Category Archives: White Varietals

The Albariño of Rías Baixas

As summer approaches, our minds dream up our next vacations; they take us to the café-lined streets of Paris, the sunny beaches of Bali, the snowy mountains of Mendoza…

For those of us who can’t exactly hop on a flight to our dream destination next week, certain wines – and their ability to reflect a distinct sense of place – can be the next best thing.  One example is Albariño from Rías Baixas, a white wine that almost tastes like sitting at the beach along Spain’s cool, misty northwest coast.

Rías Baixas is unlike anywhere else in Spain. The small coastal D.O. sits in the broader region of Galicia, also known as “Green Spain” due to its cool maritime climate and abundance of rain – a kind of oasis in a country known for its hot, dry summers.

This climate is a perfect match for Albariño, a thick-skinned grape variety native to the region. While there is plenty of rain in Rías Baixas, there is also ample sunlight, which allows Albariño to ripen and ultimately express notes of white peach, apricot, melon and honeysuckle. Still, the region’s cooling coastal influences produce wines that are light and elegant, chock-full of mouth-watering acidity. The wines often show a slight salinity, mirroring the cool, salty air in which their grapes thrive.

It is no surprise that Rías Baixas wines have burst onto the global wine stage, adored by trendy sommeliers and industry influencers. Comparable to some of the most renowned white wines in the world, Albariño from Rías Baixas offers exceptional value – you can get all the crisp acidity and minerality of a Chablis or a Sancerre for a fraction of the cost. The wine’s fresh style also makes it an ideal pairing with a wide range of foods, but it really shines with its region’s staple cuisine: seafood.

So, what are you waiting for? Pour a glass, grill some oysters, and take a mini-vacation at your dinner table.

The perfect match: New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc

While many regions produce incredible and delicious Sauvignon Blanc, and while New Zealand produces a myriad of top-quality varietals, there is no combination quite like Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

New Zealand arrived on the international wine scene in 1979 — not long ago, even by New World standards — when Montana Wine Company produced its first Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough vineyards. Over the next decade, the country’s reputation transformed from “small island near Australia” to “wine-producing powerhouse.”

Sauvignon Blanc took over a larger proportion of New Zealand’s production in the 1980s, when a wine glut led to government-ordered vine-pulling. In response, most wineries pulled out the less noble varietals Muller-Thurgau and Chenin Blanc. That same decade saw a Phylloxera outbreak that led to re-plantings of Sauvignon Blanc on Phylloxera-resistant rootstock.

In 1985, Cloudy Bay launched its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in that distinctive style we now associate with most New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This wine burst onto the global stage and arguably put New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the world wine map.

So, what is it about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that has consumers ditching their by-the-glass Pinot Grigios? First, the style is distinctive. For new and experienced wine drinkers alike, there is something to be said about intense aromatics. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc offers a consistent bouquet of lime, grapefruit, cut grass, herbaceous undertones and a touch of bell pepper. It’s immensely appealing, refreshing and memorable. People describe it unlike any other wine – zesty, prickly, feisty, electric, zingy… descriptors that make your taste buds wake up and sing!

As we move through spring and into summer, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will certainly be a staple in my fridge and a go-to for pool parties and summer-evening soirees.

Wine Pairing Strategies for Thai and Sushi

Let’s face it Asian fare is downright delicious, but it can be tricky to find solid wine pairing partnerships given the dynamic fusion of flavors, spices and otherwise exotic ingredients. In general, spicy themes beg for a wine that tames the heat with a touch of sweet (think German Riesling and off-dry Gewurztraminer). So, wines that carry higher levels of alcohol and lean heavily into oak, tend to overwhelm many of the innate flavors of Thai and sushi finds.

Wine Pairing: Thai

From super savory to feel-the-heat spicy green curries and creamy coconut milk textures to the full-on fusion of sour, sweet, salty and bitter found in your favorite Pad Thai, there is plenty of variety and culinary innovation busting out of most modern Thai dishes. When it comes to partnering up a wine, there are several things to consider.

  1. Sweet tames heat: for super spicy dishes, grab a wine that carries its own dash of residual sugar. This bit of sweet puts out the flames of hot red and green chili peppers quite well and fans the flames of flavor integration. German Rieslings at 9% abv or less are no-brainers for spicier curries.
  2. Bold flavors beg for less bold wines: Austria’s groovy Gruner Vetliner delivers savory flavors all wrapped up in rich fruit that won’t compete with the bolder flavors, but lighter weight of shrimp Pad Thai or more mild curries.
  3. Acidity is a good thing: when you’ve got moderate protein, a mix of funky flavors and exotic aromas and typically a starch base of noodles or rice, wines that deliver a dose of zesty acidity tend to highlight the flavors and carry the dish with added dimension.

