The wondrous world of white

| June 27, 2011 | 0 Comments

The warm brilliant days of summer can inspire us to travel, explore and seek out new pleasures. Thanks to their freshness, vibrancy and plain deliciousness, white wines are a natural fit for the pleasures part. And, why not use wine to scratch the itch to travel or assuage the travel bug, too? Any given bottle of great wine is a vicarious trip to a far-off land, and there are many regions whose wines and grape varietals we are not familiar with but which are starting to make a mark in the wine culture we have here. Though new and emerging, these regions can be found in countries which seem incredibly familiar from a wine perspective.
Argentina is a powerhouse of wine production with countless Malbecs crowding the wine shelves at the LCBO. However, summertime calls for a fresher, more vibrant approach and another Argentine specialty fits the bill perfectly. It is the beautifully perfumed white grape varietal Torrontés. Similar to both Muscat and Gewürztraminer and with an origin which is yet to be fully determined, Torrontés is considered to be an Argentine specialty. The wines made from Torrontés can be beautifully refreshing with intense floral aromatics and flavours of lemon, lime and meringue. While it’s cultivated throughout Argentina, it is in Salta where the varietal is at its best.
Salta lies north of the more familiar region of Mendoza and is one of the Argentina’s oldest wine-producing areas. It also has some of the world’s highest vineyards with altitudes varying from 1,280 to 3,005 metres above sea level. Great examples of Torrontés from Alta Vista, Familia Zuccardi and Catena appear at the LCBO and are rarely more than $20. Keep an eye out for one and you should be delightfully surprised at this very different side of Argentina.
Like Argentina, Chile is a very recognizable part of our wine scene. Once again, this is mostly through an association with big and robust red wines. That said, much work is being done in Chile to explore the potential of cooler sites. Some of these sites are found in established regions familiar to drinkers of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère. For example, in the region of Aconcagua, the Casablanca valley is a relatively new wine-producing region which was only planted to vine in the mid-1980s and is considered Chile’s first successful cool climate region. Here, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc do well and make up three-quarters of the vineyards. This is an anomaly in a country where red varietals account for some 75 percent of the nation’s vineyards.
Also, a new look is being given to Chile’s southernmost areas of Itata, Bío Bío and Malleco. While these may be home to some of the earliest vineyards in Chile (such as near the port city of Concepción), the region has a reputation for jug wine. Now, there are many experimental vineyards in place, and interesting expressions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Riesling are appearing. A great opportunity to taste these wines is with Cono Sur’s “Vision” series of single vineyard wines which have appeared through Vintages. In particular, their 2010 Riesling from Bío Bío is delicious with flavours of lime, green apple and stone fruits and a tremendous value at only $15.
In Australia, a great region to turn to for summer wines is Tasmania. Physically separated from the mainland by the narrow and stormy Bass Strait, Tasmania is also distinct from the rest of Australia in the very different style of wine it produces. With a climate which generally resembles that of cooler areas of Europe, Tasmania produces some of Australia’s most outstanding cool-climate still and sparkling wines. Although production accounts for less than 1 percent of the national total, Tasmanian wines are well represented in premium wine sales and exports and account for more than 6 percent of Australia’s overall premium wine sales.
Fabulous sparkling wines are produced as are great expressions of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Very good, reasonably-priced examples of the latter two varietals from producer Josef Chromy appear through Vintages. Given an opportunity to taste a bottle of traditional method sparkling, take it, as you will be strongly rewarded.
For many of us, Greece has long operated on the periphery of quality wine production. Most people have little or no experience with any of it’s wines. There is, however, a bit of a renaissance underway. Part of this new movement is winery called Gaia (pronounced like “yeah-ah” and not to be confused with the Gaja from Italy). Over the last couple of years, I have become more familiar and greatly impressed with their wines. In particular, their very aromatic “Wild Ferment” Assyrtiko is rich, dry and complex with loads of mineral, citrus and spice. Sourced from windswept vineyards on the island of Santorini, the Assyrtiko grape varietal grows on poor porous soil composed mostly of pumice. Some of Gaia’s vineyards are composed of 70- to 80-year-old, ungrafted vines which produce very low yields of fruit. This wine, in particular, is blended from numerous barrels of Assyrtiko which have fermented with naturally-occurring native yeasts.
While some of Gaia’s wines have appeared through Vintages, it is also available through The Small Winemakers Collection. An awesome pairing with simple savoury fish and seafood dishes (especially those with a salty component), the wine is a perfect fit for summer dining.
Whichever of these roads you take, a discovery of new, exciting and delicious white wines perfect for summer awaits, and you have only to go as far as the store.

Pieter Van den Weghe is the sommelier at Beckta dining & wine.

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Category: Delights

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Pieter Van den Weghe is general manager and wine director at Beckta dining & wine.

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