Posts Tagged White Wines

Discovering French Whites

Theme 

No other country makes so many varieties of wonderful white wines as France.  We also think French whites are fantastic on their own – as picnic wines, cocktail party whites, a pre-dinner aperitif…  They’re flavorful, nuanced and light, rarely overpowering.  If you love white wines and want to learn about some new ones, this is a wonderful tasting that also evokes the romance of France.  

 

Angle

We’d do this as a “blind” tasting, where you disguise the bottles, start everyone on the same wine, and then move through the lineup collectively as a group.  This will encourage conversation and get your guests talking about what they notice and like (or dislike) about each wine.  It also lets you control the order – we’d recommend you start with the lightest & driest wines and gradually progress to the richest and sweetest.  Have your guests take notes as they go, and then match their notes to each wine in the end as you reveal the lineup. 

Sample Lineup 

  1. Domaine La Haute Fevrie, Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie ($12)
  2. Sauvion, Touraine “Les Genets” ($10)
  3. Mouton Cadet, Blanc (Bordeaux) ($9)
  4. Chateau de Maligny, Chablis ($15)
  5. Macon-Lugny, “Les Charmes” ($12)
  6. Domaine de Triennes, Viognier “Sainte-Fleur” ($16)
  7. Chateau de Montfort, Vouvray ($14)
  8. Willm, Alsace Riesling ($10)

  

The Wines 

With this tasting, the range of varietals is more important than the specific winemakers.  The lineup above includes recommended versions of each from some of our favorite merchants, and all in the $10-15 range.  Work with your local wine merchant and find a version of each varietal that they carry regularly and recommend.  The eight white wines above hail from regions throughout France, and providing your guests this sense of geographic diversity is half the fun of the tasting.  

You’ll start with two wines from the Loire Valley – Muscadet and a Sauvignon Blanc like the Touraine above.  Muscadet is a light, dry wine famous for pairing with seafood, while Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc (the most famous is “Sancerre”) will be a bit more fruity & tangy.  The Bordeaux white should be a nice contrast to the first two – smooth, fruity blend based on the Semillon grape.  Then we recommend including two Burgundies (white Burgundy is 100% chardonnay) – a minerally Chablis and a creamy, fruity Macon.  If you can find one at a good price, work in a floral, perfumed Viognier.  Finish with two sweeter wines – Vouvray (made from the Chenin Blanc grape) and Riesling from the Alsace region – and note the contrasts between the two. 

Music 

This is a relaxed, fun tasting of French wines that wouldn’t be out of place at a summer picnic.  Norah Jones would be a great choice among American performers; her music has an easy, dreamlike quality while her voice has a smoky, sultry character that wouldn’t be out of place in a Parisian wine bar.  Her debut album “Come Away With Me” and her followup album “Feels Like Home” would make perfect background music for this classy tasting. 

If you want something more authentically French, we’d recommend Edith Piaf – France’s mid-20th century counterpart to American songbirds like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday, both cocktail party standards.  Check out the soundtrack to La Vie en Rose, the 2007 movie about Edith Piaf that starred Marion Cotillard, as well as the compilation album “The Complete Edith Piaf.”  

Pairings 

Your French theme with the wines gives you an opportunity to introduce your guests to some nice French cheeses.  You should absolutely start your cheeseboard off with a goat’s cheese like Chevre, which is a classic pairing with Loire whites like Sauvignon Blanc.  A nice French Brie, which is always popular at a party in any event, will provide a great pairing with your Burgundian chardonnays.  Then why not pick some French cheeses that will be new to many of your guests.  Raclette de Savoie, for example, will pair beautifully with your Vouvray, while a Tomme Fermiere d’Alsace will complement (you guessed it) your Alsace Riesling.  You could always go with crackers, but sliced fresh baguette will complement your French theme even better. 

If you want some passed appetizers, halve some fresh figs, and top with a fresh basil leaf and a small dab of goat’s cheese (Chevre).  It’s a fresh, flavorful bite-sized passed finger-food perfect for these picnic-friendly whites.  Another winner would be stuffed mushroom caps, which you can stuff with crab meat as a perfect accompaniment to your two Burgundies.  Other than that, perhaps serve some light spreads that your guests can serve with their baguette, like artichoke dip or eggplant dip.  Grapes and strawberries will finish your table off.  We’d avoid tomato flavors or anything overwhelming in flavor (like hummus, guacamole or salsa).  

