White Wine


CHENIN BLANC - Dry or Sweet, the Grape with “Two Personalities”
This is the native white grape of the middle Loire Valley (Vouvary, Layon, etc.) in France. The wines can be dry, sweet or very sweet with high acidity. The grapes are difficult to ripen, as they need plenty of sun to ripen properly. The late-harvest Chenin Blanc has an intense and fascinating aroma. High acid content enables these wines to balance the sweetness and age for years. California, Chile and South Africa produce fine Chenin Blanc.

Character/structure:
Light to medium-bodied, with high acidity. The dry wines are fresh and fruity; the sweet wines rich and well balanced.
Flavors/aromas:
Soft, round flavors of subtle pears, melon, peach, red apple, lemon. Delicate floral notes.
Food Pairing:
The dry and lighter wines can be good as aperitifs, with light white fish (sole, trout, etc.) or chicken dishes. The medium sweet wines go well with pâté, chicken with cream sauce, roast pork with prunes or dried apricot, garden salad with scallop or shrimp, and goat cheese. The sweeter ones pair well with fruit tarts, crème caramel, foie gras and blue cheese.

Notes. The grapes have thin skins and high sugar content. Aging improves good quality sweet Chenin Blanc by bringing out the fruit.


Gewűrztraminer – Pungent, Crisp, Spicy, Floral
Gewűrztraminer is one of the most pungent and distinctively spicy grapes (gewűrz means “spice” in German), with fragrant aromas like rose petals, exotic perfume and intense litchi flavor. The wines are made into a variety of styles from dry to semi-sweet to sweet (late-harvest), but are rich and soft, even when fully dry. They go well with spicy food, and are best when fairly young. The best wines are demonstrated in Alsace, France, which borders Germany.

Character/structure:
Light to full-bodied, with low acidity and high alcohol content. At its best, it produces a floral and refreshing wine with crisp acidity. The late-harvest grapes can yield a rich and complex dessert wine. Many of the wines have deep gold or peach tones.
Flavors/aromas:
Intense litchi flavor, vanilla, gingerbread, honeysuckle; distinctive floral bouquet of rose petals, grapefruit.
Food Pairing:
Smoked fish; fish pâté; sushi; roast chicken, duck or goose; onion tart; pungent washed rind cheeses such as Munster; Chinese, Indian and Thai dishes.

Notes. These grapes, which are a distinctive pale pink color, perform better in cooler climates. Many professionals describe the wines as “spicy,” but the kitchen spice rack is not what they have in mind. Rather, Gewűrztraminer is spicy in the sense that its aromas are perfumed and the flavors are bold, lively and extroverted.

MUSCUT – “Muscat, the original wine grape”
This grape used for eating and wine has been cultivated since ancient times and has hundreds of varieties, colors and names. Of the three major, distinct varieties, the best and most aromatic is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. It is known as Moscato Bianco in Piedmont, Italy where it is used to make the sparkling Asti Spumante and the semi-sparkling (“frizzante”) Moscato d’Asti. The same variety is used for sweet fortified (alcohol-added) dessert wines in Italy’s Alto Adige, Spain, Australia, and France’s southern Rhone, where the best example is Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.

The often darker Muscat of Alexandria variety is more widely planted,  but much of it is not for wine, and what is tends to be of lower quality due to its very low acid and high sugar content. This makes it well suited for sherry-like wines, especially in Spain and Portugal, where Muscat is called Moscatel.

Wines from the third main variety, Muscat Ottonel, are the lightest in color and character and do best in cooler climates, such as France’s Alsace, where it is often blended with the more aromatic Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains in a dry (not sweet) wine. It also is used for late-harvest dessert wines, especially in Austria. California and Australia produce fortified sweet wines with the orange flower-scented Orange Muscat, and a rose-scented Black Muscat from the Muscat Hamburg grape.

Flavors/aromas:
Often fragrant and grapey no matter which variety and where grown. Distinctive sweet musky/floral aroma; flavor of fresh Muscat grapes.
Lighter versions: rose petals, orange blossom, peach, lichee, honey, slightly citrus tang.
Richer varieties: fig, blackberry, prunes, coffee (when fortified).
Character/structure:
Easy to drink; generally low in acid and alcohol (except when fortified); ranges from light, dry and delicate to sweet and syrupy; often slightly sparkling.

