Category Archives: White Varietals

Six White Wine Grapes that Welcome Summer!

While the summer season doesn’t “officially” kick off until June 21, the lively white wines of summer have been ready to welcome patio pours for months. It’s easy to find your favorite grape, region or producer and keep drinking from the same well all season long, but when it’s time to shake it up and sip “out of bounds,” making new vinous acquaintances with less familiar grapes or regions, we are thrilled to help make those tasty introductions. From the sassy citrus vibe of Spanish Albarino to the herbal tang of Vermentino, there’s a summer white wine adventure just waiting to happen.

Spanish Whites: Albarino and Verdejo

Albarino – Delivering a zesty squeeze of citrus and a dash of salinity in virtually every bottle, Albarino, Spain’s white wine diva, is like sunshine in a glass. Albarino is picture perfect for patio sipping and even better when partnered up with the wine’s hometown culinary heroes like the fresh Basque Country seafood themes of oysters, clams, crab, hake and sea bass or octopus served with white potatoes olive oil and smoked paprika.  These versatile, dry white wines deliver incredibly fresh aromatics, with unmistakable acidity and equally friendly price points. Albarino hails from Spain’s northwest corner known as the region of Rias Baixas (pronounced “Ree-yahs By-Shuss”) where the maritime climate exerts a remarkable influence on the wines and the vines. Most Albarino vines are planted within miles of the coast earning the regional wines the enticing nickname of the “wine of the sea.” Ranging from steely, mineral driven bottles to wines with creamy textures, fuller-bodies, and a bit of butter on the finish (thanks for extended lees aging), Albarino showcases a wide range of palate appeal.

Must Try Albarino Producers:  Burgans, Martin Codax, Pazo Cilleiro, Pazo de BarrantesTerras GaudaLa Cana 

Verdejo – While Albarino comes from Spain’s northwest coastal corner just above Portugal, Verdejo hails from the continental climate, gravelly-soil and higher elevations of Rueda a well-known wine growing region situated about 100 miles northwest of Madrid. Though historically speaking, the grape can be traced back to the 11th century with deep roots in North Africa. In terms of style and structure, Verdejo is traditionally made in a clean, crisp palate style, though plenty of exceptions and experimentation occurs with both barrel aging and extended lees contact resulting in richer, more complex options as well.  These fuller-bodied bottles tend to lean heavily into the exotic flavor profiles of melon and citrus, with a noticeable minerality and almost always a touch of earthy, herbal nuances in the mix.

Must Try Verdejo Producers: Finca Montepedroso, Garciarevalo, Jose Pariente, Martinsancho, Protos

Torrontes

Argentina’s incredibly aromatic white wine wonder, Torrontes offers top notch value (generally in the $10-15 range), prides itself on being remarkably food-friendly and generally carries a medium to full body. Expect a decent dose of mouth-watering acidity (thanks in part to high elevation vineyards), a bone-dry palate style and a heady mix of floral (often rose petal) nuances mixed with rambunctious stone, citrus and apple fruit character. Best bets for food pairings are shellfish, grilled poultry, all sorts of Asian themes with Thai dishes being a personal favorite and even a bit of Tex-Mex with guacamole. Torrontes’ aromas offer up some of the wine world’s best perfumes – sweet, floral and incredibly fresh!

Must Try Torrontes Producers:  Amalaya, Alamos, Alta Vista, Kaiken, Crios de Susana Balbo, Zuccardi

Gruner Veltliner 

Gruner Veltliner (“Groo-ner Felt-lean-er”), Austria’s vinous claim to snappy white wine fame, and as such the region’s cooler growing conditions promise a crisp, high acid, exceptionally food-friendly wine experience. Easily enjoyed as an aperitif and welcoming all sorts of tricky-to-pair foods (think asparagus, artichokes, onions, olives and such), most of Austria’s Gruner Veltliner hails from the regions of Wachau, Kampstal and Kremstal with considerable influence from the Danube River.

