When you hear “white wine,” what immediately springs to mind? Undoubtedly 90% of you thought, “Chardonnay.” Maybe a couple thought of Sauvignon Blanc. But what about Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc or Riesling? As consumers’ interest and knowledge in wine sky-rockets, it seems that winemakers are feeling free to experiment with more obscure white wine varietals or to bring to the marketplace wines that they previously only enjoyed locally. The rising popularity of white wines may also be due in part to their ability to match well with Americans’ current eating trends, which lean toward seafood, salads, Asian food and spicy food.

Gruner Veltliner

[GROO-ner VELT-lih-ner], Austria’s most widely grown varietal, produces light, crisp wines with a notable spicy kick. Its flavor profile is often described as “exotic” because of its combination of minerally, floral, peppery and vegetal flavors. Perhaps it’s this seemingly odd combination that allows the wine to get along so well with everything from broccoli to mussels.

Pinot Gris [PEE-no GREE) is a white wine grape from the same family as Pinot Noir. Like its red cousin, Pinot Gris grows very well in Oregon. Pinot Gris is called Pinot Grigio in Italy and Tokay d’Alsace in France. Italian styles tend to be fruity and crisp while France’s are fuller-bodied and more honeyed. You’ll find Pinot Gris of both styles in Oregon, depending on the producer.

Chenin Blanc [SHEH-nah BLAHNK] is possibly the most versatile of all grape varieties. While native to France’s Loire Valley region, Chenin Blanc is planted all over the world and is the basis for wines that range from bone dry to intensely concentrated dessert wines to sparkling wines. Most all well-made Chenin Blancs will boast floral, zesty characteristics with a good acidic zing.

Riesling [REEZ-ling] wines originated in Germany’s Rhein and Mosel River valleys. It is also one of Michigan’s most acclaimed wines. Riesling’s flavors tend toward apple and pear with floral and mineral undertones. Authentic Rieslings bear the title Johannisberg Riesling or White Riesling. These wines range from dry to sweet — look for labels bearing trocken, “dry” in German, or auslese if you’re in the mood for something sweeter.

Winemakers to look for:
Gruner Veltliner: Berger, Brundlmayer, Pichler
Pinot Gris: Ponzi, Adelsheim, Eyrie Vineyards
Chenin Blanc: Dry Creek Vineyards, Chappellet
Riesling: V. Sattui, Trimbach, Chateau Grand Traverse, Leelanau CellarsEvent Update – March 30 Wine Down Wednesday

Our next Wine Down Wednesday will be held on March 30 at Vinotecca in Royal Oak, where we will explore the effect of terroir in winemaking. “Terroir” is a French word which simply refers to the geographical location, topography and microclimate of a vineyard. Terroir has a huge impact on the finished product, even on wines made from vineyards next door to each other. This tasting will also be a sneak-preview of Vinotecca, metro Detroit’s newest wine bar, which is scheduled to open in early April. More information, including how to buy tickets, will be sent to you soon.

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