George Harrison, the late Beatle, wrote one of the most uplifting odes to springtime, Here Comes the Sun. I plucked it feebly on the guitar last week as the blinding sun - now where it ought to be, on our side of the equator - managed miraculously to penetrate my grimy, south-facing window and fill the back room with happy light. There's a keen sense of sonic metaphor in the guitar work, arpeggiated riffs of crisply picked treble notes underpinning such lines as "it seems like years since it's been clear." It sure seems like years.
Wine flavours can be metaphorical too, I think - crisp, treble notes supplied by tangy acidity as well as herbaceous characters that can bring to mind green grass and even some of the local produce that will soon be poking up in many southern parts of Canada, such as asparagus and fiddleheads. Not surprisingly, Mr. Harrison wrote his song while strolling around Eric Clapton's garden with one of the famous rocker's acoustic guitars. (I hope he had a glass of wine nearby, though I suspect that if any herbal flavours were going down, they were being smoked, not sipped.)
This is the season when lean white wines start to come alive. I think in particular of zesty sauvignon blanc and dry riesling. But I also look more offbeat gems, such as and albarino and verdejo from Spain as well as gossamer-light vinho verde from Portugal.
If you're in the mood for a little sunshine in a bottle, I hope these selections, or offerings in your local market of similar description, help to fill the bill.
Domaine de Riaux Pouilly-Fumé 2009, France
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $22.95
I don't hang around gun ranges much, but I'm guessing that those who do might recognize the slightest whiff of a freshly spent bullet in this smoky, flinty sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley. For golfers, there's some fresh-cut grass too. The rest of us may simply appreciate its citrus-like core and elegance. It would match well with pan-seared or grilled flaky white fish, such as trout.
Bernard Reverdy et Fils Sancerre 2009, France
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $22.95
Light and understated, even for a Sancerre, this sauvignon blanc offers up suggestions of peach, lemon, herb and chalk. But, like most good whites from the Loire, it's more about elegance and subtlety than adjectives. Sancerres like this are consummate partners for asparagus, delicate fish dishes and goat cheese.
Caves de la Tourangelle Grande Réserve Touraine 2009, France
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $14.95
Best for the two preceding wine styles, the Loire produces good renditions of sauvignon blanc without the high-real-estate premium of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Looking for value? Try Touraine. Light-bodied, with moderate acidity for a sauvignon blanc, this example serves up flavours of grapefruit, honeydew and grass.
Auntsfield Long Cow Sauvignon Blanc 2009, New Zealand
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.95
Some people associate New Zealand lamb with spring. I think of kiwi sauvignon blanc the same way. Assertively fruity and grassy, it's as though Sancerre had been force-fed bushels of passion fruit and Scott's Turf Builder. This one leans more toward the fruity side. It would pair well with shellfish.
Quails' Gate Dry Riesling 2010, British Columbia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $16.99
Plenty of weight for a dry riesling, though still technically light-bodied, it has a fleshy, silky texture, flavours of green apple, peach and slate, with tangy acidity for lift on the long finish. A fabulous effort from an excellent winery in the Okanagan Valley. Versatile at the table, it would pair well with poultry, fish or pork, and it's splendid as an aperitif. Available in the West, www.quailsgate.com.
Jacob's Creek Reserve Riesling 2010, Australia
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $16.95
Bone-dry like most Aussie rieslings, it's a bushel of tart fruit, with a whiff of drywall dust and a finish as refreshing as a cold swim. Shellfish, including raw oysters, and sushi would make fine partners.
Leira Albarino 2009, Spain
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $16.95
The lean, bracing and elegant whites of Rias Baixas, a district of northwest Spain, are underappreciated treasures. The cool weather of Rias Baixas (REE-ahs BYE-shuss) locks in the natural acidity of the albarino grape. Light and silky, this one delivers a subtle note of cherry along with hints of flowers and mineral. It's sublimely delicate and perfect for shellfish.
Agricola Castellana Cuatro Rayas Verdejo 2009, Spain
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $14.95
The verdejo grape anchors the whites of the arid Rueda district northwest of Madrid. High-strung - like a guitar badly tuned by yours truly - with crisp acidity, this is a simple, straightforward Rueda, but it shows good balance, with a touch of bitterness in the clean finish. Good for shellfish and salads. A fine, widely available alternative: Marques de Riscal Rueda white, $10.95 in Ontario. In British Columbia, look for the excellent Telmo Rodriguez Basa, $17.99.
Varanda do Conde Alvarinho Trajadura Vinho Verde 2009, Portugal
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $13.95
Vinho verde, a sometimes delicately spritzy wine, can be a blend of various grapes. In this case, there's not much effervescence, but the wine could almost rise into thin air it's so light. Yet there's a vaguely silky quality to this charmer, owing to the trajadura grape, here blended with lean alvarinho (the Portuguese name for albarino). Expect notes of lemon and green apple in this baby's breath of a white. Pair it with oysters.