And now for something completely different
By JARRETT DEERWESTER, Sommelier
Chardonnay, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling… All great white wines, but what if you are in the mood to explore off the well-worn white wine path for something completely different?
Throughout history, nearly every region in the world has produced unique wines using native grape varietals combined with soils, topography, and climate ― all of which combine to create unique environmental factors know as a region’s “Terrior.” As the wine market became a global market over the last century, the number of unique varietals declined. The global wine market became more homogenous with many countries and continents producing wines using the same cloned root stock to produce very similar wines. Luckily for us, the globalization trends are reversing and many ancient varietals are enjoying a modern-day renaissance. In this article, we will explore several unique white wine varietals that most readers may not be completely familiar with.
Grüner Veltliner is a grape varietal native to Southeast and Eastern Europe, grown primarily in Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Austria. It also is currently produced by American Vineyards in cooler climate zones such as Washington, Oregon, and in the Finger Lakes region of New York. This green skinned grape produces a white wine that is particularly food friendly and graces the wine list of many fine restaurants. Illahe of Oregon produces an Estate Grüner Veltliner for $19.99 that is light in body but dense with aromas of dried peach, honey crisp apple, and fresh cedar board. This wine is fermented in Acacia barrels which impart herbal flavors and complex texture. This wine pairs wonderfully with a variety of dishes such as lean pork, seafood, chicken, and salads.
Aligoté is the second most planted varietal grape in Burgundy after Chardonnay. It is also cultivated in eastern European countries such as Romania, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. Aligoté is tolerant to cold and poorer soils, so often it is planted at the top and bottom of a vineyard slope in lesser soils other grapes cannot tolerate. This grape thrives in the cooler climates found in Washington State and Jed Steele of Shooting Star Winery produced a wonderful barrel fermented ‘14 Aligoté. The wine is crisp and clean, a wine with a nice balance of fruit and acidity. Flinty mineral elements mix with a light floral nose. Like the Grüner Veltliner, this is an extremely versatile food wine and works with a wide range of dishes such as shrimp, lobster, pork, and salads. This wine is the backbone of the classic French aperitif the “Kir” made by combining two tablespoons of Créme de cassis in a glass of Aligoté.
Torrontés is the flagship white grape of Argentina. This varietal thrives at higher altitudes and requires particular skill on the part of the winemaker to maintain suitable acid levels to balance the fruit. The wine is best drunk young and within the first year of the vintage date, and it can resemble Gewürztraminer in its subtle spice and floral notes. Colomé produces a fine example of this with its ‘16 Estate Grown High Altitude Torrontés.
Explore a bit this month and step off the path of common white wines and seek out at least one bottle of adventurous wine!