Similar to Albarino, Gruner Veltliner tends to see little oak influence overall, but relies on stainless steel tanks to retain the bright fruit character (mainly citrus, apple, melon and apricot or peach and sometimes a funky green bean flare) alongside a zippy acid profile.

 Must Try Gruner Veltliner Producers:  Domaine WachauGroonerLoimer, Markus Huber

Sauvignon Blanc

While admittedly not an “out of the ordinary” summer grape variety, no summer white wine list should be without the ultra versatile, equally able to thrive in Old World and New World regions and extraordinarily affectionate towards food wine, known and loved as Sauvignon Blanc. This highly versatile grape manifests itself in a variety of styles under the umbrella of white Bordeaux, from light, crisp and fruity to rich, complex and creamy, its expressive aromas rely largely on the Sauvignon Blanc grape, but keep in mind Bordeaux Blanc often marries the complementary low acid, full-bodied textures of Semillon as part of the region’s savvy blend. Looking for a loud, lively and happily extroverted version of Sauvignon Blanc?  Discover it in the exuberant, citrus-infused smile found in the snappy acidity of New Zealand’s favorite white wine grape, Sauvignon Blanc is your “go to” girl when it comes to the smells and tastes of summer. Enjoying a range of styles and growing regions, Sauvignon Blanc’s adaptability, reasonable pricing structure, and overall pairing versatility make it an easy stop on the summer wine train.

Must Try Sauvignon Blanc Producers: Chateau Malartic-LagraviereChateau Marjosse, Clos des Lunes, Craggy Range, Dog Point, Ferrari-Carano, NobiloRobert Mondavi

Vermentino

The clear majority of Italy’s Vermentino hails from the large Mediterranean Island of Sardinia, with the best quality coming from the rugged, granite soils of the northeast quadrant of the island called “Vermentino di Gallura DOCG,” which requires a minimum of 95% Vermentino in the bottle. These high acid wines are fermented to a completely dry style and carry a medium to fuller body in general. In terms of flavors and aromas, earthy, herbal undertones set a distinguishing backdrop for subtler citrus, green apple, and pear fruit character. The herbal influences make Vermentino a top pick for pairing with fresh pesto, vegan dishes, seafood and a number of summer salads.

Must Try Vermentino Producers: JankaraPoggio al Tesoro, SantadiSella & Mosca

 

The Albariños of Rias Baixas

Many regions throughout the world are known for a particular specialty—gastronomic or otherwise—but some more than others have the ability to conjure up vivid sensory memories. One such region is northwestern Spain’s Rías Baixas. To the uninitiated, this may just look like a confusingly-spelled set of words. But to those who have visited or tasted the wines and cuisine of this region, the phrase “Rías Baixas” is enough to make the mouth water, evoking the sensation of salinity in many different forms: a refreshing glass of white wine, a briny seafood meal, or the crisp, fresh air of a picturesque oceanside vista.

The wines of Rías Baixas owe much of their personality to the geography and terroir of the lush, verdant region. Situated along the Atlantic Coast, the relatively modern DO (established in the 1980s) is unique within Spain for its focus on white grapes, which thrive in this relatively cool, damp corner of the country. The name “Rías Baixas” (pronounced “re-ass by-shuss”) comes from Galician—”rías” is the word for the sharp estuaries that cut in to the “baixas,” or the lower-altitude region of southern Galicia. These narrow, finger-like bodies of water that stretch inland from the Atlantic Ocean contain a mix of fresh and salt water, making them an ideal home to an incredibly diverse array of delicious maritime creatures that make up the cuisine of the region. Hard granite soils combined with mineral-rich alluvial top soils provide optimal growing conditions for top quality white wine production.

The other key component of this region is its star grape variety: Albariño. While other varieties are permitted, Albariño makes up the vast majority of plantings, and with good reason. It has the ability to produce distinctive wines that maintain their unique varietal character in a wide range of styles, owing both to the diversity of the five different sub-zones and to winemaking decisions such as maceration length,  the use of wild yeast, barrel fermentation and aging, malolactic fermentation, and lees contact.

