By Alfonso Sanchez
(These notes are mostly based on Katherine Cole’s book Complete Wine Selector (Absolute Press, UK, 2013) supplemented by some personal experiences),
Generally speaking, red wine drinkers consider whites one step below the reds, mostly a casual drink and not as classy as the reds. Others consider whites a sort of ladies beverage (prejudice?). In fact when the idea of having only whites for this tasting was proposed, some members commented that a tasting with no reds was not going to be that exciting. However, white wines when drunk at the right time and occasion and paired with the right foods can be as pleasurable as reds and even more. And there is much variety as well.
White wines from cooler climates tend to be more citric, herbaceous with aromas and flavors to white fruit, flowers, and herbs. Those from warmer climates tend to have much more tropical fruits flavors and aromas. All whites to be good must have (besides the fruity or spicy flavors and aromas) minerality and acidity in balance as these are essential to convey the feeling of freshness, crispiness,, and result in a long and complex finish. Even though whites wines tend to be of the varietal type, there are very good blends. We have tried several in our Club for example the Conundrum from California and the Anakena Ona Reserve from Chile.
Katherine Cole groups withe wines in several categories that I found quite useful when choosing the right white wine, as follows:
A first group comprises the crisp, lean whites. This wines are light, with much citrus and marked minerality and may exhibit aromas of white flowers, green apple or white fruits or herbs. They are fermented mostly in steel thanks under controlled temperatures and have no wood. Generally go very well with salads, and shellfish (oysters, clams, etc.). Examples are: Albariño (Galicia and north of Portugal), Muscadet (known in the Loire as Melon de Bourgogne), Roditis (Peloponnese in Greece), Silvaner (France and Germany) Soave (Veneto, Italy) and Vinho Verde (Portugal). These wines are meant to be drunk young.
A second group is that of the lively, aromatic withes. Their main feature is intense aromas to cut flowers, herbs, cut grass, some citrus and wet stone. They go well with finger food or light dishes like steamed lobster, white fish, herb salads, goat cheese or stir fries. I like them with spicy food like Indian or Thai dishes. Examples of this group are: Sauvignon Blanc, Gewrstraminer, Grüner Veltliner (mostly Austria), Pinot Gris (Oregon), Rielsing and Chenin Blanc (South Africa). Some of these wines (e.g. Riesling from Germany) can last for many years and improve in the bottle.
The third group of whites includes the rich, full bodied whites. These in a way are closer to reds, and this is why they pair well with dishes that go well with light reds (like gamay or pinot noirs and light Italian reds). There is an overlap between the light reds and these whites for food pairing. I like them with grilled salmon, strong cheeses and pork. This group includes: Chardonnay with or without oak, Falaghina form Italy, Marsanne, Semillon (South Africa), Torrontés (Argentina) and Vioigner.
Finally there are two other very important groups, the sweet desert whites and the sparkling whites and roses. In the first group there are outstanding examples of quality and complexity, Auslese Riesling, Moscato (Italy), Tokaj (Hungary), Sauterns (France), Vin Santo (Tuscany) and the Ice Wines of Canada. These are often “late harvest” wines and can be very expensive. I prefer them with dessert or by themselves as a “poust caffe”, The sparkling group include all the festive and elegant Champagnes form France, sparkling whites form the USA West Coast, Cava from Spain, Prosecco form Italy, Espumante from Portugal and the Sekt from Germany. In my opinion these wines may pair with most foods and substitute all the whites in the categories mentioned above.