Every spring, I can sum up what I'm looking for in wine in three little words: vin de soif. This French phrase describing a wine to quench your thirst is all about great-tasting, easy-drinking bottles that you want to guzzle with reckless abandon. As you start planning spring's first picnic, these are the wines you want.
This time of year, I'm looking for the bottles that you bring out among friends on a nice afternoon for no particular reason at all, and before you know it, everyone's glasses are empty. Forget big and boozy—I want light to medium bodied wines with alcohol low enough for a long session of sipping. Bright, juicy acidity is a must, and flourishes of fresh green, mineral, and floral notes work wonderfully with the first arrivals of asparagus, favas, peas, and other tender spring produce.
I've been on a mission to find well-made thirst-quenching wines that are interesting and unique but don't require serious contemplation. I wanted bottles that offered the best quality at their price point; no one wants to waste money on a bottle that just doesn't shine. Here are eight delicious options from around the world, perfect for stocking your fridge this spring.
Bernreiter Gemister Satz, 2013, Austria (Around $18)
What could be more appropriate for spring than a field blend? The tradition of making a multi-varietal wine from all the various kinds of grapes growing next to each other in a single vineyard or parcel is still common in a number of major winegrowing regions: Alsace, for example, where it's labeled as 'Edelzwicker,' and Friuli, in Northeastern Italy. In Austria, this style of white is called 'em>Gemischter Satz, or mixed set, and is a particular specialty of Vienna (one of the only world capitals to grow and produce wine within city limits) where it is often the house white at local taverns.
Dominated by Grüner Veltliner (with its peppery hints of vegetables), floral Pinot Blanc, peachy Pinot Gris, and tart, tangy Riesling, Bernreiter's pleasant blend intrigues with soft apple and grassy-floral notes. It's dynamic from year to year, but you can always count on this bottling to deliver the light-bodied, brisk freshness that makes it ideal for the first warm days of spring.
Drink it with: There's enough going on in this multifaceted wine to make it a good match for grilled sausages or a rotisserie chicken (and the next day's chicken salad sandwiches, too).
Broadbent Vinho Verde, NV, Portugal (Around $11)
Some might argue that the tart, spritzy whites from this region of Northwestern Portugal are more for summer than spring. But if the sun is shining and your picnic basket is ready, I say winter was long enough, why wait?
This dry wine has day-drinking written all over it. A blend of mostly Loureiro and Trajadura grapes, it drinks like a slightly fizzy limeade: bright, refreshing, and positively gulpable. That it clocks in at a mere 9% alcohol offers even more incentive for opening a second...or third...bottle. Broadbent is a large-scale producer, known for their Madeiras (a style of oxidized fortified wine) and with numerous labels under their umbrella, but this well-made wine represents a great value compared to other favorite picnic whites like Spain's Txakoli, which can run in the $20 range.
Drink it with: Although it doesn't necessarily even need food, the racy acidity of this light-bodied white makes it work nicely with a peppery arugula salad or a fava bean and feta bruschetta.
Castello di Luzzano 'Tasto di Seta' Malvasia, 2013, Italy (Around $17)
Describing a wine as 'floral' can be a real turn-off for a lot of folks. After all, no one wants to drink something that tastes like their grandmother's perfume. But when presented with the right balance of ripeness and refinement, floral varieties can be really, well, pretty. And damn tasty to boot. Take this dry Northern Italian Malvasia, for example: It has a commanding blossomy freshness and a lush peachy-citrusy acidity that makes it difficult to put the glass down. The name 'Tasto di Seta' translates to 'Touch of Silk,' which should give you a fairly good idea about the delicate texture and structure of this wine.
Drink it with: Castello di Luzzano's Malvasia is a knockout apéritif wine, the kind of thing you want to have while sitting outside on a warm spring afternoon around a plate of cheese and charcuterie. Choose semi-firm milder cheeses and salty, even spicy pork-based charcuterie (prosciutto or sopressata) that will stand up to the juicy ripe fruit without overwhelming the more subtle aromas.
Try More! If you find yourself a convert to the floral wine fan camp, there are plenty more grapes and regions worth exploring: Torrontes from Argentina, honeysuckle-heavy Viognier, and heady, rosy Gewürztraminer. The latter two are definitely stars in France—look to the Rhône Valley and Alsace, respectively—but have also been produced with great success domestically (Banyan's 2014 Monterey County Gewürtztraminer is fantastic and a steal at $13).
Domaine de L'Ecu 'Granite' Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine, 2011, France (Around $23)
France's Loire Valley is so chock-full of rockstar subregions (Sancerre, Vouvray, Chinon, to name a few) that it's easy to write off Muscadet as the Jan to their Marsha. The advantage of this for you is that there are undervalued gems to be found.
