Quick, what’s the last bottle of white wine that you opened? Let me guess – was it a sauvignon blanc, chardonnay or pinot grigio?
Despite an ever-expanding array of white varietals, this trio continues to dominate thanks to a combination of familiarity, drinkability and consistency: these grapes give you what you expect of them and retain a fairly clear sense of themselves across a range of expressions and price points.
But sometimes this glassed comfort can become a glass ceiling, locking you into routine and suppressing the sense of discovery that is so much a part of the enjoyment of wine. Keep your favourite standby from becoming mundane with these change-of-pace white options.
Want to add some kick to your sauvignon habit? Keep an eye out for grüner veltliner. Almost inarguably the coolest-named grape in the world, grüner is Austria’s signature varietal and an absolute powerhouse of shifting flavours, dancing between lush tropical fruit, white pepper spiciness, piercing arctic minerality, and a distinctive and downright wacky chemical edge reminiscent of elastic bands and rubber boots. It is as wild a sensory ride as white wine gets, and the longer it sits in bottle the funkier and more layered it becomes.
For a subtle and approachable, yet unmistakably grüner introduction to the grape, try the Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner “Hefeabzug” (CSPC +762181, $27) from Austria’s oldest winery, which has been matured on its lees for extra complexity.
Tired of chardonnay? Stick to France but take the path less travelled with chenin blanc. Chenin, a native of France’s central Loire Valley, remains staunchly under the radar. Rich, honeyed, waxy and full-bodied, yet with a cutting swath of balancing acidity that allows it to age for decades, chenin blanc can have a surprisingly pleasant “sheepy” quality to it, subtle notes of wool and lanolin that set it apart from the crowd.
Unlike chardonnay, a chenin excursion also allows you to grab a pinnacle expression of the grape for less than $40, the Domaine Huet “Le Haut Lieu” Sec Vouvray (CSPC #1076068, $39). This is deep, complex and stellar with food: chenin blanc at its finest.
Ready to graduate from the pinot grigio school of easy refreshment? Moscato is ready to serve (chilled, out on the deck, of course). A slightly sweet, lightly sparkling preparation of muscat initially found in the Asti sub-region of Piedmont, Italy, moscato takes pinot grigio’s thirst-quenching abilities and ups the ante with a powerful rush of tropical flavour.
Often (unfairly) derided as simply cheap sweet fizz, quality versions of moscato can deliver a level of instant refreshment and sheer drinking joy that is impossible to match for the price. An astounding and electric native example is the Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 (CSPC +756521, $28), from Nova Scotia of all places, which tastes like pink grapefruit in a particle accelerator.