As the days warm-up (and boy, was it ever warming up last week -- 90 here in NYC!) our thoughts will turn more and more to the refreshing whites and roses that are perfect for the summer. I’ll be just as tempted as the next guy or gal to reach for a tried-and-true white, though in my case that would probably mean Txacoli or Pinot Bianco, as opposed to Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.

Whatever the case may be, I though we could start off this spring on the "wrong" foot! Are you feeling adventurous yet? How about trading in your usual white for a little Steen or Verdejo on one of these warm spring eves? If you need a little prodding--and who doesn’t like a good prodding now and again?--allow me to introduce you to my little friends: South African Chenin Blanc and a handful of Spanish gems.

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While many associate Chenin Blanc with France’s Loire Valley, where it produces world-class wines bearing famous names such as Vouvray, few realize just how friendly and versatile the wines can be. South Africa has proven to be an ideal region for Chenin, where it is vying with Sauvignon Blanc for top honors. The beauty of Chenin in South Africa is that the wines develop great, fresh, complex aromas while retaining zesty acidity. Most of the wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation, so that blazing acidity finds its way into the bottle, making these food wines par excellence!

2008 Raats Original 13.5%

This pumps out wonderfully sweet and typical Chenin notes of candle wax, sweet golden fruit, honey, honeycomb, crayon, smoke, and lanolin.  Very linear in the mouth with excellent balance and good energy that pushes the pure, lightly mineral-laced flavors of honeycomb, apple, lime leaf and steely pomegranate seed tones across the palate. The finish is very crisp and shows bright acids with less flesh than one finds on the palate, but it's just enough to keep the acids covered. 90pts

2008 Bradgate Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc 13.5%

The nose here is really dominated by the roasted chili and gooseberry aromas of the SB, but they are tempered by crisp, sweet cantaloupe and smoky, waxy tones.  On the palate there is a sense of lightness and freshness to the fruit that sets this apart from pure Chenin. It’s got a lovely mouth feel with transparent quality that allows the light orange-toned citrus fruit flavors to shine through. There are more herbal, green chili tones on the backend, but the fruit takes control of the medium-length finish, leaving the mouth citrussy and refreshed. 89pts

2008 Kanu 13.5%

With a touch of saltiness on the nose this offers up background notes of bitter apple seeds and fresh wildflower florality, the fruit is a bit heavy, rich with golden apple tones but that background keeps this layered and complex.  On entry this is rather soft and decidedly lithe, but gains richness and a touch of sweetness on the mid-palate, which features bright and tangy pear and honeydew melon fruit.  There’s a touch of nutty oak lurking around in the background but it never really rises to the surface, only adding a bit of complexity and a subtle roasted nut tone on the moderately long finish. 89pts

2008 Sebeka 12.5%

This has some nice dust, chalk, and steely undertones on the nose that help to frame the ripe apricot, lemon curd and pollen tones of the fruit with an enticing red floral tone.  Lovely balance on the palate, if a touch soft, but this is light and fresh and round all at the same time.  The flavors are a touch simple with honey and raw peanut tones embedded in earthy pear and pineapple that lead to a long, crisp finish.  87pts

2008 Indaba Chenin 13.5%

Very floral and polleny on the nose with a core of very ripe apricot and papaya fruit over subtle suggestions of roasted jalapeno and butcher’s wax.  Moderately light body with nice acidity and soft flavors of quince, orange, and a suggestion of almond butter.  It’s got bright acidity but is still rather laid back in the mouth with a rush of fruit on the moderately long finish that ends with nice nutty tones. 85pts

2007 Vinum Africa 14%

Pungent, smoky and oaky on the nose with a strong underlay of white flowers, very fresh gardenias. There’s a touch of fruit here, mostly citrussy and a bit indistinct.  Round on entry with cutting acids buffered by a touch of sweetness. It’s got plenty of body for a medium weight wine and much less oak than the aromas suggest.  Wow, is there a lot of acid here, with gentle flavors of quince, white peach, and under-ripe pineapple that get etched into the palate and onto the steely finish. I love acid, but this seems a bit much even for me, though the finish is cleansing and refreshing.  84pts

It’s amazing that white wines from Spain barely registered a blip on the radar just a few years ago, yet many have achieved incredible success almost overnight. You know you’ve arrived when they start planting you in California, right?  Or at least when people actually start buying those wines. Spain’s white wines tend to be lean and refreshing, which is a necessity during the brutally hot summer that Spain enjoys. These wines are fresh, floral, and fragrant, perfect for the coastal cuisine of the Iberian Peninsula.  Enjoy these by themselves or as the ideal foil to so many delicious dishes.

