Chances are you have seen the “Anything But Chardonnay” sign in your local wine shop. Sure, these “ABC” signs can be interpreted as an indication that Chardonnay is now passé. We, however, prefer to think of ABC not as snobbery, but as an invitation into a world of other fabulous white varietals just waiting to be explored.
Many of the whites like Rieslings and Gerwürztraminers have big fruit and flower scents and crisp acidity that make them easy to pair with all sorts of food. Some have yet to be discovered by many Americans—Grüner Veltliner, for instance, with its light body and spicy taste, is eminently drinkable and just starting to increase in popularity here. It’s almost solely produced in Austria, where it accounts for more than one-third of all the wine grapes grown. Pinot Grigio, which many people know as an Italian wine, has ascended to challenge Chardonnay; why not try one from Oregon? You’ll need to look for Pinot Gris, which is what the French and most Oregon producers call the grape. (The wine world seems to have a handful of names for each grape variety just to keep us on our toes—Ruländer, Tokay d’Alsace, Grauburgunder and Petit Gris are just a few of the other names that Pinot Grigio goes by.)
In our quest for commendable ABC whites, we limited ourselves to wines made from one grape, as opposed to blends of several types of grapes. We also excluded the ever popular Sauvignon Blanc, which we happen to love, but did not seem to fit the spirit of experimentation. We each independently found and tasted about 10 bottles with friends and partners, then narrowed our selection to two finalists apiece and got together to drink and discuss. We relished our ABC experimentation and we’re sure you’ll find some new favorites among these six refreshing summer picks in three affordable price ranges.
Indaba, Chenin Blanc (South Africa) 2004 $8
Called Pinot Blanco in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Argentina and Vouvray in France, this crisp, dry white is one of the most versatile grape varieties. Strong citrus aromas are echoed in the flavor with hints of grass, green apple, honey and nutmeg. Enjoy as an aperitif or with Mexican or other spicy food, like Thai Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce.
Firestone Vineyard, Gewürztraminer (California) 2004 $10
“Gewurz” means “spice” in German, and this highly fragrant wine lives up to its name in both its lively nose and its complex taste. Heady floral aromas lead to peach, pineapple and clove flavors in a very drinkable wine. Its spiciness can stand up to barbecued ribs and chicken, making it the right white for your backyard grilling sessions. Echo its peach flavor and serve it with Pork Tenderloin with Grilled Peach-Ginger Chutney.
A to Z, Pinot Gris (Oregon) 2004 $13
Oregon is one of the few places in the U.S. where this grape has been planted and grown with continued success. Brilliant aromas of lime, lychee and a hint of butterscotch combine in this concentrated wine. Medium-bodied with lively melon and citrus zest, this white is succulent with a long finish that isn’t overbearing. It is food-friendly as well as being conducive to sipping on the porch on a hot Sunday afternoon. Serve with Grilled Shrimp Cocktail with Yellow Gazpacho Salsa for a stunning first course at your next summer dinner party.
Burgáns, Albariño (Spain) 2004 $14
Vintages made with the Albariño grape are nicknamed Wines of the Sea because they originate from coastal vineyards in Spain and Portugal and pair wonderfully with seafood. This vibrant, straw-colored gem tastes as brilliant as it looks. It starts with fresh apple and sweet melon flavors and finishes with subtle toasty wood. Dry with a creamy texture, this is a delightfully complex wine. Nosh on Chewy Manioc Cheese Puffs while sipping a glass.
Hirsch, Veltliner #1 (Austria) 2004 $14
The Grüner Veltliner grape is usually left unoaked to let its big fruit flavors shine. The pale Hirsch has luscious floral aromas and tart grapefruit, lime and green apple flavors. Match it with sushi, a tangy coleslaw or other foods that share its bright acidity.
Hermann J. Wiemer, Riesling Dry (Finger Lakes, NY) 2004 $16
Riesling is native to Germany but is now grown all over the world, including New York state, where it flourishes. Wiemer’s delicious version has a hint of sweetness that is perfectly balanced with just enough acidity. It has bold apple, pear, citrus and lychee flavors. The food-pairing possibilities for this wine are enormous–think assertive flavors like those in Thai or Chinese food, such as Five-Spice Turkey & Lettuce Wraps.
—By Jessie Price, Susan Buchanan & Carolyn Malcoun