It seems to me that there is a special quality to the sort of wines we like to drink in summer, even in quite special circumstances. No Châteauneuf-du-Pape, thank you – or at least not of the red sort, although the white is increasingly refreshing and with its better value neighbours such as the better whites from Lirac and Vacqueyras could make a great main course white. No Barossa Shiraz either in scorching temperatures – or maybe just the odd one at the chilliest of barbecues.
I think the refreshment factor, which should be a prerequisite in all wines in my view but is regrettably absent from an increasingly proportion of reds, is paramount in summer. Any of the reds I recommended last month as suitable candidates for chilling would do, but in white wines this refreshment factor can take several forms. There is real tanginess grafted on to quite a full-bodied wine as in, for example, Belles Pierres, Clauzes de Jo 2004 Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc (£8.75 Stone Vine & Sun) which is a great-value alternative to white Châteauneuf. An unoaked blend of 60 per cent Roussanne with 20 per cent each of Grenache Blanc and Viognier, it is both powerful and exciting with a great spread of satisfying fruit that somehow tastes reminiscent of the noblest imaginable form of a green fruit gum.
Those who wish to get to grips with how the two white Hermitage grapes Roussanne and Marsanne compare could do very much worse than invest in a bottle each of Verget du Sud, Roussanne 2004 Vin de Pays de Vaucluse and Verget du Sud, Marsanne 2004 Vin de Pays de Vaucluse (£7.50 each Lea & Sandeman). Jean Marie Guffens of Burgundy imposes his tight, top quality winemaking style on these two grapes grown at his southern outpost in the Lubéron.
The enterprising Stone Vine & Sun list another thoroughly suitable dinner party white that offers refreshment in a more obvious form: straightforward high acidity. Domaine Pierre Bise, Clos de Coulaine 2004 Savennières (£9.75 Stone Vine & Sun) starts very ripe and has the vibrant flavours of quince yet is characterised by the crispness endemic to all Loire wines – and proves that Savennières, which once produced wines that needed, for various reasons, to be cellared for at least six years before being drinkable, has now joined the 21st century without compromising its uniquely mineral style of dry Chenin Blanc.
If your taste veers inexorably towards the New World, you can experience one of the New World's finest Chenin Blancs in the form of The FMC – Forrester Meinert Chenin Blanc 2004 Stellenbosch (£16.99 top 80 Waitrose branches). Ken Forrester and Martin Meinert have laboured long and hard in the Loire and been visited by some of its leading exponents too. South Africa has more experience with Chenin Blanc than anywhere outside the Loire valley and this is a fascinating wine, containing some nobly rotten grapes. It may have a honeyed nose but behaves like a serious dry wine and is getting better with every vintage.
An alternative would be Raats Original Chenin Blanc 2004 Stellenbosch (about £7.50 Cellar Door of Overton and Handford of London) which has a very full, opulent perfume but is splendidly tight on the palate. This, from four different soil types including decomposed Table Mountain sandstone (how can you resist?) is absolutely ready to gulp now, while the more expensive version without the word Original in it is nearly 15 per cent alcohol and needs a bit more time.
One wine which is delicious and combines elements of all those I have mentioned so far is Roc d'Anglade Blanc 2005 Vin de Pays du Gard (£15 AB Vintners of Brenchley). Made on the frontier of the Languedoc with the southern Rhône, and scented with herbs and garrigue, it's a full bodied wine that is very much more serious than most white Vins de Pays. There is real Rhône substance with lift and masses of acidity – thanks to the fact that, most unusually for a wine in these parts, it is made from the Chenin Blanc of the Loire - a wine representing both of France's two great rivers then. The vigneron, Remy Pedreno, is a disciple of Gérard Gauby of Roussillon whose biodynamic methods of reducing alcohol levels without reducing flavour I wrote about last September.
Portugal is not an obvious place to look for sophisticated white wine and the Estremadura region on the coast north of Lisbon is even more unlikely but I was extremely impressed by Quinta de Chocapalha Branco 2004 Estremadura (£9.68 Corney & Barrow) made at the family property of Sandra Tavares da Silva who is one half of the talented team that makes some of the Douro's most exciting reds. Half of this fine mineral-scented blend of Chardonnay with the racy local Arinto grape was aged in oak, but with a very light touch.
Greece may seem another strange source for top quality white wine but in my experience the whites of modern Greece are in general
more intriguing than the reds. Sigalas, Assyrtiko 2004 Santorini (£9.99 www.vickbarwines.co.uk) is the current vintage of an old favourite from this volcanic island – all lemons and minerals – but a Domaine Gerovassiliou, Malagousia 2005 Salonika (from 10 euros in Germany, $18 in the US) was very intriguing in a quite different idiom. This headily perfumed old Greek grape variety, recently rescued from extinction, has strong green leafy notes too.
I hope you would expect me to recommend a Riesling and, while giving Germany a rest this week, I was recently very taken by the intensity of a dry one made by a producer new to me Domaine Frédéric Mochel, Riesling 2004 Alsace (£9.95 Vine Trail of Bristol) – apparently from younger vines grown in the admirablegrand cru vineyard Altenberg de Bergbieten. Vine Trail usefully give the alcoholic strength of all the wines they sell so I can assure that this is a relatively modest 12.5 per cent. But fair is fair and I feel I should compensate for my Rieslingmania by recommending at least one wine made entirely by normal people's favourite grape. Ecco L'Ecole No 41, Chardonnay 2004 Columbia Valley (£14.99 Noel Young of Trumpington), seriously interesting proof that Washington state can offer better value and more toothsome acidity than much of California.
And please don't forget sweet wines this summer. The golden sweet produce of extremely ripe grapes goes so well with the soft fruits of this particular season – and is a much easier way of making a bowl of raspberries special than attempting some complicated patisserie. Truly fine sweet wine of the Yquem and Beerenauslese variety tends to be expensive but I found a particularly good value version from the Loire. Domaine des Forges 2005 Coteaux du Layon, St Aubin (£8.50 Stone, Vine & Sun) is nutty, opulent, open, easy to love, and a bargain.
For international stockists see www.winesearcher.com