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ELR Wine 101: White Wines For Newbies

Posted Jul 13 2009 10:35pm

Welcome to the ELR Wine 101 class!

Glad you all could make it :) First up, white wine!

Most wine newbies love white wine, especially Chardonnay, which I affectionately refer to as “Chardonnay-nay” as my wine instructor at school called it. If you aren’t used to drinking wine, whites are a great way to go because they are light, often fruity and can be paired with just about anything. There’s a few different types of white wine that y’all should be made familiar with if you want to impress your cute Total Wine guy (or your dinner guests).
Here’s a list of the biggies to be memorized:
  1. Chardonnay-nay
  2. Sauvignon Blanc (or Fume Blanc)
  3. Pinot Grigio (referred to as Pinot Gris in France)
  4. Riesling
  5. Gewurztraminer (which is hard to say after a few glasses)

(other whites include Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Semillion, Sauternes and blends but for times sake we shall just discuss the “big 5″ as I like to call them)

If you are just getting into the whole wine thing and really have NO idea what to even look for at the store, I recommend a light Sauvignon Blanc. Why is this? Because Sauvignon Blancs are often zesty, refreshing and fruity. You don’t have to worry about what to pair it with (it goes with everything as far as I’m concerned), its easy to drink and most are very affordable. Unlike some Chardonnays, which can be quite oaky, Sauvignon Blancs tend to be more fruity, making it a great choice for a newbie with a very sensitive palate. Most Sauvignon Blancs have flavors of melon, citrus, passion fruit and pear. Can you say holy yum? ;)

New Zealand makes some great Sauvignon Blancs but so does California. Sauvignon Blanc is actually California’s second most popular wine….Chardonnay-nay is first of course!


Murphy Goode Fume.jpg

Even better: most places sell Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc for less than $12!! Now that’s a deal.

Now, onto Chardonnay-nay

To be honest, I’ve had many a Chardonnay that I like but I’ve also had some just plain awful ones. But that’s the really cool thing about wine! I think it is just so fascinating that no two wines are the same. Chardonnay grapes could grow literally right next to each other and the whole wine making process could be the same but the end product taste differently. It all depends on so many things…the soil, the sunshine, the climate…… A LOT goes into that delicious little bottle! One time I was at a restaurant with some friends. One of my friends is a HUGE wine-O and wanted to impress us all by ordering two bottles of his favorite Chardonnay for the table. He said he had a bottle of this same kind of Chardonnay at home and just loves it. Well, the server opened the bottle and poured us all glasses and we ALL (even HIM) agreed it was awful! It tasted nothing like the “same wine” he had at home. How strange is that?!
You’ve gotta be careful with the Chardonnay-nay, especially if you are a newbie. Some Chards can be so oaky that they are almost un-palatable, while others are so floral and high in alcohol that it makes you want to gag. The trick is to know the vineyard and also know what you like. Oaky Chards may just rock your world. I know many people that adore them. However, personally, I tend to swing more towards the side tropical fruit flavors, like lemon and grapefruit (but not cat pee, which is seriously a term that is used to characterize the smell of some Chardonnay LOL) or vanilla and butterscotch. Word in the grapevine (haha) is that the new trend in California is to slowly make the move away from high oak and go more towards low oak, which many people are rejoicing about (myself included).
You can find some great Chardonnay for under $15 for sure. I’m all for saving money but when it comes to Chardonnay you really have to be careful and not get a super cheap brand. Super cheap = wine made with fake oak powder or sickly sweet. Some of the worst hangovers I’ve experienced have been a result of cheap Chard in college. Learn from my mistakes, friends.

Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Gris, is another great choice for newbies

I LOVE a good Pinot Grigio because it goes with just about anything and is just so light and refreshin g. If Chardonnay ain’t your thing, you may adore Pinot Grigio because to me, its just the opposite. Rarely is there any trace of smoke or oak in Pinot Grigio; rather, most are crisp and fruity.
Not sure what I am talking about when I say “dry” or “crisp”? Have you ever had a glass of wine and the second it hits your tongue you feel like your tongue dries up dramatically? Sort of like sucking on a really sour jolly rancher? That, my friends, is dry. Dry wine can be a good thing and a not-so-good thing but it just depends on what your tastes are. Personally, I like a dry white wine, but not overly so.
Yummy Pinot Grigios have flavors of apple, peach, melon, orange and pear and are delicious when served with appetizers before dinner….or anytime! ;)
Like with Chardonnay, you can find some great deals on Pinot Grigio but again, I wouldn’t go so low you are in the low single digits. All that will do for you is give you a migraine. When I buy Pinot Grigio I tend to stay in the range of $10-$18. Never going over $20 unless its for some crazy special occasion.

Last up on our white wine lecture are the two sweetie-pies of the group, Riesling and Gewurztraminer

I used to be VERY anti these wines because I always thought sweet wines = bad headache (I had way too much Arbor Mist as a teenager…..bad, bad, BAD experience ). Really though, while that can be true (and true of ANY wine if you drink enough of it!), sweet wines are great when paired with the right food. I really didn’t get into Rieslings at all until my wine class at school and I remember being absolutely SHOCKED when I tasted a few that were really wonderful! Sweet, but not too sweet and very drinkable.
Riesling is traditionally a German wine because the grapes rely on a very cool climate to thrive. However, some areas in the States make Rieslings as well, such as California and the Pacific Northwest (Mmmmmm those are good!). If you are looking for a good Riesling that isn’t too sweet, ask your wine dude how dry and sweet it is. A lot of Rieslings have slightly sweet floral notes and they all go very well with food.
I remember having a “mystery glass of wine” at this wine bar under my apartment while in college. I was still in my “I-hate-sweet-wines-because-arbor-mist-made-me-puke” stage and when the bartender told me I was actually drinking a Riesling, not a Pinot Grigio like I thought, I was astounded and actually wrote down the name of the wine to go find on my own…it was THAT good!
Gewurztraminers are also traditionally sweeter wines. I’m not a huge fan in general but I like them after dinner for more of a dessert wine. Its been said that when a Gewurztraminer is good, it is very good. But when a Gewuzrtraminer is BAD, it is very, very, very bad.
S o that sums up Day 1 of ELR Wine 101! I hope you all learned something interesting and your homework is to have a glass of white wine tonight!


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