Stop and smell the flowers (in your wine)

Lilacs are in bloom. Need I say more?

We are in that special window of time in Minnesota where the blossoms are drawing the bees, and wandering through the neighborhood the explosion of floral aromas makes me giddy.

I’ve found myself looking over State Park maps, plotting camping trips. Cleaning up the canoe and camping gear. Tuning up the bikes. The outdoor season has arrived! Finally! Thank the gods!

And all of this excitement is triggered by what I smell, and what I smell are blossoms and flowers. Why do they smell so damn good? You can thank an aroma compound class called terpenes.

Terpenes are the carriers of the smell of orange blossom, geranium, lilac, and more. They are the aromas that are so uplifting and triggering for us outdoorsy types. Scratch that – for us human types! I know of no one that isn’t happier after smelling the lilacs. Terpenes are what make those little vials of aromatic essences you see at places like Whole Foods so irresistible.

And terpenes are found in wines. Not all wines. Some wines get their aromas from external factors (think oak aging leading to butterscotch and vanilla). But some wine simply has more terpenes, leading to a category called “aromatic varieties.”

Certain grape varieties lead the charge on aromatic wines. These are wines that, with your eyes closed and some attention paid to the smell, can transport a wine lover to another level of happiness. And, they pair exceptionally well with a favorite food category: good southeast Asian cuisine. 

Grape varieties in this category: Malvasia Bianca, Muscat, Riesling, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Müller-Thurgau, Torrontes (you’ll find in the Argentina section), and Albariño. And don’t forget the category of Vinho Verde, made from aromatic grapes such as Loureiro, Azal, and Arinto. 

Aromas to look forward to: jasmine, Meyer lemon, lime zest, lychee, tangerine, melon, rose water, orange blossom, rose, pear, peppermint, elderflower, and mint. Salivating yet?

In terms of taste, these wines run the range from dry to sweet, but often carry a healthy dose of acidity for balance. Don’t fear a bit of sugar! Balanced with acidity it makes a wine sing, and work beautifully with food. (All the wines listed below are dry examples, by the way.)

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve experienced some amazing wines from this category. All of these wines are available locally at fine wine shops, and if they don’t have them in stock you can ask for a special order (I’ve included the name of the wholesaler to make it easier for them to track down). 

Top of the list is one of my favorite wines of the year.

Birichino Malvasia Bianca 2016, and George the cat

Birichino Malvasia Bianca
Local distributor: New France Wines

We were lucky enough to do a wine class recently with John Locke, co-founder of Birichino (beer-ee-KHEE-no), based in Santa Cruz. I love this brand dearly for they are clear in their mission, high on their quality, and reasonable on their pricing … the great trifecta! They find obscure, ignored, and wonderful vineyards and/or varieties throughout California and really let the wines make themselves. This particular wine explodes with orange blossom, lilac, peach, and complex spice aromas. The wine is dry, but the nature of a wine like this is to come across a touch sweet, which is an awesome magic trick in itself. This makes it the rare wine indeed that can satisfy the wine snobs and the wine newbies at the same time. Highly recommended.

The Wolftrap White, South Africa
(Made by Boekenhoutskloof winery … best to just say “Wolftrap White, please.”)
Local distributor: The Wine Company

Last week we did a huge private tasting event at a beautiful house overlooking the Minnesota River Valley, and we were pouring some bigtime wines. But the wine people kept coming back to was the ‘welcome wine’ we put in their hands when they arrived. “Can I have more of that first thing we tried?” It was this beautiful blend of Viognier, Chenin Blanc, and Grenache Blanc. Fresh as a fresh summertime morning, but with enough body to handle simple dishes with aplomb. Loads of peachy and floral goodness. 

*** Restaurant alert: hey all you wine buyers out there. Seek out this wine for summertime drinking on the patio. You can sell it for $9 a glass and still make your margins! ***

Oreka Txakolina, Basque Country, Spain
Local distributor: Bourget Imports
Local importer: Annette Peters of Domaines and Appellations

The northern fringe of Spain is where the Basque culture concentrates. It’s also the land of shellfish, including arguably the best oysters and clams in all of Europe. To wash down the seafood, the traditional drink is Txakolina, which zooms with seaside aromas of salty air and fresh white fruits. These wines tend to have a little spritz to them, which increases the refreshment all the more. A little note on this: it’s imported directly to Minnesota by the Wonder Woman of Wine Importing, Annette Peters. We’ve done classes with Annette and anybody who has met her knows her integrity level is second to none. Direct imports such as these tend to be huge bang for the buck wines, due to another layer of markup being taken out of the pricing equation. 

Cline Viognier
Local distributor: The Wine Company

Two things are at work here. First, Viognier (pronounced vee-OHN-yay) is a pain in the butt to grow and a pain in the butt to make. Anyone who makes a Viognier has a bit of a screw loose, for they could probably make more money with less work by simply planting Chardonnay. Which means there’s more attention paid to making a bottle of Viognier compared to other wines. And when more attention is paid, quality goes up naturally. Second, the Cline winery is the kind that all of us want to support: family owned, organic farmers, educators, and leaders in making delicious but affordable wines. They are without pretense, in an industry where Ego is part of the financial spreadsheet for many. If you are new to wine and want to experience a pitch-perfect Viognier without spending much money, seek out Cline.

All the wines above are affordable, delicious, and will make any wine lover happy! Especially while sitting next to a lilac tree in bloom!

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