The vast majority of the wines consumed in the world are from three vinifera varieties: Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc) and Chardonnay. However, much of why wine continues to be a beverage that fascinates is that there are literally thousands of other grapes from a range of species that will forever pique consumers’ interests.
Here is a brief list of white varieties beyond the ABCC group to explore.
Viognier: This is a golden white variety that traces its history back to the third century in the Rhȏne Valley of France. Legend has it that it was imported from the modern country of Croatia after a substantial number of other varieties were pulled out by the then ruler of Rome. Contemporary DNA testing rather traces its roots to Northern Italy. It is grown in a number of relatively moderate North American climates, though little if any is planted here in Northeast Ohio. It produces a full bodied wine with intense yellow coloration and fairly high alcohol. Typically it shows notes of green melon and violets. It would pair well with rich seafood and chowders.
Müller-Thurgau: This is a hybrid created in the 19th century in Switzerland by a researcher named Hermann Müller who lived in the hamlet of Thurgau. It does have Riesling in its parentage, thus is being planted, worldwide, in a number of cool climate sites like those of our own Grand River Valley. It typically produces a dry (or sometimes off-dry) white with a very fragrant, fruity nose and slightly sharp acid finish. It would pair especially well with oriental cuisine.
Albarińo: This white is a staple in northwest Spain and in Portugal. One legend is that the husband of the Queen of Castilia brought the vines from France in the 11th century from his native Burgundy. However, modern DNA testing showed that it is really a native of the Iberian peninsula. The tiny, greenish-yellow bunches look somewhat like a Riesling cluster and produce a fragrant, flowery wine with a good acid backbone. Chefs often recommend it with raw oysters or a delicate white fish.
Trebbiano: This is a native Italian vinifera whose name comes from a river near when early plantings flourished. During the Roman era, it was typically regarded as less than elegant so was monikered with the “Soldiers’ Wine” tag as it became a favorite of the Empire’s foot soldiers. When the army carried it to France in the 15th Century, it was renamed as Ungi Blanc. In subsequent centuries, it’s prestige has risen dramatically and now is one of the most popular whites world wide. Beyond producing a lovely, balanced white with a clean finish, it is also used in the production of the best Cognacs and Armagnacs. Recommended food pairings include fried pan fish (think Lake Erie perch) and rich vegetable soups.
For those who love wine, the journey to appreciation can be a never ending series of interesting and fun experiences. As our regional industry builds a more knowlegable wine audience, learning more about varieties not common here is not only fun, but it also helps underscore that wines we do grow are ever more becoming a part of the international community of great wine regions.
DONNIELLA WINCHELL is executive director of the Ohio Wine Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.