November 24, 2013
Wine Grapes: Origins & Hallmarks ~ Pt. 1- White Wine Grapes
Wine is one of the many things I absolutely love in the world. Sure, I’ll choose one bottle over another, but I always find a wine to take home with me. Which brings to mind a fun yet altogether nerve-wrecking question for wine lovers- ‘which wine to take home?’ Or perhaps, ‘which wine to bring to a friendly or family gathering?’ With those questions in mind, a great place to start is understanding what you’re picking up off the shelf. My advice is that if you’re not used to all the fancy and occasionally confusing labels, go with what’s in the bottle. Here are some classic hallmarks and characteristics of wine grapes as well as an idea of where you can find them!
While there’s give classic white wine grapes: Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Semillon- a few more whites are certainly worth trying as well: Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Viognier.
Chardonnay is grown and produced worldwide- from Burgundy to Australia, South Africa to California. These are just a few places where you can find Chardonnay as it truly is grown around the world. Chardonnay is absolutely versatile with ranging acidity depending on ripeness and production, aromas and flavors of: fresh apples, citrus, pear, melon, oak, brioche, and even butter/butterscotch. If you’re interested in experiencing it all, grab a Chardonnay from every corner of the world and you’ll find that the taste and style is incredibly different from one place to the next.
Most folks associate Riesling with being very sweet, but there are plenty of dry styles. The thing is, Riesling is an incredibly aromatic grape showcasing flowery and perfume-like aromas on top of maintaining flavors like: lime, honey, green apple, melon, and some minerality. Look toward Germany, Alsace, Canada, the United States as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Sauvignon Blanc originates in South Western France and can be seen throughout the world in places like Chile, New Zealand, California, and the Loire. What’s unique about Sauvignon Blanc is that depending on the climate, the flavor profile can range from grassy and tart to sweetly tropical. With aromas of lemongrass, crisp apples, citrus, and fresh vegetables, it’s amazing to also be able to taste honeydew, pineapple, and lemons, with an occasional smokiness.
This high acid grape makes it perfectly versatile in producing anything from sparkling, dry, and even dessert wine. While it is produced primarily in the Loire Valley of France, you can also find Chenin Blanc in South Africa under a different name, Steen. Some flavors and aroma usually associated with Chenin Blanc include: golden apples, banana, citrus, angelica, vanilla, and the occasional hint of cinnamon.
Semillon is a beautifully golden-skinned grape varietal that makes incredible dry and sweet white wines in Bordeaux, Australia, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and parts of California and Washington State. Semillon has a heavier body and more of fuller taste with low acidity. Some characteristics of Semillon include: fig, toast, honey, orange, peach, and apple. A fun fact about Semillon? It is one of only three approved white wine varieties permitted in Bordeaux alongside Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
Another aromatic wine grape is Gewurztraminer. Gewurztraminer has high natural sugar and has the distinct aromas of lychees and flowers, particularly roses. On the palate, a good Gewurztraminer will showcase: nectarine, white peach, Asian pear, and sometimes passion fruit. While you can find great Gewurztraminer in Alsace and Germany, you can also find great examples of this wine from New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States.
Pinot Gris is another popular grape also known as Italian Pinot Grigio. It has characteristics of a light to medium body with a somewhat viscous mouth feel. Primarily found in France, the United States, and of course Italy, Pinot Gris/Grigio displays aromas and flavors of nutmeg, melon, peach, a softer citrus, sweet pear, and a bit of earthiness.
Now here’s a grape you probably don’t see too much of but it is actually very prominent in the Rhone and Southern France, Australia, and both California and Washington. Viognier is an incredibly difficult grape to grow due to its susceptibility to powdery mildew and overall unpredictable nature, so hats off to the producers whom can provide them. When you do get your hands on a Viognier, you’ll find that it has no problem demonstrating flavors and aromas of blossoms, apricots, citrus, white peach, apples, vanilla, and a hint of spice. Well worth the hunt if you ask me.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series -- Red Wine Grapes!