Most of us started our wine drinking careers with white wines. After we
discovered red (real wine) there was no going back for most people.
Recently I was asked to put together a presentation of white wines for red
wine drinkers. White Night is the result. I have had the pleasure of
presenting this to two delightful audiences. Their appreciation tempted me
to publish it here.
basically only three types of wine. A less sophisticated audience than
this would probably say that these are red, white and rosι, whereas you
know that I refer to still, sparkling and fortified. This presentation
covers the three types but in reverse order.
Most of us started drinking
wine with a white, and mostly it was something like Blue Nun
Liebfraumilch. When we got more sophisticated we moved up to Black Tower,
then tried a Spanish Chablis (yes, this was before they weren't allowed to
call it that) and finally we got all grown up and moved on to reds; real
wine, and never looked back. For those who take the trouble, though, there
is a wonderful range of taste and flavour in white wines.
Many say that the problem is
that it's harder to get a good white than a good red, and certainly at any
sort of reasonable price. Now I haven't pushed the boat out too far on
price with this selection but I hope that you'll agree that we have both
value and flavour to rival any red at similar prices.
1. Vinicola Hidalgo, Fino Superior Miraflores, Sanlucar, Spain
For most people Sherry is
the stuff that you give your maiden aunt. But Fino, made with Palomino
grape from the chalky soil of Jerez is something else. Flor, a yeast
indigenous to Jerez, grows on the surface of the wine and gives it its
tang. It is very particular and only grows at 15.5% alcohol, so guess what
alcohol content a Fino has? Base wines destined for nuttier sherries
(Amontillado and Olorosa) are more fortified, and sometimes sweetened with
Pedro Ximenez (PX) grapes.
Sherry is a blended wine, so
there is no such thing as vintage sherry, and made in a solera system; the
barrel is topped up every year. The date you sometimes see is the date
when the solera was started.
For those of a patriotic
bent I suggest Garvey's Fino San Patricio: The original Mr. G was
from Waterford and named fis Fino after our national saint. I first
had this particular one in the Kesh restaurant. I thought it one of
the best ever and asked for the Sommelier to get its provenance. Other
Finos readily available include Tio Pepe and La Ina.
16 approx Nicholsons
2. Veuve Cliquot NV, Champagne, France
For many, the only
millennium mouthful was Champagne, and for many of these it came with a
bright orange label that read Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin. The lady pictured
on the top of the cork is the eponymous Widow Cliquot-Ponsardin, known to
devotees everywhere simply as the Widow. The perfectionism of Dom Perignon
may have made Champagne the wine of princes and palaces throughout Europe,
but Nicole-Barbe Cliquot-Ponsardin, widowed with a baby daughter in 1805
at then age of 27, made it the celebratory wine of the world.
The Champagne industry
suffered from catering for the very heads guillotined by the French
Revolution. One merchant in Champagne, according to Hugh Johnson, the
wine-writer, saved several heads by deleting the titles of his customers
and writing "Citizen" instead. To make matters worse the
Napoleonic wars then sucked up all available cash. To export was the
answer. The widow Cliquot had a salesman of genius; a Mr. Bohne. He first
tried England, without much success, then took his wares to Russia,
Prussia and Austria. Competition was tough; in a letter from St.
Petersburg in 1806 he wrote: "The Tsarina is with child. If it is a
Prince, gallons of Champagne will be drunk all over this vast country. Do
not mention it, or all our rivals will be here at once."
When Napoleon invaded Russia
in 1811 Charles-Henri Heidsieck is purported to have arrived in Moscow on
horseback, order book at the ready, several weeks before the Imperial
army! After the ill-fated campaign, which left the French defeated by
those famous Russian generals Janvier and Fevrier, the Russians arrived in
Champagne. At Reims the far-sighted Widow Cliquot provided them with
Champagne. "Today they drink," she said, "tomorrow they
The occupying forces left in
May 1814. By the beginning of June she had a ship chartered, loaded with
Mr. Bohne and as much Champagne as it could carry, and sailing for the
Baltic. Bohne arrived in Koenigsberg on July 3rd and had the field to
himself; there was not another Champagne merchant within 500 miles.
Champagne defines both a
process and a place, but to quote Johnson again "the process simply
makes it fizzy; the place is what makes it unique." Having said that,
Champagne is in essence a blended wine, known by the name of the maker
rather than the vineyard. There are 68,000 acres in Champagne, with 19,000
proprietors, many of them part-time growers. All the vineyards are on
chalk, which drains well and reflects the sunlight back onto the vines.
Today three grapes dominate;
Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Blanc de blancs are made from
Chardonnay only; the rest of Champagne is made from a blend of the red and
white grapes. Fermentation is stopped by the autumnal cold, and starts
again in the bottle in Spring, creating a sparkling wine. The natural
effect is encouraged by a little more sugar and a little more yeast. The
achievement of the Widow Cliquot was to find a way of cleaning the wine of
the sediment that results from re-fermentation in the bottle without
losing the bubbles. In short, the bottles are placed upside down and
gently twisted and shaken every day to get all the sediment near the cork.
