We all know that die-hard red wine drinker, the one who refuses to stray from his California cabernet or her Aussie shiraz. But with temperatures beginning to warm up, a chilled glass of white wine can be much more thirst-quenching. So the question is: Which white wines might convert even the most stubborn of red devotees?
There are countless reasons to love white wine: For one, whites tend to be incredibly versatile when it comes to food pairings, and two, high-end white wines tend to cost less than their red wine counterparts. Solving the puzzle of whites for red wine drinkers requires a question: What are the reasons that these people don’t like whites in the first place? A few responses are common: 1) That white wines are usually sweeter, or fruitier; 2) That whites aren’t as interesting as reds; and 3) That whites can be too tart, or acidic (which appears to contradict point number one, but many wines can be both sweet and high in acidity).
With this in mind, here are a few styles of wine that would allow red wine drinkers to dip a toe into the pool of white wines — or better yet, to dive right on in!
Skin-Contact Whites (or "Orange Whites")
White wine made like red — what better place to start? Wines get their color from grape skins, so all red wines are made by fermenting the juice in contact with the skins. Some winemakers choose to make their whites this way as well, giving the wines deeper colors (hence the name “orange wine”), more texture from tannins, and often, increased aromatic complexity. The wines often develop richer fruit flavors, earthy qualities, and secondary flavors of hay and honey, making them far from boring.
2012 Ramato Pinot Grigio ($24): Rich and complex, this isn’t your mother’s grocery store Pinot grigio. This wine from Channing Daughters on Long Island has an incredible balance of baked fruit, honey, and baking spices.
2011 Kabaj Rebula, Goriska Brda ($25): The complexity of this wine is evident from first sniff — baking spices, Meyer lemon, and dried fruit. It tastes surprisingly bright and a bit tangerine-like. There’s no doubt that it would be an excellent pairing partner.
Most white wines are lighter than reds, with higher acid that makes them seem thin and tart to red wine drinkers. Certain grapes tend to produce wines that are lower in acid and fuller in body, such as those of the Northern Rhone — viognier, marsanne, and roussanne. Some wines from Alsace fall into this category as well. The softer fruit flavors and heavier mouthfeel will make them more red-wine-like and therefore, more approachable.
2010 Valentin Zusslin Auxerrois “Vielles Vignes,” Alsace ($18): This is the kind of wine that you could drink all day long — full, round, and full of peach and pear fruit. The acid isn’t very high, making it round and easy-drinking, finishing off with a lip-smacking minerality.
2011 Jean-Louis Chave Selection “Celeste,” Saint-Joseph ($30): Made from 90 percent roussanne and 10 percent marsanne, this Rhone blend is weighty and concentrated with notes of peach, honey, apricot, and a bit of spice. Minerality and present acid give the wine excellent structure.
Oxidation isn’t always a bad thing! In fact, some winemakers incorporate it into their wines on purpose, to soften fruit and acidity and to allow wines to develop complex flavors. This category can overlap somewhat. For example, many orange wines have oxidative qualities, and many oxidative wines are fermented with skin contact. The softened acidity and nuttiness that these wines often take on can appeal to red wine drinkers.
2008 Michel Gahier “Les Follasses” Chardonnay, Jura ($22): Made in the “sous voile” method that is traditional for this French region, this wine is deliberately oxidized in partially full, old oak barrels. This is a classic Jura chardonnay, all hazelnut and honey, and it takes on a minerally, yellow apple character.
2004 Lopez de Heredia "Viña Gravonia" Crianza, Rioja ($27): The oxidative quality of this one is just one of many things going on in this complex white Rioja, which is aged in barrel for four years before bottling. Notes of dried fruit, almond, honey, and white flowers characterize a wine that is both round and fresh.
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