White wine varieties for newbies
With over 1000 white wine varieties in the world, it shouldn’t be any surprise that most people can only name three. We’re going to take a wild guess that it goes something like this: savvy b, chardonnay, and riesling. Hey, no judgement! But with exciting wines such as albariño, gewürztraminer and vermentino making their mark and the weather heating up, there’s no better time to explore the wonderful world of white wine than right now. Here are a few fun facts about some to get your white wine trivia back in form.
Originating from Rías Baixas in north-western Spain, albariño has been on our radar for a while now, with impressive local examples coming out of the Alpine Valley, Barossa, Hunter Valley and Nagambie. Expect a spectrum of characteristics from citrus, to apple to tropical fruit. Underpinned by minerality and textural appeal (due to time on lees), it finishes with zippy acidity.
Ah, good ol’ chardy, the cool kid everyone wants a piece of – it can be found in every Australian wine region. In the 1980s, some people ran for the hills with the rich, robust and over-oaked styles of chardonnay which dominated the white wine landscape. But as that tsunami came and went, elegance has returned in its place. Well-structured wines highlighted by things like white stone fruit, citrusy goodness and grapefruit-like acidity have chardy lovers screaming for more. Add jersey caramel and vanilla if oak’s used and the wins keep coming. Winemakers are tinkering with wild ferments and the use of lees too. A little risk-taking with this classic variety is paying handsome dividends. Hunt down beautiful examples from the Hunter Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Margaret River. But that’s not to discount a host of producers outside these boundaries delivering smashing wines. When looking in New Zealand, the Auckland region has some excellent producers, as does Hawke’s Bay and the Waipara Valley.
Mediterranean varieties are really striking a chord in the Australian landscape due to similarities in climate. From a winemaking perspective, fiano has thick skins and is later ripening, allowing winemakers to deliver more textural appeal. Expressive aromas here hit the mark - white and yellow flowers with a citrusy vibe hum a sexy tune. Poached pear peers through sometimes too. Weight and texture from the skins deliver a generous and moreish drop. Found throughout a host of regions in Australia, fiano is making some noise in the Alpine Valley, Hunter Valley, Granite Belt and King Valley but the central dance floor appears to be McLaren Vale.
Gewürz sits atop the aromatic variety tree. Such an expressive variety, with whiffs of rose petals, Turkish Delight, lychee, citrus and spices such as ginger and cinnamon. Lower acidity is a feature, although it carries higher alcohol and a bigger frame than some other whites. It can be bone- dry but is often made with some residual sugar. Good gewürz is an ideal match for spicy Asian dishes. A variety not made in mass quantities, it can be found scattered across the Australian landscape. Check the New England region for particularly excellent examples. It’s scattered throughout New Zealand, too, with its greatest concentration in Marlborough.
Hailing from Austria where it’s the most common white variety in the ground, there’s little of it around on these shores. But zero in on the Adelaide Hills where it seems to have it feet firmly planted in the dirt. A wine that exudes fresh fruit and finishes crisp, a fine spicy edge is not uncommon. You’ll certainly be happy to see green apples, pears and stone fruit spilling from your glass.
A French native which can be best described as oily and rich but generous all at the same time. Often blended with roussanne and viognier, it can also fly solo where it shows honeyed characters with touches of citrus and peach. Aged marsanne shows honeyed tones and some nuttiness. There are a few pockets of it around Australia but one of the best and most consistent labels comes from the Nagambie Lakes region in Victoria.
Same same but different. Pinot gris is pinot grigio - the difference is all in the making. Pinot gris styles originate from France where they ooze texture from the use of skin contact and partial or full barrel fermentation. A fuller-bodied white, partial or full barrel fermentation adds texture and interest. Pinot grigio is Italian inspired to be clean and crisp due to slightly earlier harvesting. This style possesses aromatic energy with a little spice for good measure. The Adelaide Hills, Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania are producing some of Australia’s best. Commonly planted throughout New Zealand, where Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne are two regions worth gravitating to.
