Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wine (White)

I am going to take a rare departure from my normal brand of nonsense to prepare a couple of serious postings on a subject near and dear to my heart. Wine is one of my passions (along with great cigars and single-barrel whiskeys), and though learning about it is an never-ending process, I thought that I would share a few of the secrets that I have learned over the 26 years that I have been on my personal quest for enlightenment. 

I have always thought that the biggest shame about wine is that so many people fail to stray outside of the traditional Chardonnay / Cabernet offerings when there is so much out there that is really fun to experience. So I am going to touch on some of that variety and share my feelings on some of what is out there in the hopes that some of you out there reading this will expand your horizons. I may only touch on the bare bones of the subject, but this should give you a good place to begin your own journey.  

Please remember that none of these statements should be considered absolutes and all are strictly my opinion (good for a cup of coffee at Starbucks if you have $5), but the mistakes can often be as fun and instructive as anything that you could learn from me. The subject is too vast to cover in one posting, so I will do the best that I can on white wine here, and try again with reds on the next posting. I will also talk about some of the BS and truth that surrounds wine in this 2nd posting. Some of it is worth knowing. Please excuse also, my lack of knowledge on the European varieties. I know that they are supposed to be the best, but even after all of this time, I don't feel that I know enough about them to speak on their quality. I should note also, that I will not make specific recommendations as to a particular vineyard, but could be persuaded to part with such information on specific request. I will also try and list these wines in order of sweetness, from driest to sweetest. 

Semillon - this wine is often used for blending, but can taste great on its own. It tends to be very dry, with hints of apple and pear flavors and a hint of oak. (I like to say that it is as dry as a popcorn fart, but I tend to use strange images.) There are good ones produced in both California and Australia that are very reasonably priced. Pinot Grigio - this one tends toward peachy flavors with a tart finish. A very crisp wine that's great for sipping on a warm summer night, this one needs a bit of chilling. There are good ones to be found in both California and Oregon.  

Sauvingnon Blanc - this one tends towards an acid, citrus-like flavor and probably should be at least lightly-chilled as a consequence. Some of the better ones are labeled Fume Blanc instead, and tend to be a little less tart. My favorites here are from California. 

Chenin Blanc - this is an important grape in California because they retain their acidity and they are used a good bit for blending, but there are some goods wines to be had in this variety that are bottled under this name. It is often used as a significant component of White Zinfandel. (Sorry, but this is the only mention you will get from me on this blend. There are some rare examples that aren't Kool Aid, but for the most part, it just scares me.) The best examples of this that I have found were from California. 

Pinot Blanc - this wine is a dirty little secret for those who drink ABC wines (Anything But Chardonnay). It tends to be dry, but with little of the oak flavors that can make even Chardonnay a little bitter. It is not widely known, but if you can find a bottle, try it.  

Chardonnay - this wine comes in two varieties. The drier version leans towards the acid of a Sauvignon Blanc, having more citrus-like flavors, and sometimes with a hint of oak. There is another, more buttery version of this wine that is not nearly as tart, but retains a hint of the oak. Look for a wine that talks about a Malolactic fermentation if this is the style that you want to try. Surprisingly, this wine should not be too chilled. The better the wine, the less you want to chill it, as the lower temperature the more of the flavor can be hidden. There are so many good ones out there from all of the wine regions in the US and Australia that it would take an entire posting just to cover them. Don't be afraid of some of the blends either.  

Riesling - this one comes in a dry and off-dry variety with the sweetness varying accordingly. It tends to a higher residual sugar content though and you need to be prepared for the "pucker". California does OK with this wine, but Washington and Oregon tend to do better and as a rule 'late harvest' ones tend to be sweeter.  

Muscat - this one is really sweet, and really should be served as a desert wine. Unless you really like a sweet kind of wine, it can tend to be sugar water. I always recommend that you share your first bottle with friends, as a little bit can go a long way. That being said, it can be fun, served chilled on a hot day. I have found more from California than anywhere else.  

Ice Wine - this is sweetest of the bunch and is not to be taken on lightly. It should be consumed in small quantities both because of this sweetness, and because it costs a fortune. It is called ice wine because the grapes have to be left on the vines until the temperature is below freezing for 24 hours. The freezing removes some of the water from the grapes and concentrates the sugars unbelievably (and also makes picking them one of the most miserable jobs on the planet). Even a half bottle can go for a pretty steep price, but it is a fun wine with some apple pie or vanilla ice cream. The best come from the Niagra On The Lake region of Ontario, Canada; though NY does some respectable wines as well. My recommendation with most of these wines would be to chill them pretty well to start with, then taste a little bit as you go along. You will be amazed at the change in the flavor and complexity as the wine warms up a bit. 

The most important thing to learn is that more expensive is not always better, and that the best wines are the ones that you like. I hope that you get to take advantage of this and taste a wine that you haven't had before. I will finish up with the reds tomorrow. 




Hooda Thunkit said...

Hmmm, and my fairly unsophisticated palate finds enjoyment sampling mostly fruit wines other than grape, although I do tolerate a semi-sweet Niagara now and then ;-)

Tim Higgins said...

I don't believe any palate is unsophisticated, but then again I am unsophisticated. The secrets to wine are two:

1.The best wines are the ones that you like.
2. Never be afraid to try something, it might surprise you