 Quick Pairing Picks:

Wine Pairing: Sushi

Salty seaweed, wasabi, pickled ginger and raw fish. Not one of the easier pairings by any standards, but fully capable of showing fantastic potential with a handful of wine styles. As you increase the spice component, you want to decrease the alcohol levels or the alcohol will just amplify the heat and douse the flavors. For super versatile, tried and true pairings, you can rarely go wrong with off-dry Gewurztraminer or German Riesling (again). However, for more detailed menu matching, sometimes it’s easier to start with the protein for pairing. Let’s check in on wines for these ultra-popular rolls.

  • Crab Roll: The basic crab roll is picture perfect for pairing with an Alsatian Gewurztraminer or classic German Riesling, both teaming with mouth-watering acidity and forward fruit. These wines promise to play extremely well with the crab, cucumber and avocado that typically pack themselves into your everyday crab roll. Want to turn it up a notch? Give it a go with an off-dry Vouvray, based on the Chenin Blanc grape, that brings zippy acidity, round textures and lots of minerality that plays off the briny character of the crab meat.
  • Spicy Tuna Roll: The extroverted flavors and palate weight of the traditional spicy tuna roll call for a wine that shares many of the same characteristics. Enter Viognier. Highly aromatic, showing plenty of apricot and honeysuckle on the nose with more on display on the palate, Viognier echoes many of the characteristics of the roll itself – fresh, fuller bodied, complicated, versatile with rich silky textures.
  • California Roll: Avocado, cucumber and crab. Does it get any better than that? Well, with sushi, yes…often it does! But, the basic California roll is still loved by young and old alike, it’s a great introduction to all things sushi and provides a snappy pairing with everything from Alsatian Rieslings with their drier styles or the often herbaceous, topped with sunny citrus New World Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Tempura Shrimp Roll: The crispy, fried textures of the tempura make sparkling wines and Champagne a must-have glass for cutting through the yummy, fatty flavor profiles of your basic tempura shrimp roll.
  • Salmon Roll: Most salmon rolls show well with sparkling and still roses. The sparkling roses promise to cut through the fatty textures and clean the palate in one fell swoop.
  • Eel Roll (aka: Unagi or Dragon Roll): Earthy and briny, eel rolls work exceptionally well with the full-throttle aromatics and slightly sweeter side of Gewurztraminer, as does the snazzy, sweet, soy-based Unagi sauce that usually accompanies the roll.

 Quick Pairing Picks:

 

Washington Wine

Brimming with a pioneer spirit, Washington state is not just host to some of our country’s biggest success stories like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco, it has actually become America’s second largest wine producer, after California! Doubling in the last 10 years from 450 in 2006 to over 900 today, it boasts an exploding number of wineries. On top of that, out of Washington’s 900 wineries, nearly 850 are small, and family owned.

Presently, the state has more than 50,000 acres of vines spread out across its diverse landscapes from evergreen forests in the west to sagebrush desert in the east where a particular mixture of soils contribute to making Washington wine truly unique.

Washington Wine Map. From Washington State Wine.

With the exception of two (Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge), all of the AVAs of Washington state are actually sub-AVAs of the larger Columbia Valley. This valley is the center of a soil base of basalt bedrock. On top of this base are the soils of the Missoula Floods, a series of 30 cataclysmic floods occurring after the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago. After the damn of the glacial lake covering parts of Montana and Canada broke, it sent huge rivers of water rushing from Western Montana, across the state and out to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It brought with it granite and well-drained, clay-poor soils. On top of the Missoula Floods layer are loess and wind deposits that have been scattered and blown over the landscape for years. These vary from four to 50 feet deep in places.

In the eastern part of the state, where almost all of its AVAs are located (14 total in the Washington), this windy and rolling landscape has a dry and arid climate; this combined with the soils make the area inhospitable to phylloxera, an aphid-like insect that feeds on grapevine roots. This extraordinary set of climate and soil conditions means that vine grafting is not needed and virtually all of the state’s vines grow on their own rootstocks, which some would argue makes a more authentic wine.

While the state produces wine from well over 40 varieties, it particularly excels in making fantastic wines from Cabernet Sauvingon, Merlot, and Syrah for reds and Riesling and Chardonnay for whites. Here are some of our favorites, which we find to all express the spirit of Washington wine!

The 2013 Figgins Estate Red is a truly remarkable blend. Consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot, it shows a pretty mix of aromas of cocoa powder, forest floor, and red cherry. A full and ripe palate brimming with black fruit, which leads to a long, fine-grained finish. This is a special one that will lie down in the cellar for a few years!

