Nontraditional white wines to beat the Summer Heat
Have you ever opened a wine list at a restaurant to find a section called “Alternative Whites” or “Interesting Whites”? Many will list two or three, without straying too far from traditional- an occasional Viognier or Albarino. The category leaves much to ponder, with hundreds of wines to choose from, made in so many different styles from all over the world. Let’s explore some light, bright, clean and crisp “alternative” white wines to have by the pool, with a meal, or simply on the couch with the AC cranking.
Here is a list of wine varietals by country- with a brief description of what region they are from and taste profile.
France set the standard of nearly all winemaking rules since the 1800’s. Burgundy and Bordeaux may be the King and Queen, but Rhone, Languedoc and Provence grow a wide variety of native grapes that are exciting and “interesting”.
Rousanne (Rhone) Bright floral aromas, stone fruit flavors.
Marsanne (Northern Rhone) Notes of stone fruit and bees wax, highly regarded as a blending grape for Hermitage; also grown in CA and Australia.
Viognier (Northern Rhone) Flavors of honeysuckle, mango and peach, full bodied. Also grown and popular in CA and Australia.
Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet, Loire) Very dry with flavors of mineral, lemon, green apple and pear, with a hint of saline. Try the Chateau de la Chesnaie Muscadet.
Ugni Blanc (known as Trebbiano in Italy, grown in France, Australia and Bulgaria) Mostly used in brandy and vinegar production, you can find it bottled as a still wine from Italy; expresses white peach, green apple and herbs.
Grenache Blanc (Rhone, FR, Rioja, Spain) In Spain it is referred to as Garnacha Blanc. Flavors of pear, honeysuckle, citrus and toast. Can also exhibit unripe mango and lemon curd if the wine is aged in oak barrels.
Picpoul de Penet aka Folle Blanc (Languedoc – Roussillon) Hints of crushed rocks blend with honeydew melon and lemon flavors, with a floral nose. Try the La Chapelle du Bastion Picpoul de Penet.
Aligote (Burgundy) Apple, unripe peach, a hint of white flowers and smoke, with an herbal finish.
Chenin Blanc (Loire) Also called Pineau de la Loire. This white grape came to be recognized in France thousands of years ago and can be finished in a variety of styles, from dry and acidic still wines, to higher residual sugar wines to Fines Bulles (bubbles!). Chenin from France makes a fine sparkling wine.
A very cool climate and a long history of inconsistency has been met with government agricultural standards, or “Qualitatswein”. There are 17 Designations of Origin in Austria under the guise of the National Wine Committee. The country is in its infancy as far as production and exports, but watch for some interesting wines (including reds) for the future.
Gruner Veltliner This wine is also grown in Northern Italy, Germany and Hungary, but native to Austria, its most famous white. Lemon, lime nectarines, grapefruit, with white pepper, tarragon and honey as secondary flavors. Crisp and dry. Try the Paul Direder Gruner Veltliner.
Another colder climate wine growing region, over half of their production is from the Rhineland. Most noted for the Riesling grape, which can be finished in dry or sweet style. There are many nontraditional whites from Germany to explore.
Gewurztraminer This grape expresses flavors of pineapple, lychee and ruby red grapefruit. There are hints of ginger and smoke and an unmistakable floral nose. Try the Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer from the Pfalz region.
Silvaner (Rhein Hessen) or Sylvaner which is grown in Upstate NY, as well as Austria and Alsace, originated in GR. Peaches and herbs.
Scheurebe, aka Samling is a cross between Riesling and Bukettraube, created by Georg Scheu in 1916, also produced in Austria. Flavors of blackberries, tropical fruit and stone fruit. Aromatic, can be fermented sweet or dry, full bodied with flavors of peach and ripe pear with black currants.
Kerner (Rhein Hessen and Mosel) Another cross, this time Riesling and Trollinger by August Herold in 1929. Aromatic and popping with mango and tropical fruit. Also grown in Northern Italy – Alto Adige region.
Home to winemaking in every region of the country, Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine, where there is a strict Appellation system since 1963 to classify quality (similar to France) with 20 wine regions currently. Check out these snappy and vibrant whites.
Garganega known as Soave (Veneto, Bardolino) A dry white that dates back to the medieval village of Soave. Flavors of melon and peach and orange zest with a crisp finish. Try the Inama Vin Soave DOC.
Verdicchio (Marche) Cultivated for hundreds of years, was marketed in the US in a “fish bottle” as a simple table wine. Citrus flavors, mandarin orange, boasting a distinctive almond flavor on the finish.
Vermentino (Sardinia, Corsica, Piedmont and Languedoc- Roussillon, FR) Light bodied, lemon, green apple and grapefruit, with floral hints and a nutty, saline finish. Try the Antinori Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Vermentino.
Trebbiano (aka Ugni Blanc in France) Dry with flavors of white peaches, lemon, and herbs.
