Chardonnay is popular worldwide and is the basis for some of the world’s finest white wine. Depending on the location and the winemaker’s decisions, this impressionable grape provides a range of taste possibilities that contribute to its wide appeal. Chardonnay can be heavy and rich, light and crisp, very dry and steely, or semi-sweet and fruity.
Chardonnay grown in a cooler climate will have a flavor profile that’s often associated with tree fruit such as apples, pears, peaches and apricots, as well as minerality or flintiness. A different profile becomes evident when the grape is grown in a warmer climate. There are often tropical fruit nuances like pineapple, banana, mango and kiwi.
Sonoma and Napa in California have become famous for their Chardonnays. White Burgundies are made exclusively from this versatile grape and are often terroir-driven, with much less oak influence than New World Chardonnays.
Chardonnay is best served at 5060 degrees, and pairs well with baked chicken, crab, cream or butter sauces, grilled pork and sautéed seafood. Try white Burgundies with steamed lobster or white fish.
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One of the few grapes with a descriptive name, Gewürztraminer translates literally to “spicy grape.” These wines are famous for their exotic aromatics and flavors. German versions tend to be lighter in body than those from Alsace, France. Washington and California have also had some success with this grape.
Gewürztraminer ranges from dry to sweet, light- to medium-bodied, and has low acidity. Tasting notes include lychee, ginger, guava, mango, lavender, musk, rose and grapefruit. Serve dry Gewürztraminer chilled to 5060 degrees, and sweet Gewürztraminer a little colder at 4550 degrees. This wine will pair well with curries, ham, Indian food, smoked cheeses and meats, and Thai food.
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This white grape is one of the oldest known varieties. It is used in the production of Italy’s sparkling Asti, as well as in the fortified dessert wines of France. It tastes of grapes, musk, perfume, roses, lychee, guava, raisins and mango. Serve chilled and pair with fruit, fruit-based desserts, ice cream, light cakes or cookies.
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Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio
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When made in Italy or in the Italian style, this grape is labeled Pinot Grigio. Otherwise Pinot Gris, the original French name, is used. Oregon produces high-quality Pinot Gris that is reminiscent of those from Alsace, France.
These wines are dry with light to medium body and medium to high acidity. They taste of pear, apple, white peach, citrus, violets, passion fruit, minerals and nuts. They should be chilled to 5060 degrees and pair well with baked fish, fried chicken, salads and shellfish.
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Riesling is a cold-weather grape that thrives in Germany, northern France, Washington and Oregon. No other grape, save Pinot Noir, is more expressive of the soil in which it was grown, while maintaining its intrinsic flavor. Considered one of the original “noble” varieties, it is responsible for some of the most complex and long-lived white wines. When allowed to mature, Riesling can develop nuances of buttered nuts and has an oily unctuousness that defies definition. The bright beam of acidity adds a dimension of versatility that makes it a good wine to pair with many dishes, including spicy cuisine.
It can be dry to sweet, light- to medium-bodied, and is highly acidic. Notes of citrus blossom, honeysuckle, jasmine, musk, pear, guava, lemon and flint are typical. Late-harvest Riesling is intensely sweet, and perfectly balanced by green apple acidity. It makes for an ideal dessert, either by itself or with fresh ripe fruit of the season.
France’s Alsace region produces dry Rieslings with medium-bodied, earthy flavors. The Clare and Eden Valleys of Australia are also well regarded and offer a dry expression of the grape. In the U.S., look for Riesling from the cooler areas of Monterey, Santa Barbara and Mendocino counties. Both Washington and Oregon have very fine examples, as does New York’s Finger Lake District. These wines tend to be on the delicate, light-bodied side and can be an excellent value.
A dry Riesling should be served chilled at 5060 degrees, while sweet Rieslings are best a bit cooler, at 4550 degrees. These wines pair well with onion tarts, duck, ham, scallops, summer fruit, and Thai food.
Wine-Tasting idea: German, Australian and American Riesling
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An important variety in France, Sauvignon Blanc is a grape whose herbaceous flavors (hay, cut grass and asparagus) are instantly recognizable. These wines are dry, light- to medium-bodied, and highly acidic.
Sauvignon Blanc is a versatile variety. You’ll find it in wines labeled Pouilly-Fumé or Sancerre from the Loire Valley, and in Bordeaux blends. It has also become the signature white of New Zealand and has been successful in California.
Serve chilled (5060 degrees) with leafy green salads, poached chicken, sautéed fish or vegetarian dishes. Sauvignon Blanc is one of the few wines that work well with hard-to-pair asparagus.
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