Summer brings days of fine wine

A crisp sauvignon blanc from Horse Heaven Hills vineyard in Washington, an Italian verdicchio or a white blend from Conundrum cellars in California are perfect wines for the end of a warm summer’s day.  - Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter
A crisp sauvignon blanc from Horse Heaven Hills vineyard in Washington, an Italian verdicchio or a white blend from Conundrum cellars in California are perfect wines for the end of a warm summer’s day.
— image credit: Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter

Roll out those hazy, crazy days of summer, those days of soda and pretzels ... and wine!

People often envision drinking a glass of wine while watching the sun set. This calls for wine that is pleasant by itself, but can also accompany a plate of appetizers or even a salad. Pinot grigio, viognier and many of the blends are perfect for the task.

Pinot grigio (pee-noh-gree’-gee-oh) and pinot gris (pee-noh-gree) are the same grape. It is called pinot grigio in Italian and pinot gris in French. It originated in northern Italy and is a mutation of pinot noir, which is a red grape. Pinot grigio/gris is actually gray. “Grigio” translates to gray in Italian; “gris” is gray in French. It is now grown in France, Austria, Germany, Hungary and Romania. In France’s Alsace region, it is called Tokay d’Alsace.

Pinot gris/grigio, which is rarely aged in wood, is a clean, crisp wine.

Viognier (vee-oh-nyay) is a relatively new grape in the United States. It originated in France, in the northern Rhone, and has only been grown in the United States for 20 years. It is also grown in Australia. Viognier is hard to grow and is prone to mildew, and the best wine is from mature vines.

Its two characteristics are “a head-spinning, intoxicating perfume” and then a taste reminiscent of honeysuckle, jasmine, apricots and peaches. It is low in acid, which results in a smooth, almost unctuous texture.

Viognier is not for cellaring. Those bright fruit and flower smells and flavors fade with age. In France, it is called Condrieu, where it is always 100 percent viognier and usually starts around $40. Viognier is delicious by itself and complements Asian and Thai cuisine especially well. The apricot and peach overtones pair especially well with pork. Rich seafood such as lobster, crab and scallops partner well with viognier.

I have been very impressed with white blends. The winemaker can choose different percentages of grapes from year to year while trying to achieve a signature taste.

Blend recommendations:

Caymus Conundrum: $25. A California blend of primarily sauvignon blanc from Napa Valley, muscat canelli from the Central Coast and chardonnay and viognier from Monterey County. The name Conundrum comes from the puzzle of guessing what other grapes are used and actual percentages of the core grapes. Introduced in 1989, the lush, creamy, mouth-filling texture is heightened by powerful and bright tropical fruit notes. It is a full-flavored, fruity wine with notes of apricot, melon and pear, which — the winemaker attests — pairs with every course from appetizers to desserts.

Sokol Blosser Evolution (Oregon): $15

Blend of pinot gris, muller-thurgau, semillion and six other grapes.

Hugel Gentil (Alsace, France): $14

Spicy flavor of gewürztraminer, body of pinot gris, finesse of riesling, the grapiness of muscat, refreshing character of sylvaner.

Columbia Crest Vineyard Ten White (Washington): $7

A juicy, zippy style which has ripe pear and pineapple flavors, a polished texture and a tangy finish. A blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon, viognier and a touch of muscat.

Other recommendations:

Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Hills Sauvignon Blanc (Washington): $13. I have yet to meet a wine from Horse Heaven Hills that I have not loved.

Maryhill Viognier (Washington): $12

Blend of three vineyards: Gunkel, Andrews and Coyote Canyon. A big plump bouquet filled with peach, apricot and a touch of floral. Mouth-filling flavors of dried apricots, ripe cantaloupe and a touch of marzipan.

Le Rote Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Italy): $14

Vernaccia is a Tuscan white grape. Le Rote’s vines are grown at a higher altitude, which produces a crisp wine with good acidity and citrus fruit notes.

Marchetti Castello di Jesi Verdicchio (Italy): $14

Verdicchio is grown in the Marche region of Italy. The wine, with a rich bouquet, is fresh and crisp with nutty overtones.

Save the Date:

The 22nd Annual Auction of Washington Wines will be held from Aug. 13 to 15. Since its inception in 1987, the auction has raised more than $21 million. The major beneficiary is Children’s Hospital.

The festivities start with an informal outdoor auction and picnic with Washington winemakers on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. Winemaker dinners take place on Friday at various restaurants throughout the Greater Seattle area. The Covey Run 10k, 5k Run/Walk and Kids’ Dash in Woodinville are scheduled for Saturday. The Gala Auction, with a multi-course dinner accompanied by Washington wines, will be held on Saturday evening in the beautiful garden setting of Chateau Ste. Michelle. Call (206) 326-5747 for more information and tickets.

Dee Hitch can be reached at

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