Friday, November 18, 2011

A Chill in the Air, Some Whites for your Glass

I had a couple of requests after the last column (“A Chill in the Air, some Reds for your Glass") for a companion piece on cool-weather whites. As I ease into fall, I tend to think about white wines less. I don’t usually get a craving for a big glass of pinot grigio on a day where the wind is whipping the heat from my bones, but I can’t lose sight of them altogether. Dinner parties, social events, or perhaps the occasional 80 degree day in December might call for whites, albeit slightly heavier ones. Here are a few that you might want to stash away:

Yalumba 2010 Viognier – I haven’t had a lot of luck with inexpensive Viognier lately. Viognier’s a great blustery-weather white. It’s probably got my favorite white wine aromatics, but the inexpensive ones can taste a little bit “oily” and have an alkaline aftertaste. Not pleasant in my opinion and not my usual cup of tea. Still, since it had been a while and after happening along a few offerings from South Australia, I thought I’d give the grape another whirl. I was pleasantly surprised to find this one. The Yalumba (great name, too – Aboriginal Australian for “all the land around”) has plenty of peach and floral scents on the nose, followed up by a nicely balanced peach flavor. It’s “weighty without being heavy,” if that makes sense. Viognier is a great choice with a traditional turkey meal and it also works well with spicy stuff. As a bit of a warning, this is a high-alcohol white. It clocks in at 14.5%, which is around cabernet sauvignon level. Not to worry, the alcohol is masked with a little residual sweetness. Swirl well and approach gently. $9.

Villa Maria 2008 Marlborough Riesling – Staying with the Down Under selections, we pop “next door” to New Zealand for this extremely food-friendly Riesling. I found it to be a intriguing mix of some of my favorite “traditional” Riesling styles. My best description would be “dropping a hunk of pineapple into a glass of Alsace Riesling.” Alsace Rieslings are almost always bone dry and full of mineral flavors, while the pineapple reminds me of Pacific Northwest dry Riesling. Trust me – for some reason it works. The Villa Maria has a lovely tropical-fruit-and-flowers nose. I picked up lots of minerality at first taste, blended with the aforementioned pineapple. The burst of fruit quickly yields to dryness and flint on the finish. If you enjoy “drinking rocks” as I do, you’ll love this wine. At around $13, this is a nice alternative to more expensive Alsatian offerings.

Adler Fels “Kitchen Sink” (NV) California White Table Wine – I’m honestly not sure why I picked this wine up. I was browsing the California white section for a sauvignon blanc. Since I’d used “everything but the kitchen sink” in a work context that day, the faucet on the label caught my eye. I took that as a sign. I read the back label and thought, “Huh…Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Gewurztraminer. That should be fun.” I thought it might have a little more oomph than a sauvignon blanc for the meal I was planning, and I wasn’t disappointed. Even though it’s comprised of over one-third California chardonnay, it’s still a fruity, acidic white. My first taste yielded lemons and tangerines. The finish is surprisingly crisp even with its nice weight. I thought it was very pleasant on both palate and pocketbook for around 10 bucks. What was the meal? Orecchiette pasta with chickpeas, greens, and grilled calamari (sounds weird, tastes nummy). Flavors from all directions made friends in this pairing. I would imagine it would stand up to cream sauces as well.

Gruet (NV) Blanc de Noirs – I would be remiss in putting together a whites column without throwing in a sparkler. One of the primary differences I find between French sparkling wines and other sparklers like cava is the “creamy” flavor that accompanies the fruit and the bubbles in the French offerings. There’s usually also a pleasant, somewhat “yeasty” aroma in the bouquet that reminds me a little of freshly baked bread. When I got a sip of this little number from New Mexico, I thought it was about as French-tasting as any inexpensive sparkling wine I’ve sampled. I found berries and cream on the tongue with good “mousse” (WineSpeak for “bubble strength and feel). The finish is toasty and pleasant. We cracked this as an aperitif for a recent dinner party for our neighbors (including Dinner Club Jeff) and it got raves. Around $12-13 and well worth it.

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