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This summer, think ABC (or, anything but chardonnay)

  • Author: Mike McVittie
  • Updated: July 13, 2016
  • Published July 13, 2016

ABC is wine speak for "anything but chardonnay." It's a sort of backlash against the mind-numbing sameness of commercialized chardonnay. Don't get me wrong, chardonnay is classic — but leave it to America to overdo it. Egads! It's everywhere, but there's hope.

There are four basic whites that everyone knows: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling and pinot gris. The industrialized world has pretty much beaten those to death. It's not that they're not good — I'm just saying I don't want to drive a Chevy Nova my entire life.

Well, what else is there? Oh, my dear oenophile, there is much, much more! So here we go, on to the fun part.

Rhone's whites

The whites of the Rhone offer a richness and aroma that you won't soon forget. These grapes are marsanne, roussanne and viognier. You will find them blended together or bottled separately.

These varieties almost became extinct as they fell from favor and weren't replanted. Viognier was especially in danger, but it was rescued in the '80s by a few intrepid wine lovers. Today, plantings are up around the world, with California and Washington producing some killer examples.

To try:

– E. Guigal, Blanc, Cotes du Rhone, France, 65 percent viognier, $19

– Olivier Dumaine, Crozes-Hermitage, La Croix du Verre, France, 100 percent marsanne, $34

– Bonterra Viognier, organic, Mendocino, California, $19

– Alexandria Nicole Cellars, Shepherd's Mark, Horse Heaven Hills, Estate Grown – Washington, 60 percent roussanne, 20 percent marsanne and 20 percent viognier, $25

– Miner Family Viognier, Paso Robles, Sierra Foothills, California, $25

Austria's gruner

Gruner veltliner! What? No really! It's an honest-to-goodness real grape variety from Austria.

You see, for a long time Austria was largely ignored, but not today — and thank goodness. Gruners are like a mix of sauvignon blanc and riesling, but trending more toward the sauvignon blanc. Brilliant citrus notes and laser-bright acids are its hallmark.

To try:

– Zocker Gruner Veltliner, Edna Valley, Estate Grown, California, $20

– Singing Gruner Veltliner, Laurenz V $15

Spanish whites

Now, Spanish white is not to be missed. Godello, treixadura, verdejo, macabeo and albarino may sometimes be difficult to pronounce, but are delicious in their own right. Godello is the most chardonnay-like. It's characterized by bright citrus and a lovely, viscous mid-palate. Albarino made quite a splash a few years ago and hasn't let go. Brought to Spain centuries ago, albarino is very aromatic, suggesting apricots and peaches. Verdejos are quite trim and neat, yielding citrus and white stone fruits, with a lime-lemon freshness that is perfectly invigorating.

Treixadura is grown in both Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese version is known as "green wine" or vinho verde. It is a light, low-alcohol beverage with a touch of fizz. It's perfect on hot afternoons, for picnics and social gatherings in need of some refreshment.

To try:

– Peza do Rei, Ribeira Sacra, a blend of godello, treixadura and albarino, $20

– Deusa Nai, albarino, Rias Baixas by Marques de Caceres, $20

-Cara Nord, Conca de Barbera, a blend of macabeo, chardonnay and albarino, $20.

-Menade, verdejo, Rueda Spain, $18.

-Vidigal, vinho verde, Portugal treixadura, $12

Chenin blanc

Life wouldn't be complete without a visit to chenin blanc. It's the mainstay of the Loire in France. Chenins are very versatile. They can make wine in almost any style and type, from desserts to sparkling and all things in between. Grown successfully worldwide, South Africa is one of my favorite places, where they call it "steen." The most widely known French version is from the town of Vouvray, where it plays the game from dry to sweet. California grew lots of chenin and it was used as a blender for many years. Plantings are down now about 50 percent from the heyday (a good thing) with the Clarksburg area leading the quality revolution.

To try:

– Mark Bredif Classic Vouvray, France, $25

– MAN Family Wines, chenin blanc, free-run steen, Coastal region, South Africa, $10

-The White Doe, Virginia Dare Winery, California 80/20 chenin blanc to viognier, $18

-Chenin Blanc + Viognier, Pine Ridge Winery, California 80/20 chenin blanc to viognier, $12

I know the European names are difficult at first. Just keep going! Wine is an adventure. Most of the wines listed above are from family-owned, dirt-to-bottle companies with a moderate production level.

— Mike McVittie reviews wines available in Anchorage. Reach him at play@alaskadispatch.com. 

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