If you like chardonnay, consider chenin blanc. Chenin has similar weight to chardonnay and also features orchard fruit flavors of peach and pear. It’s usually made without new oak, so it doesn’t have the toasty character of a burgundy or top California chardonnay, but it can impress with mineral complexity and intensity. France’s Loire Valley is chenin’s home, with the appellations of Savennières and Vouvray leading the way. Vouvray can be off-dry and even sweet, and the Quarts de Chaume appellation makes lovely, complex and sweet wines from raisined grapes.
Chenin’s New World champion is South Africa, with delicious, inexpensive wines and stunningly good examples from old bush vines, especially in the Swartland region. Look for wines from A.A. Badenhorst and Ken Forrester, among others. A few U.S. wineries produce chenin blanc, especially from the Clarksburg area of the Sacramento River delta in California. There are still some old vineyards in California and Washington state, and some newer ones here in the East, in New York and New Jersey.
Of course, chardonnay offers great diversity itself — even within Burgundy, from Chablis to Meursault to Mâcon. If you’re a burgundy fan, try chardonnay from Mendoza in Argentina, such as Catena Zapata’s White Bones and White Stones (if you can find and afford them), or Bodegas Salentein’s fine chardonnay. If you’re a fan of California chard, look for other New World-style examples from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Nelson in New Zealand, Tasmania in Australia and Canada’s Okanagan Valley. These regions are producing outstanding chardonnay, if sometimes in small quantities and fairly high prices.
Exploration doesn’t always have to be expensive. If you favor pinot grigio as your house white, venture into Italy’s amazing diversity of white wines: roero d’arneis, vermentino, verdicchio, grechetto, falanghina and fiano, to name just a few. These are terrific values and delicious white wines for light pasta and grilled seafood dishes. And when you’re done exploring Italy, sail over to the Greek islands for some assyrtiko from Santorini.
Sauvignon blanc has great travel potential. Fans of New Zealand’s grassy, peppery savvie may also enjoy the less assertive styles of Chile and South Africa. If you’re a devotee of French sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley, punch a ticket for Austria to try some grüner veltliner. Grüner’s acidity and flavors of white flowers may remind you of sauvignon blanc, while its minerality suggests riesling. That takes us to Germany and Alsace, then back home to the United States for riesling from the Columbia Valley in Washington state, Oregon’s Willamette Valley and, of course, New York’s Finger Lakes.
If you celebrate life’s little victories with prosecco, try cava from Spain. Some great examples cost less than $20 — Juvé y Camps, Segura Viudas, 1+1=3 and Biutiful are among my favorite labels. On the high end, brands such as Raventós i Blanc make gorgeous sparkling wine that rivals champagne in quality and nuance.
And if champagne is your favored bubbly, branch out with a crémant de Bourgogne from Burgundy, usually made from chardonnay and pinot noir but at a fraction of the price of their more prestigious neighbor to the north. From Italy, Franciacorta and Trentodoc are sparkling wines made in the same way as champagne and achieve impressive quality. And the New World makes great fizz, too. Some of my favorites from California include Domaine Carneros, Schramsberg, Roederer Estate and Iron Horse. And I’ll never say no to a glass of Argyle from Oregon, Hermann J. Wiemer from the Finger Lakes, or Virginia’s Thibaut-Janisson.
These suggestions only touch the surface of wine’s diversity, and we’ve only covered whites. We’ll explore reds next week.
Good news for wine lovers: President Biden announced June 15 that the United States and European Union had resolved a long-standing dispute over subsidies for Boeing and Airbus. The dispute over airplanes led the Trump administration to impose tariffs on some European wines, spirits and cheeses, among other non-comestibles. The Biden administration suspended those tariffs for six months this year, and was due to revisit the issue next month. The new agreement means the tariffs will be suspended for at least five years. This is welcome news for importers, especially, who had to pay those tariffs while dealing with rising shipping prices and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.
More from Wine archives: