Grape Varieties

An A–Z of Lesser Known White Wine Grapes (Part 3)

Sticking with what we know and are familiar with makes us feel comfortable but
Posted 02nd October 2012        

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Sticking with what we know and are familiar with makes us feel comfortable but sometimes the urge takes us to try something new. This can happen with white wine – much of the time we are happy to seek out the familiar grapes and wine styles but every now and again we want to try a different white wine.

However, trying a new white wine can be a gamble. Fans of crisp Sauvignon Blanc may not enjoy one of the more floral whites available whilst enthusiasts of German Rieslings may find some of the dry, light whites from Italy not to their liking.

To help you explore the world of lesser known white wine grapes our A-Z guide continues with Pinot Blanc. This grape is a mutation of Pinot Gris and makes light and bright dry whites sometimes reminiscent of lighter Chardonnays. Despite this it is something of a poor relation in the white wine grape world often appearing in blends rather than as a varietal. It is used in some parts of northern Italy such as the Alto Adige and appears sometimes in Alsace wines, particularly Cremant wines. In some parts of Germany the grape is known as Weissburgunder and it is used in Austria to make botrytized wines.

Visitors to Greece may have come across Roditis, a pink-skinned grape which is often used in Retsina. There are many different strains of the grape including some with darker skins which produce interesting wines. However, don’t consider bringing any back from Greece to put down – these white wines need to be drunk young so are probably best kept for holidays.

Roussanne is a French white wine grape which appears frequently in blends particularly in northern Rhone, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence. It has been falling out of favour in northern Rhone where producers have been favouring the Marsanne grape which is much easier to grow, despite Roussanne producing a more elegant and refined wine. However, a handful of producers are persevering with Roussanne and using it in their Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage blends resulting in many cases in much brighter whites than those featuring Marsanne instead and in whites with a greater propensity to age well. As a varietal, Roussanne has hints of pear and herbal tea. When young it is a perfumed, floral wine but aging adds nuttiness to it.

Rulander is a synonym for Pinot Gris in Germany, where this white wine grape is also sometimes known as Grauburgunder. The German synonym comes from wine merchant Johann Seger Rulander who propagated the Pinot Gris grape in the early 1700s. It is most commonly found in the southerly German regions of Pfalz, Baden and Rheinhessen. It is quite a full-bodied white with characteristics of earth and mushrooms and hints of spice and honey.

Seyval Blanc is a white wine grape which has enjoyed great success in English wines. It is a French hybrid and because of its mixed origins the EU has banned it from being used in anything labelled as a Quality Wine. Thankfully English producers have continued to embrace the grape and are producing some wonderful whites which resemble Chablis in their youth and develop rich honey qualities with aging.

Silvaner or Sylvaner is most commonly found in white wines from Germany and Alsace. Unlike most other white wine grapes favoured in these areas it has a minimal perfume and flavour with a slight earthiness being the most notable characteristic. Some wine critics like it as they say that the grape’s lack of taste allows the characteristics of the terroir to come through the wine.

Tocai Friulano is the main grape in the Italian white wine Friuli. It produces light and delicate wines often with floral or apple hints and when used well the resulting wines are often of a high quality with plenty of balance and depth. Due to complaints from the producers of Tokaj dessert wine in Hungary Italian producers now call the grape Friulano on exported wine although the name Tocai Friulano is still used for wines sold within Italy.

Argentina’s great white wine grape is Torrontes which produces a refreshingly floral and slightly spicy wine which is best drunk young. There are several varieties of Torrontes which tend to be named after the regions in which they are cultivated. The most planted variety which is also the most aromatic of the different varieties is Torrontes Riojano, named after the La Rioja province. A less widely planted and also less aromatic variety is Torrontes Sanjuanino, named after the San Juan province and the least aromatic is Torrontes Mendocino or Mendozino which is grown further south in Argentina in Rio Negro. There are great hopes for Torrontes from the Cafayate regions where the vines are being planted at high altitude.

Image by Däisd.


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