White Wine Changeups

photo by Matthieu-Joannon via Unsplash

photo by Matthieu-Joannon via Unsplash

Under-the-radar alternatives for your favorite white wine varietals

The philosophy of summer is all about the path of least resistance. After all, the stretch between Memorial Day and Labor Day isn’t referred to as the “lazy days” for nothing. And judging from conversations peppered with phrases like “throw something on the grill” and “it’s too hot to cook,” inactivity and minimal effort are not only expected but encouraged. By this point in the season you may find yourself reaching for the same bottle of chilled white every single time, yet too uninspired to seek out something new. Here are a few alternatives to your go-to bottles so you don’t have to do the legwork yourself:

If you like Chardonnay... try Fiano

We know: styles for the world’s most popular white varietal can run the gamut from crisp and high-toned to round and viscous. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume when thinking of chardonnay, we’re referring to a summery style with less oak in the finish, more balanced acidity. When Christina Sherwood, wine director for the California-based Granville Management Group, is in the mood for chardonnay she reaches for fiano. Grown primarily in the Campania region in southern Italy but also found in other pockets around the world, this grape possesses a lot of what we find charming about chardonnay. “Fiano generally exhibits stone fruits, white florals and has an elegance long associated with chardonnay,” she says.

2016 Sarno 1860 Fiano di Avellino ($25.99): This wine has “notes of apple, pear, apricot and hints of toasted hazelnuts with beautiful white blossoms on the nose and a smooth mouth feel,” Sherwood says. “I enjoyed this with a sweet corn risotto and pan-seared scallops.

2018 Solis Winery Estate Fiano ($30): This bottle from California’s Santa Clara Valley has lemon and lychee on the nose, pineapple, grapefruit and minerality on the palate, and a hint of lemongrass and white pepper.

2017 Barboursville Reserve Fiano ($23): Winemaker Lucas Pascina focuses on this Italian varietal at this Charlottesville, Virginia winery. Lemon and minerality are joined by a crisp and clean finish 

photo by Pinar Kucuk via Unsplash

photo by Pinar Kucuk via Unsplash

If you like Sauvignon Blanc... try Verdicchio

Tangy, lean and filled with tart notes of lime, grapefruit and flavors that lean towards grassy or herbaceous, sauvignon blanc is like the adult version of an icy cold beverage procured from a pitcher at a neighborhood lemonade stand. It’s ubiquitous for a reason: it’s darn refreshing. But Italy’s Marche region is home to a fitting stand-in. “Verdicchio [has] many of the same characteristics as sauvignon blanc: lighter-bodied with high acidity, citrus fruits and a clean finish,” Sherwood says. “These wines also tend to be great bargains.”

2017 Andrea Felici Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Superiore ($19.99): Sherwood says this wine has “bright acidity with a touch of salinity on the palate, sweet lemon and white grapefruit and a dry finish.” She suggests pairing it with a platter of fresh vegetables or a favorite salad.

2016 Bucci Villa Bucci Riserva Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico ($60): Bursting with citrus, apricot and acidity balanced with elegance. The finish is pleasant with a slight bitter almond note.

...or Ribolla Gialla

Grown mostly in Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region as well as in Slovenia and in the U.S., this wine has “perpetual freshness and aromatics,” says John Miller, service and beverage manager at Conversation at the Thompson Seattle Hotel. He deems it a perfect aperitif wine to kick off a summer meal—maybe with some charcuterie.

2017 Venica & Venica “L’Adelchi” Ribolla Gialla DOC Collio Italy ($17) : “An incredible balance of freshness and complexity that will hold up to almost any food,” Miller says about this white refresher. Traditional techniques including slight maceration on the skins give it body and intensity.

2018 Massican Annia ($30): This Napa winery’s flagship blend uses tocai friulano with ribolla gialla for the aroma and flavor profiles of green apple and white flowers and chardonnay for structure. The grapes are sourced from small vineyards, harvested and fermented separately in French oak and stainless steel.

If you like Pinot Grigio, try Txakoli

Italy’s popular summer white varietal is totally crushable on the patio, the boat or the beach, and its lemon flavors, high acidity and versatile nature account for its easy drinkability. If you crave something similar, look to txakoli from Spain’s Basque region, which shares those lemon notes and high acidity. It also has the added benefit of being slightly fizzy (similar to Vinho Verde) as well as low ABV, which means you can extend your day drinking.

2016 Hondarrabi Zuri Txakoli Katxina ($19): Honeydew melon and lemon are the hallmarks of this Spanish white, which doesn’t have a touch of spritz like other examples. Serve well-chilled on the patio with a cheese and fruit platter.

photo by Katarzyna Pracuh via Unsplash

photo by Katarzyna Pracuh via Unsplash

2016 Hiruzta Berezia Hondarrabi Zuri ($26), which along with high-acid fruit flavors of green apple grapefruit and lemon this wine has an appealing mouth-watering salinity. Try it with oysters on the half shell spritzed with lemon.

If you like Riesling... try Kerner

Sure, it’s an exciting time for riesling right now. Miller points out that California offerings from new generation winemakers including Reeve and Tatomer are changing the game by producing intensely dry bottles with notes of bright green apples, tropical notes and a white floral finish. (Not convinced? Try the 2018 Reeve Prism Riesling for a stunning example of this style, says Miller.) As an alternative, Sherwood suggests, look to an indigenous grape grown in Italy’s northern Alto Adige region. “This wine stylistically is very reminiscent of a riesling, [as] both wines provide minerality and riper fruit, which is balanced by naturally occurring acid.”

2016 Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Kerner ($18.99): “This wine is simply lovely, exhibiting fresh ripe melon and kiwi with tangy minerality and soft florals on the nose,” Sherwood says. “Try it with lightly fried calamari.”

2016 Markus Wine Company Nativo ($22): Hailing from Lodi, California here’s a blend of mostly kerner with some riesling and bacchus. The result is tinged with lemon, flint and chalkiness—a perfect partner for simply grilled fish with lemon and herbs.

Need more inspiration? Check out the winners of the 2019 NY International Wine Competition and the 2019 Melbourne International Wine Competition.