November 22, 2017

“I’ll Have ABC, and Hold the Oak”

It seems like the only white wine that was available to consumers for some time was Chardonnay. The folks from Napa all gave us the same heavily wooded, buttery rich stuff, too. Personally, I can’t stand those wines. I know many winemakers that hate them with a passion as well. Even though Chardonnay is still the most popular white wine, and the big woody butter bombs still sell like mad, there’s been a growing movement by a group of people known as the ABC crowd (Anything But Chardonnay) to have more interesting white wines grace their tables.

So, with summer temperatures climbing above my lowest oven settings here in Arizona, I wanted to give readers some information regarding your options in vino blanc. Especially since most of your options are outstanding light and crisp wines with little to no wood influence that go down very easy when served chilled on a hot summer day.

Sauvignon Blanc

The most common variety you’ll see outside of Chardonnay is Sauvignon Blanc. It’s home to Bordeaux and the Loire in France. It’s ancient in age, and has been pleasing palates for millennia. If you see it next to Fumé Blanc on the shelf, don’t worry. They’re both the same grape. Fumé Blanc is just a name Robert Mondavi coined years ago to separate his dry Sauv Blanc from the sweet styles of the day. Sauvignon Blanc tends to be citrusy with a noticed grassy/herbal character.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris is probably the next most common variety you’ll find. It’s experienced quite a surge in popularity the last few years. Both names refer to the same grape. Grigio is just the Italian name, and Gris the French. Stylistically, the Italian versions tend to be lighter and crisper with more citrus and mineral character, while the French make a more fruity and rich version. Look for ones coming from the Italian Valdadige or Veneto regions for great summertime whites.

Riesling

Riesling is probably the next most familiar white to most people. It hails from the Alsace/German/Austrian part of the world. Most Americans incorrectly assume this is a sweet wine. A good deal of the world’s Riesling is dry and crisp. Combine that with the characteristic perfume of peaches, apricots, honey, and fresh flowers this grape is known for and you have an excellent summer white. Look for bottles that specifically say Dry Riesling (or trocken if the label is in German) to avoid the sweeter ones. Albariño is the first odd name I’ll throw your way. It’s a grape that calls northern Portugal and the Galician region of Spain home. It makes outstanding crisp whites with citrus and floral characters. It can be a little tougher to find, but is worth the hunt.

I will combine the delectable grapes Marsanne and Roussanne, since many of the wineries that grow these grapes do so as well. Both are native to the French Rhône and produce some of my favorite whites. Marsanne adds rich fruity character, while Roussanne adds a feminine delicacy with crisp acidity. Look for blends heavy on the Roussanne for best summertime drinking. Viognier is a white rapidly gaining in popularity. It’s a bit richer than some of the crisper whites, but produces excellent wines with a distinct dried apricot character that goes great with a light summer picnic.

Other Whites

A few others that I’ll just quickly mention in one lump sum but are worth looking for if you want interesting whites are: Torrontés from Argentina and Uruguay; Müller-Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner from Germany and Austria; Gewürztraminer from Alsace or Germany; Chenin Blanc from either Washington State, California, South Africa, or the Loire and Vouvray regions of France; Pinot Blanc from Alsace; Verdejo from Spain’s Rueda region; Verdicchio from the Italian Marches region; Garganega from the Italian Soave; and the still and lightly sparkling (frizzante) Prosecco from the Italian Veneto. I’ll even toss in the sparkling Spanish Cavas and the sparkling German Sekts for good measure.

There are even more options than what I’ve touched on here, but these are the most popular and easiest to find. If any of the names confuse you, just ask your local wine monger for advice. If you still insist on a Chardonnay, try a true Chablis from France. They’re fabulous in the summertime. Remember to enjoy responsibly.

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