Update on white wine varietals

I wanted to write about a few interesting white wine varietals on the market today and give you a little update on what is important to understand about these varietals.

Pinot gris / pinot grigio — There is an huge misunderstanding about these wonderful and highly versatile white wines. Many think they are from different grapes, but they aren't — one is the French spelling, the other Italian.

There are many styles of pinot gris, however, regardless of where it is grown and produced. Most pinot gris is dry but can exhibit varying sensations in the nose as well as on the palate, from tropical to pear and apple sensations. The flavors also can be very crisp and slatey or have a sense of minerality in the mouth.

A few of these wines feel very soft and creamy, but they are rare. Those who like the creamier whites might do better to stick with pinot blanc, which has less of the tightness associated with pinot gris.

Oregon leads the nation in well-made pinot gris. France does pinot gris superbly, particularly in the Alsace region. Some of those wines can be quite expensive in the reserve label, but well worth the time spent to find. Italy is beginning to make pinot grigio with unbelievable charm, elegance and freshness — just the right thing for summer days.

When purchasing a pinot gris, look for those above the 12 percent alcohol mark but not exceeding 14.5 percent. The higher the alcohol in pinot gris the more you risk getting off-flavors and distracting heat from the excessive alcohol. This higher alcohol also distracts from cuisine. Pinot gris should be the perfect match for light fare, not a wine that overwhelms.

Viognier — My guess is that this interesting and versatile white is the new superstar in the world of white wine. Viognier comes in many taste sensations, but for my money I like what's coming out of Southern Oregon. South Stage Cellars viognier is one of the nicest of the flinty-styled viognier. It has wonderful acidity, clean and vibrant up-and-back-palate freshness and a nice weight on the palate. It is a perfect match for seafood of just about any type.

Cowhorn viognier is more of a heavyweight with deeper tones, more weight on the mouth and heady aromas. This wine has a silken touch to it and is just the thing with fowl of any kind. I love the long and elegant finish on this wine very much. Another favorite is Opine Cellars Chukar Ridge from the Columbia Valley and made in Eugene. Generally, I am not a fan of nearly 14 percent alcohol white wines, but this beautifully crafted wine is stuffed with very lovely layers of pear and pineapple. The bouquet is heady as well, and the nose alone aches with delicious viognier aromas. We had this wine with crab cakes and it was delicious. Viognier should not be sweet to the taste but thirst-quenching and crisp. This varietal is designed for cuisine and really should not be served simply for sipping. Viognier is also one of the great white wines to cook with as the acidity and flavor components do not get lost when hot. Also, this wine does not get sticky sweet with heat in cooking as some white wines tend to do, and it retains all of the great fruit.

One of the big mistakes with serving white wine is getting the juice too cold. Cool to the touch is best for whites, as overly chilled white wine can lose its flavor components quickly. If you tend to chill your white wines to really cold, step back next time and taste what happens after they warm a little. I think you will enjoy them a little less cold.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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