Top 5 ‘off-the-beaten-path’ white grapes
Would you eat only hamburgers or spaghetti for lunch every day? While most of us would balk at the prospect of choosing from only a handful of meal options, we sometimes fall into exactly that rut when it comes to wine.
But there’s no reason to accept being stuck in that rut, because there’s never been a better time to be a wine lover. We have a more diverse selection of wines available at higher quality levels (and at more reasonable prices) than ever before.
If you’ve found that you’re growing tired of drinking the same white wines (such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc) over and over again, it’s time to end the wine doldrums. Here are a few white wine varieties that don’t get a lot of time in the spotlight, but are well worth a search, and are just waiting for you to discover their charms.
Scroll through for a crash course in lesser know white grape varieties….
If you’ve grown a bit weary of Sauvignon Blanc, but still want a refreshing white sipper to pair with your summer salad or grilled fish, then take a look at Albariño. This grape has the familiar tangy, vibrant zing of Sauvignon Blanc, but offers something a bit more exotic in its aromas of citrus, apricots, and white flowers.
Portuguese by birth, the Albariño grape likes to spend its time in warm, sunny places. Plantings of this versatile grape made their way from Portugal to the warmer areas of neighboring Spain, and eventually forward-thinking farmers started to plant it in similar climates farther from its home turf (it now thrives in California, as well).
If you prefer a lighter style of Sauvignon Blanc, look for a Portuguese Albariño as an alternative. For those who like their white wines a on the riper, richer side, try an Albariño from Spain or California. While styles differ between regions, almost all Albariño wines will be relatively low in alcohol, so just about any of them will provide food-friendly refreshment.
Chardonnay is loved worldwide, for good reason. But if you’re finding your favorite Chardonnay wines a bit too predictable lately, check out the equally rich, but more effusive, Chenin Blanc.
Chenin Blanc hails from the Loire Valley in France, where it is made into almost every wine style imaginable, from sparkling, to austerely dry, to teeth-achingly sweet. It now does well in California, and excels in South Africa, where drier, Chardonnay-like styles are the most common. Chenin Blanc is intoxicating, and not just because of its rich, full body; it’s a complexly aromatic grape, with heady aromas of honey, tropical fruits, and wet river rocks.
All of that complexity makes Chenin Blanc a good wine to contemplate and enjoy on its own, but its high acidity also gives it food pairing versatility. Try lighter or off-dry styles with Chinese food, and richer versions with pâté, chicken, or pasta with cream sauce.
When you meet someone whose name means “spicy”, you know you’re in for an interesting experience. The Gewürztraminer grape is a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, but bears little resemblance to that racy variety. For starters, Gewürztraminer actually has a pink – rather than white – skin, and tends to be higher in alcohol and lower in acidity, giving it a broad, luxuriant mouthfeel.
Moscato lovers will be drawn in by Gewürztraminer’s silky, unctuous texture and familiar aromas, which can be incredibly floral (think of putting your face into a bouquet of roses and taking a deep breath, and you’ll get the idea). But Gewürztraminer often takes things to another aromatic level, adding notes of exotic spices, apples, and lychee.
Gewürztraminer calls Alsace (in France) home, and that’s where the world’s best can still be found. But this is a grape that travels well, and excellent examples can be had from Germany, California, and Washington State. All of that spiciness, usually coupled with a touch of sweetness, makes Gewürztraminer a grape that loves to cozy up to Asian, Thai, and Indian cuisine.
Wine buffs know Austrian Grüner Veltliner, German Riesling, and French Sauvignon Blanc to all be great matches with vegetables. While those grapes are justifiably popular with the wine crowd, there are alternatives if you’re feeling burnt out on any (or all) of them. Take Portugal’s Verdelho, a grape that has a long history of making long-lived fortified wines on the island of Madeira, but can now be found as a dry table wine, too.
Verdelho is grown in Portugal, Spain, California, and Australia, and is known for its medium body and vibrant, citric tanginess. Aromatically, this grape combines elements of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc (think stone fruits, white and black pepper, herbs, citrus, and honeysuckle), which makes it a good choice for those who enjoy those wines. Grilled vegetables are a natural match for Verdelho, but it is also traditionally paired with salted fish, and can easily cut through the richness of fried seafood.
Italy is home to an almost inconceivable number of wine grapes, both native and imported. That country’s secret white wine weapon, however, just might be a grape with an origin that remains a mystery: Vermentino.
While many believe Vermentino to be indigenous to Italy’s Liguria area, both Spain and Provence (in France) have laid claim to it, as well. When you put your nose into a glass of great Vermentino wine, however, its combination of the familiar and the exotic will make you forget all about the controversy of its origins.
If you’re a fan of Pinot Grigio and want something with more pizzazz, Vermentino is the first place you’ll want to look. At first, Vermentino’s lemon and melon aromas and flavors will feel like familiar territory, but this grape adds a compelling air of mystery by including aromas of leafy herbs, toasted nuts, white flowers, and, on occasion, perfume. In terms of food, if it comes from the sea and can be baked or grilled, Vermentino will feel right at home with it.
Being stuck in a wine rut doesn’t just affect white wine drinkers, and if you are starting to feel the same way about your reds, there are many varieties you can try to switch it up. Try something new! Step out of your comfort zone, and start branching out with your wine choices!