White wines come in many shapes and sizes; some from red grapes, some from white grapes. What many people are unaware of is that when any grape (except for 2 in the world) are pressed, white juice comes out, in fact, Pinot Grigio comes from a purple grape. The most popular whites in the world right now are Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio with Sauvignon Blanc following close behind.
Coming from Germany; Finger Lakes, NY; Washington State; Austria; Australia; California; Oregon; France; and Switzerland,. This grape really picks up the nuances of where it’s grown. Ranging from dry to dessert wine sweet, this is a great entry level wine that can be enjoyed by everyone. On German Rieslings, look for the word Kabinett which tells you it’s got a touch of sweetness to it. New York Rieslings will generally tell you whether or not the wine is sweet or dry. In Washington, most are semi-dry and will just say Riesling on the bottle. These wines are great with spicy Caribbean, Indian, Chinese or Thai foods. Chateau St. Michelle from Washington is a great stand by and great entry level Riesling at about $9 a bottle. For a great German Riesling, try JJ Prum, ranging anywhere from $17 to $200 a bottle. Despite the big price tag, these are some of the best Rieslings in the world!
Many people think of chardonnay as a big, oaky, buttery, creamy white wine. In some cases such as Rombauer or Chalk Hill this is true, but there are many that see no oak at all, such as Yalumba from Australia, or Kim Crawford from New Zealand. They are fermented and aged solely in stainless steel. When chardonnay is done this way, it’s crisp and bright with great tropical fruit flavors. This can be a tough wine to pair with food, but a good rule of thumb is that the heavier the dish, the heavier the Chardonnay. So Rombauer Chardonnay, being a big, heavy, and creamy wine, you’d want to make sure that is paired with big flavors like a pork tenderloin or a Roasted chicken. If you prefer just a touch of oak, try some French Chardonnays from Burgundy. An entry level burgundy like Albert Bichot Bourgogne will run you about $15 a bottle, and offers a great contrast to big oaky California wines.
Very light and crisp, this is a VERY difficult wine with food because it’s so light and fruity. This wine can be paired with salads or fruit appetizers but not much else. Even very light fish can overpower this delicate wine. It’s delicacy and fruity crispness has made this one of the most popular wines in the US. From entry level wines like Cavit, at $7 a bottle, to Attems, at $15 a bottle, Pinot Grigio is very similar. With more expensive Pinot Grigio you will tend to get a more mineral driven wine with more layers of complexity. There is never a need to spend more than $15 for a Pinot Grigio, anything above that is considerably over-priced, such as Santa Margherita.
The most popular Sauvignon Blancs currently are from New Zealand such as Kim Crawford. These wines have ripe grapefruit on the nose, sometimes hints of green bell pepper. But don’t pin yourself down to New Zealand because there are great Sauvignon Blancs grown all over the world. Some of the most famous come from California; Bordeaux and the Loire valley of France in regions such as Sancerre and Puilly Fume. Fume Blanc is an invented name for an oak treated Sauvignon Blanc from California. Mr. Mondavi invented this name in the 70’s to try to sell more Sauvignon Blanc after he returned from the Loire Valley to learn more about the grape. This wine is a perfect seafood accompaniment. The citrus acidity component in this wine works beautifully with shellfish or white fish. Clams, Mussels, Sole, Flounder or Haddock, this is a perfect wine no matter how these are prepared. A couple great wines for the money are Joseph Carr Sauvignon Blanc from California, at $15 a bottle, and Matua Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand for about $9.
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Jon Link, Sommelier