Case in point: this bottle from the famed Domaine de L'Ecu, a longtime pioneer in the biodynamic wine scene, is a fraction of the cost of other natural and biodynamic Loire wines. And as much as I enjoy simple, inexpensive Muscadets for their high-toned, wiry freshness, this wine shows that Muscadets can be made to have a little more substance. It retains the tangy acidity and briny-mineral ocean character but adds a layer of richness and texture to the mix.
Drink it with: Muscadet is practically synonymous with oysters on the half-shell, and while that certainly works with this bottle, the rounded nature and richer texture of this wine means it easily stands up to a more substantial seafood option, like roasted cod or halibut.
Weingut Spreitzer 'Riesling 101', 2013, Germany (Around $16)
Riesling-loving wine geeks (myself included) have long been on a crusade to right the grape's massive PR problem—hoping to spare it from a fate of immediate rejection for presumably being "too sweet," we counter with the fact that the majority of Rieslings produced throughout the world are in actuality, dry. But this stance undermines an often-overlooked point: when done well, and balanced by the right amount of acidity, fruity and slightly sweet wines can be awesome. Not to mention fabulous when paired with food.
You can find the full spectrum of dry to sweet in Riesling's native Germany, but in the springtime I crave selections from the off-dry category that deliver a little more body and a generous wink-and-a-nod of ripe fruit sweetness. Generally speaking, off-dry rieslings are identified by the words 'kabinett' or 'halbtrocken' on the label but if you're looking for value in this category I recommend seeking out entry-level bottlings from some of the bigger-name producers. Take this lush, medium-bodied 'Riesling 101' from the renowned Spreitzer estate, for example: it's all mouthwatering ripe apple and apricot and zesty citrus.
Drink it with: Wines with this kind of juicy fruit and in-your-face acidity beg for fat and salt. Grilled pork chops are a dynamite pairing, but given the lowish alcohol content (11% ABV), I would also drink a couple glasses alongside savory brunch dishes like a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich.
Domaine le Murmurium Vermentino 'Anne Pichon Sauvage,' 2013, France (Around $16)
Vermentino is most commonly associated with its native Italy, where it's grown primarily in Northwestern Liguria and the southern island of Sardinia and appears in wines ranging from lean and herbal to fragrant and fruity to more full and round. But here's a fun fact from grape guru Jancis Robinson: the grape is actually more widely planted in Southern France.
Which brings us to this bright, tasty white from the Southern Rhône Valley's Côte de Ventoux. According to the winemakers, it's a wine that was designed to "get the fresh, easy style without too much alcohol." Direct but not aggressive, it's lemony and green with a stony minerality and texture. Translation: this is perfect porch wine. It demands to be enjoyed out in the fresh air in good company.
Drink it with: Take advantage of the mineral and citrus notes by pairing this Vermentino with a fresh pea salad with lemon vinaigrette, a light pesto pasta, or even something as simple as radishes smeared butter and sprinkled with salt.
Caric Bogdanjusa, 2013, Croatia (Around $16)
Given the sheer volume and variety of wines being produced in Italy (as well as that country's international star power) it's easy to overlook their winegrowing neighbors to the East in Croatia. A lot Croatian grapes have funny, difficult-to-pronounce names, but the wines they produce are full of character. They're fun and unusual, but not so off-the-wall funky that they're unapproachable to a wide range of drinkers.
Caric's Bogdajusa (a rare grape indigenous to the island of Hvar on the country's western coast) presents a great alternative to a coastal Italian white. It has a whisper of sea salt and a wild, weedy green quality that gives it a real springtime-in-a-field-by-the-ocean vibe. There's plenty of lively apple-like acidity and a nice weight, too, which makes it an ideal partner for food.
Drink it With: Use this island wine as the inspiration for a dinner party featuring a lemony-herbaceous seafood stew. Figuring out how to pronounce the grape name alone should get guests talking.
Bonny Doon 'Beeswax Vineyard' Picpoul, 2014, California (Around $14)
Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm is famous for being part of the so-called "Rhone Rangers" movement in 1980s California winemaking that helped spur the stateside popularity of grapes from the French region.
With this wine's he's singled out Picpoul, the "lip-stinger" grape that is traditionally found in Chateauneuf-du-Pape blends and varietal wines from the Picpoul et Pinet appellation in Southern France. As its nickname alludes, this grape makes a dry white with fierce, lip-smacking lemon-grapefruit acidity, ripe melonlike fruit, and a subtle salinity. Light on its feet with a vibrant, greeting presence, this white is positively thirst-quenching.
Drink it with: Grilled asparagus or ramp-topped flatbread. You know you want to eat as much spring veg as you possibly can, and the bright citrusy-salty flavors of this wine are just the thing to lift and brighten the produce's earthy tones.