The neck is then frozen, the cork whipped out, a plug of ice and sediment
shoots out and a new cork is inserted.
Great Champagnes can mature
for twenty years or more, and even non-vintage wines from a good house
will improve for four or five years, so don't drink them too young.
Widely available at about 27
3. Ch. Pique-Segue, Montravel, France, 2000
I included this one since it
is a rare example of decent Bordeaux style white. That it has the
nose of a Bordeaux white is not surprising, since it's from Bergerac.
Beautifully balanced, austere but with good fruit finish. It's a mix of
equal quantities of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscatel (giving the
gorgeous finish). Superb at the price.
9.51 McCabes, Kellys
4. Gewurtztraminer Trimbach, Alsace, France, 1999
"Alsace makes Germanic
wine in the French way. The tone is set by the climate, the soil and the
choice of grape varieties: all comparable with the vineyards of slightly
farther north, down the Rhine valley, which are in Germany. What differs
is the interpretation put on these things - because today German and
Alsatian winegrowers hold opposite points of view of what they want their
wines to be. In a nutshell, the Germans look for sweetness, the Alsatians
for strength. German wine at its best is not for the table but for the
drawing-room or the garden. Alsace wine is the great adjunct to one of
France's most splendid cuisines. Alsace gives the flowery-scented grapes
of Germany the body and authority of such table wines as white Burgundy -
proper accompaniments to strong and savoury food." Hugh Johnson,
The World Atlas of Wine
"True connoisseurs of
wine must find it appalling that so many importers trip over each other
trying to find yet another excessively priced, overcropped, generally
insipid Italian Chardonnay or French red Burgundy, while ignoring the
treasures of this fairy-tale viticultural area in the most beautiful
wine-producing region of France." Robert Parker, The Wine Buyers
Alsatian wines are in the
main, unlike most French wines, named after the grape variety. They come
in tall green bottles, the "flute d'Alsace". Cuvee means blend.
Grand Vin is wine over 11% alcohol Reserve Exceptionelle, Grand Reserve
(ditto) Grand Cru The new appellation for wines of the best varieties from
the best, designated, vineyards Mise d'Origine All Alsace wine is now
bottled in Alsace Vandange Tardive Late-picked wine, implying more
strength and/or sweetness Selection des Grains Nobles Wine of hand sorted
over ripe grapes equivalent to a German Beerenauslese. Botrytised (noble
rot). Cremant d'Alsace is a sparkling wine made from the Pinots, Riesling
and Chardonnay. The Rose version is made from Pinot Noir only.
Gewurtztraminer is the great
speciality of Alsace, this pink grape (supposed to originate in the
village of Trameno, in the Italian Tyrol) makes one of the greatest white
wines. With a deep golden colour, Gewurtztraminer is intensely perfumed
with aromas of rose petals, turkish delight, lychees and super-ripe
pineapples. I find it's like china tea. The Trimbach one is particularly
well-balanced. It has low to medium acidity but is clean and dry.
Best drunk by itself as an aperitif or with pungent pork and fish dishes,
lobster thermidor or a l'Americaine, or with foie gras or a rich cheese
such as Muenster. Try it with lightly seasoned oriental dishes as well.
(13.5-14%), itaAges 5-15 years or 8-25 for Vendange Tardive.
15.22 from Jus de Vine, widely available
5. Clos du Chateau, Domaine du Chat de Meursault, Bourgogne, 1998
"It's Chardonnay, Jim,
but not as we know it." Not actually a Meurseult but from
Meurseult, this is a lovely balance of acidity and fruit. Somewhat Chablis
like. Still developing. Very good and well worth the money.
19.03 Kellys, fairly widely available
6. Riesling Clos Hauserer, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, Wintzheim,
Alsace, France, 1993
Olivier Humbrecht has
won wine maker of the year so many times that it's embarrassing. He was
just recently awarded the Legion d'Honneur as well. This is an example of
why. Even his Sylvaner is better than many a Gewurtztraminer. (Has it
dawned on you that I like this man's wines?)
The petrol is subdued, and a
lovely orange peel is coming through at the end. Intense,
flavoursome, light but a mouthful loasts for minutes. Stands up to the
greatest Burgundies. Very long lasting in the mouth..
Riesling is called the
noblest white wine of all. It's dry in Alsace (unlike German Rieslings)
and with considerable body. It has less of a floral component than its
German counterpart but also a deep gout de petrol with an earthy, mineral,
flinty taste and hints of pineapple, honey and orange-peel. Can age 3-15
years or 5-25 years for Vendange Tardive wines. Serve with grilled or
poached fish, with white meat, and with lobster, crayfish and crab.
I had the pleasure of trying
a bottle of Zind Humbrecht's Tokay Pinot Gris from 1986 just last week. It
was glorious. (Thanks, Tommy.)
25.38 Jus de Vine
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