Tasting Notes 

This tasting explores the subtle differences among a variety of fresh, delicious French white wines.  Whereas some “blind” tastings focus on comparing the same type of wine at a variety of price points, all of the wines presented here can be found for $10-15/bottle.  It’s great fun to discover wines that are a little bit different – the sheer variety of wonderful wines out there makes for a sense of ongoing adventure, discovery, and virtual world travel as you explore new grapes and bottles for the first time.  We recommend printing out a map of France (or finding a map in a book) where you can highlight for your guests the regions from which the various wines hail.  

French wines can be tough to get to know at first because the wines are named for regions & villages, almost never for the grape itself.  Muscadet is a grape, but Loire Sauvignon Blancs are usually named for the region (Touraine, or Sancerre).  White Bordeaux is a blend of Semillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc.  White Burgundy – surprise! – is 100% chardonnay.  Viognier is a grape that thrives in the Rhone Valley.  Vouvray is a Loire Valley wine made from the Chenin Blanc grape.  Perhaps Alsace is the one French region likely to include the wine name (Riesling, in this case) on the bottle. 

Muscadet is a great Loire Valley wine to get to know because it is the quintessential French white to pair with seafood – a light, dry wine usually available at a good value.  The “Sevre et Maine” appelation of the Loire Valley produces zingy white wines, while those marked “Sur Lie” have extra body & complexity.  The Loire Valley is also known for great sauvignon blanc; “Sancerre” is the best known, but a bit pricier than the Touraine we recommend above.  Sauvignon  Blanc will be a bit fruitier & tangier than the Muscadet and is a great food pairing wine for just about everything else (not just seafood!). 

Bordeaux is best known for red wine but also makes interesting dry white wine blends that should provide an interesting contrast to the Loire Valley whites.  Bordeaux white wines blend three grapes and are typically at least 80% Semillon, along with smaller percentages of the grapes Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc.  Mouton Cadet is an affordable, widely available value-priced white Bordeaux – rich, smooth and with tropical fruit notes.  

From Bordeaux, move to Burgundy, where the white wines are 100% chardonnay.  There are five different sub-regions within Burgundy, and we would suggest including two in your tasting.  Start with a Chablis, a well-known source of chardonnay that is notably chalky and minerally, almost mouth-puckeringly so.  Follow up with a Burgundy from the Maconnais region like the one we recommend, which will likely be notably rounder, with clean, creamy fruit flavor.  The contrast should be informative and fun for your guests. 

If you can find a Viognier, definitely try to work it into the tasting.  It’s a unique, somewhat unheralded grape, though one’s that often considered fashionable purely because it’s not widely known.  Viognier has a fascinating and unique flavor – very floral, almost perfumed.  If you can’t find one for $15 or less, look for Guigal’s Cote du Rhone Blanc, which is a blend that’s usually at least 50% Viognier that can be found for $13 or so.  

Finish with two different whites – Vouvray and Riesling.  Vouvray is a crowd-pleasing, sweeter white made from the Chenin Blanc grape in the Loire Valley.  Riesling is also sweeter, but with a different taste entirely; the Rieslings made in France’s Alsace region are somewhat drier than those made in Germany or in California.

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Rieslings from Germany and Alsace, France

 The Theme

Riesling is an unheralded, delicious wine that makes a total hit as a wine tasting party.  Many novice wine drinkers prefer sweeter-tasting wines, and with great Riesling you can be sweet and sophisticated at the same time!  Riesling is a great wine to become familiar with because it pairs amazingly well with food or as a flavorful white on its own.  Many delicious and easy-to-find Rieslings can be had for less then $25/bottle.  Wunderbar!

The Angle 

Focus on Rieslings from Germany and the Alsace region of France, the two areas of Europe known for elevating this grape to greatness.  German Rieslings can be complicated to learn about at first glance, so use this tasting as a way to break it down & demystify this wonderful wine. 
Meanwhile, introduce your guests to popular and widely-distributed German & Alsace winemakers at a variety of price points. 

Do this tasting in two parts.  First, German wine labels are crazy complicated – so turn this to your advantage by having your guests taste three German wines side-by-side: a Kabinett, a Spatlese and an Auslese (in that order).  Let them see the labels of these 3 so they can learn.  Second, explore the differences in style: German Rieslings tend to be a bit sweeter while Alsace Rieslings tend to be a bit drier.  So do a “blind” tasting (disguise the bottles) of 4-5 other Rieslings from Germany & Alsace to let guests learn what style they prefer and to find a favorite which they can look for in the store later.

