The beauty of wine is its diversity.
It’s not just that wines come in different colours, or that some are from the ‘old world’ and some are from the ‘new world’. Those are, in and of themselves, interesting parameters by which to define preferences, but that is only the start of the journey.
There are thousands of wine regions around the world. And more and more wines from those areas are available on the shelves of your corner wine store. For courageous wine lovers, the beauty of globalization is evident, not to mention delicious.
For the fearful drinker, however, the added choices can be daunting. Exotic place names and grapes can sometimes mean the cautious prefer to stick to known knowns. But in the face of such choice, there is serious upside to being adventurous. Fear not, timid wine drinker, because to stray is to travel to a new destination and experience a new place. Embrace that opportunity.
In the spirit of lighter days and warmer winds, knowing that green grass and flower blossoms will soon be upon us, here are eight suggestions for still (as opposed to bubbly) white wines worth pouring this spring and all summer, in no particular order. The title of each suggestion gives you the wine, the region (where applicable), and the country of origin. Look for them at your local wine store and be sure to share your thoughts about them here on Rustik.
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Le Marche, Italy
Verdicchio (pronounced ver-DI-key-oh) is the grape. Jesi is the town, and its environs are where one finds the Castelli (fortified villages) from where the grapes for this wine originates. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. In fact, it’s typically very easy drinking and light-bodied, with nice citrus notes and minerality, too. Made predominantly from Verdicchio grapes, the wine is enjoyable on its own or a great match with seafood. A wine that’s easy to drink and love… can’t ask for anything more than that.
Muscadet, Loire Valley, France
Muscadet (pronounced mus-cah-DAY) is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape and comes from the Pays Nantais region of the Loire Valley. Most widely available is Muscadet ‘Sevre et Maine’, named for the area where those two rivers converge. Muscadets can be extremely understated wines, verging on bland. In order to overcome this and experience an otherwise delicious white wine, do the following: 1) always buy from a good producer (Domaine de la Pepiere, for example); and 2) always buy a ‘sur lie’ variant. That term translates literally as ‘on the yeast’ and simply means the wine has spent a long time with the yeast used in its making – sometimes for months – before being bottled. The reason for time ‘sur lie’ is because it adds much-needed richness. Delicious with all shellfish and seafood.
Torrontés, Salta, Argentina
Torrontés (pronounced tohr-ron-TEZ) is fast becoming a star grape, and white wine, for Argentina. Everyone equates the big red Malbec with Argentina, but Torrontés is gaining ground. As with any new wine, there is still wild variability amongst producers, but as a broad generalization, the best Torrontés comes from the Salta region. Here, the grapes vines grow at upwards of 9,000 feet, which gives them the benefit of strong sun exposure in the day, but nice cool nights to preserve acidity in the grapes. The result is a wine with unbelievably vivid perfume on the nose – orange blossom and honeysuckle to name a couple – but also delicious vibrancy on the palate. Great on its own, or paired with Chinese, Thai and Indian.
Grüner-Veltliner (pronounced GREW-ner velt-LEEN-er) is the hottest thing to come out of Austria since Falco. Deliciously versatile and still affordable, savour the minerality, acidity and citrus-driven flavour profile along with the subtle, spicy pop of white pepper and green herbs. This Austrian beauty is delicious as a sipper, but its real star power comes through on the dinner table. It’s a cuisine superhero ready to complement chicken and pork dishes, or shine with trickier vegetarian cuisine, featuring notoriously difficult-to-pair veggies such as artichokes and asparagus. There are several regions that produce Grüner with sightly different classifications/styles, in particular, the Wachau region. Best get a little guidance from the sales folks at your local store to make sure you take home wine that matches your preference.
Vinho Verde, Minho, Portugal
Vinho Verde (pronounced vin-yo VER-deh) translates literally from Portuguese as green wine. It’s not green, per se, but rather very young wine from a blend of traditional grapes. The New York Times wine critic, Eric Asimov, jokingly translates the name as “cheap and cheerful,” and he’s not far off the mark. A bottle of Vinho Verde is lively and vibrant, bright and energetic. It’s sometimes even a little fizzy. But more than anything else, it is simple and honest. Considering the price point of Vinho Verde (typically less than $10), the value is high, the pleasure derived from drinking it is high, and given its moderate alcohol levels (9-12 percent), you can afford to over-enjoy this tangy little wine without too much guilt.
Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece
Assyrtiko (pronounced ah-SEER-tee-koh) is an indigenous grape from the picturesque island of Santorini. It’s on a meteoric rise among connoisseurs because the wine it makes is beautifully expressive, with loads of palate-cleansing acidity and lingering minerality. Beyond this, however, is a most captivating detail about the way Assyrtiko vines are trained. They’re not trellised, like in a traditional vineyard, but instead wound into wreathes on the ground to protect from the hot, desiccating winds. As a result, vineyards on Santorini look like Christmas wreath farms, which captures what the wines are – an amazingly special gift.
Arneis, Piedmont, Italy
Arneis (pronounced arh-NAY-es) survived thanks to a couple of dedicated winemakers. This grape was on the verge of extinction, with just a few hectares of the vines in existence as recently as the 1960s. But starting in the early 1970s, winemakers Alfredo Currado and Bruno Giacosa – unflinching in their efforts to bring Arneis back from the brink – devoted themselves to this endangered varietal. Their efforts, as well as a willingness amongst intrepid wine drinkers to embrace the grape, has kept the wine world that much richer. The floral-scented Arneis is backed by pear and apricot notes on the palate. Roero, a region in Piedmont, is recognized for the best expressions of Arneis and high quality producers, such as Vietti, Giacosa and Brovia, are worth the premium.
Txakolina, Pais Vasco, Spain
Txakolina (pronounced chack-oh-LEE-nah or sometimes Txakoli, CHACK-oh-lee) comes from Spain’s Basque Country. Made primarily from the Hondurabbi Zuri grape, native to the area, Txakolina is a white wine with all the classic hallmarks of being easy to drink and easy to love. These wines are meant to be drunk very young, and thanks to their searing acidity, as a natural accompaniment for shellfish and seafood. The Basque people are known to celebrate life and they do it primarily through food and drink. Txakolina is the liquid essence of that celebration.