© Greg Powers

Master Sommelier Andy Myers oversees the wine lists for all of José Andrés’ restaurants worldwide. Here are his top 12 whites for summer… all of which have one important thing in common. 

May 18, 2016

In sculpting the wine list for Zaytinya, José Andrés’ D.C. restaurant that focuses on the flavors of the Levant, Andy Myers did some serious research on the vineyards of the same area—the whole Mediterranean basin that carries over into the Aegean sea, including Greece. “When you think of these places—Provence, the Italian Riviera, Santorini—you think of warm evenings that last forever,” he says. “And the old pairing adage of ‘grows with, goes with’ perfectly describes the white wines produced there.” Mediterranean whites, he claims, are built for summer drinking. 

“These wines have an incredible ability to be transportative,” he says. “Plus, they’re not complicated. They’re these fresh, easy wines that are meant to be on the table, with food and with friends.”

Here, he shares 12 top thirst-quenching whites from the Mediterranean:

1.    2014 Karamolegos ‘Ferendini’ Santorini Assyrtiko
“Assyrtiko is a grape that I think has finally broken out into the American consciousness. People are starting to understand it... they’re learning how to pronounce it… they’re asking for it by name, and for good reason. Its best expression is in the volcanic soils of Santorini, where it gets an intense salinity and minerality that’s so refreshing. I could spot Assyrtiko from a mile away because of that salty character. The fruit is really laid back. You might get a little lemon zest, some tart green apple… but it’s mostly about vibrant, racy acidity that’s thirst-quenching and makes you want to keep grabbing food, keep noshing, keep drinking. This particular one is from a small producer – a great house that makes classic Assyrtiko – and is insanely affordable for how much it delivers. Particularly if it’s served ripping cold.”

2.    2014 Gavalas Santorini Katsano
“I was taking a date to dinner at Zaytinya recently and thought, ‘O.K. I have to pull something really good to drink so that I can actually look like I know what I’m talking about here.’ I looked at the list and saw this Katsano that I had totally forgotten about. So, it’s Santorini again, but from these rare grapes you don’t see very often – mostly Katsano with this other little grape called Gaidouria. Gavalas – the producer – is almost like a wine archeologist. He finds lost indigenous grapes and then makes them the way his grandfather or great-grandfather would have made them. Katsano has a little softer acidity than Assyrtiko and more fruit-driven flavors: juicy apricot and peach flavors. We were having all of these classic Greek tapas, and it went with everything. It was this soft and supple experience at the table, and I couldn’t have been happier with it.”

3.    2014 Sokos Central Greece Savvatiano
“Savvatiano is usually about the least interesting thing in the world; that’s why they make Retsina out of it. It’s this very neutral grape that lends itself to manipulation, if you will. But Sokos handles it in just the right way. It’s still a simple wine, but it’s cold, it’s wet, and it’s super refreshing. It’s full of these soft, basic fruits: yellow apple… pear… some lemon notes… light minerality. This is the wine that you want at that beach wedding in the Bahamas. I could probably drink through 4 bottles of it without even realizing. And I think that we forget – particularly when we write and talk about wine so much – that we don’t always want to have a conversation about it. We just want it to be thirst quenching. This is that wine.”

4.    2014 Château Ksara Bekaa Valley Blanc de Blancs
“If you think about the one Lebanese winery to know, it’s Château Musar. But those are not quaffable wines; they’re intense. So, for a summer wine from Lebanon, I like this Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay/Sémillon blend from Ksara. They’re also up in the Bekaa Valley, which is basically a big, high desert with incredible diurnal shift… hot, sunny days that shift over to very cool nights. That gives you really nice acidity, particularly in the Sauvignon Blanc. Sémillon rounds it out with this soft, waxy, honeyed note, and the Chardonnay gives it its core. It’s great for the harder Mediterranean cheeses that are out there, or also for shellfish.”

5.    2014 Thymiopoulos ‘Boarding Pass’ Naoussa Malagousia
“I have a love/hate relationship with Malagousia. It’s a grape that can be made way too fat, and it can overwhelm the conversation really quickly. But when I was first introduced to Thymiopoulos about a year ago, I tried the wine and said ‘wait a minute… this is a Malagousia that has restraint!’ It had acidity. It didn’t coat my mouth the way southern Rhône wines do. It was lower in alcohol, a little bit lighter in style, and yet still had all of the character that makes Malagousia exciting: the vibrant spice notes, the exotic tropical fruit… all of this fun stuff happening in the wine. I love that it can have that exotic nature while still maintaining a natural acidity and balanced alcohol that makes it really friendly at the table.”

