UNLIKE reds – where, for example, cabernet sauvignon has been hugely popular for more than a century – what is “cool” among white wines seems erratic.
Just as chardonnay had to yield up its place in the sun to sauvignon and pinot grigio, no doubt those varieties too will soon become passé. But what will fill the void?
A few years back, I thought it would be viognier or the similarly aromatic Argentine torrontes. Equally, we could have followed the American love affair with muscat or adopted Italy’s fiano or falanghina or France’s picpoul. All flitted across the screen but never quite developed mass appeal.
So, let me nominate a couple of other whites that could become the next stars – especially if links with food keep wine in the spotlight longer. To illustrate “what goes round comes round” how about riesling? The worst of the medium sweet, over-cropped examples have, rightly, gone the way of the woolly mammoth, but modern – drier – riesling is perfectly placed to meet the demand for wine, rather than beer, to match oriental cooking. In particular, New World areas now produce vibrant versions with fantastic citrus-centred acidity that do the job well. New Zealand, for instance, gives us 2012 Taste the Difference Awatere Valley Marlborough Riesling (£9.99 at Sainsbury’s). Behind its classic floral opening, this version has delightful substance that develops tasty suggestions of peach and honey yet never loses the backdrop of fresh and zesty lime.
In Europe too riesling has changed, led by radical and gifted winemakers like Dr Ernst Loosen from Germany’s Mosel valley. Similarly, across the Rhine, Alsace has a long history of stylish, flinty, food-friendly riesling. I was particularly taken by the rounded and sophisticated 2011 Dopff au Moulin Riesling (£13.49 at Inverarity One to One) with its textured pear flavours and long, flinty finish that add style and complexity to the lime backdrop and those faint touches of kerosene on the nose and palate that typify riesling.
For another style that could well catch on, head south-west to the Rhone Valley. For sure we know all about their impressive reds and even about viognier from Condrieu. However, impressive whites are also produced there from the marsanne and roussanne grapes. These work well when food requires a textured, herbal and savoury wine – in fact, not much else ticks all those boxes so firmly. Try, for instance, 2011 Brotte La Rollande Crozes-Hermitage (£15.79 from Forth Wines) and revel in its rich and smooth savoury flavours that run from parsley to white pepper yet still have room to accommodate both a slightly flowery peach edge and neat but gentle acidic touches.
Another eye-catching example that has similar substance – albeit from different grape varieties (white grenache and clairette this time) - is 2012 Laudun Reserve du Boulas (£8.49 at M&S). This white Cotes du Rhone Villages from the Southern Rhone has that appealing long, textured and savoury flavours the region does well but its herbal influences are of fennel. There are also touches of orange to embellish the major red apple flavours but, since no oak is used in the wine’s production, those fruit flavours shine through brightly.
Maybe neither of those suggested styles will actually top the white wine sales charts – but let’s at least have an enjoyable and interesting time assessing their credentials.
2012 Torreon de Paredes Reserva Chardonnay Rengo Chile, 14 per cent
This is a really polished, smooth and soft chardonnay that delivers ripe orange and banana flavours but enlivened by shots of lemon based acidity – all given depth and complexity by the substantial vanilla finish. £10.49, Forth Wines
2009 Dao DOC Portugal, 13 per cent
You do not see this region quite so often now but it remains a good source of food-friendly but inexpensive reds. Enjoy here the tasty, rich, plum-centred fruit and the wine’s balanced but firm vanilla and nutmeg finish. £4.50 (down from £5.75 in September), Asda