Sample Lineup

Part One (in order, one at a time, with labels displayed):

  1. Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, 2007 ($40)
  2. Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, 2007 ($40)
  3. Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, 2007 ($40)

Part Two (blind tasting):

  1. “Dr. L” Riesling, Kabinett, Dr. Loosen, Germany, 2008 ($10)
  2. Hugel Riesling, Alsace, 2008 ($16)
  3. Trimbach Riesling, Alsace, 2008 ($22)
  4. Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Riesling Spatlese, Germany ($25)
  5. Domaine Weinbach, “Cuvee St. Catherine,” Alsace, 2007 ($50-60)

 

The Wines

We like to start this tasting by teaching your guests how to read those crazy-sounding German wine labels.  German winemakers often make several different Riesling wines from the very same vineyard, just by harvesting some grapes earlier, some a bit later, and others much later, and making completely separate wines from each batch!  The longer they stay on the vine, the more concentrated and intense the flavors.  So the first picked are labeled “Kabinett,” and these are lighter & refreshing.  The next harvested are more fuller-flavored “Spatlese,” and later still they pick wines for a more intense, concentrated “Auslese.”  An easy way for you to illustrate this is to start your tasting with three wines from the same winemaker, vineyard, and year – we recommend Joh. Jos. Prum as a winemaker and their Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, which is excellent.  Let your guests try them one at a time and notice that the only difference on the label is the word “Kabinett,” “Spatlese” or “Auslese.” 

The first part of your tasting may feel a bit formal – though remember, guests enjoy wine tastings where they feel they’ve learned something – so next open it up for a fun “blind” tasting of the remaining wines.  We think you should pick one bottle from each of these four popular winemakers: Dr. Loosen (Germany), Hugel (Alsace), Trimbach (Alsace), and Selbach-Oster (Germany).  These wines are relatively easy to find, and great “brands” to know.  We like Dr. Loosen’s “Dr. L” as a $10 winner, although Dr. Loosen is also one of the most respected makers of German Riesling and makes delicious wines at higher price points.  In blind tastings it’s always fun to throw in one that’s expensive; we like the high-end “Cuvee St. Catherine” from Domaine Weinbach, a fantastic winery run by three talented women in Alsace. 

The wines in the blind tasting above range from $10-25/bottle except for the splurge wine from Domaine Weinbach.  We started the tasting with a very nice horizontal flight of German Rieslings from Joh. Jos. Prum that cost about $40/bottle, but you can certainly find a less expensive trio of wines for the starter portion if you like. 

Music

Play up the German angle when you pick the tunes for your event, and let hilarity ensue.  When all your guests have arrived, put on Nina’s “99 Luftballoons,” an ‘80s one-hit wonder and a fun blast from the past.  Joke that it’s the only #1 German song you could think of.  You could even put this on repeat for a while.  Follow with Devo’s “Whip It” which sounds German, even if it’s not.  Then segue into a few hits by the Scorpions –a legit German rock band! – like “Rock Me Like a Hurricane,” “Winds of Change,” and “Send Me an Angel.”  All of this will be jovial background music for the first part of your tasting and it’ll put your guests in a relaxed and fun mood for what otherwise could seem a very serious academic review of Germany’s complicated wine labels!

Once you head into the “blind” tasting portion of your party – and we’re not kidding here – download and play David Hasselhoff’s Greatest Hits from iTunes.  Make a very big production of this music change – a couple glasses of wine into the event, your guests should find it utterly hilarious that they’re drinking German wines while listening to songs that made the former “Baywatch” and “Knight Rider” star into an improbable pop music icon in Germany.  Don’t miss his cover of “Try a Little Tenderness!”

If our recommendation for a tongue-in-cheek romp through Germany’s contribution to ‘80s pop and rock doesn’t suit you or your guests, you could opt instead for a Polka theme for the whole event.  It’ll provide jovial German-sounding background music for the entirety of your tasting, and again should be mildly hilarious.  If after tasting 5-6 wines a few guests actually break into a polka, all the better.  In any case the music is just a sideshow anyway for the great wines and the great company.  

Pairings

For your cheese pairing, we recommend aged Gouda, which we cubed ahead of time and set out with crackers.  Riesling is a great food wine but interestingly isn’t one that you think of pairing with a variety of cheeses.  Gouda is a great cheese in its own right, comes in many varieties and does complement the flavors of Riesling very nicely.  Comte, Edam, Tomme Fermiere d’Alsace or Swiss mountain cheeses would work well too if you wanted to put a cheeseboard together.

Also, use this as an opportunity to educate your guests on how versatile Riesling is as a food-pairing wine.  Because of its acidity and relatively high sugar content, Riesling pairs great with Asian dishes, from Chinese takeout to Indian or Thai food.  Not all wines are good pairings with spicy food, so this is great to know!

