Bringing sexy (grapes) back

So what?s the new ?in? thing in wines? What are all the trendy yuppies and urbanites washing down their lamb, Chilean sea bass and sushi with? From what I?ve seen in the wine world, and spoken about with clients & professionals, the hottest trends are dominated by indigenous white grapes. This is not to say that white is going to overtake red anytime soon as king of the marketplace. Red wine is still entirely more popular than white, with it outselling at about 4 to 1. However, people who are moved by the, let’s say, fashionable side of life have a ?been there, done that? mentality and want something new & intriguing. Wines from the southern hemisphere have been hot for a while. Look at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Australian Shiraz. Argentinian Malbec is still ?en fuego?, and we all know what Sideways did for Pinot Noir.

The only new red that has the potential to blow up is the Mencia grape, from Spain, which I?ll write more about at a later date. It seems though that most people have tried these wines, loved them or hated them and are looking for something new. Now several white wines have finally been given their chance to shine. It?s time for Verdejo, Albari?o, Gruner Veltliner & Vermentino to glisten in the consumer?s limelight.

The Spanish seem to keep impressing us with one new varietal after another. One of these new great wines capable of dancing all over our palates is Verdejo. It is indigenous to the region of Rueda, right next to Toro, just one hour north of Madrid. I first tried this varietal only two years ago, from a producer called Naia ($14).

It was a sunny summer day in Boston and I was looking for something different to tickle my tongue. Naia has an eye-catching label, with a cream colored background and bright orange font accentuated by squiggly lines all over. Once the wine was in the glass I couldn?t put it down! The tropical flavors of kiwi & guava were prominent while the hints of citrus and a very pleasant herbaceous note lingered in the background. While living on Hawaii I discovered that Naia has an extended family: a big sister, Naiades, and a little sister, Las Brisas. The best Verdejo goes into the Naiades and weighs in at about double the price of Naia. Las Brisas is mostly Verdejo but blended with Viura (a.k.a. Macabeo, one of the varietals used in the sparkling wine of Spain, Cava) and Sauvignon Blanc. Still, Las Brisas is a delicious, fun, picnic or sneak to the beach kind of wine for right around $10. This is a wine to buy by the case!

It is in the northwestern portion of the Iberian Peninsula that we must go to find our next white grape. It is known by two names, Albari?o & Alvarinho. This grape is very thick skinned & productive, yet low yielding due to the small amount of juice that can be obtained from it. In Spain it is grown in Rias Baixas, (pronounce the x like ?sh?) the region located in the northern part of Spain that extends over Portugal; there it is called Albari?o. It?s also grown in Portugal, known as Alvarinho, where it constitutes a large percentage in one of the world?s most over-looked, undervalued wine regions, ?Vinho Verde? (green wine). Generally the Portuguese use this varietal for more of a high-quality table wine. In Spain they are medium to full-bodied and tend to exhibit sexy, peachy-lime & apricot fruit characteristics while maintaining good balance and acidity. Think of an exotic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that is more voluptuous & round and not quite as dry or tart. Try it with full flavored entrees that you would normally have a full-bodied Chardonnay with. Good dishes include: lobster, scallops beurre blanc, mahi mahi, or sole. One example that I really like is called Arrantei, which retails for around $18. There?s another, Mar De Frades ($15), that comes in a unique blue bottle with a boat on the label (The boat only appears when it?s ready to serve and disappears when it?s too warm). I just found out while searching for the correct spelling that it was actually featured as Drink of the Week! How?s that for an advertisement?! But these wines need no advertising, as they are some of the finest whites that Spain & Portugal have to offer. This grape would be my pick as the hottest new thing in the wine world.

Some people might never think of Austria as a world class wine producer because of its more common association with the Alps, yodeling & skiing. RI-COLA! However it has surprised everyone in the past few years as quality Gruner Veltliner has found its way to the American palate. This is not a wine for the masses but for a more sophisticated wine drinker. You can find it now at a lot of the hip, contemporary wine bars and restaurants where it is often referred to as ?GruVe?. One of the most notable characteristics of the wine is the aroma of freshly cracked white pepper. It is pale in color and on the palate it is usually light to medium bodied unless made in an off-dry style or into an eiswein. When made traditionally, it is very vivid and known for being spicy and showing vegetal or legume flavors. The flip side, being an ?international? style, contributes butterscotch, spice & tropical flavors on a creamier, full bodied scale. Generally speaking, the ones that we are most likely to encounter in the U.S. are the former; as the latter are usually part of an extremely miniscule operation that, if we are lucky, makes 100 cases.

Last but not least is Vermentino, which is mostly grown on the French island of Corsica, the island of Sardinia and the northwestern Italian region of Liguria. If you really look you might even find some Californian versions from Tablas Creek or Uvaggio. It is a medium-bodied, deliciously bright, fresh and focused wine with loads of citrus and tropical flavors. Try it with raw seafood, grilled fish, on a sun filled day, or all three! This is not a wine of contemplation and subtleties, but don?t say I didn?t warn you when all of your friends fall in love with it and finish it all.

On a related subject, there is a new brand of wine glasses from a Danish company named Eisch. Each glass retails for about $15-$25, depending upon the purpose of the glass. They are the first to produce a glass that prematurely ages or aerates wine through the composition and treatment of the crystal. What every person promoting these glasses will tell you is that in just 2-4 minutes it alters the wine to be smoother, less tannic & more integrated. What they won?t tell you is what happens to the wine after those 2-4 minutes. What stops the wine glass from aerating the wine? NOTHING! Over-aeration of a wine eventually leads to oxidation and is a very non-desirable quality of wine. Think about a bottle or glass of wine that you left in the open air for a while and how it tasted when you came back to it. Now maybe these Eisch lovers pour just enough wine in the glass to ?breath?, drink it in one gulp and then repeat, over and over again. I highly doubt it, but that?s the only way I could possibly see them as beneficial. Nonetheless through multiple tastings with other wine professionals and connoisseurs, the majority including myself do not find that the way wine tastes in these glasses to be anything better than adulterated and doctored. I do encourage you, if you have the resources, to experiment with them and form your own judgments. Always remember that wine is subjective and hopefully you?ll find that ?In Vino Veritas?!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • EPIFANIA February 27, 2010, 9:32 pm

    I’ve happened to be searching all about for this particular post. Luckily my partner and i discovered this on Bing.

  • runningdog33 February 21, 2007, 6:46 pm

    very nice, “Wine Guy.” I see you don’t have that cult classic white wine made by the esteemed Clos du Val, i think the name of that particular gem is: “Ariadne.”

  • Jason Haas February 16, 2007, 7:12 pm

    Out here at Tablas Creek, we actually think that Vermentino is going to be a big hit over the long term in California. It likes the sun, likes the heat, and doesn’t mind the long, dry summers. It maintains its acidity, shows that beautiful citrus and mineral character, and is always refreshing. Now, just to get anyone to know what it is… thanks for your help!