White wine is something to be enjoyed year round. Yes, it is a blistering -20 degrees, and you don’t necessarily want something cold when you’re trying to warm up; But, these white wines will make you forget that hellish cold air outside, trust me.
This tasting will be focusing on the white Noble Grapes, transporting us around the world to some of the most classic examples of each. It’s a tasting that will teach you the basics, but also (hopefully) change your perception on some wines.
So, what is white wine?
Believe it or not: just about any grape, be it red, pink or white can be made into white wine. The grape’s skin colour doesn’t necessarily excuse a grape from being made into a white wine. Indeed: most black or red grapes that you can name actually have white flesh under the skin. In order to make white wine, the juice is fermented without the skins (red and rose wines are fermented with contact to the skins, and thus, extract colour).
Okay, now what?
After the grapes are harvested, pressed and the juice is separated from the skins, the juice then goes through settling (removing any sediment from the clear juice), and then alcoholic fermentation happens (sugar + yeast = alcohol + carbon dioxide). After this, it either goes straight to bottling, or it can go through a few more steps.
Before aging, the winemaker might choose for the wine to go through malolactic fermentation which changes the tart malic acid into smooth and buttery lactic acid. After this choice is made, the wine can be aged.
There are many ageing options to use, but the majority comes down to wood vs. stainless steel. Wooden barrels, mostly seen as American or French Oak, is a beautiful thing. There are so many decisions going into the barrels; How big are the barrels going to be? Are they neutral(used) or new? French or American? Toasted to what degree? The two types of oak have different impacts to the wine. American oak adds notes of coconut, vanilla and cream soda to the wine, whereas French oak is more subtle with spice and can add a silky or satin-like texture to the resulting wine. Wood is also porous, so the wine can interact with oxygen during the ageing process, where it tends to relax the wine in a way.
Stainless steel is another option. It’s reliable, can be more temperature controlled and doesn’t add any flavour to the wine. Typically they are used for younger, fruitier wines.
And the wait is over…
After aging, the wine is simply filtered and transferred into bottles, where there are then either aged some more (to meet certain appellation regulations) or sent right to our shelves.
Noble Grapes are kind of the stars of the wine world. They are the most popular and most planted, which has made them into to royalty. The Noblest of the Whites are listed below:
Planted almost everywhere, Sauvignon Blanc owes its success to its humble roots in France. It’s a dry, subtly savoury wine that can be made into a plethora of styles. The primary flavours of Sauvignon Blanc are lime, green apple, passion fruit and white peach. You can also find some herbaceous notes of bell pepper, jalapeno, gooseberry and grass.
Other Names: Sancerre, Fume Blanc (Oaked), Muskat-Silvaner, Feigentraube
What we tasted: Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc 2014 $35.99
Notably found in the Loire Valley, France, and South Africa, this wine is a force to be reckoned with. It has a high acidity, and can be made into fantastic wines, from extremely dry to lusciously sweet. Chenin Blanc is a pale yellow/gold wines that has delicate notes of pear, honeysuckle, quince, apple and maybe ginger.
Other Names ; Vouvray, Steen, Coteaux du Layon, Savenniere
What we tasted: Domaine des Aubuisieres Girardieres 2015 $25.99
Not all Riesling is sweet. Just like Chenin Blanc, Riesling can make great wines from extremely dry to lusciously sweet. It has a bright, bright acidity, that typically balances perfectly with the sweetness (if produced well), and also is a one of the few grapes that shows terroir extremely well. Expect notes of green citrus, green apple, white blossom, stone fruit and possible petrol.
What we tasted: Schaefer Graacher Riesling Kabinett 2016 $45.99
Chardonnay is one of those versatile grapes that can show different styles; it can be a buttery, oaky and golden, or a citrus focused pale yellow. Knowing which style you like is half the challenge, and then knowing which chardonnays and what names to look for being the next half. A basic chardonnay tasting note would be : Lemon, apple pear, pineapple with blossom and maybe some honeysuckle. Oak will add those baking spices, vanilla and/or coconut flavours.
Other names: Aubine, Chablis, Maconnais, Meursault, Pouilly Fuissé
What we tasted: Moss Wood Chardonnay 2014 $57.99
This noble grape sometimes seems out of fashion. It typically creates off-dry wine with bold aromatics and low acidity. Gewurztraminer is filled with notes of lychee, rose petal, red grapefruit and ginger, and also is probably one of the best pairings with Middle Eastern and Indian food. It is a rare varietal, but is mostly planted in Alsace, France, where it is one of 4 noble grape varieties.
What we tasted: Colterenzio Gewurztraminer 2016 $33.99
A full body wine with similar notes to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. It’s a very important grape for the White Bordeaux Blends, adding body and texture. Semillon is also can be made into dessert wine, with the effect of Noble Rot (also known as Botrytis cinerea), and surprisingly is the third most planted white varietal in the world (behind Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay). Expect notes of citrus, grapefruit, apple, peach and honey, with possible notes of dill and honeysuckle.
What we tasted: Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2013 $39.99
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio
The same grape, but Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are different wines. Pinot Grigio can mean a wine with more of an Italian flair to it, where Pinot Gris is produced in more a French style. If you’ve had Pinot Grigio before, you know it to be simple, fruity, crisp and easy to drink. Pinot Gris however, typically has a little more going on. The best example comes from Alsace, France, where there sometimes can be a touch of sweetness, mixed with complex notes meyer lemon, ginger and baking spices, with a very long finish.
What we tasted: Domaine Weinbach Cuvee St Catherine Pinot Gris 2016 $83.99
*Favourite of the evening!*
Hopefully in the next round of tastings, we will further explore the world of White Wines! It was a great evening, full of knowledge, laughter and great wine. Thanks to everyone who attended.
Special shout out to Peasant Cheese who supplied us with some fantastic cheese boards!