W(h)ining: Aromatic Whites and a Toast to the Spring Season

25 Mar

I was delighted to pour a flight of three aromatic white wines on Sunday to celebrate the first day of spring.  I was a bit apprehensive, though, that many of my tasting-bar customers would be less than excited by the offering of all white, off-dry wines.  But the intense fragrance and vibrant, mouthwatering, palate of wines poured from unassuming, Alsatian bottles, pleasantly surprised many folks who might normally shy away from this style of wine.

I’ve noticed that a majority of consumers drink only red, or very little white, and almost everyone, it seems, is afraid of a touch of sweetness in their wine.  I’m not sure if it’s the memory of sugary, flavourless, mass-produced American White Zinfandel circa 1980, or the surprisingly explosive sweetness of that first sip of quality icewine, but it seems to me there is a general reluctance to try off-dry, or, as many people mistakenly call them, ‘sweet’ wines.  An off-dry wine, unlike a sweet wine such icewine, late harvest wine, or port, has just a touch of residual sugar, and, if made to my liking, a good amount of mouthwatering  acidity to balance the sweetness; indeed, this is precisely the difference between an exquisite off-dry Gewürztraminer, and an unpalatably cloying wine of the 80s blush variety.  Acidity in off-dry wine is kind of like a squeeze of lemon in a recipe; it brightens the flavours of the wine, adds a bit of tartness to balance the sweetness, and provides a clean finish to a round palate.

Now, to answer the obvious question I’ve neglected thus far:  What is an aromatic wine?  Wines that are considered ‘aromatic’ exhibit an intense nose, or fragrance, of flowers, fruit, and spices that come from the grape itself, Vinification, by contrast, or the winemaker’s tinkering, produces what we call the bouquet rather than the aroma of the wine.  The bouquet of a Syrah might exhibit characteristics of vanilla and smoke from the oak barrels it is aged in, for example, and its aroma might show luscious black fruit and white pepper.

Some wine varieties (or grapes) considered aromatic are Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, and Pinot Blanc, although wines from these grapes do not always exhibit the intense nose characteristic of an aromatic wine, and sometimes wines can be aromatic even if they’re not made from grapes that are typically considered ‘aromatic.’

The wines I poured on Sunday, however, were all exceptional examples of aromatic wines, and perfect for welcoming the spring season, with their bright aromas of fresh fruit and flowers. Each was slightly more off-dry, or sweet than the last, and the first wine I poured was JoieFarm’s recently-released 2009 A Noble Blend.  This boutique winery in Naramata, BC, Canada produces a slightly different Alsatian-style blend each vintage, and the 2009 blend is mostly Gewürztraminer with some Pinot Gris, Pinot Auxerrois and Riesling.  On the nose, the domination of Gewürztraminer in the blend was apparent immediately:  it exhibited a bright, intense, nose of lychee and aloe, with a touch of that cold-cream characteristic typical of the Gewürztraminer grape.  There were also notes of rose water and spice on the nose, which came through on the palate.  The fruit on the palate, however, was quite different from the tropical, lychee-rose aroma.  Although the nose of the wine lead me to assume it was going to be quite off-dry, on tasting it, I was surprised that only a very small touch of residual sugar was left in the wine, and it actually finished relatively dry, with flavours of fresh ruby red grapefruit and lemonade lingering.  At $28.99 CAD, JoieFarm’s A Noble Blend is a complex, delicious wine that will delight both lovers of the most off-dry aromatic wines like myself, as well as folks who want beautiful, intense aromas without all the sweetness.

The second wine I poured was only a tiny bit sweeter than the first.  At $16.99, Obsession from Ironstone Vineyards is an excellent value wine from California; it’s difficult to find a quality aromatic wine under $20.  Although it was not my particular favourite, as a subjective aromatic-appreciator, it was certainly unique, interesting, and well-received.  Obsession is made from the American varietal, Symphony, which was created in California in 1948 by crossing the two Vitis vinifera grapes, Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria.  The nose is intensely floral, and very uniquely so.  I often smell rose, or lilac, or jasmine, or even violet in a wine, but Obsession smelled of large, ‘polleny’ garden flowers like daffodils and lilies.  There was also a layer of something sweet on the nose; it reminded me of lemon custard or crème brûlée.  The intense floral note came through on the palate, and was complimented nicely with vibrant acidity and buttery richness that made the unique floral character quite delectable.  Indeed, Ironstone’s Obsession was the most-purchased wine of the tasting.

The third and final wine I poured proved an excellent finish to the flight.  Sperling VineyardsThe Market White from Kelowna, BC, Canada is also an Alsatian-style blend like the JoieFarm, although it is considerably sweeter.  The blend here is predominantly Pinot Gris with some Gewürztraminer and a smidgen of Riesling.  The Market White was distinctive in this lineup because it exhibited an intense nose of exclusively fruity characteristics.  Vibrant notes of orchard fruit – peaches and apricots – that one might expect from an Okanagan wine, came through on both the nose and the palate.  I detected a slight note of something herbaceous, but the residual sugar and fruit characteristics of the wine gave it a delightful fruit-cocktail finish.  At only $19.99 CAD, Sperling’s The Market White is wonderful as an aperitif, a dessert or cheese plate wine, or an excellent and inexpensive compliment to the spiciest of Indian and Thai cuisines.

My humble advice:  don’t be afraid of a little bit of sugar.  Some of the best white wines in the world are off-dry, aromatic, perfect for some difficult food pairings, and delicious!

—  ruby

originally posted on: http://veganmisanthrope.wordpress.com/

also seen at: http://www.everythingwine.ca/blog/

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