Now that summer has finally arrived in full force, it’s time to ditch the dark stuff and start sipping some white wine. But instead of heading to the store and grabbing your go-to Sonoma Chardonnay, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or, Bacchus forbid, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, do yourself a favor and reach for something different. If you’ve never tried a wine made from the grape varietals Albariño, Grüner Veltliner or Torrontés, you’ll be greatly rewarded for being adventurous.
Albariño is the regional treasure from Rias Baixas in the Northwest corner of Spain, but is also grown just across the border in Portugal where it’s known as Alvarinho. It generally makes a light-bodied white wine with stone fruit aromas, bracing acidity and a mineral character, qualities that make it a divine pairing with shellfish – a staple of the Galician diet. Albariño has been making a lot of noise in the wine world of late, so you’ll usually have a few to choose from at a decent wine shop. The entry level wines are around $12 while the top of the line juice is between $18 and $25.
Grüner Veltliner, or Gru-Vee as it’s affectionately known, is the national wine of Austria, accounting for more than a third of all the grapes grown there. Although made in a variety of styles at a wide range of prices, you’ll mostly find light-bodied herbaceous wines with flavors of green fruit, minerals, and white pepper. Gru-Vee is well known for being a versatile food wine, even pairing well with notorious wine-killer asparagus, and it’s especially refreshing with a light summer salad on a sunny afternoon. As a special bonus, many entry level Grüners (around $10) come in a one liter bottle, giving you 33% more wine for your buck!
While the above grape varietals are great alternatives to Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc respectively, Chardonnay drinkers may want to try Torrontés – the pride of Argentina. Grown nowhere else in the world, Torrontés wines are terrifically aromatic with floral, citrus and stone fruit bursting from the glass, and have enough acid and body weight to stand up to fleshier fish like snapper or sea bass. They’re also a screaming bargain compared to domestic Chardonnays, with many great wines available between $8 and $12.
I’ve tasted two examples of each varietal that should be somewhat widely available, but if you can’t find the specific wines, don’t despair. Ask someone at your local wine shop for their favorite Albariño, Grüner Veltliner or Torrontés and have fun expanding your palate!
2007 Burgans Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain – $12 – Apricot and pine needles on the nose lead to a very minerally acidic wine with hints of lemon peel and white flowers. It would be great with clams or flaky white fish.
2007 Martin Codax Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain – $13 – It offers intense aromas of gooseberry and grapefruit, while the mouthfeel is smooth and easy drinking with lots of the typical Albariño minerals. I thoroughly enjoyed it with shrimp tacos.
2008 Höfer Grüner Veltliner – $13 (1L) – Light and simple with clear green apple, a bouquet of herbs and ripping acidity. A palate cleanser to enjoy with salads or grilled vegetables.
2008 Hugl Grüner Veltliner – $12 (1L) – A very dry wine with crisp pears dominating the flavor profile. The nice acid and hints of fennel would make this interesting with a plate of cured meats.
2008 Elsa Bianchi Torrontes, Mendoza, Argentina – $8 – Huge floral nose that also hints at the tropical fruit which explodes on the palate. The richness of the honeydew melon and pineapple flavors balance perfectly with just the right amount of acid. Quite possibly the best $8 wine I’ve ever had.
2008 Dominio del Plata “Crios de Susana Balbo” Torrontes, Argentina – $13 – Toast and honeysuckle on the nose foretell a fascinating little wine. There are hints of oak, but the wine is still light and refreshing with a mix of citrus and green fruit.