If you want to try something a little different but ultra-dry Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios just ain't your thang, not to worry, my Chard-loving friends. When it comes to luscious white wines, there are lots of other grapes in the vineyard -- many of them tastier and more interesting than those Chards you've gotten into the habit of buying.
Here are some rich and flavorful examples to perk up your palate:
Chenin Blanc (SHEN'N BLAHNK) -- Famous in France as the main white grape of Vouvray, Chenin Blanc suffered a bad rap in the U.S. after ending up in one too many crappy American jug wines. Often made with a touch of sweetness, Chenin Blanc wines are characterized by their acidity and fruitiness. We benefit from their lowly reputation -- they're often sold at ludicrously low prices.
Semillon (SEM-ih-yon) -- This grape is known for its spicy, peachy flavors and low acidity. It's often blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay to add complexity and roundness. The wines can be made in various styles, from dry to very sweet.
Viognier (vee-oh-NYAY) -- Typically grown in the northern Rhone Valley region of France, Viognier is now starting to appear in many California vineyards. The wine has full, rich, spicy flavors and unbelievable perfumed aromas. Not sweet, just rich and substantial. For a real splurge, try one of the super-intense Viogniers from France's Condrieu region.
Pinot Blanc (PEE-no BLAHNK) -- A mutation of the Pinot Gris grape, this one's high in acidity with a spicy apple experience. The grape produces a dry, fruity, soft wine that's similar to Chardonnay, but with more complexity. Some of the best Pinot Blancs come from the Alsace region of France. Domaines Schlumberger is a good label to try.
Multi-Grape Blends -- Despite what grape-ist wine snobs might say, there's no shame in inter-grape mixing. Chardonnay takes on tasty new dimensions when it's blended with other grapes, like the ones listed above.
Still need convincing? Then check out the following white wine alternatives:
Callaway Coastal Chenin Blanc 1999 ($6.49) : Cheap and yummy, with ripe peach and pear flavors. Though it's made with a bit of sweetness, the wine's balance makes it truly refreshing. Out of all the cheapish whites I could get my hands on, this is the one I liked the most.
Beringer Knights Valley Alluvium Blanc 1998 ($16) 1/2: Alluvium is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with a little Chardonnay and Viognier thrown in for balance. It's rich and round, with melon, citrus and vanilla flavors. This wine is the most Chard-like of the bunch, with a little extra tartness to keep it from the dark side.
Sokol Blosser Evolution, 5th Edition ($14) 1/2: This white blend from Oregon is made with nine different grapes. The wine has an amazing tropical fruit aroma, with exotic flavors to match. Barely sweet with lingering citrus, this is some delicious vino.
RH Phillips EXP Viognier 2000 ($14) 1/2: Take a big whiff of this wine before you taste it -- Viognier is famous for this floral, perfume-y aroma. Somehow the flavor manages to be tart and rich at the same time, with mango, apricot and green apple flavors. Even with all that tropical flavor, the wine finishes dry.
Tina Caputo is a San Francisco-based wino who supports her nasty wine habit by writing for several wine publications. Have a wine or wine experience you want to share with us? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, mail Corkscrew at 1310 East 9th Ave., Tampa, FL 33605 or call our new reader feedback number: 1-800-341-LOAF.
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