Learn Your ABCs

For every customer who comes into the store asking for some no-name oaky buttery chardonnay, there are two or three who show up and can’t wait to say, “I hate chardonnay.” Okay, that’s not exactly what they say. Usually there are a few expletives tossed in, loudly, for emphasis. This is a family publication so I’ll just leave their remarks up to your imagination. But trust me. They’re not kidding when they say they don’t like chardonnay.

I have no desire to talk the Anything But Chardonnay (ABC) crowd off the ledge. These are people who, somewhere along the line, tasted something wine-like called chardonnay and decided that this globally popular variety was not for them. End of story. A few unfortunate ABCers have had the double misfortune of running into some plonky sauvignon blanc, and have now sworn off white wine forever. That’s okay, too. People should drink what they want. But to toss out such a large percentage of the wine produced in this world because of a few unlucky glasses is going a bit too far. What to do?

As Willy Wonka said so memorably to Mrs. Gloop, when her son took a header into the chocolate pond, “nil desperandum!” Never despair. No worries. Even if you or your loved ones think, because of some chardonnay or sauv blanc trauma, that whites are no longer for you, I’ve got news for you. It’s good news. And it’s this: you’re wrong!

There are exactly 2.5 gajillion (trust me on this number – I’m in the trade) other varieties of white wine grapes in this great vale of tears, grapes which produce wines that taste absolutely nothing like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Do you like wines with great fruitiness? Try a muscat or a spatlese riesling. Want something crisp and clean for your favorite seafood dish? Check out northern Spain for some albariño. Need a simple, low alcohol wine with a bit of zip to throw back on a hot summer day? Look no further than Portugal’s vinho verde. Or, maybe something full-bodied with hints of lush peaches, apricots and a bit of spice is more up your alley. Grab yourself a viognier from southern France. Dream of sailing the deep blue waters of the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece? Get ready for your voyage with some assyrtiko from the island of Santorini. Is that a gajillion yet? I could go on. The point is this: it’s a pretty wide playing field out there and if you haven’t found something you like in the ever-expanding world of white wine, keep looking. There is a grape out there with your name on it, waiting to show you just what you’re missing.

If you want a few more ideas on how to navigate the No-Chard Zone, drop me a line. Let me and my staff help you out. That’s what we’re all about here at The Grape Belt. (Just kidding. I don’t really have a staff. At least not one that cares as much as I do.) And if you can’t get a hold of me, talk to your local wine merchants. They live to serve you and your wine needs. Honest.

6 thoughts on “Learn Your ABCs

  1. BPR

    Another question occurs to me. Does WNY have the climate/grape potential to produce world class reds or whites? Or just too cold and wet?

    1. Tom Riley

      A fair amount of ignorance peppers this response, but I’ve never been afraid of that sort of thing so I’ll chime in. The Finger Lakes produce rieslings that are well regarded by those in the know. The cool, wet climate produces grapes of high acidity, which is not a problem in and of itself, but many of the varieties farmed in WNY (and here I mean anything west of the Finger Lakes) are vitis labrusca, not vitis vinifera (from which you get all the “noble” grapes known to wine folks around the world) and so have had little popular/market exposure, and don’t compare favorably to the the Euro varieties in terms of depth and complexity. Vitis Labrusca grapes can be “foxy” and “rustic” and not nearly as elegant as the varieties we all know. Also, I think many of the growers in WNY are still a few decades behind other segments of the business. Maybe some of them should look to producing ice wine or late harvest varietals. I am hopeful, given time, and if they use the resources available to them in the wider wine world (Cornell in Ithaca is the UC Davis of the East. Folks who don’t tap into that do so at their peril), many growers might start making some wines that will make wine lovers in the US and around the world sit up and take notice. There was a big article in the Wine Spectator a year or two ago about the Finger Lakes and the progress they are making with noble red varieties (merlot and pinot noir come to mind), and things looked promising. I think the jury is still out. It would be very exciting to see some real success stories from that area. Thirty years ago Long Island was billed as the next best thing, and while they are having success here and there, I’m not sure they have fulfilled their promise. In the long run, it’s going to be a matter of persistence. Every state in the union makes wine. Who’s gonna work to make good wine is the issue. It can be done, but folks have to decide to see it through. No easy task. Hope what I’ve said touches on what you were wondering about. It’s a huge and complex matter, and a rube like me can’t really tackle it without going into a full-blown seminar. And that would need real preparation. This is mostly off the cuff. 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    This link (in Spanish) will tell you a lot about the delicious viños de aguja (literally “needle wines) from Spain, which have a tiny amount of spritz from, I guess, a natural fermentation in the bottle, but not one induced with added yeast, like Champagne; not a Cava or Sparkling wine per se. I’ve never had enough of these, certainly; very crisp and refreshing. Are they available Stateside?

    1. Tom Riley

      Thanks for the link. When I read your note I thought you might be referrring to txakoli/txakolina but those wines are listed among the “needle wines.” I’ll ask around to some of the other merchants and see who carries any of these. I love to try any wines that come from Spain, so I’ll look forward to tasting these. Thanks.

  3. Caryl

    on a personnal note- i was turned off of chardonney years ago when all i had tried was the butter/oak of California. Once i stumbled upon that wonderful chardonney of Burgundy, i realized that i had maligned a wonderful grape by lumping it under one presentation of that grape. Chardonney is my champagne grape of choice and i love Chablis, etc, etc…
    what i almost missed by checking it off my “list”!!!!

    1. Tom Riley

      Your point was going to be the close of this piece originally, but I figured I’d save it for a follow-up. People think oaky buttery is the only rendition of chardonnay, and the fact of the matter, as we both know, is that this grape shows up in a million (gajillion?) ways. Thanks for reading.

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