June 8 2016 12:15 AM

Finding the best wines for patio season

Persey Vale's dry riesling is a well-balanced summer wine that is perfect for patio sipping.
Justin King/City Pulse
After weeks of back-and-forth, it seems like summer has finally pushed spring out of the way here in mid-Michigan. This puts us squarely into patio season, and it’s important to use this limited Review time for maximum fun.

Napa merlot with 15 percent alcohol won’t taste lean and fresh when the mercury climbs north of 80 degrees. But put your lips on a glass of crisp, dry sparkling wine while sitting in a comfortable, gentle breeze, and you’ve just experienced a foolproof way to enhance any mood. Whether your patio is a front porch, a grassy field, a lawn chair, or a rickety table by the window, here are some sipping suggestions to enhance your warm weather enjoyment.

Prosecco is never top-level amazing wine, but it is rarely terrible. At its best, it has an uncanny ability to mentally transport you to a seaside holiday. The standard is — and will likely continue to be — Nino Franco. Usually made exclusively with northern Italy’s glera grape, Nino Franco’s prosecco ($20) is bursting with flavors of freshly picked apricots, white peaches and lighter kiwi notes. Moderately tart and dry, this wine is heavenly with cucumber salad or fresh melon. It’s the ultimate brunch wine that pairs well with eggs and bacon and drinks enjoyably as an aperitif. Try this wine in your Bellinis, mimosas and even French 75s.

If you care to up the ante on brightness of flavor, Australian riesling is one of the sneaky stellar deals in the world. Australia’s wine exporters tanked in the last 10 years, and it’s completely their fault. For years, grocery store shelves were stuffed with “critter wines” — inexpensive wines with animal-themed labels that are full of gobs of overripe red fruit and insufficient backbone to support the flabby flavors. American consumer interest waned, and it depressed Australian wine sales as a whole.

The silver lining is that there are some incredibly balanced Aussie wines that are priced much lower than they should be. For example, check out Pewsey Vale’s 2013 riesling. Gorgeously aromatic and very dry, this wine is also lip-smackingly tart. This combination, along with notes of red apple, nectarine and fresh flowers, makes this $16 wine one of the best values I’ve found all year.

The fruit is entirely from Eden Valley, a slice of land near Australia’s southern coast. This region features a slightly higher elevation than surrounding areas, which, along with coastal proximity, keeps the sugar in the grapes a little lower.

Closer to home, northern Michigan’s Shady Lane Cellars produces consistent riesling at a very fair price. Its 2013 semidry riesling is slightly sweet, juicy and medium-bodied. This wine is a great value at just $15. I recommend picking up an extra bottle or two; it’s great to have on hand for entertaining unexpected summer guests.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but this riesling is my favorite wine for all things taco. The slight sweetness, moderate alcohol and zippy fruit style is a perfect palate pick-me-up to accompany your taco crushing. Trust me on this one.

For something a little more off the grid, check out Barone di Valforte’s pecorino. This pleasant white wine is similar to a pinot grigio. At just $16, it packs in a lot of flavor without feeling too heavy. It’s like fruit salad in a glass, with notes of pineapple, lemon, Fuji apples, ripe peaches and mangoes. Pecorino, by the way, has nothing to do with the cheese of the same name. The cheese is made from sheep’s milk, and pecora is the Italian word for sheep. Legend has it that many a flock of Italian sheep would graze from pecorino vines.

In addition to these, look for wines like Greco di Tufo, which feature racy, herbal notes, or trebbiano d’Abruzzo, a grape from central Italy that, while sometimes innocuous, can make well executed wines at only $10 or so.

And of course, we have to mention sauvignon blanc, specifically from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Marlborough sauvignon blanc is the IPA of the wine world: It often lacks subtleties, but the best are wonderful at balancing brightness and complexity. There seems to be very little middle ground on these wines.

The grapefruit aromas and flavors dominate these wines, but sometimes there are secondary notes that come across like asparagus or jalapeno that get it in the way. Look for consistent producers like Kim Crawford, Dog Point, Cloudy Bay, Greywacke or Villa Maria.

Check with your local purveyors, as they are great at finding deals on the fly. Okemos’ Dusty’s Cellar and Vine & Brew, Horrocks in Lansing and Merindorf Meats in Williamston all have well-curated wine selections at pricing that can often beat the chain stores.

Justin King is a certified sommelier and co-owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktail-focused restaurant in DeWitt.

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