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Beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon:
Four Up-and-Coming Varietals


By Sharon Kapnick

Today there are a number of delicious, exciting wines available that were not on US radar screens a mere 10 years ago. They’re wonderful alternatives to more familiar wines with more familiar tastes. One of them will be the perfect complement to almost any dish, and there’s a good chance it will be a better companion than the woody Chardonnays or overpowering Cabernet Sauvignons that have become old standbys in the US. These lesser-known varietals are available in inexpensive and expensive versions; I’ll recommend both. (As always, it’s a good idea to shop at a trustworthy store or website, one whose selections you can rely on and/or whose salespeople you can trust.)

More than a third of Austria’s vineyards are planted with Grüner Veltliner, a.k.a. GrüVe or G.V., a versatile, trendy grape grown almost exclusively in Austria. It’s become a darling of sommeliers in part because, as importer Terry Theise writes, it “answered a food prayer.... It’s the wine that will partner all the foods you thought you’d never find a wine for ... artichokes ..., avocado, every manner of obstreperous veggie ... a really peppery salad.” It’s the wine vegetarians have been waiting for. It’s also lovely with lobster, shrimp, crab, caviar, fish, poultry and pork. Theise, who works with Michael Skurnik Wines (, calls it “the world’s most flexible dry white wine at table.” It’s certainly one of them.

What wines is G.V. like? “If Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc had a baby, it would be Grüner Veltliner,” writes Theise. Jodi Stern of Vin Divino, another importer of excellent Austrian wines (, believes G.V. combines qualities of Alsatian and Loire wines: It offers, she says, the “complexity, sensuality, depth and body of Alsace” and the “mineral, spark and loveliness of the Loire.”

The aromatic Grüner Veltliner has a spicy (white pepper), fruity (citrus, pear, melon, peach, strawberry, rhubarb, apple), vegetal (lentils, green beans, peas), flowery and/or minerally character. It’s usually dry and high in acid (high acidity makes for good palate-cleansing food wines). Some G.V.s are lively, simple, meant for everyday use and best drunk young; others are more complex and structured and age well. The price usually serves as a good guide to which style the wine is.

Recommended Producers:
Bauer, Bründlmayer, E. &. M. Berger, Freie Weingärtner Wachau, F.X. Pichler, Glatzer, Kurt Angerer, Heidi Schröck, Hiedler, Hirsch, Hofer, Huber, Knoll, Loimer, Nigl, Pfaffl, Schloss Gobelsburg, Sepp Moser, Stadt Krems, Winzer Krems

From the lush, verdant Rías Baixas region of Galicia in northwestern Spain — which makes you think more of Ireland than Spain — comes Albariño, the wine that is Spain’s greatest white. (The grape is called Alvarinho in Portugal, where it makes delightful Vinho Verdes [see The Summer Sommelier: Reds, Whites and Rosés to Complement the Season’s Fare]). The Spanish say Albariño has the minerality and bracing acidity of Riesling, the texture and peach/apricot character of Viognier, and the floral bouquet of Pinot Gris. It also has a zip, a zing and a flair that’s all its own.

Albariño is a dry, crisp, refreshing, aromatic, usually unoaked wine. It’s often chockablock with mouth-watering fruit aromas and flavors — melons, pear, mango, pineapple, kiwi, apple, lemon and lime among them — with occasional mineral overtones, is medium bodied and moderate in alcohol.

Albariño is called “el vino del mar” (the wine of the sea) because the grapes are grown in coastal vineyards that are greatly affected by the Atlantic Ocean and because no wine on this planet is more compatible with seafood. (At Novo restaurant in New York City, chef Alex Garcia boils his octopus in Albariño — along with the corks! — and water.) You might drink it as the Spanish do, young, fresh, with almost any manner of sea creature. Since versatility is a feature of this wine, you might try it with vegetables, light pasta dishes, chicken, ham, pork or veal — and, of course, tapas. Oh, yes, don’t forget Asian food — perhaps sushi, Chinese or Indian. Most surprising of all is how well it complements barbecued ribs (also see The Summer Sommelier).

Recommended Producers:
Burgáns, Condes de Albarei, Fillaboa, Galegas, Lagar de Fornelos, Lusco, Martín Códax, Morgadío, Pazo de Barrantes, Pazo de Señoráns, Pazo San Mauro, Salneval

Page Two of Beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon: Four Up-and-Coming Varietals>>



©2006 Sharon Kapnick for SeniorWomenWeb
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