Figgins Family Wine Estates fall release party, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

One of the most famous and arguably the best Cabernet vineyards in the state, the Champoux Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, turns out some of the most supple and well-balanced reds. Januik Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon shows exotic aromas of dried flowers and florest floor. The palate explodes with black and red berries; the finish is full of sweet, velveteen tannins.

Wines of Substance Super Substance Stoneridge 2013 Merlot is a great example of what Washington is capable of. Pronounced aromas of blackberry pie, conserve, and cola give way to a big, juicy, and ripe fruit flavors, a hint of espresso, black licorice, and a good depth in the finish.

Les Collines vineyard in spring, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

Syrah absolutely flourishes in many of Washington’s AVAs. Gramercy Cellars 2013 The Deuce Syrah is a benchmark Washington Syrah and will remind avid Syrah lovers of Northern Rhone. The Syrah grapes come from three vineyards in Walla Walla: Les Collines, Forgotten Hills, and Old Stones. Aromas of violets, olives, and white pepper balance the savory flavors and stony, mineral texture.

Eroica 2015 Riesling offers an amazing balance of ripe citrus fruit, intriguing floral notes, and a mouth-watering acidity typical of Washington Riesling.

Abeja Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

The Abeja Chardonnay gives pleasant aromas of white flowers and pear. On the palate its unctuous texture is balanced by a refreshing acidity. Flavors of lemon chiffon and nectarine come to mind.

To search out more Washington wines to try, follow this link.

For everything you wanted to know about Washington wine, check out the Washington State Wine website.

The Blanc Side of Bordeaux

Hailed as one of the top wine producing regions in the world, Bordeaux typically brings to mind bold red wines worthy of the cellar.

But the white wines of Bordeaux are not to be overlooked. These bottles should have a place on your dinner table and at parties all summer long! These wines offer a diverse selection, from bright and easy-drinking to complex, layered, and age-worthy.

If you’re hesitant to try whites from this dominantly red region, you should know that until relatively recently, up to 60% of Bordeaux vineyards were planted to white grapes—reds only came to dominate plantings after a devastating frost in 1956 wiped out most of the white grapevines. While frost destruction was the catalyst for change, the move to more red grape plantings was due to a combination of factors including market demand, better soil-grape matching expertise and the desire to move away form the production of high volume base wines for the spirits industry.

The good news here is that though white wine production may be limited, the attention to detail and dedication to selecting vineyard locations with suitable soil types and mesoclimate make the wines noteworthy. Furthermore, over the past decade or so, producers have been making productive changes to combat issues of oxidation and insufficient aromatics in their white wines. One important change has been improved canopy management, meaning each vine bears the appropriate number of grapes, and these grapes get to see the right amount of sun at the right time. What does that do? It creates healthier grapes, and as well all know, healthier grapes make better wine. Once these healthier grapes enter the cellar, producers focus on keeping fermentation temperatures low, which preserves the fresh aromatics and acidity of the grapes, which is particularly important for Sauvignon Blanc. In summary, the white wines of Bordeaux are thriving due to the use of healthier grapes and better winemaking techniques.

White Bordeaux wines are comprised of three primary grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. One may occasionally see small quantities of varieties such as Sauvignon Gris among blends, but this is fairly rare. Like the red wines of Bordeaux, many of the best white wines are blends, with a focus on creating a balanced wine with character and complexity. The range of varieties available for blending allows for a diverse selection of wine styles. A few styles and regions to look for include:

Bordeaux – the largest appellation of them all! Some of the prestigious red appellations cannot be used on the labels of white wine, so you may just see “Bordeaux.” Many Bordeaux-appellated whites are simple and easy drinking, while others are more complex and noteworthy. Be sure to read the descriptions for these wines, as they could be light and fresh or more mineral-driven and intense. While both are delicious, the appellation itself is so diverse, it’s important to educate yourself before you buy.

Entre-Deux-Mers – Fresh, easy drinking, and value-oriented, white wines of Entre-Deux-Mers (which means between two seas) are the style you want to sip as an aperitif on a hot summer day or with fresh ceviche. Typically dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, these white wines are all about refreshing acidity and lively fruit flavors.

Graves – Named for the gravelly soils of the region, Graves is ideal for producing complex, often age-worthy white wines. With mineral-tinged notes paired with complex fruit and floral notes, these wines are ideal for accompanying a meal and often benefit from a few years in the bottle so the flavors can integrate.

Pessac-Leognan – The cru-level white wines live here, in a small region within Graves. This is where you see higher prices and higher quality. You may call these cerebral wines—not always easy to define in their levels of nuance, but certainly worth sipping to try to find out! These are perfect for a special meal and can easily enjoy some time in the cellar.