As someone who doesn't often travel to islands, I'm always amazed at the envy and longing that such trips can engender in others (with the possible exception of trips to certain parts of Long Island). Islands have always been synonymous with pleasure and escape. Yet I've wondered (as it is my job to do) what sort of wine should be served in so idyllic a setting? What label could possibly live up to such a promise of perfection and contentment? For some answers, I decided to call a few experts, namely the wine professionals at 12 of America's most celebrated island resorts, asking them to describe their ideal bottle. The favorite? White wine from all kinds of grapes-- though, it's worth noting, not Chardonnay.
Amelia Island, Florida
1997 Fess Parker Viognier ($15). I think that most French wines are too sturdy for island drinking; instead, I tend toward young, fruity California wines that can fend off the humidity of a tropical day. I recommend the Fess Parker Viognier, an often overlooked varietal, to a lot of people. Once they've tasted its light, dry, fruity-spicy flavors, they're hooked. And it's a great buy too.
Sea Island, Georgia
1997 Babcock Vineyard 11 Oaks Sauvignon Blanc ($22). This cool, crisp Sauvignon Blanc revives and rejuvenates me, especially on a warm Georgia night. Its flavors are of citrus and lemongrass, and it has a nice, long, spicy finish. I like to drink it under the avenue of oaks at the Sea Island golf course, although this wine would also be terrific paired with seafood and an ocean view.
Kiawah Island Resort
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
1997 Caymus Conundrum ($22). A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Sémillon, Viognier and Muscat, this wine has just a touch of sweetness, which I think is the perfect foil for salty ocean air. It's also a little buttery, which goes wonderfully with crab, a South Carolina specialty.
L'Etoile, The Charlotte Inn
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
1993 Château La Louvière Graves ($30). As a lover of all things French, I would happily have a bottle of the La Louvière with the food that I think is the pinnacle of all summer food: oysters on the half shell. This wine manages to capture all the appealing lightness of summer while maintaining a very round, substantial character.
Mauna Kea Beach Resort
1998 Qupé Syrah Central Coast ($30). Syrah and surf are two words that go together here, especially when the wine has a lot of forward berry fruit character and smooth tannins, like the Qupé Syrah does. I prefer to serve it slightly chilled with grilled chicken or beef.
Coconut Grove, Florida
1998 Domaine Jean-Max Roger Sancerre ($20). This wine has a surprisingly creamy texture for a Sauvignon Blanc and a sweet, rather tangy and refreshing finish. It's light enough to pair with an appetizer such as oysters, but it's so versatile that it can also stand up to more substantial chicken and fish main courses.
South Seas Plantation
Captiva Island, Florida
1998 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($18). I think the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best wines in the world, especially when it's served before dinner, and I'm drinking it while lounging in a hammock suspended between two palm trees. Its rich, ripe, tropical fruit flavors just seem to melt in your mouth.
Jekyll Island Club Hotel
Jekyll Island, Georgia
1997 Trimbach Pinot Blanc ($9). This refreshingly crisp and characterful Alsace wine is wonderful paired with fresh, local flounder or simply sipped by itself on our veranda overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.
Topper's At The Wauwinet
1997 Villa Matilde Falerno del Massico Bianco ($15). Made just north of Naples near the Italian island of Capri, this wine conjures up images for me of Anthony and Cleopatra being fanned by their servants on a sultry day, maybe because the grape it comes from, Falanghina, is said to date back to Roman times. It's an aromatic, even romantic sort of wine with lovely, light, soft fruit.
Little Palm Island Resort
Little Palm Island, Florida
Nonvintage Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut Champagne ($50). Champagne is, to me, the perfect wine of indulgence, and the elegant Laurent Perrier is one of my favorites. It's one rosé Champagne that's just bursting with rich fruit flavors. I'd drink it on the beach at night.
Hilton Head Beach Resort
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
1995 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva ($35). When I think of perfect island wines, I think of Italian wines, specifically Chianti. The Ruffino Riserva 1995 (a very good year) is one of my favorites. It really holds up well to a lot of different foods, and it's great in warm weather.
Lodge At Koele
Lanai Island, Hawaii
Nonvintage Krug Brut Champagne Grand Cuvée ($120). Krug is my ultimate island wine. I try to have a bottle of it with a dinner of grilled fish and a light salad about four times a year (as often as I can manage it). I particularly like Krug because it's a big wine that still manages to have a lot of finesse. It's a great Champagne.