Texturally, Albariño typically falls somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, while flavor-wise, floral perfume, zesty citrus, stone fruit, and minerality are ubiquitous. In the warmer sub-regions of Rías Baixas, ripe melon and peach flavors dominate, while bottlings from cooler climes are often marked by lean acidity as well as grapefruit and lemon notes. An undercurrent of salinity runs through most examples, making them an unparalleled pairing with the region’s plentiful seafood offerings. The Albariño grape is so integral to the style of the wine produced in Rías Baixas that the name of the variety is printed on every bottle—a practice rarely seen elsewhere in Spain (or most of Europe, for that matter).

Thanks to the adaptability of Albariño and its friendly, near-universal appeal, the Rías Baixas DO has something to offer just about every white wine drinker. These wines can be enjoyed year-round, but are especially delightful during the spring and summer, when warm, sunny weather calls for a crisp, refreshing beverage. They sing when paired with any kind of marine life—particularly oysters or scallops—but are equally fantastic on their own. If you can’t make it to Spain for a vacation this year, a bottle of Rías Baixas Albariño just might be the next best thing.

Some of our favorites include:

Granbazan Etiqueta Ambar Albariño 2015
Bright yellow stone fruits come to the forefront here in this complex example, with notes of marzipan, rose, spice, and citrus pith. The palate is round and fleshy, but vibrant acidity keeps it light and freshing.

Condes de Albarei Albariño 2015
This is all about the floral side of Albariño, with a lovely perfume and high flavor intensity on the palate. The luscious texture brings to mind peaches and cream.

Martin Codax Albariño 2015
A great entry-level option—the price is right, and the fruit is ripe and mouthfilling. The flavor profile is simple and straightforward, with plenty of fresh apple and pineapple as well as some nutty character.

Valminor Rias Baixas Albariño 2014
Stone fruit and grapefruit shine in this flavorful bottling, with hints of dried herbs and spice on the long finish. Searing acidity means that this one may not be for beginners, but makes it an excellent complement to grilled fish, lobster, or crab.

Pazo de San Mauro Albariño 2015
This is a big Albariño, with a rich creamy texture and notes of baking spice and marzipan alongside yellow peach and nectarine.  If you’re looking to make the transition from red to white wine for summer, this would be a good place to start!

Summer in a Bottle: The Albariño of Rías Baixas

Many regions throughout the world are known for a particular specialty—gastronomic or otherwise—but some more than others have the ability to conjure up vivid sensory memories. One such region is northwestern Spain’s Rías Baixas. To the uninitiated, this may just look like a confusingly-spelled set of words. But to those who have visited or tasted the wines and cuisine of this region, the phrase “Rías Baixas” is enough to make the mouth water, evoking the sensation of salinity in many different forms: a refreshing glass of white wine, a briny seafood meal, or the crisp, fresh air of a picturesque oceanside vista.

The wines of Rías Baixas owe much of their personality to the geography and terroir of the lush, verdant region. Continue reading Summer in a Bottle: The Albariño of Rías Baixas

New Zealand: A Sauvignon Blanc for every Palate

Most wine professionals would agree that no grape variety is more easily identifiable in a blind tasting than Sauvignon Blanc. And perhaps this variety’s unique qualities are more pronounced in wines hailing from New Zealand than in those of any other provenance. As soon as the bottle has been opened and the wine is poured into a glass, an unmistakable perfume fills the surrounding air with notes of zesty citrus, tropical passion fruit, freshly cut grass, tangy gooseberry, and occasionally crisp bell pepper or piquant jalapeño. Often, vegetal aromas like asparagus or artichoke are present as well.

But although New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc typically stays true to its varietal character, don’t mistake its consistency for uniformity. Though many of these wines share common aromas, there is a wide range of techniques available to grape growers and winemakers to coax the raw materials into delightfully different final products.

