• Two Thumbs Way Up
• Captivating aromas of minerals, flowers, lime, pear and cantaloupe. It offers tangy, refreshing citrus flavors of lemon, lime and a touch of grapefruit. It has a cooling mint/green tea quality with white pepper note on the finish.
• Two Thumbs Up
• Wonderful, light aromas of citrus fruit, kiwi, ripe strawberry and a perfume-like gardenia quality. It has simple, crisp lemon/lime flavors without overbearing acidity. Subtle effervescence gives it a surprising creamy texture.
Are you addicted to chardonnay? The first step on your road to recovery is to find out and acknowledge you indeed have a problem. Let’s see if you have issues with this noble grape by taking this short quiz:
1. When I say “white wine,” what do you think?
2. When a server approaches your table to take your drink order, what do you say before he/she lets you know what wines they offer?
3. What’s missing from the following paragraph? “I looove chardonnay. I sometimes have a shot of chardonnay with a chardonnay chaser. My dog’s name is Montrachet (a famous chardonnay vineyard).”
If your answers to these questions were: “chardonnay,” “chardonnay” and “more chardonnay,” we really need to have a productive discussion about your relationship with this grape.
Now, there’s nothing wrong, per se, with chardonnay. Pinot chardonnay (one of chardonnay’s many aliases, which acknowledges its descendancy from pinot noir) is one of the most respected wine grapes in the world…but chardonnay is not a world unto itself.
The antedote for too much chardonnay? You gotta go cold turkey. Sauvignon blancs and pinot blancs, sometimes referred to as chardonnay-light, won’t do. You must travel to the other side of the white wine universe to gain an appreciation of the varieties beyond Planet Chardonnay.
First step, picpoul de pinet. This light, bright white from the south of France will surprise you with its tantalizing acidity and provide relief from all those creamy, buttery notes in your typical chardonnay. Picpoul de pinet, in fact, gets its name—loosely translated from French as “lip stinger”—for its piercing acidic nature.
Two picpoul labels come to mind. They are Domaine Font-Mars and Hughes Beaulieu. Both are guaranteed to cool you down you during summer’s dog days. Perhaps you can refresh with a glass of picpoul before you reward yourself with a glass of chardonnay for being so adventurous.
Second step, Vinho Verde. Vinho Verde is a region in the north of Portugal, which produces a white wine made from a blend of native grapes. The best Vinho Verdes lean more heavily on alvarinho grapes.
In addition to its refreshing, bright acidity, the distinguishing characteristic of Vinho Verde wine is its ever so subtle effervescence. You’d never mistake it for a sparkling wine, but the faint spritz gives the impression of creaminess and weight on your tongue without relying so much on oak and alcohol, as can be the case with many chardonnays. Vinho Verde wines rarely exceed 11 percent alcohol, so you can have an extra glass poolside without feeling so groggy.
Most wine stores will have at least a couple Vinho Verdes. Names to look for: Broadbent, Aveleda and Casal Garcia, which is produced by the well-regarded Quinta da Aveleda. A customer recently introduced me to Sottal, which is not a true Vinho Verde, but it is made in the Vinho Verde style. It is so good it will make your chardonnay pangs much easier to deal with.
Final step. We’ve come so far, haven’t we? We’ve discovered that there are deliciously crisp, simple wines out there that don’t rely on oak treatments and buttery, barrel transformations for their flavor and body. The next step is to try something completely alien—grüner veltliner.
Grüner (pronounced GROO-ner) is the white wine of Austria. It is briskly acidic, but you wouldn’t classify it as simple. This grape variety was the darling of hip sommeliers several years ago. It still commands respect from wine guys and gals for its agility with food pairings. I’ve long held that the best—and perhaps most unexpected— choice with tart, spicy, tomato-based pork barbecue is a grüner.
Interpretations of grüner abound, but generally they have mouth-watering acidity and luscious flavors of ripe limes with a touch of mint, a subtle earthy, slate-like quality and an aftertaste reminiscent of white pepper. Names to look for are Laurenz (somewhat scarce lately), Domäne Wachau, Höpler, Huber and Nigl, which I and my retailing associates adore.
Is this an exercise for you to loosen your grip on omnipresent chardonnay or is it a plan for chardonnay to release its grip on you? Only you can answer that. In any case, you’ll like your chardonnay that much more for the effort.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a wine consultant for Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.