2008 Mania Rueda Verdejo 13%

This offers up rich complex notes of green citrus peels, herbs, and wildflowers backed up with sweet pink grapefruit and guava.  The palate is rich yet soft and billows around in the mouth, again providing a gentle impression of sweetness that covers the guava and pineapple fruit. It’s a bit of a sneaky wine, not as soft as it may seem and really gaining lovely clarity on the long finish which has a touch of maraschino cherry to it before ending on a sweet grapefruit finale.  Just an all around fine wine for drinking on its own or with food, try shrimp or clams in garlic sauce, or, heck, go whole hog and make it shrimp and clams, with a few morsels of chorizo to add some spark! 90pts

2009 Dancing Coyote Albarino 13% -- Clarksburg

This is very fresh on the nose with minerally flecked notes of almost minty crabapple and bitter orange.  On the palate this is impressively elegant with rich, sweet fruit but wonderfully-balanced acids that give this a rather light footprint. It’s got mineral cut on the palate and a hint of almost quartzy minerality that lead to the green tea laced backend with hints of quince and that hint of bitter orange again. The finish is moderately long, brisk and refreshing though the wine comes off as a bit stern. Not a cocktail wine, but one that would shine with shellfish, or even better, chicken roasted with green olives and bitter orange juice! 89pts

2008 Mania Rueda 12.5% Verdejo/Viura

Sandy, minerally, and lean on the nose with a distinct herbal, green pepper, gooseberry quality that instantly makes one think of Sauvignon Blanc. On entry this is a touch creamy with a soft, broad feel that has no rough edges but is a bit on the tart side. The nice Asian pear flavors are offset by a bit a vegetal quality, recalling nopales salad with lime dressing, though offers nice, refreshing cut on the palate and onto the slightly spicy, minerally finish. A nice crisp, fresh style of wine that would be a great match for grilled sardines (of all things!) 88pts

2007 La Val Albarino 12.5% -- Rias Baixas

This offers up a subtle set of aromatics that leaves together soft notes of honeysuckle, baked peach, slate and a touch of pumpkin with smoky notes of beeswax candle floating over it all.  In the mouth it’s got the combination of rich and powerfully ripe fruit along with edgy acidity that makes Albarino such a great wine. The fruit is waxy with notes of star fruit and apricot cut through by the slightly smoky, gravelly mineral tones. The acid is prominent enough here but really very well-buffered by the fruit and only pokes out slightly on the moderately long, fresh finish, which gains a soft floral inner mouth perfume and hints on honeydew melon. A seductive little Albarino that needs some Mackerel or grilled octopus to play with. 88pts

2009 Dancing Coyote Verdelho 14.5% -- Clarksburg

Sweet and fruity on the nose with top notes of bay leaf, green anise seed and lavender adding some detail to the pool of peachy fruit.  This is a bit soft on the palate with a bit of sweetness adding to the slightly fat palate impression. It’s got a rich core of fruit, peach with a hint of pineapple, and gains a bit of spice and herb on the short finish, but also begins to show some heat on the finale.  This is a big white wine and is probably best paired with something equally rich and assertive,  like Bratwurst with spicy brown mustard! 87pts

Throw your friends for a loop – Serve them something new and exciting!

2008 Mania Rueda Verdejo 13%
This is a lovely wine, even a bit sneaky, it fools you into thinking it’s soft and then grabs your attention with rich guava, grapefruit and pineapple fruit that billows around in your mouth. Pair this with Shrimp, Clams and Chorizo, then sit back and enjoy the show!

2008 Raats Original 13.5%
This is a chameleon of a wine, pumping our sweet honey, beeswax, and golden fruit aromas on the nose then turning focused and almost steely on the palate with a touch of pomegranate seed on the palate. It’s a finely balanced, nervous wine perfect for a fish fry.