There are few things quite as comforting as a big glass of red in front of a fire. This sense of comfort and luxury does a lot for the reputation of red wines – they are seen as more sophisticated and often the better of the two main styles.
However, white wine deserves better than this delegation, and it certainly need not be seen as the inferior of the two. White wine has so much to offer the wine world and the idea that they should be reserved for 30 degree days is simply not true. There is a far deeper side to the paler grape.
It is correct that many white wine expressions are brisk and refreshing, but it is also true that many of us never delve into the richer world of whites. Viognier can be as luxurious as it is hard to pronounce (for the record it’s ‘vee on yeah’). Riper expressions, especially those of the Northern Rhone in France, and particularly those with age, are equal in intensity and complexity to many red wines. In fact, I often find them far richer, and displaying a glorious aromatic apricot quality too.
One of the biggest white wines I’ve encountered is the Giaconda Aeolia, a Roussanne dominant wine that broadens with age and could easily confuse the hardiest red wine drinker. The main difference here is perfume and a slight waxy character.
As Marsanne and Riesling age beyond 5 years or so they begin to lose their fresh acid lines. Wines that were once sleek and tight become fuller and more generous. They move into a zone that would easily match the weight of many a Pinot Noir and offer a terrific flexibility for food matching.
If you are looking for something Italian then the North West is where you should be heading. The region of Friuli has some wondrous whites made from grapes like Ribolla Gialla. It is here too that many grapes are often blended together, creating an expression far greater than expected from one grape – think of lauded producers like Silvio Jermann, who helped change the way Italian whites were considered with his Vintage Tunina back in the 70’s. This is a white wine that still is as iconic now as it was then.
The idea of blending white grapes together also means that you can achieve richness and the palate weight of red wines (albeit without the same tannin expression), and have more control over characters like perfume and acid. If you were to merely make a ripe rich white wine you often lose that acid and perfume, however you can add gewürztraminer for aroma and riesling for acid and end up with something quite majestic. There are many Field Blends starting to appear on shelves and they are terrific. The idea that the bottle doesn’t tell you what it’s made from and it doesn’t signpost its intent in an expected way from a single grape is exciting. These wines offer complexity and interest and should be consumed throughout the year, not just in summer when it’s hot.
If nothing else, go out and try some of these whites. Cook a pork roast on the weekend and move outside your comfort zone with some of these harder-to-pronounce and more exotic grapes. You won’t regret it.