White wine enthusiasts will be familiar with the major international white wine grapes such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Many will know about some of the more popular grapes associated with a particular white wine producing country such as Pinot Grigio from Italy.
However, there are many lesser known white wine grapes which are worth discovering. Some will feature in a niche white wine style whilst others will form the major part of a well known wine style but the name of the grape may not be included on the label.
We will continue our A-Z of lesser known white wine grapes with the Italian variety Falanghina. This high quality grape is planted in small amounts in the Campania region and is the grape behind DOC Bianco from Capri as well as making good sweet passito wines. Despite the small plantings this grape is attracting increasing attention. Another Italian white wine grape is Favorita. It is grown in the Langhe and Roero areas of Piedmont and makes nicely structured white wines with good levels of acidity. Some producers use it to soften Nebbiolo in blends.
Fernao Pires is thought to be the most planted white wine grape in Portugal. It is aromatic and very versatile, used to produce dry still wines, sparkling wines and botrytized sweet wines as well as many styles in between. It is best drunk young although it can be oak aged successfully. If you like white wine from Portugal’s Bairrada region the grape is known as Maria Gomes here.
Another Italian white wine grape is Fiano, perhaps best known for aromatic Fiano di Avellino from Campania. The grape can produce a lovely weighty white wine full of honeyed characteristics with hints of spice and flowers. Some producers in Sicily, Bulgaria and even Australia are experimenting with the grape.
Furmint is a white wine grape which originated in Eastern Europe and after some bad handling during the Communist era is beginning to emerge as a grape to look out for. It is a high quality grape which can produce both dry and sweet wines of complexity, finesse and longevity complemented by high acidity. Its homeland is Hungary’s Tokaj region but it is becoming increasingly popular in Austria where the grape is known as both Zapfner and Mosler.
Yet another lesser known Italian white wine grape which is worth highlighting is Garganega, the primary grape behind the whites from Soave, Gambellara and elsewhere in the Veneto region. In the hands of good producers Garganega can produced excellent Soave wine with structure and finesse and characteristics of citrus fruit, almonds and plums. Unfortunately there are plenty of unscrupulous producers who take advantage of the potential of the Garganega vine to produce large yields to produce large quantities of dull Soave wines.
Grenache is generally known as a red wine grape but there is a white variety known as Grenache Blanc. It is used across the south of France in blends and features particularly in white Cotes du Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape blends. It is known as Garnacha Blanca in northern Spain. Whilst primarily used in blends it is sometimes used to produce a fresh varietal white wine best drunk young.
If you would like to give Austrian wine a go look out for wines made from the Gruner Veltliner grape. This versatile grape can produce everything from everyday table wine to some of Austria’s best quality whites. The best producers use the grape to create ripe, structured wines with aromas of celery, lentil and white pepper and flavour characteristics of honey and citrus. If you buy a good quality bottle it is probably worth aging it.
If you enjoy drinking Muscadet wine you may not be aware that you are drinking wine produced from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. It was planted originally in Burgundy and spread to the Loire Valley. If you want to taste Melon de Bourgogne at its best avoid Muscadet wines from the supermarkets and try to growers’ wines which will be of much higher quality.
Moscadello and Moscatel are indigenous names for the local variants of the Muscat grape. Moscadello is found in Tuscany – if you have holidayed in this region you may have tasted the sweet still or sparkling whites produced by the grape. Moscatel is the Spanish name for Muscat and produces a basic sweet wine.
Petit Manseng is planted in south west France between Gascony and the Pyrenees. The vine is very low yielding and produces intense fine sweet white wine with high acidity and floral and spicy fruit characteristics. The quality of the sweet wine is attracting the attention of producers elsewhere and it is becoming increasingly popular in the Languedoc region of France and in California.
Image by rkramer62.