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Alternative Whites28/04/2003

Alternatives to what? Well, alternatives to the mainstream! For example, you’ve been invited around to a friend for a meal and you have to bring a bottle. The friend knows a thing or two about wine and food and you’d like to take something interesting. You can take a very expensive bottle and the high cost would be impressive. But its not a clever strategy – and besides, it hurts!

The answer is to take something that is not too expensive, not too cheap, and that is a good conversation piece.

The starting point is to know that most of the world’s famous wines are made from seven grapes – four of them white. They are Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The reds are Pinot Noir, Shiraz and the Cabernet Family (including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc). This “Magnificent Seven” has the ability to deliver distinctive flavour in a wide variety of climates and explains their popularity. However there are plenty of others. Often these alternative varieties do not have inherent richness of flavour but there is diversity and difference. And therefore a wine of interest! Not that I advocate joining the “ABC” movement – “Anything But a Chardonnay” – drinkers who spurn the well known wines of the Magnificent Seven but particularly Chardonnay! Chardonnay may be common, and there are lots of ordinary ones around, but Chardonnay remains the richest most complex white wine around. It’s a “horses for courses” argument – if a rich white is sought, then Chardonnay will generally deliver it! But for a conversation piece, maybe try the alternatives.

The grape Pinot Gris, as it is called in France, is known as Pinot Grigio in Italy. It is new and experimental in Australia. Many are steely and light in flavour. T’Gallant from the Mornington Peninsular has richer flavoured wines (about $20). Pipers Brook has an aromatic austere style ($23). Try imported examples – Pfaffenheim from Alsace (about $16) and Bollini from Italy ($18).

My tip for a trendy white group is the Rhone Valley style – the region is in the south of France and the climate is hot though with cold periods, and is quite similar to much of Australia. The varieties are little known – they include Marsanne, Rousanne and the one to watch – Viognier. In the south of the Rhone Valley the grapes Marsanne and Rousanne are blended. Marsanne is a robust variety with an oily lemon straw character not unlike Semillon although it ages and becomes rich more quickly. Rousanne is more steely and has a herbal lemon flavour.  Marsanne has been grown by Tahbilk and Mitchelton in the Goulburn Valley of Victoria for many decades. Tahbilk Marsanne ($15) is steely and ages gracefully. It develops a rich soft creamy lemon charcter and is great to put alongside Semillon if you want to trip up wine experts in a guessing game! Mitchelton Marsanne ($17) is partly fermented in oaked barrels and shows a much richer apricot flavour than Tahbilk. There is a small amount of Rousanne at St Huberts in the Yarra Valley – look for the St Huberts wine ($23). It has a delicate fragrant citrus and straw character. Whites made from these varieties from the Rhone Valley are available – the names typically are Crozes-Hermitage Blanc or Chateauneuf-de-Papes Blanc. “Blanc” means “white”  and designates a white from these sub-regions that are both more famous for reds. The producers Jaboulet and Chapoutier both have wines on offer for prices ranging from $20 upwards. They are steelier to taste than Australian equivalents but have an interesting fragrant apricot mineral aroma.

            The famous white is Viognier. It can be very rich in taste. The best examples come from a Rhone sub-region called Condrieu. They are rich, fragrant and complex and as big in flavour as a Chardonnay even though they don’t have oaky flavours that are usually found on the latter. Condrieu wines are expensive – around $60. Such a premium exciting wine has lots of followers in Australia but so far only a few producers. The indisputed leader is Yalumba – try Yalumba Barossa Valley ($18), Heggies ($25) and Vergilius ($30) if you can find the latter special release. Tahbilk has a limited release that is very good ($18). Another good conversation piece is Queensland producer Ballandean Estate – their Viognier is available in small quantities (about $22).

Fans of Rhone reds have been around for some time – Shiraz and Grenache originate there. Add to your repertoire with some Rhone whites and become a “Rhone Ranger”!

Wines of the Week

Good Value Brigade – Bullers of Rutherglen are known for fortified wines but their new table wines have great rich flavours for an inexpensive price. Victoria Chardonnay ($8) has soft tropical fruit flavours. Victoria Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvedre ($9) has soft spicy plummy flavours.

One to watch – Lillydale in the Yarra Valley is now owned by McWilliams and the wines look very sophisticated and flavoursome – the 2000 Chardonnay ($18) is complex rich and refined, and very drinkable!

Spoil yourself – the king of Pinot Noirs, Bannockburn, has a new release, the 1999 vintage ($48). It is rich with both raspberry and earthy flavours and a terrific velvet succulent taste. It is up there with the great Burgundies.


Copyright 2010 E-Wine Consult