Q&A: Light White Wine That Isn't Chardonnay
Continuing our Q&A feature on the Binny's Blog, here is a question submitted in the comments section of a previous blog entry:
I really love white wine, but I find that the lighter it is, the better I like it. I really don't care for Chardonnay, but I enjoy Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, etc. with just about everything. My favorites tend to be Californian or French. What are some of the newer, "light" whites out there?
- Anne, via Binny's Blog comment
This question comes up a lot on the sales floor. There seems to be a backlash against the heavier chardonnay coming out of California. I've met plenty of people who say they're looking for "ABC" Anything But Chardonnay. Fortunately, there is a world of fresh, light, white wine out there. Here are just a few suggestions:
A Few Light Whites
If you're looking for something really light, try vinho verde. This Portuguese white blend is light and fresh and usually just a little fizzy. Though it's not a very serious wine, the fresh flavors and low alcohol (and low price) make it perfect for patio sipping on a warm spring day, which we're due for any day here in Chicago. While the similarities across vinho verde brands are stronger than the differences, I always recommend Casal Garcia and Gazela as consistent values.
Taking a step in a little more serious direction, give gruner veltliner a try. This white grape from Austria is known for its delicate qualities, featuring notes of peaches and light citrus fruits, perfume and mineral. It might compare to a more refined and withheld sauvignon blanc. Gruner veltliner is light enough to pair with sushi, and will go with vegetables and cream sauces well. Some regional and single-vineyard bottlings can get expensive, but there are always values to be found, like the Lois, Hugo and GruVe.
Also, be sure to check out Albarino. Binny's carries a good selection from the Rias Baixas region in Spain, though we're starting to see the grape from elsewhere, too. This light and aromatic white is recommended for fans of pinot gris (or pinot grigio). Albarino displays strong fruit notes of peach and apricot with lively acidity and a more broad texture on the palate. Martin Codax and Burgans are very well-established, Paco y Lola is a recent favorite of mine, or try La Cana for a more broad and fat Albarino.
Don't Discount Chardonnay
I know you're looking for wines that aren't chardonnay, but don't write off the versatile grape entirely. Many producers are making lighter-styled chardonnay by using (or by avoiding) certain winemaking techniques.
One such technique that gives so much chardonnay a heavy reputation is the use of oak aging, which can impart notes of baking spices or vanilla to the wine. Another technique is sur-lie aging, French for "on the lees," meaning the yeasts that ferment wine are left in the must longer, resulting in bready or nutty notes. Also, many winemakers use a process known as malolactic fermentation, which converts the wine's tart malic acid (think granny smith apples) into lactic acid, an acid compound actually found in some dairy products. This conversion means a wine changes from tart and bright to fatter and creamier. I'd recommend a chardonnay that avoids these winemaking practices.
You mentioned that you like French whites try a white from Macon, a region in the South of Burguny, and home of the famous appelation Pouilly Fuisse. Whites from the Maconnais are almost entirely chardonnay, but are more crisp and light than many chards from the US. Also, many producers all over the globe are offering "unoaked" chardonnay, which can be more light than you might expect. Be careful, though, I've tasted a few unoaked chards that are still quite heavy due to malolactic fermentation.
I hope you find some new favorites! Be sure to let us at the Binny's Blog know if you found something you like or dislike. We're always happy to compare notes. If you have a question you'd like to pose the the Binny's Blog, post a comment or email gversch [at] binnys [dot] com.