International White Wine Varieties
I tend to be able to watch any kind of sport. When I was younger there was a show on tele called Transworld Sport, which showcased sports from all over the world. Most of them were fairly regional sports not really played or known anywhere else. My favourite was Kabbadi.
If you’ve never seen Kabbadi then you won’t have a clue what’s going on. Basically it’s two teams on either side of a pitch. Each team takes it in turn to send a “raider” into the opposition half, and it’s his (or her) job to tag a member of the opposite team, and make it back to his own side before he’s tackled by anyone from the other side. Oh, and he has to chant “Kabbadi” over and over again whilst he does it. Whilst holding his breath til he gets back. Got that?
Yup, it’s nuts, but I reckon like most things like this the local people go mental for it. Local stars are made and broken on the Kabbadi court. Whilst the rest of the world may look on with quizzical looks plastered on their face, all across the asian subcontinent people are cheering away like no-one’s business.
I reckon that’s awesome. Regional sports, traditions, foodstuffs, ways of life, whatever you want to say are nearly always great fun. But then again, there’s a reason they remain fairly regional. There’s also a reason you get the other side of the coin. The internationally recognised. If we stick with the sporting analogy, this’d be football, tennis, golf and so on (i’d love to include cricket in this but given how many conversations i’ve had in recent years with americans and scandinavians and so on to make me think twice). There’s something in there that gives universal appeal. It’s exactly the same with wine.
There are thousands of different grape varieties all over the world. My own time in Piemonte I’ve heard of and drank wines that most people in the industry have never heard of. They serve their purpose, and have their place in the local market.
But there are a handful that you can really call “international varieties”. These are the grapes that are benchmarks for wine regions, new and old. If everyone is growing them, then you can compare them all. It can really help open up smaller regions to the rest of the world market. Give the people what (they think) they want whilst also making smaller regional production on the side.
So when you’re starting to buy, try, and drink wine, it’s worth spending some time at the start on these. Split nicely between a handful of whites and a handful of reds, there’s something in there for everyone.
There’s plenty to write about them all, but I’ll try keep it brief. I think this week we’ll just concentrate on the white wines, break it up a bit.
is a really versatile grape. This makes it a fairly well travelled grape, being grown in nearly every wine region in the world. You get the usual usual range of flavours from green fruit in cool areas to tropical fruit in hot areas, as well as the famous mineral taste of the grape (someone told me once it’s like licking a wet stone, having never done that before, i’ll take their word for it.)
Big thing with Chardonnay is that it’s the wine making techniques that really make a difference. People who say they don’t like Chardonnay don’t make sense to me. There are too many variations.
Malolactic Fermentation: Sounds big, but break it down. Malic acid in the grapes usually give the acid feel and some of the fruit flavours. This can be fermented to lactic acid to give dairy flavours, like butter or cream, and eases off the acidity a bit.
On the lees: just means they’ve left some of the yeast in there after fermentation and stir it through to add a creamy texture.
Oak ageing: we’ve spoken about can add toasty, vanilla flavours. This was a big fashion in Chardonnay for years, but some people really don’t like it. Remember there is a choice between the two.
Quick note on Chardonnay in France, never usually labelled Chardonnay. Chablis, Macon, Montrachet, stuff like that, it’s all Chardonnay. If in doubt, ask someone at the shop you’re buying it from.
is one I really got into this in a big way about a year or so ago. I went to a free tasting night at my local Majestic Wine, doing some of their kiwi wines. I tried a few of the Sauvignon Blancs and they were really, well, fruity. Very refreshing. Lots of acidity, pretty light bodied.
Most of the time this is the way they’re produced. Sauvignon Blanc is famous for being very aromatic, that is the smell and the taste are very full, so producers like to make the most of it.
It’s produced all the way around the world, but mostly in cool to medium climates. That makes places like the Loire in France and New Zealand perfect places to start.
French wines are rarely labelled as “Sauvignon Blanc”. The famous areas of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are Sauvignon Blancs. Again, if in doubt, just ask.
is still really struggling from memories the previous generation have of sickly sweet Liebfraumilch and Blue Nun. People used to drink that stuff with a steak dinner, cos the only alternatives were Mateus Rose and Piat D’Or. No one knew.
Riesling is famous again for it’s aromatic nature. Produced most famously in Germany, the German wine laws on labelling make it really tough for new drinkers to know what they’re buying. The labels are done on the sugar content of the grape, and not the overall product. Kabinett is the lowest banding of sugar, but it’s still possible to buy a range of dry to medium sweet kabinetts. The sometimes unexpected sweetness brings people back to memories of Blue Nun. If it’s not what you’re expecting it can really turn you off it.
I’ve just had a trip out to Germany to work it out for myself, and it’ll be it’s own post in a few weeks, but for now, just remember not to be afraid of buying the stuff. Again, ask at the wine shop, they’ll point you in the right direction. Great smells, great clean flavours in the young vintages. Really worth giving it a go.
So there are great places to start when you’re trying new wines. Try the wines from different areas, countries, production techniques. Just get stuck in.
It’s been quite hard to hold my breath whilst writing this. Maybe I’ll stick to playing football. Don’t think I could last a full game of Kabbadi!