Summertime — and the drinking can be spritzy, or spicy, or just a little bit saucy. It’s time to toss aside those tried-and-true wines of winter — the stolid cabs, the hohum chards, the capable merlots — and experiment with something fresh, new, unknown.
Try playing around with white varietals made from such grapes as moschofilero, verdejo and torrontes. These whites and their other, littleknown cousins are the new darlings of a wine world whose mantra has rapidly become ‘‘ABC’’: ‘‘Anything But Chardonnay.’’
True, chardonnay is still the top dog of white wine in the United States. Some 47 million cases were consumed here in 2002 as compared with 7.8 million cases of pinot grigio, according to Wine Institute, a California wine industry organization based in San Francisco.
Yet, interest is building in a number of once-ignored varietals. ‘‘Three years ago you wouldn’t have seen these varietals showing any sales,’’ said Meredith Elliott, wine director at SushiSamba Rio restaurant in Chicago. ‘‘People are learning and it’s catching on. Go to any restaurant and you see the coolest special wines on the list. People are opening themselves up to it.’’
Freed from the oaky vice that can turn chardonnay into what Elliott calls ‘‘big, robust, slutty butterball wines,’’ these alternative whites appeal on various levels. The wines are accessible, able to stand alone as an aperitif, and they are adaptable to many of the world’s cuisines.
These varietals ‘‘go well with fish, high-acid sauces and fresh vegetables,’’ Elliott said. ‘‘Chardonnays and red wines would be more for rich sauces, pastas.’’
The downside of these new whites is that you may have to do some digging to find them or spend a few moments studying an unfamiliar label. You’ll have to recognize names such as marsanne, viognier, verdicchio, albarino, riesling and gruner veltliner.
You may also have to overcome a fear of residual sugar, which is natural to the grape and left over from fermentation. Rieslings have particularly taken a ‘‘bad rap’’ for this, Elliott said.
‘‘People think of the blue bottles they saw on the shelf 15 years ago,’’ she said. ‘‘They don’t understand the quality of the wines being produced now.’’
Peter Marks, wine curator for Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, Calif., said pinot grigio, also known as pinot gris, has received a big boost from the ABC attitude. It has become one of the hottest wine imports around.
‘‘Pinot grigio — how it slips off the tongue,’’ he said. ‘‘People are attracted to its vibrancy and the lack of oak.’’
Consumption in the United States of pinot grigio was up nearly 36 percent in 2002, according to Wine Institute statistics.
• 2002 Domaine de Pouy Vin de Pays des Cotes des Gascogne ($7) — Made with the ugni blanc grape, this wine from France offers plenty of lush fruit — pineapple, peach, melon — capped with a touch of spice. Food pairings: grilled fish, cold meats, shrimp or fennel salads. 3 corkscrews
• 2001 Dr. Ganz Scheurebe Bretzenheimer Hofgut Kabinett ($10) — A long name for a lovely wine made from the scheurebe grape. This golden wine has a scent akin to a mango or ripe melon and has a full, honeylike texture that coats the mouth. Yet the flavor is dry and food-friendly. Pour with chili-glazed pork, spicy bean tamales, roast chicken, foie gras. 3 corkscrews
• 2001 Palacio de Menade Verdejo Rueda ($9) — With a green, herbaceous scent and a fruity flavor offset by an astringent finish, this Spanish wine has the heft to hold up to crab salad, grilled tuna, bruschetta and roast chicken. 2 corkscrews
• 2001 Prager Gruner Veltliner Weissenkirchen Smaragd Achleiten ($29) — Sophisticated yet easily drinkable, this Austrian white offers a slight effervescent spiciness that counters the lingering fruit notes. Asian foods are a natural pairing, but experiment with a pear salad, cheeses and grilled pork. 2 corkscrews
• 2002 Michele Chiarlo Gavi ($17) — Fashioned from the cortese grape, this Italian wine is dry and intriguingly topped with a spicy note akin to incense. Try it with grilled chicken or pork. The more adventurous might try it with a Thai green curry. 2 corkscrews
Excellent — 4 corkscrews; very good — 3 corkscrews; good — 2 corkscrews; fair — 1 corkscrew; poor — no corkscrews