Fiano (Campania) Medium to full bodied with a beeswax characteristic, peach, honey and hazelnuts.
Greco (Campania) Volcanic rock oils bring out the minerality, but this wine shows peach and nectarine fruit up front.
Cortese (Piedmont) Known as a Gavi di Gavi, the Cortese grape has distinguished floral aromas, and a soft acidic finish. Try the Rosello Gavi DOCG
Falanghina (Campania) Tropical fruit flavors and a floral nose, crisp with some saline notes.
Grillo (Sicily) A cross between native grapes Catarrattto and Moscato d’ Alessandra, this grape was used almost exclusively to make Marsala, Sicily’s famous fortified wine. An aromatic Grillo shows grapefruit flavors, passionfruit and herbs. Try the Poggio Anima Grillo.
Inzolia or Insolia (Sicily) Another native Sicilian grape, it is also grown in coastal Tuscany. Meaning “of the sun” it shows mild acidity, stone fruit flavors and a mellow nutty finish.
Red and white wine from Spain is almost always a win- their quality system is similar to that of France and Italy with Denominacion de Origen. From sparkling Cava to the “Green Spain” wines of Galicia (not to mention their Garnacha and Tempranillo, but that’s another blog!) there are many whites of quality to explore.
Verdejo (Reuda) This grape originated in North Africa and was used to make very strongly oxidized wine like Sherry. Finished dry, the aromatics of citrus and melon lend toward high acid levels.
Macabeo or Viura (Rioja, Catalonia) Most often produced for Cava, the “Sparkling wine of Spain”. Dry, aromatic and cleansing, this sparkler expresses ripe peach fruit, citrus with an almond finish. Try the Juve & Camps Brut Nature.
Parellada (Catalonia) One of Spain’s three main grapes used in the production of Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine.
Xarel lo (Catalonia) One of Spain’s three main grape varieties used to make Spanish sparkling wine known as Cava.
Godello (Galicia) Grown mostly in Spain’s northern Atlantic Coastal region this white grape is known as Gouveio in Portugal where it also produces a medium bodied wine with briny lemon and grapefruit flavors and smokey minerality. Try the Avancia Godello O.
Treixadura (Ribeiro, Galicia)) One of the key varietals found in Portugal’s Vinho Verde.
Hondarribi Zuri (Basque) This varietal makes the fizzy wine Txakoli. Light, citrus tinged with herbal and mineral inflections.
Grenache Blanc (Rhone, FR, Rioja Spain) A popular varietal produced both in Spain- where it is referred to as Garnacha Blanc, and France’s Rhone region. Flavors of pear, honeysuckle, citrus and toast. Can also exhibit unripe mango and lemon curd if the wine is aged in oak barrels.
Albarino (aka Alvarinho in Portugal) Lemon zest, grapefruit, honeydew and ripe nectarine fruits, with a tingly white pepper finish on the tongue.
These days the quality and variety available in the Greek wine category is growing rapidly.
Malagousia Notes of green bell pepper, ripe peaches, basil and flowers, with a dry finish. Try the Ktima Gerovassiliou single vineyard Malagousia.
The first wine grapes were planted near Cape Town in the 17th century, brought over by the Dutch Colonials. The WO (Wine of Origin) system was implemented in 1973. South Africa has nearly 300,000 acres planted to vine, with the styles of winemaking almost a mixture of old world and new world.
Steen or Chenin Blanc (Paarl) This grape varietal originated in France’s Loire Valley, but has been prolific in South Africa, where it is often called Steen. Bright crisp green apple, white peach, with fresh herbs and a floral nose. Try the Babylonstoren Chenin Blanc from the Western Cape.
Most famous for their dessert style ports, the country is producing some amazing still wines, both red and white. There are over 250 indigenous varietals and the country uses a DO system for defined geographical regions and quality.
Vinho Verde, which often has a blend of white grapes to create the slightly frizzante, green apple with a touch of lime zest, refreshing Portuguese wine.
Sercial (Portugal) A white grape varietal produced on the Island of Madeira used for Madeira wine production.
Alvarinho Lemon zest, grapefruit, honeydew and ripe nectarine fruits, with a tingly white pepper finish on the tongue. Try our Twin Vines Vinho Verde.
A hundred years ago the Royal Courts of Europe toasted with Hungary’s famous Tokaji (pronounced toe kye). The Monks and the Turks were growing grapes in the 1500’s with Tokaji being the country’s most prestigious region.
Furmint is a drier white grape used to make the famous exported dessert wine, Tokaji. Also grown in Austria and Slovenia, it dominates the sweet wine that has a touch of grey mold or Botrytis, often aged in neutral oak bearing lots of residual sugar. Try the Disznoko Tokaji Aszu.
While we don’t have enough space to add all of the white varietals available from all over the world, we hope this helps you explore the many wines available here at Ed’s. See you soon!
By Carolyn R Brown