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The Spring Break

Robert Whitley on

While sitting at home awaiting the end of social distancing, it might be difficult to conjure up the image of the sunny days ahead that mark the transition from winter to spring. For the wine enthusiast, this is an important transition from the heavier red and white wines we prefer in cold weather to the lighter wines we associate with sunshine and warm weather.

Easter is when I typically make the switch, turning toward pinot noir, Beaujolais, lighter Rhone blends and crisp (meaning little or no oak influence) whites. These wines accompany the parallel switch to lighter cuisine as I fire up the grill and plunge into the routine of backyard barbecues every night of the week.

For the like-minded, I have a few suggestions. For one, start taking grenache seriously. Planting of this grape indigenous to the southern Rhone region of France is surging throughout the U.S., and Rhone-style red blends relying on a higher percentage of grenache are now the norm. They are fruit-forward, taste good when chilled and pair beautifully with grilled meats.

Ditto dry rose wines. On a warm day, a well-made dry rose is both refreshing and delicious. It's versatile, too. Rose can be enjoyed with grilled fish, grilled chicken, savory sausages, etc.

My personal favorite white wine this time of year is pinot gris. Oregon and California have become tremendous resources for this grape variety when produced using little or no oak. Neither as heavy as chardonnay nor as tart as sauvignon blanc, pinot gris provides a smooth transition from winter to spring as we begin to serve up barbecued shrimp, salmon and chicken wings from the grill.

Rest assured, there are sunny days on the horizon and sunshine-inducing wines to make them even better.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Decoy 2018 Chardonnay, Sonoma County ($20) -- Decoy may be the second label for the more glamorous (and expensive) Duckhorn brand, but by every measure, it's a standout on its own. Modestly priced, the 2018 Decoy chardonnay doesn't skimp on richness, body or flavor. This vintage exhibits beautiful aromas of baked apple and wood spice, with a note of lemon oil that brightens the finish. Rating: 90.


Herdade de Sao Miguel 2019 Colheita Seleccionada Rose, IGP Alentejo, Portugal ($14.99) -- One of the unsung heroes of Portuguese wine is the delicious but oft overlooked rosado, or rose, category. Dry rose from Portugal often rivals the best of that from southern France, and this beauty from Herdade de Sao Miguel is a splendid example. Primarily a blend of touriga nacional and syrah, it is fresh and crisp, showing attractive notes of strawberry and cherry with mouthwatering acidity and a long, clean finish. Rating: 90.

Tasting Notes

Black Kite 2017 Chardonnay, Sierra Mar Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands ($48) -- Winemaker Jeff Gaffner has a deft hand with chardonnay, consistently producing wines that are rich and full-bodied without losing their elegance. The 2017 vintage from Sierra Mar Vineyard in the Central Coast is yet another beauty from Gaffner, showing notes of lemon creme, apple and pear with a dollop of fall spice and a thread of minerality that runs through it start to finish. Rating: 95.

Stephanie 2015 Malbec, Napa Valley ($55) -- One of the most perplexing aspects of malbec is its stunning success in Argentina. The grape is native to Bordeaux and widely planted in California, but the best malbec typically calls Argentina home. Stephanie's 2015 malbec from the Napa Valley rivals the finest malbec Argentina can muster. Bold and rich, showing intense blackberry and currant fruit with smooth, supple tannins, this Napa Valley malbec makes a powerful statement. Rating: 94.

Oak Farm 2018 Albarino, Lodi, California ($24) -- As unlikely as Lodi is for albarino production, Oak Farm consistently surprises with an expression of this classic Spanish grape variety that is crisp and fresh and exceeds all expectations. The 2018 is loaded with notes of juicy citrus, is clean and refreshing, and shows exceptional palate length and a lingering finish. Rating: 93.

Tinto Figuero '4' 2016 Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($21.99) - The number 4 refers to the time this wine spent in oak barrels following fermentation. Four months is just enough time to impart a hint of wood spice without overwhelming the young wine. It also gives the wine the all-important contact with oxygen that softens the tannins and enhances aromatic development. The result is a red that is fresh and clean, showing exceptional fruit purity (blackberry, currant and dark cherry) and excellent palate length. Rating: 90.


Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Email Robert at



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