Food Pairing:
Low-alcohol, sparkling varieties such as Asti Spumante are perfect for aperitifs (before dinner), light appetizers (e.g., Prosciutto with melon or fig), stone fruits and fruit salads; also light desserts, such as Panettone cake, meringues, puddings, mousses, sorbets.
Drier versions go well with lightly spiced Asian or Indian food, avocado salad, chicken salad with grapes, asparagus in a tangy hollandaise sauce, light/young cheeses.
Richer, sweeter and fortified wines go with most desserts. Try pecan pie and vanilla ice cream with a chilled Australian liqueur Muscat (e.g., Rutherglen).

Note:
The wines are low in acidity and high in sugars (usually due to later harvesting), making them best for drinking young (except fortified Muscats, which will keep longer but not necessarily improve with age).

PINOT GRIS or PINOT GRIGIO – “The Other White Wine”
This white grape clone of the Pinot family has a grayish hue (hence “gris”) and produces wines that can be dry, off dry or sweet, depending on climate and how long the grapes ripen on the vine (“hang time”). In Northern Italy, the wine is called Pinot Grigio and is typically crisp, dry and light, with more mineral notes and higher acidity. Alsace, France produces a richer, sometimes sweeter and more exotic style that has good aging potential. Oregon, New Zealand and California produce a range of styles, but generally are dry or off-dry with more fruit notes.

Flavors/aromas:
Lighter versions: Mineral, pear, apple, lemon, lightly floral/honeysuckle, spicy greens. Richer varieties: honeyed, musky, spicy, peach, floral, light mineral/flint.
Character/structure:
Light to full-bodied, depending on style; silky finish.
Food Pairing:
Crisp/light styles go well with light white fish (sole, trout, etc.); shellfish; fritto misto; chicken and light pasta dishes in white wine, pesto or cream/Parmesan sauces; salads with vinaigrette (Caesar, etc.); quiche; goat and ricotta cheese. Richer styles pair with grilled or smoked salmon, veal in cream sauce, Asian stir-fry, Bouillabaisse, spicy dishes.


Note. The grapes vary in color from pinkish brown to gray-blue.

Sémillon – Elegantly Dry to Exquisitely Sweet
Sémillon produces high-alcohol wines that tend to be low in acid and aroma. For this reason, it is often blended with  more acidic, aromatic white grapes. It marries well with Sauvignon Blanc and the resulting wines can be quite extraordinary. Blending with Chardonnay is gaining in popularity. It also can make a majestic late-harvest dessert wine (the luscious, world-famous Sauternes). These wines can age very well.

Flavors/aromas:
Mild, fresh grassiness, citrus, and a hint of apricot and mango flavor when young. Rich, buttery and honeyed when fully ripened.
Character/structure:
Light to full-bodied, grassy if not fully ripe (young), but can make a soft dry wine of great ageing ability. When ripened longer, the acid and sugar levels intensify.
Food Pairing:
Dry Sémillon are excellent with fish and shellfish, steamed chicken breast or pork loin, and seafood salad. The sweet ones (e.g., Sauternes) are a classic pair for foie gras, Roquefort, and other blue cheeses.

Note. Semillon is the most important grape for sweet and dry white wines from Bordeaux (such as Sauternes and Barsac).

VIOGNIER – “The Exotic Aromatic White Grape”
Until fairly recently, Viognier was only grown in France’s northern Rhone region, where it almost became extinct in the mid-1960s. It’s back and gaining popularity, along with increasing acreage, particularly in California, Washington and Australia. Known for its perfume and complex, exotic flavors, it has deep color and sweet aromas but is usually dry. It is rich and supple like Chardonnay, but without all the oak; crisp like Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, but smoother (lower in acid); and unlike Gewurztraminer and Muscat, not overly fruity or aromatic. Often it is blended with other whites to soften and add depth of flavor, and with Syrah, where it helps with color stability and lowering acid levels. Viognier, especially from France, is typically best when drank young (under 3 years), unless from old vines or when made into a sweet style with late-harvest grapes.

Flavors/aromas:
Slightly tropical on the nose. Flavors of peach, apricot, guava, melon, lychee, honey, orange blossom, spice, anise. From oak barrels it can get hints of vanilla, butter, cream, toast.
Character/structure:
Medium to full-bodied; the best examples are silky and viscous with light acidity.
Food Pairing:
Works well with spicy dishes and most Asian stir-fries, curries (with or without coconut milk), grilled fish or chicken with fruit salsa, roast pork cooked with fruit, mild blue-veined cheeses; unoaked styles go well with sushi/sashimi, lobster, fresh fruit (peaches, apricots).

Note.  The grape is difficult to grow, especially with any humidity, and has a short optimum harvest time (both contribute to a slightly more pricy wine).

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