﬂowers. Can't make that hike just yet? The deck will do, and the ﬂowers will waft from the glass.
A few decades ago, viognier was almost entirely conﬁned to the obscure appellations of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet, of the Cotes du Rhone. Discovered by California winemakers, transplanted across the pond, it thrived. Now there are more than 10 times the acres of viognier in the New World than in the Old.
Let us go into those vineyards, check out the tender grapes. Here's some ripe chardonnay. Squeeze a grape between your palms, then sniff. What do you get? Apple and pear and not much else. Most of the other aromas that will eventually swirl from your glass come not from the grape but from the winemaking process: from yeast, from oak, from fermentation.
Here's a row of viognier. Grab a grape or two, squeeze and sniff. Whoa! Lychee nuts! Apricot! Perhaps a peach or two, all spring from your palm! Viognier is intensely aromatic, exactly what we want in a springtime wine.
Chardonnay is classic, structured, restrained; viognier goes for baroque.
Away with chardonnay, bring on the Hawaiian shirts! Have a springtime tasting on your deck. Fill your cups, taste and share, enjoy the liquid ﬁre of spring.