Turn off the Chardonnay Highway
Summer’s heat lends itself so nicely to refreshing white wines. Chardonnay is the go-to for white wine drinkers in the United States, so, yes, of course, grab a glass on a balmy eve. Beyond Chardonnay, though, there’s a world of delightful white wines waiting to be discovered.
So some Albariño, perhaps? A sip of Grüner Veltliner?
As a sommelier, I tell people that knowing your preference for a wine should serve as a launching pad to explore and discover new-to-you wines. Lately, I have been challenging people to try some of the lesser-known varietal whites to expand their palate.
We’re fortunate that wineries in Ventura County, and our neighbors to the north, are making Chardonnays and weaving into the mix many other interesting whites. This means expanding your palate exponentially only takes a short drive, about $10 for a wine tasting and an open mind.
Here’s a taste to get you started:
If you like oaky Chardonnay, a full-bodied, rounded white with softer fruit that has flavors like vanilla, toast, butterscotch, caramel and baking spices imparted by the aging barrels…
Explore: Rhône varietal wines, like Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne are most often blended with one another, but they are now sometimes offered as single-varietal bottles, thanks to the Rhône Rangers, an organization dedicated to teaching and promoting Rhône-style winemaking in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Full-bodied Viognier (Vee-ohn-YAY) has a similar body and is often aged in oak. Viognier smells sweet like apricots, peaches, citrus and white flowers and is dry on the palate. While no one really knows the grape’s origins, it’s said to date back to the Roman Empire.
Marsanne (Mar-SAHN) is a low-acidity wine with aromas of wildflowers, citrus, melon and almonds. Great places to try these are Los Olivos wineries Tercero Wines (TerceroWines.com) or Demetria Estate (DemetriaEstate.com).
Roussanne (ROO-sahn) is very floral and herbaceous with a touch of honey. Its high acid makes it tart, and when blended adds structure and longevity to Viognier and Marsanne. Flavors of Rousanne are most often apricot, pear and tropical with nutty and sometimes bitter notes.
If you like Sauvignon Blanc, an aromatic wine that skews toward citrus and grapefruit flavors, and has herbal aromas and a sharp, crisp acidity…
Explore: Albariño or Grüner Veltliner
Albariño (al-baa-REE-nyo) (or Alvarinho), a Spanish grape associated with Spain’s Galicia region and northern Portugal that shares Sauvignon Blanc’s grapefruit, citrus character, bright acidity and has floral aromas. It’s a light, refreshing summer sipper.
With roots in Austria, Grüner Veltliner (GROO-ner VEHLT-ly-ner) is typically unoaked, revealing flavors of green apple, peach and sweet citrus, along with spicy notes. Grüner Veltliner goes with almost anything, including typically difficult food pairings like green vegetables and salads.
If you like Pinot Grigio, or unoaked Chardonnay with its lemon, lime and green apple flavors and none of the vanilla and cream associated with oak…
Explore: Dry Riesling, Dry Chenin Blanc, Albariño or Grüner Veltliner…
While Dry Riesling (REEZ-ling) or Dry Chenin Blanc (Shay- NAN Blahn) grapes often are used to make sweet wines, they can also make wines that are bone dry. Dry Riesling has floral, peach and apricot notes. Making Riesling bone dry seems to be the trend among Ventura County winemakers.
Dry Chenin Blanc is an expressive wine with notes ranging from apple to pineapple and cantaloupe. Moscato fans should search out the sweeter styles of Riesling and Chenin Blanc.
Lisa Stoll is a sommelier with Level 3 advanced certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. To learn more, visit ExploreWines.com.