Open up to other varietals

As a follow-up to last week's column on alternatives to chardonnay, here are a few wonderful, dry, white varietals that rarely make it to the United States or are sometimes overlooked:

Grillo. This venerable wine has been around for many years and continues to be the backbone of the Sicilian white wine scene. I first encountered grillo at a Sicilian couple's wedding in Italy in the 1970s. Her fiancé, with whom I worked at a winery, went down to her hometown to bring back something meaningful for the ceremony. Her hometown had a small winery called Villa Tonino that produced this white as well as a rosé from Nero d'Avola.

This grillo is a marvelous, dry and very clean wine with mineral flavors and a hint of citrus. Villa Tonino has been producing wine since 1875 and continues to make state-of-the-art grillo. Great with seafood of any kind as well as light fare such as grilled chicken. This is a nice wine. $14.95.

  • Sauvignon blanc-semillon. I ran across this white Bordeaux many years ago at a restaurant in San Francisco. This wine from De Lagarde is one of the most refreshing of the traditional sauvignon blanc-semillon blend. This wine is 60 percent sauvignon blanc and 40 percent semillon, with just a hint of perfume in the nose and a slate-clean finish. It's perfect for white cream sauces and fresh fruit. We had this wine the other night with a seafood fettuccine, sprinkled with cheese and black pepper. Many folks think of sauvignon blanc as a stand-alone varietal, but the inclusion of semillon adds a wonderful cleanliness and crispness to the finish. Lovely wine. $15.95.
  • Alto Real Macabeo. This high-altitude, estate-bottled white is rarely seen outside of Spain and comes from the Bullas region, where macabeo is grown up to about 2,500 feet. This wine shows perfume, intense freshness, long flavors and a wonderful finish of lemon and lime. It is just perfect with any seafood but also does especially well with grilled light meats, as the freshness in the finish will cut through just about anything. I think this might be the dry-white-wine lover's dream as the fruit comes on in the nose and palate, but the flavors are intensely dry and clean. Yum wine. $15.95.
  • Verdejo-Perlamaris, Rueda, Spain. This little sweetheart is a gem of a white wine offering. I really like Verdejo wines and first encountered them at a Spanish trade show in the early 1970s. The varietal traditionally shows good palate density — it has weight and grip on the palate — and cleanses as it explodes flavors, from the nose to the end palate. This dry offering is a little deceptive as the nose is laden with perfume, which might suggest sweetness. There is not a sweet bone in this wine, as it is almost surgical in its clean, dry and fresh flavors. We had this wine with paella and it was just the ticket. I really enjoy a fruit-forward bouquet in white wines and this wine delivers it beautifully. $14.95.

When we talk about white wine, we sometimes confuse the terms "fruity" with "sweet." The "fruit" in wines, regardless whether they are red or white, come from the fruit; this is what you are experiencing. Sweetness is about residual sugar, or sugar that has not been fermented in the must, or sugar which is left over from a late harvest. One can have either a fruity sweet wine or a fruity dry wine. Fruit is not an indicator of sugars.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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