10/03/13 – Full-bodied whites for the beginning of fall

By xander on September 28, 2013

I think the theme for this meeting was initially suggested by Vanessa, which works out well because that’s where we’ll be holding the tasting this week.

The summer has, unfortunately, drawn to a close.  While we will certainly be presented the opportunity to drink some heartier wines to nourish our hearths during the freezing Los Angeles winter, I thought that a gradual transition away from the light, crisp, refreshing wines that are so often associated with summer could be had with a line-up of somewhat heavier whites.

What does it mean to be full bodied?  Whereas flavor describes how the wine tastes, “body” refers to the structure and texture of the wine.  So, in red wine land, Bordeaux, Syrahs, and Cabernet Sauvignons are generally considered full bodied, whereas Beaujolais and Pinot Noir generally are not.  This can mean particularly tannic reds or simply wines that feel heavy in your mouth (such as having a thick, viscous texture, as one example).

In white wine land there are generally no tannins to be found in the wine, as the presence of tannins in wine is the result of letting grape juice sit on the stems, seeds, and grape skin during the fermentation process.  This does not usually happen during white wine production.  However, certain white wines do offer types of “full bodiedness” through other means, be it the complex, sometimes austere floral components of an aged Viognier or the rich, nutty complexity that can develop in the oaked goodness that is Meursalt (Chardonnay from the Meursalt region in Burgundy).

All that said, “full-bodied” is necessarily a more open-ended taste descriptor than, say, “Macon-Villages from Burgundy” or “Shiraz from Australia.”  So, in order to help guide the buying process for folks who may not have tried fuller bodied whites in the past, below are some varietals/styles to keep your eyes open for. This is, of course, by no means a conclusive list, and if you find something else that demands to be tasted (or at least drunk in copious quantities), please bring it along!

Viognier – Expressively aromatic, floral, often with hints of peach and lychee.  Rarely oaked.  It is the one of the primary white grapes grown in the Rhone region in France, but can also be found throughout California and Australia.  While somewhat unrelated to this tasting, Viognier is often blended with Syrah (a red grape), usually in Australia.

Semillon – One of the two primary white wines from the Bordeaux region, Semillon can often be founded mixed with Sauvignon Blanc (the other primary white grape from Bordeaux), by itself, or in the delicious Bordeaux dessert wines from Sauternes.  If anyone wants to bring a Sauternes, feel free to grab a half bottle, which is how these wines are often sold.  Trying a dessert version of Semillon would give us the opportunity to talk about noble rot and how late harvest wines develop the concentrated rich sweetness that makes them so unique.  That said, Semillon can often be found by itself in a non-dessert expression.  These, in my experience, are somewhat rarer to find, but would be interesting nonetheless!

Marsanne/Rousanne – I’ll be honest, I struggle to tell the difference between these two wines.  That does not mean there is no difference, and the most palate-trained members in Winos may scoff at me for this statement.  That said, I struggle simply because I have so rarely had the opportunity to taste these two by themselves.  Historically, Marsanne and Rousanne are used as blending grapes in the Rhone valley and, increasingly, in California as the “Rhone Rangers” phenomenon catches on.  Generally, these grapes are used to add weight, create a rounder mouth feel and impart a fuller variety of flavors in white wine blends in the Rhone area that are often dominated by the crisper, fruit-forward and floral Viognier.  That said, they are increasingly being used as the predominant or sole varietal in newer wines.  Instead of pretending to know a lot about these, I’ll refer you to WinePro pages on Marsanne and Rousanne.

Gewurztraminer – A very German sounding grape, Gerwurtzraminer (or Gewurtz for short, pronounced by ‘Murkans as “Guh-vurtz”) is a unique in the types of aromatic qualities it offers. Gewurtz can be made in both dry and sweet styles (either would be interesting to try) and generally offer notes such as lychee, pumpkin spice, honey, cinnamon, apricot, lavender, amongst many other things.  Gewurtz can be found in many regions around the world, including Alsace (in France), Germany, California, and the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, to name a few.

Riesling – Ah, everyone loves Riesling.  But I think few people realize how good good Riesling can be.  Higher quality production Riesling can stand to age for decades, developing a thick, petrol-like consistency that, in aged wines, can result in olive oil-like flavors.  Traditionally a German wine, Riesling can, like Gewurztraminer, be found all over the place.  Some expressions of Riesling, however, will be much lighter than others.  So if this is a varietal you choose to grab for the meeting, it may be worth asking your local wine professional (i.e., folks who work at whatever wine shop you’re buying from) if this is a lighter or fuller expression of this grape.

Chardonnay – There are a lot of bad chards out there, unfortunately.  But there are also some very good ones, and a Chardonnay structured with the right balance of acid and oak can be a lovely autumn wine.  That said, there are a very wide range of styles in which Chardonnay is made, from the butter-popcorn oak monster (thanks, Gary!) often produced in California to crisp, almost apply, acidic wines from areas such as Chablis or Macon-Villages in France.  Similarly to my recommendation above – I’d say if you’re going to grab a chard it may be worth asking your local wine professional for some guidance on what will actually be worth trying, just because there is such a variety of both good and bad out there when it comes to this grape.

Some other potentially interesting wines to keep your eye out for could include Pinot Gris from Oregon or Fiano from Italy.

If you need more suggestions or clarifications on any of these wines, feel free to post on the FB page.  I recognize this is a more open-ended theme for the tasting, but am looking forward to the variety that I hope it will yield.

The meeting will take place this coming Thursday, October 3rd at Vanessa’s place in Sherman Oaks. As always, you’re welcome to bring a nice crisp $10 bill in lieu of a bottle. The meeting will start at 8pm.

The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions), and I’ll send you a confirmation e-mail with the address.  As I mentioned on the facebook page, folks who were on the wait list for the last meeting will have priority for this meeting. Looking forward to exploring a new wine with everyone on Thursday at 8pm.