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White wines lighten up

When summer comes, the world's wine writers crank out their yearly "light, white wines for summer drinking" columns. Nothing wrong with this, although I do sometimes point out that most of us have air-conditioning and could drink heavy red ports if we wanted.

Still, for backyard, deck and balcony, for picnics, boating and concerts in the park, the "light and livelies" are the perfect wines.

The good news is the growing trend among California winemakers to give their white wines less oak aging, making them lighter for summer drinking. Ten years ago, the average California chardonnay was packed with flavor, but also tasted like it had been made in a lumberyard.

In California's Monterey region, Morgan is making a chardonnay aimed at this new, lighter trend. It's "unoaked," meaning it spends not a single hour in the barrel. It's a refreshing change that makes the wine fruitier, lighter, crisper and more refreshing.

Morgan also is making a pinot gris (the French name for Italy's pinot grigio) that's a nice, light summer wine. At a time when many winemakers are overplanting and turning the grapes into flavorless, mass-produced pinot grigios, this one is a complex and interesting wine for sipping on your front porch while you crank up the ice-cream maker.

Prosecco is another good summer wine. You can't get much lighter or crisper than this sparkling wine from northern Italy.

Lightly sweet white wines also go well in the summer. Rieslings, for example can be made either dry or sweet, and the sweet ones go well with spicy barbecue, Thai or Chinese dishes as well as picnic fruit, chicken or tuna salads.

Now, check back with me after Labor Day (or in South Florida after Halloween) and we'll talk about some powerful red zinfandels.

>Highly recommended:

*2010 Morgan "Metallico" Unoaked Chardonnay, Monterey: light and crisp, with intense white grapefruit and citrus aromas and flavors, tart aftertaste; $20.

*2010 Woodbridge Sauvignon Blanc by Robert Mondavi, California: light, crisp, tart, almost spritzy, with lime and lemon grass flavors; $8.

*2009 Marimar Estate Chardonnay/Albarino, Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of Asian pears and lychees, crisp and creamy; $28.

>Recommended:

*2010 Morgan "R&D Franscioni Vineyard" Pinot Gris, Santa Lucia Highlands: crisp peach and mango flavors, lively acids, complex finish; $18.

*2008 Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, Washington: barely off-dry, aromas and flavors of apricots, peaches and limes, crisp and light-bodied; $10.

*2009 Frei Brothers Reserve Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: crisp and light-bodied, with tart green-apple flavors, very smooth; $20.

*Nonvintage LaMarca Prosecco Spumante, Treviso, Italy: this sparkling wine is light as air, very dry, nicely zingy with its bubbles, with floral aromas and tart citrus flavor; drink young; $17.

*2010 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Riesling, California: floral aromas, flavors of ripe peaches, crisp acids, sweet-tart finish; $11.