In last month’s column I described some of the most popular red wine grapes and the wines they produce. This month we’re taking on white wine grapes. So, pour yourself a glass of chardonnay and read on.
Oh, that’s right; it is a bit early for that. Save the column for tonight.
To recap briefly, wines named for the variety of grape making up most of that wine are called varietal wines. In this country, to be named for the grape the wine must contain at least 75 percent of it. In Australia, it’s 85 percent. Other countries require 100 percent.
Types of whites
Chardonnay: The queen of white grapes from France’s Burgundy region. White Burgundies are made from chardonnay grapes, although the French offerings are stylistically poles apart from their New World counterparts. A good chard (that’s wine geek talk) has a green-gold color and the bite of a green apple in the mouth — think Granny Smith. Too many chards became fruit cocktails from California, full of tropical flavors — pineapple, banana, mango — and stunningly over-oaked. Those are among the reasons American wine drinkers toppled chardonnay from its position as most popular white wine in favor of the next offering.
Pinot grigio: Translated from Italian, gray pinot. Also known as pinot gris (that’s French; means the same thing). Other members of the pinot family include pinot noir (black pinot) and pinot blanc (white pinot). P.G. is popular because good ones — and there are some duds out there — are crisp and more defined than many chardonnays. It’s good with seafood, light chicken dishes, pork and veggie fare.
Sauvignon blanc/Fume blanc: Fume blanc is a term created by wine maestro Robert Mondavi. It is another name for the sauvignon blanc grape and means “smoky white.” Other wineries also label their sauvignon blanc as fume blanc. It’s a very crisp, often herbaceous white wine with a hint of smoke and citrus that is a fine alternative to chardonnay. Great with seafood. Some of the best come from New Zealand’s Marlborough region.
Chenin blanc: A prolific though underrated white wine grape. Produces soft, fruity white wines in California and some of the finest whites from France’s Loire Valley. It also is South Africa’s most prolific white wine grape. Some U.S. wineries produce a dry chenin blanc that is worth looking for. I’ll suggest the Dry Creek Vineyards’ Clarksburg Dry Chenin Blanc.
Gewurztraminer: Huh? OK, I’ll pronounce it for you — guh VERTS truh meener. It is an Alsatian varietal, which also is produced well in this country. “Gewurz” is a German prefix meaning “spicy.” This white wine has a distinctively spicy smell and taste. The Alsatian wines generally are drier and crisper than those made in this country. One of my favorite white wines, it’s always at the top of my list to go to table with that luscious Thanksgiving turkey.
Riesling: The king of white wine grapes from Germany, also known as white riesling or Johannisberg riesling. Produces wines of delicate, floral nature, soft and fruity, but with a strong acid backbone. Some extremely fine rieslings are produced in America. I love rieslings with soft, semisweet cheese, and it’s perfect with roast pork. Late harvest rieslings are sweet and syrupy.
Semillon: One of the two classic white wine grapes of Bordeaux. Its round fruitiness is used to soften the almost harsh aspect of the other Bordeaux white, sauvignon blanc. Good semillons also are made on the West Coast, and the grape is made in an unusual blend with chardonnay in Australia.
OK, here’s your wine tip for the month. Chill your white wine for 4-6 hours in the fridge, or in an ice-water bath. But take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you serve it. We really do drink our whites too cold — it chills some of the complex flavors right out of the wine.
Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column runs on the first Wednesday of the month.