Let’s Talk Varietals
I have told this story hundreds of times. Years ago, while at a winery in France the host poured white wine for all, but I stopped her and said: “I don’t like white wine.” She was gobsmacked and responded with “No, that is not true. You have just not found the white wines that match your palate.” I was taken aback. How could that be? I frequently tried the white wines other folks were drinking and I was not a fan. Then she handed me a glass of Family Quiot Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. It was a blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bouboulenc, and Roussane. All grape varietals I had never heard of, nor tasted. The wine was beautiful, balanced, and dry. There was fruit on the palate but in concert with the rest of the wine. I was awoken. As I have also said before this was the day that my journey with wine began.
Truth be told, for many many years, I primarily drank fruit-forward Pinot Noir and any cheap red blends with minimal tannins that led with a mouth full of fruit. I don’t beat myself up over it, I think we all start there or somewhere close to that. Since my awakening, I have been on a mission to redeem myself. And as a reader of this blog, I must assume an interest in wine, so I encourage you to do the same.
114 Different Varietals and still counting
That is correct. I have tasted, sampled, drank and dumped, or otherwise consumed wines made from 114 different varietals. At least that is what I have since recorded. Actually, not many in the grand scheme of things. Now I am sure you are asking, how do I remember what varietals I have tasted? There may be an app for that but there is also a pdf document that allows you to check off and count what you have tasted. Being old school, I love it. You can get it here. I have it on my desktop so I have easy access. It has become a game for me and I am having fun with it.
Have I liked/enjoyed every one of the varietals I have tasted? Absolutely not. Have I liked a bottle of, say Chenin Blanc (or any varietal) from one producer or one region and yet not from another producer or region? Absolutely! Gary, as an example, is a big fan of South African Chenin Blanc. But has yet to find a French Chenin Blanc that matches his style preference. He is still looking but so far, he continues to hand his French Chenins to me to finish the glass.
How about an orange semi-sparkling wine made primarily from the indigenous Greek varietal Davina. This was a fun taste. It ended up being a bit on the sweet side so not something I would gravitate to on a regular basis but this could be a fun sip as a dessert or with dessert. Edmunds Oast Exchange is a great place to explore and the staff is incredibly helpful. They also have the best volume discounts in town.
If You Like This, Then Try That
From the common and widely consumed Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to the obscure Merwah and Pineau D’Aunis. I tasted most of these lesser-known varieties within the last three years since I started the blog. Every varietal offers a new experience. IMHO, if you are only drinking the “popular varietals, you are really missing out on some great wine. So below are some suggestions to help you along the way.
It is probably best to start your adventure in a wine bar or at a wine tasting before you go out and buy a whole bottle of something new. But with thousands of varieties of wine grapes and wine bars popping up all over the country, there is no better time to begin this journey.
There are many styles of wines within each variety. A Chardonnay can be oaked and buttery like those from 1990s California or it can be crisp and clean with no oak influence like those from Chablis. For the purposes of this post, my suggestions are generalized recommendations to encourage you to try something new. I am making general recommendations based on similar textures, flavors, and acidity.
Below are three of the most popular white wine varieties with lesser-known suggestions to try. I will do the same for the popular red varieties in a future post.
Chardonnay is generally a medium-bodied white wine most commonly aged in oak. Flavors may include yellow apple, pineapple, vanilla, white peach, and quince. It can have a creamy texture with a velvety mouthfeel.
If You Like CHARDONNAY Try:
Marsanne, Roussanne or a Marsanne/Roussanne Blend
The above wine I have had only once and it was extraordinary. Sadly, the club I was in shut down and the importer is not sending it to South Carolina even though the distributor has requested. (Or at least he told me he asked.) If you ever see it, buy every bottle available. Then call us.
White Côte du Rhone Blend (Southern Rhône Varietals)
This is the style that opened my eyes to white wine. Perhaps as a blend, it brings out the best characteristics of each varietal in the bottle. Gary and I are both big fans of Rhône Blends.
A Central Coast of California Southern Rhône-style white blend by Tablas Creek Vineyard. Patelin de Tablas Blanc is based on Grenache Blanc, with additions of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Clairette Blanche, aged in stainless steel
(“Vee-on-yee” – in French – “Vee-on-yay” – in English) if you like floral notes in your wine.
I love Viognier but Gary is not a fan although he will try whatever I pour.
You could also try a French Chenin Blanc/Viognier Blend, a French Chenin Blanc, or a Savatiano.
Sauvignon Blanc is a light-bodied white wine with strong herbaceous (grassy) flavors as well as the fruits of gooseberry, honeydew, grapefruit, and passion fruit. Crisp and clean define most Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand Sav. Blanc veer towards strong grapefruit and gooseberry notes.
If You Like SAUVIGNON BLANC
This is a lesser-known and planted white grape from Burgundy; second only to Chardonnay. Aligoté has high acidity, with herbal, apple and lemon notes, much like Sauvignon Blanc.
Melon de Bourgogne
And this bottling from Brooks Wines in Willamette Valley is OOTW delish! Sells for $26.00 a bottle
Grüner Veltliner is an Austrian varietal that tends to be lean, herbaceous and spicy. Gary loves Grüner!
The Italian Vermentino is another varietal to try if you are a Sauvignon Blanc fan.
Pinot Grigio (Gris) is most commonly a light-bodied, zesty white wine with medium acidity and alcohol. Generally, it is a dry wine but can be made sweet. Look for flavors of peach, lemon, cantaloupe, and mineral. This description would not include Alsatian-style Pinot Gris.
If You Like PINOT GRIGIO Try:
Rías Baixas in Spain is the home to Albariño. Others make it but the location and climate of Rías Baixas make this the place for quality yet affordable Albariño. Big acid, low alcohol, light body with some citrus, melon, and salinity on the palate.
No one grows a ton of Pinot Blanc so it may be hard to find but Oregon is planting more and more so look west to experience this varietal.
As you know from my favorite wines of 2019 Arneis got a shout out! I have had the honor of trying Arneis from Willamette Valley Oregon and from Piedmont in Italy. Both were spectacular and I highly recommend giving this varietal a try.
Whew! That is all for now.