I could say glera but you’d say, “what the?” So, let’s run with prosecco – as it’s commonly known. A sparkling wine which originates from Italy and made from the glera grape, prosecco is continuing to gain traction among wine lovers. In recent years, the surge in interest has seen Australian production treble. There are suggestions in some circles that this bubble may soon burst, but what makes prosecco such an attractive option is its price point with so many good quality Australian examples available for around the $20 mark. The King Valley hits the bullseye for Aussie prosecco but there’s bits and pieces of it sprouting all over this vast land. Expect to find pretty scents of cut green apple, little white flowers and pear skin. Some texture may be evident and adds interest.
Riesling is back baby! For too long and perhaps even still for some, riesling carries a bad name with a perception that it is a cheap and sweet. It’s time to break down some of these perceptions… there’s so much to the variety, and to be honest, I think it’s one of the best-value styles of wine available on the shelves. Rieslings can be made bone dry all the way through to dessert styles. Riesling can be an aperitif, or match food beautifully. It can be aged for years, which will change its structure, appearance and of course, taste. Or, you can just indulge and drink it fresh with a bucketload of seafood! Winemakers are now producing riesling with fruit and acid perfectly balanced. In cricketing terms, think of rizza as your classic middle order batter. Cool under pressure with always something simmering away to add value, yet there’s a cheeky side, revealed when you least expect it. And when all seems lost, there it is to be relied upon to do the job. Australia produces some of the world’s great rieslings and these mainly come from South Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys. Yet there are numerous other regions dishing up very classy wines including Canberra District, Victoria, southern Western Australia and Tasmania. Tasmania is on the move, so watch this space. Why is it a great place for riesling? It’s the region’s hallmark fruit intensity and zesty natural acid.
More aromatic and leaner through the body than its fat friend marsanne, roussanne is more closely related to viognier. It’s not a variety that likes a lot of heat, yet there are plenty of warm region roussannes being produced in Australia. Pick too early and the acid is too high; expose to too much heat and the alcohol blows out. Look for beautiful florals and pear with nutty characters building with age. Chase down cool climate producers from Beechworth, Canberra and the Yarra Valley with riper, warmer climate examples from the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and McLaren Vale.
Gone are the days of such wines made for ageing that are best kept at arm’s length when young. Winemakers have reinvented themselves stylistically and are now producing crisp and fresh semillon dripping in citrusy goodness. The aim of winemakers now is to retain fruit and softness. Previously, many sems were made for bottle age only. These young wines were searingly acidic - not so much now. The universal uptake of screwcap seals now ensures consistency and freshness. No other place on the planet makes semillon as good as the Hunter Valley, and the evolution of Hunter Valley semillon now enables these wines to be consumed within months of being picked. Wines are made in February, bottled in April and on the shelf in May, which is a bonus for consumers to get their hands on them at their best. What to look for? Lemons and limes the classic go-to, with the occasional appearance of lemon sherbet. Aged sem starts to show lemon balm, citrus zest and lemon juice aromas. Honeyed tones schmooze on in too. Delicate toasted cashews peel back another level of interest. But it’s the texture that you age semillon for. They develop a distinctive hug of almond croissant-like toasty goodness that nowhere else in the world seems able to replicate. You’d swear they’d been oaked, but almost never are. Semillon is a unique and wonderful beast you should befriend.
This Italian variety has found a happy home in Australia away from its roots in Sardinia, and the classic food match is sardines. Our Australian outdoor lifestyle screams for refreshing white wines like vermentino. It’s a fabulous alternative to savvy b, delivering clean, crisp and refreshing fruit. Drenched in lemony goodness, vermentino was hastily planted not long after its introduction to Australia, but that excitement has since settled. There are now over 100 producers of this variety, many of which comes from warm regions. Reach out to regions such as the Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale, Heathcote and Riverland with worthy contenders coming from cool climate regions such as the Granite Belt, King Valley and Clare Valley.
So move on from the savvy b and start exploring, mofos! The curiosity is in you, and fortune favours the bold. Let us know your wine wins and losses, we’re here for you!