The decision of when to harvest the grapes is one way in which producers can influence the style of the wine they intend to make. When Sauvignon Blanc grapes are harvested early in the season, they have high natural acidity and flavors that lean toward lime and asparagus. If weather permits and the grapes are left to ripen longer on the vine, notes of tropical fruit and even peach can develop. Producers will select the date of the harvest with this in mind. Some wineries, for example, Jules Taylor, have several vineyard properties throughout a particular region and will harvest each at a different time, so that they may be blended together for a more complex and layered wine.

There are many different clones of Sauvignon Blanc to choose from, and winemakers often select a clone or a mix of clones in order to produce a desired style of wine. Some of these highlight classic New Zealand grassy and herbaceous flavors, while others, such as the Bordeaux clones, tone down these “green” notes and focus on tropical fruit. Mt. Beautiful is an enthusiastic proponent of the latter type of clone. Later, in the winery, yeasts can be selected as well to bring out the desired level of aromatics from the wine. Wineries like Giesen, Whitehaven,  Villa Maria, and Nautilus put a high emphasis on yeast selection, while others like Pegasus Bay choose to rely on the indigenous yeast naturally present in the winery and on the grapes.

Another option in the vineyard is to encourage lower-yielding vines. Generally, as the number of grapes grown in a certain area decreases, the concentration of flavors in each grape increases. This results in a more complex and flavorful wine, and is becoming a more frequent practice in New Zealand vineyards.

Once the grapes have been harvested and transported to the winery, the winemaker has an important decision to make regarding the vessels in which the wines will be fermented and aged. Stainless steel has typically been the popular choice in New Zealand, which preserves the pure, fresh fruit aromas of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Babich, Mud House, Stoneleigh and Astrolabe are known for making wines in this clean, crisp style. But increasingly, winemakers are turning to various types of oak barrels to produce an alternative style of wine. Unlike the production of, say, some California Chardonnay, the aim here is not to add woody flavors to the wine, but rather to round out the texture and create a richer mouthfeel. Often, as is the case with Brancott‘s higher end “B” Sauvignon Blanc, only a small percentage of the wine spends time in oak to create a subtle effect. Some of these wines, such as those from Staete Landt, have a surprising ability to age beautifully.

Another increasingly popular way to enhance the body of these wines is extended lees contact and occasionally lees stirring. This interaction with dead yeast cells adds a creamy yet elegant roundness to the wine. Clos Henri, Mt. Beautiful, Yealands, and Wither Hills all employ this practice to varying extents.

Some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, such as Loveblock, goes through the process of malolactic fermentation, much more typically associated with Chardonnay. This helps to soften the tart, green, acidic flavors for a more approachable style that could perhaps serve as a gateway for those not used to the more pungent characteristics common to the variety.

Yet another way to diversify Sauvignon Blanc is to combine it with something other than Sauvignon Blanc. Pegasus Bay does this beautifully with a Bordeaux-inspired blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This adds great complexity, texture, and some subtle savory notes, as well as extra ageing potential.

With all of these different methods of producing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, not to mention regional variation (Amisfield, for example, is located in the much cooler climate area of Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in the world), it is easy to see that this small country has something to offer that will please just about any palate. If you’ve written off this grape as a one-trick pony, you may want to give it another try. And if you’re already a fan, there likely are many delicious new styles that you have yet to taste. There has never been a more exciting time to drink these wines, which are still almost criminally affordable even for the very best. Try New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc well-chilled as the summer heats up, paired with salads, fish, vegetables, goat cheese, or just a few good friends and the warmth of the sun.

 

South Africa: New Land of Vines

MeerlustOn a continent that typically brings to mind dry, hot deserts and rainforest jungles, it’s easy to forget that there is also wine. But on the very southern tip of South Africa, vineyards thrive and produce a wide variety of grapes. Though the wines were slow to market due to the embargo on South Africa during apartheid,  the country has managed to solidify its presence as a quality wine producer over the past few decades. As a huge fan of South African wines, I wanted to share a few tips on what to try!

Reds are smokey-meaty:
This is a good thing — fire up the grill! Something about the land in South Africa brings out a gamey character in red wines, like bacon fat or smoked meat, especially in Syrah. Continue reading South Africa: New Land of Vines