I know many of you are reading the headline and thinking that I’ve lost my mind. Not really. Bear with me here.
First of all, I love red wines. Period. In fact, I call myself a Pinot Ho. Okay, I’m *the* Pinot Ho! Most of my friends also love red wines and have given themselves various designations. One of my friends calls himself a Syrah Slut. Another calls herself a Zin Bitch, borrowing from the Four Vines description of lovers of their Zinfandel. My oldest son admits to loving Cabernets, but as of yet has not given himself an appropriate title. I’m working on that.
Now that you know the crowd I run with, you can appreciate how I’m risking my credibility by writing an article based on *gasp!* white wines.
Many years ago, I had the fortune of drinking a really good California Chardonnay. It was an ethereal, life-changing experience. I actually tasted a white wine that had substance in my mouth, and for the first time, I understood what the word “epiphany” meant. That was in the early 90s.
Until just a couple of years ago, I was still on the quest for the great Chardonnay experience and kissed a lot of frogs in between. Most Chards I experienced were either overoaked butter bombs with very bitter finishes, or could hardly be differentiated from lemonade.
Meanwhile, my experiences with red wine were positive as I learned more about varietals, terroir, blends, aromas, characteristics, countries of origin, blah blah blah. Once I got my wine feet underneath me – so to speak – I began to get in touch with my inner wine snob. Honestly, I never thought I’d move from my early days of “Smells like grapes! Tastes like wine!” to the point where after sniffing and tasting a wine, I’d be able to name the year, place, and type of wine. I’m finally a Wineau!
I never forsook my quest for a great Chardonnay, and because of that, I began to taste (and enjoy) a complete range of white wines. And in the process, I lost my ABC attitude. Oh, that means Anything But Chardonnay. Here are some of my favorites:
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris – Grigio is from
Albariño – this is the elegant white wine from
Torrontés – Wow. What a nose. This smells like flowers in a bottle with just a bit of orange juice. Although it *smells* sweet, it is a bone-dry wine. I served this at a home wine tasting last year, and both bottles quickly disappeared. And to the person I told that this was from Chilé, I’m sorry to say that I was mistaken. It’s the signature white grape of
Sauvignon Blanc/Sancerre – Hard to believe that this is the same grape, particularly if you’re comparing a New Zealand Sauv Blanc to a Sancerre from the
Viognier – Ahhh. Let’s talk flowers. Honeysuckle, apricots, peaches, spring blossoms, and touches of spice coupled with a contradictory dry palate make this wine amazing. I have more bottles of this than any other white wine because I find that I can drink this with or without food. Its crisp, clean flavors go well with mahi-mahi and fruit salsa or can be poured just to enjoy on its own. Pairing not required.
All of these wines are readily available (some more so than others), are generally ready to drink now, and are not very expensive. Sancerre, because it’s French, from the
Now for my nemesis – the eternal search for the perfect Chardonnay. And yes, I’ve finally found Chards that took me back to my first “real” experience with Chardonnay, with rich mouthfeel, apple, citrus, and tropical fruit aromas and flavors. Unoaked Chards showcase these fruit characterstics and make good quaffing wines. However, in my opinion, the best Chards copy the Burgundian model of fermenting in French oak barrels and then go through secondary malolactic fermentation. This process gives the best California Chards and white Burgundies their famous characteristics of cream, vanilla, butter, and toast. Combined with the fruit elements, this is what makes the perfect Chardonnay. Unfortunately, this process is what makes the best Chardonnays expensive. And OF COURSE I love the expensive Chards! However, if you do your homework, you can find a wonderful Chard at a great price. For instance, Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay, is wonderful at about $20 at Costco if you can find it.
Don’t let price be your only guide, however. You must taste the wines. I have found many oaked Chards with a bitter aftertaste (“finish”) that detracted from the enjoyment of the wine, and that were so heavy in the oak characteristics that the fruit was lost altogether. The prices varied from inexpensive to “you’ve got to be kidding!!”
So there you have it. While I’ve hardly touched on all of the wonderful white wines that are available, I’ve shared a few of my favorites. Red wines will always be my first choice. But as we slide into warm summer days, it’s hard to beat a memorable glass of a slightly chilled white wine, fresh food of summer, and great company by the pool or on the patio on a sultry evening. That’s the closest thing to nirvana I can imagine.