This week we celebrated Chardonnay Day and like most of these days – Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day… – enjoying your favourite wine or appreciating your significant other or mother, shouldn’t be limited to a certain date. At the same time, an excuse to celebrate, reminisce or do a little research is not necessarily a bad thing.
With the Southern hemisphere winter approaching, the international white wine days (Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in May and Chenin Blanc on 10 June) feel like odd timing. This year, however, I have a winter break planned with a trip to Italy and that made me think about European white wines – especially those of the Mediterranean. I know they are about much more than the classic French Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.
As it is one of my next destinations, let’s start with Italy. Italian reds such as Chianti and Barolo are familiar. Think Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Montepulciano and Lambrusco. And of course, we all know the Super Tuscans – usually a blend of Sangiovese with varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and even Syrah. But what other than Pinot Grigio and Prosecco do Italians and tourists sip on during Mediterranean summers?
Pinot Grigio had its heyday in the UK some years ago and similar to Chardonnay before the time of ABC, the varietal name was almost a brand in its own right. For South African producers, competing in the easy-drinking category with our local Chenin Blanc was a challenge regardless of price or tax agreements. People wanted to drink Pinot Grigio. And while I won’t say no to a refreshing glass on a summer’s day, I believe Italy has much more to offer. Italian whites to try include Vermentino, Soave, Verdicchio, Cortese (Gavi di Gavi), Friulano and Ribolla Gialla. Sounds exciting and I can’t wait for a proper introduction one of these days. (Read more)
Muscadet from the Lower Loir might be a less familiar French white to try and the seafood-loving Picpoul might have become popular again recently, but with a polite nod to France and its famous varieties, let’s rather explore its neighbour on the other side – Spain. You might have crossed paths with the Spanish white, Albariño, but for most of us, Rioja’s Tempranillo and Grenache (or Garnacha), Sherry and Sangria form the basis of our Spanish drink memories. For a more substantial white, choose Godello reminiscent of white Burgundy or Viura, a complex white from Rioja and the primary blending grape in Cava sparkling wines.
One would also expect the Greeks and Portuguese to enjoy a good glass of white. Although it is hard to ignore Portugal’s famous Port association, it would also make sense to drink white wine with its seafood-orientated cuisine. Something like Vinho Verde perhaps? This blend of indigenous varieties such as Alvarinho, Arinto, Azal, Avesso, Loureiro, and Trajadura, is quite well-known. Another option to try with your sardines, is Verdelho, Encruzado or Fernão Pires (aka Maria Gomez).
Sailing down the turquoise Croatian coastline towards Greece, you’ll probably have the opportunity to try a Croatian white or two, such as Grk or Škrlet. (Read more) When you have settled in at your island destination with a refreshing glass of wine, chances are that it would be Greece’s best known white, Assyrtiko. It is perfect for those picturesque Greek island sunsets! If you want to swop your Ouzo for something other than the obvious though, do try Malagousia or Moschofilero. (Read more)
Researching the whites of the Mediterranean has put me in the mood for a beach holiday, shorts, seafood and crisp glasses of white, but with the first winter rain falling in the Winelands, let’s rather enjoy a cosy fireplace and a good Cape red – even if there’s no special day for it right now. (See wine day calendar)