Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Part 3 in the Series
Albariño is the primary grape used to make dry white wine in the Rias Baixes (Lower Inlets) section of the Galicia region of Northwestern Spain. Considered by many to be Spain's premier quality white wine, Albariño is also known in Portugal as Alvarinho and often used as a component of Vinho Verde.
Typically, wines made from Albariño are very aromatic, often described as having scents of almonds or almond paste, apples, peaches, citrus, and flowers or grass. Albariño wines are particularly suited to seafood due to their bracing acidity (Jancis Robinson calls it "razor-sharp."). This grape's inherent tartness should be embraced in youth, for wines made from albariño do not age well, and the vibrant aromas begin to noticeably fade within months of bottling.
The Chardonnay grape variety is a classic white wine grape grown all around the world. The original fame of Chardonnay comes from it's success in the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France. White Burgundy must be made from the Chardonnay grape unless the label indicates it was made from a much less well known grape, Aligoté.
Chardonnay takes oak well, and many higher priced Chardonnays are typically fermented and/or aged in oak barrels. When Chardonnay is aged in oak barrels, it may pick up vanilla overtones in its aromas and flavor.
Chardonnay also ages well in the bottle, though it will not age as long as many red wines. It likes slightly cooler climates (warm days/cool nights) and develops less acidity than Sauvignon Blanc. Some producers put their Chardonnay (or some of it) through malolactic fermentation which reduces crispness and brings out a rich, buttery taste. This usually shortens the life of the wine as far as aging is concerned.
Wines made from the Chardonnay grape are usually served chilled. Chardonnay matches very well with chicken and with dishes that are served with a lot of butter or a cream sauce. Most Chardonnays lack the acid to match as well with seafood as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling.
Grüner Veltliner is the most widely planted grape variety in Austria, accounting for 37 percent of the country's total vineyard area, about 50,875 acres. Most of these vines are in the large wine region known as Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), along the Danube River north of Vienna. It also grows in a few other Eastern European countries, such as Slovakia, Yugoslavia and the Czech Republic, but the variety is most closely associated with Austria, where it has been cultivated since Roman times. Simply put, Grüner Veltliner is the indigenous variety of Austria.
It's ability to age beautifully is one of the many interesting characteristics that Grüner Veltliner shares with Riesling. Both varieties have naturally high acidity, an essential component of wine that will age well. With today's improved winemaking technology, it is still too soon to say how the modern versions of wines from either grape will age for the long term, but the indications are quite positive. And in the Wachau, the consensus seems to be that Grüner Veltliner will ultimately be the longer lived variety.
Of the four principal varieties of the muscat grape, including Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Blanc, Muscat Hamburg, and Muscat Ottonel, the most widely propagated and also most representative of the family character is Muscat Blanc, known as Muscat Frontignan in France and Moscato di Canelli in Italy.
Each muscat produces, with subtle variation, wines with the distinct, intense, aromatic, sweet, and easily-recognized scent of muscat and, unusual for most wine varieties, that actually taste like grapes. Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat Hamburg are, in fact, cultivated as table grapes, as well as for making wine.
Muscat is a very ancient variety and, with its strong and distinctive perfume, was probably one of the first to be identified and cultivated. Nearly every Mediterranean country has a famous wine based on muscat and varying from light and bone dry, to low-alcohol sparkling versions, to very sweet and alcoholic potions.