White wines do not go with everything, whatever Madison Avenue says. Nor are all whites instantly drinkable. While the bigger chardonnays of Burgundy and California and the botrytis-infected dessert wines do need aging, most white wines don't need as long as reds to "come together," for the components to settle down. So most of those in my theoretical cellar would be short- to medium-term wines, those that are ready to drink now or within five years.
All the wines mentioned are available now or in the next few months in the Washington area.
I like light, marginally fruity whites for drinking on their own and with light foods, so I'd include a supply from Alsace. The '79s are plentiful, for immediate drinking, and the '81s are just arriving. My first taste of this very good vintage was an excellent start. The wines of Domaine Weinbach, Faller Freres are above average in price -- and in quality. Their '81s will be even better in a few years time.
I'd also buy a mixture of the good German estate wines on sale this fall: the kabinetts of '79 and '81 and some of the mature, well-priced spatlesen and auslesen.
When it comes to dry whites, I'd need variety in style. In the light brigade, there would be a few sauvignon blancs, perhaps the '79 sancerres and pouilly-fumes from the Loire. I find them crisper, more suitable for food, than those of California. Three American exceptions are: '80 Silkwood, '81 Sterling and '81 Ventana.
Few of the sauvignon blancs that I'd drink regularly are under $10, so there'd also be a selection of the less complex of the chardonnays: those of Macon and Chalonnais. While the '79s are still fresh and the '81s are coming in, and while their prices remain so attractive, it's easier to find a pleasant, everyday white from southern Burgundy than it is from California. Even pouilly fuisses have come down to a sane level. The delicious '81 of Trenel is $10. I wouldn't write off the '80 white burgundies either, but they do need careful picking. Chablis, the real thing, has been ignored here for a few years. The wines are affordable once more, and a premier cru or grand cru from the run of good vintages between '78 and '81 would be just the answer when looking for a delicate, subtle chardonnay. Reliable producers include Lamblin, Domaine de la Maladiere and Moreau.
In fuller whites, California chardonnays are taking a happy turn toward less oak and less alcohol. Recent releases of Quail Ridge, Flora Springs and Napa Cellars are good examples, and I was delighted with the pre-release '80 Simi.
As for big white burgundies, the famous properties need more than five years to develop and are in my expensive range, over $15. Sometimes it's worth the wait and expense, and since this cellar of mine is purely theoretical, I'd spend freely on favorite producers such as Leflaive, Bonneau du Martray and Jacques Prieur, and I'd accept the advice of those retailers who are on the lookout for good burgundies.
My white wine cellar wouldn't be complete without a few sauternes. I often pass on desserts, but never on dessert wine. Sauternes are still underpriced, with one exception, and if anybody wants to donate a bottle of Yquem, I'd be delighted to add it to the few bottles of each of the '78 Coutet, Guiraud, Doisy-Daene, Suduiraut and '79 Coutet, Rieussec and Nairac that I'd be buying for myself.