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Summer Wines: Aromatic Whites
By Ed McCarthy
Jun 27, 2006
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During summer, we drink a lot more white wines and rosés than red wines.  The thought of drinking a full-bodied, tannic red in warm weather is a bit overwhelming for me.  I know that lots of fine, light-bodied red wines are out there, but the foods I eat in the summer--salads, fish, seafood, and vegetables--just lend themselves to pairing with white wines.  But not just any white wines.  I prefer a style that I call "Aromatic Whites."

Last year, Mary Ewing-Mulligan and I co-authored our first wine book that didn't end in "...For Dummies."  (We figured that seven Wine/Dummies books were enough!)  The new book, called Wine Style, describes four different white wine styles, four different types of red wine, two rosé styles, and two types of sparkling wine.  The four white wine styles we came up with are "Fresh, Unoaked White Wines," "Earthy Whites," "Aromatic Whites," and "Rich, Oaky Whites."  Clearly, rich, oaky whites are not ideal for summer dining--unless you're having lobster.  Most earthy whites are a bit too heavy for summer drinking as well.  Fresh, unoaked whites are fine for warm-weather dining, but many are more suitable as apéritif wines than for main course entrées.  And truthfully, as a category, fresh unoaked whites are just not as interesting or as flavorful as aromatic whites.

At this point you might be wondering which wines we place in the "Aromatic White" category.  Aromatic whites include all wines in which aromas and flavors are the dominant characteristics; the wines' aromas could be floral, herbal, fresh fruits, dried fruits, pepper, spice, or minerals--either singular or, more commonly, combined.  Some are dry, some are off dry, most have lively acidity, and just about all aromatic wines go particularly well with food.  Most aromatic whites have not used oak in the winemaking process.  Because they are so aromatic, these varieties are seldom blended; most are made as 100% varietal wines.  We classify the following white grape varieties as aromatic (the first four are used in the wines of many countries today): Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and Riesling.  The following Aromatic White varieties are associated with one country or region: Albariño (Galicia, Spain); Grüner Veltliner (Austria); Vermentino (Liguria, Sardinia, and Tuscany, Italy); Fiano (Campania, Italy); Arneis (Piedmont, Italy); Müller-Thurgau (Germany, Northeastern Italy); Torrontés (Argentina); and Moschofilero (Greece).

Two popular white varieties--Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc--are aromatic when made as wines in some regions, but not in all regions.  Pinot Gris is certainly aromatic as an Alsace Pinot Gris, and usually aromatic in many Oregon Pinot Gris wines, but most Italian Pinot Grigios are not aromatic.  Just about all New Zealand and South African Sauvignon Blancs are aromatic, and most Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumés from France's Loire Valley are aromatic, but we would classify few California Sauvignon Blancs as aromatic.  Generally speaking, cool-climate regions tend to be the places producing most aromatic wines.

Aromatic Whites have become the darlings of sommeliers because they are so food-friendly.  Which is great, as far as I'm concerned, because aromatic wines are now more popular than ever.  I recently tasted six different aromatic whites, each from a different country.  Here are my reviews of these wines:


Tselepos, Mantinia (Greece) Moschofilero 2005 ($14, Wines We Are Importers; Fantis Foods):  I owe a lot to this variety, because it was a light-bodied, extremely aromatic Moschofilero that first turned me on to the quality of modern Greek wines.  The 2005 Tselepos Moschofilero, from the very cool, mountainous Peloponnese region, has intensely fragrant floral aromas, with hints of citrus--mainly orange blossom.  It is dry, light to medium-bodied, and very crisp, with only 12° alcohol.  It is a wine to drink when it is young, so that you can appreciate its fantastic aromas and delicious flavors.  Try it with seafood or grilled sardines.  90


Georg Breuer, Rheingau (Germany) Riesling "Charm" 2004 ($14, Classical Wines):  The Georg Breuer estate makes some of the most profound Rieslings in the Rheingau.  Invariably, they are very dry, even steely, and minerally.  Breuer's "Charm" is its entry-level Riesling.  The 2004 Charm is easier-drinking than Breuer's more serious Rieslings; it is off-dry, medium-bodied and round, but with the racy acidity which is a trademark of Breuer Rieslings.  It has aromas and flavors of fresh lemon and apple.  A delight to drink right now, it has only 12% alcohol.  90


Cloudy Bay, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2005 ($24, Moët Hennessy USA):  It was the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc that really brought world-wide acclaim to New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs less than 20 years ago; today we recognize these wines as a specific category of Sauvignon Blanc.  The 2005 Cloudy Bay has intense, vivid aromas, more passionfruit nowadays than the extremely herbal and asparagus aromas of earlier New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.  It is dry and medium-bodied, with 13.5% alcohol, good concentration, very high acidity, and vivid flavors of citrus rind and passionfruit.  89


Jean-Luc Colombo, Vin de Pays d'Oc (France) Viognier 'La Violette' 2004 ($12, Palm Bay Imports):  Jean-Luc Colombo, one of the Rhône Valley's most respected producers, also makes many wines throughout southern France.  The easy-drinking 2004 'La Violette' has floral aromas, with suggestions of ripe peach and lychee fruit.  It has medium acidity, 12.5% alcohol, and rich, fruity flavors--especially peach and apricot--that are the typical signposts of  this very aromatic variety.  A wine to drink now.  88


Viontá, Rías Baixas (Spain) Albariño 2005 ($16, Freixenet USA):  Ten years ago, practically no one had heard of Albariño; nowadays, it is one of the hottest white varietal wines around, especially in the U.S.  Rías Baixas  is a wine region in Galicia, a province of northwest Spain hugging the Atlantic.  We think of Spain as hot and dry, often barren and desert-like; not so Rías Baixas!  The region is cool, damp, and verdant green the year around.  These conditions are perfect for the aromatic, thick-skinned Albariño variety, which thrives in this climate.  The 2005 Viontá, with 12.5% alcohol, has fresh, penetrating aromas and flavors of apple and grapefruit skin, with good concentration.  It is dry, has crisp acidity, and orange and lemon flavors that emerge with aeration.  The 2004 Viontá Albariño, available now (the 2005 is just starting to appear) might even be better than the 2005.  91


Feudi di San Gregorio, Campania (Italy) Fiano di Avellino 2004 ($21, Palm Bay Imports):  Fiano is unusual for aromatic white varieties in that it ages quite well (10 to 15 years) and actually improves with age, along with its companion white variety in Campania, Greco di Tufo.  Feudi di San Gregorio is one of southern Italy's leading producers.  The 2004 Fiano di Avellino, with 12.5% alcohol, has floral, peach, and melon aromas and flavors, is dry, concentrated, firm, and quite full-bodied.  It is rather quiet now; it should improve with a few more years of aging.  88