6.    2014 Donnafugata ‘Lighea’ Sicilia Zibbibo 
“First off, it’s so much fun to say ‘Donnafugata’… and ‘Zibbibo’ for that matter – the Muscat of Alexandria by another name. Donnafugata is right off the coast of Sicily, on a little Island called Panteleria, which is where all of the yummy capers come from. They’re one of the most exciting winemakers in Italy, period. They’ve always made really tasty sweet Zibibbos – like their Ben Ryé, which is the benchmark of what you can do with Muscat in Italy. So, they really know how to handle the grape… how to coax all of the exotic aromatics out of it. In this dry version, it still stays really light and playful. It has all this fresh, vibrant fruit and spices and an incredible ability to jump out of the glass at you.”

7.    2015 Tenuta della Terre Nere Etna Bianco 
“Tenuta delle Terre is just awesome. They’re actually on the volcano and have to pause work sometimes because of eruptions. Their white is made predominantly from the Carricante grape, with a little Cataratto and Grecanico. It’s incredibly mineral-driven. You get a little bit of that spice component from the volcanic soil, which is so fun in a white wine. It’s like a little mid-palate prickle, which I liken to eating something with ginger in it. You get these yellow fruit notes from the Carricante and a little bit of that light, smoky ash hidden behind… It has weight and body while still being so refreshing.”

8.    2014 Bodegas Volver ‘Tarima Blanco’ Alicante
“Alicante is down in southeastern Spain on the Mediterranean coast. Bodegas Volver steps a little out of my mold, because it’s a Jorge Ordoñez project, and his wines tend to be louder, more evocative… stronger personalities overall on the table. But this is such a fun blend and is so incredibly affordable. The Viura grape brings acidity: a little mouthwatering freshness and some tart green notes. Merseguera brings density and a floral aspect – think white flowers like magnolias. So, you have this big evocative floral wine that still has a nice cut of acidity.”

9.    2014 Raventos I Blanc ‘Perfum de Vi Blanc’  Conca del Riu Anoia
“Raventos I Blanc changed the whole Cava game for me. I didn’t realize anyone was producing sparkling wines there at that high a level. There are so many exciting things about this producer, one of them being: they make great still wine as well. Here, you have the vibrant aromatics of Moscatel paired with Macabeo, which is a little more down and dirty. Macabeo always reminds me of Sémillon in that it has that weight and waxy texture, but the Mocatel makes it feel so fresh. I’d want the entire usual cast of characters with this: croquetas… jamón… If you’ve got some anchovies or sardines, that would be nice too. Don’t reinvent that wheel. No need.”

10.    NV El Maestro Sierra Fino Sherry
“When I first came on board here, I really had to throw myself into the world of sherry, and I consistently found myself coming back to El Maestro Sierra as the most exciting producer. Just brilliant wines. And, the Fino category was basically invented for this time of year. I like to get a half-bottle of this wine, 2 dozen oysters on the half shell, and then just jam the bottle down into the crushed ice with the oysters. What could be better than that?”

11.    2014 Domaine Tempier Bandol Blanc
“When you get down into the whites of the south of France, you’re looking at Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, which is by no means refreshing, or you’re looking at a world full of really uninteresting wines. And then you have something like Domaine Tempier. They’re one of the great producers in Bandol, known more for their reds, but this sneaky little Clairette is so tasty. Clairette brings nice orchard fruits to the table, and the Ugni Blanc in the blend gives it that little bit of citrus that it needs: more tangerine and orange than lemon-lime. Then, it has this very subtle lavender note to it – that Provençal terroir. It’s a wine that surprises even people who know about Domaine Tempier, because it’s this delicate, ethereal little wine that’s just pleasant and easy to drink.”

12.    2014 Anima Negra ‘Quíbia’ Mallorca
“There are not a lot of wines produced on Mallorca, but we’re seeing more of them pop up now. The main grape in this one is Premsal Blanc, which is a synonym for Moll. It’s a nice grape because it’s very tolerant of heat, it doesn’t over-ripen, and it also takes alcohol really well, to the point that it can be 14.5% and you’d never know it. Where it grows, it’s hilly; there are trees, so there’s more sun protection than you have on, say, Santorini. It’s has a Mediterranean climate not unlike Corsica, but I find the wine to have a little more of a hearty nature to it. You’d want meatier fish like tuna, or octopus, or mackerel with it. Premsal Blanc is great with those darker flavors.”