Give white wines their due

Photographs by Pat McGrath

I could go on and on with these lessons from my most recent tasting of nearly all the wines in the LCBO, but this will be the last (for now).

It’s about white wines, which have been gentling sliding in popularity for the last few years. Canada shifted from a predominantly white wine-drinking nation to red about 10 years ago, and red has increased its position ever since. At the LCBO, we spend more than three dollars on red wine for every two we put out for white.

Although there are plenty of white wine drinkers, there’s a general assumption that red wine is somehow more serious. Even at wine competitions and tastings, I often hear writers and other wine professionals say something to the effect, “Ah, finally, the real wine!” when they start on the reds. It’s said as a joke, but if there weren’t something meaningful behind it, it wouldn’t be such a common comment.

Maybe this view is responsible for the fact that white wine is almost always less expensive than red — maybe there’s a general assumption that people won’t pay as much for white. It’s such an entrenched belief that I was surprised, at a recent tasting of wines from one of Ontario’s most prestigious producers, that the top white was priced the same as the top red. When I mentioned it, I was told that they wanted to make a statement of their confidence in the quality of the white.

It’s too bad that white wine so often gets short shrift. Think of the best-known appellations, like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa, Tuscany, Rioja, and others. Most produce white wines, but they languish in the shadow of the reds. Well-known appellations primarily associated with white wine — like Sancerre, Chablis, Alsace, Mosel and Marlborough — are (with the exception of Chablis) distinctly second-tier, not because they make second-rate wines, but because most of the wine they make is white.

It’s a problem for white wine regions. If the trend is toward red, they have to market against the grain. And because white wine sells at lower prices, they make less per unit of wine — although it can be less expensive to make white wines, which generally demand less in the way of barrels and aging time.

Perhaps one thing limited the popularity of white wine is the dominance of a couple of varieties. You don’t have to dislike chardonnay to steer away from it, now and again. Who wants a diet of chardonnay alone? And it’s the same with pinot grigio/gris. These varieties dominate the white field, with sauvignon blanc and riesling some way behind.

But there are plenty more whites to try. To start with, look at today’s four wines, all made from less-known white grape varieties.

Batasiolo Moscato d’Asti 2011

Made from the moscato variety, this is a luscious, moderately sweet wine that goes well with not-too-sweet desserts or with blue cheese. It has a round texture allied to good acidity, and is very lightly viscous.

13-per-cent alcohol; $14.95 (277194)





Château des Charmes Aligoté 2010

From Ontario, this aligoté (a variety from Burgundy) shows good concentration from start to finish, with restrained flavours, and good balance and complexity. Drink it with roast chicken or grilled white fish.

13-per-cent alcohol; $10.65 (284950)





Bertani Soave 2010

Made mainly from the garganega variety, this white from Italy’s Veneto region is nicely concentrated, with well-defined flavours and a fresh texture. Drink it with mild cheeses, poultry and seafood.

12-per-cent alcohol; $11.55 (231860)





Marqués de Riscal 2011

From Spain’s Rueda wine region, this dry white made from verdejo (aka verdelho) shows fairly intense flavours and a texture that’s round and refreshing. Drink it with well-seasoned poultry, pork or seafood.

13-per-cent alcohol; $10.90 (36822)





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