So if you wanted to serve heavy apps with your tasting, play up this angle!  You could serve some steamed dumplings from your local Chinese place, order up some beef or chicken satay skewers from your favorite Thai restaurant, and/or put out some samosas from a local Indian restaurant.  Of course, German wines will complement German foods as well, so sliced bratwurst or kielbasa with toothpicks would make a great theme-appropriate finger food for this event. 

 

Tasting Notes

This is a tasting where we strongly recommend going with the well-known, well-distributed winemakers.  Frankly, not every wine store has a huge German or Alsace Riesling selection.  Hugel, Trimbach, Dr. Loosen, Selbach-Oster et.al. are all widely available, reliably well-made, and are often at very affordable prices.  Your guests will thank you later for picking wines that are easy for them to find! 

As with any “blind” tasting, disguise the bottles before you pour them.  If you have wine party decorative cloth bags, great; but paper bags or even aluminum foil work fine too.   Have a simple scoring sheet where guests can write their comments (“tangy,” “too sweet,” “too dry,” “delicious – my favorite!” or “tastes like apples”) and rate the wines on a 1-5 or 1-10 scale.  When everyone’s tried all the wines, collect and quickly tabulate the scores.  Unveil the wines one by one, making sure to first highlight wines that some of your guests loved (or hated!).  The great thing is, no matter which wine one likes best, everyone’s a winner.  If you pick the $10 wine, congratulations – you’re a cheap date and can easily afford to stock up on your favorite wine!  If you preferred the most expensive wine, congratulations – you have a sophisticated palate and are well on your way to becoming a certified wine snob! 

Germany is a nation known more for beer than wine, but no other nation achieves such greatness with Riesling.  In the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, German Rieslings benefit from the slate in the soil, whcih helps ripen the Riesling grape, which might otherwise struggle to ripen in a region this far north that gets relatively little sunshine.   

Alsace is in the northwest corner of France, not far from the German border and seemingly a world away from the great regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire Valley and the Rhone Valley.  Alsace is known for white wines and is worth a separate tasting all its own – we’ve had some delicious Pinot Blanc, Gewurtztraminer and white blends from Alsace, in addition to their great Rieslings. 

Last fun fact – if you’re looking for a perfect white wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner, look no further than Riesling!  The acidity of Riesling makes it food-friendly, but its fruity sweetness makes it robust enough to pair with the creamy but otherwise mild flavors on most Americans’ Thanksgiving Day table.  Chardonnay, by contrast, isn’t usually a good Turkey Day choice as the buttery creamy flavors get overwhelmed by your mashed potatoes and gravy.  And if you feel (understandably!) that you should serve an American wine on Thanksgiving, Dr. Loosen has a joint venture in Washington that produces a very good and affordable Riesling called “Eroica” that is worth checking out.

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Sauvignon Blanc Paired With Goat’s Cheese

The Theme

Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine everyone should know.  It is the perfect white for an aperitif or cocktail party, is one of the most food-friendly wines on the planet, and is usually quite affordable.  Different regions make the wine in a slightly different style, which you can explore with this tasting!  Sauvignon Blanc and goat’s cheese is also one of the greatest food-wine pairings there is, as you can demonstrate to your guests!

The Angle

Do a “blind” tasting of 5-6 sauvignon blancs from around the world.  Great sauvignon blanc is made in the Sancerre region of France’s Loire Valley, in California, and elsewhere.  Pick a range of price points, though all will most likely cost less than $30.  Meanwhile, instead of doing a cheese board, pick 4-5 different varieties of goat’s cheese from around the world.  That way your guests can discover a favorite cheese to pair with a new favorite wine, and it takes the tasting party to a whole new level!

Sample Lineup

  1. Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, Marlborough), $10
  2. Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc (Chile, Casablanca Valley), $10
  3. Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc (South Africa), $17
  4. Groth Sauvignon Blanc (California, Napa Valley), $18
  5. Pascal Jolivet Sancerre (France, Loire Valley), $20
  6. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, Marlborough), $25
  7. Grgich Hills Fume Blanc (California, Napa Valley), $30

 

The Wines

Sauvignon Blanc is pretty wonderfully uncomplicated, and it’s delicious.  This tasting allows you to show off wines from all over the world while hitting all of the real hot spots of this wonderful wine.  You may have heard buzz about New Zealand wines – the sauvignon blancs from the Kiwis’ Marlborough region are unbelievable and becoming one of the most popular wines around.  Villa Maria is an amazing value and Cloudy Bay is a delicious higher-end sauvignon blanc that put New Zealand on the map.  Mulderbosch is also a very well-known and well-respected winemaker from South Africa known for a great (and affordable) sauvignon blanc. 

If you’ve heard of a wine called “Sancerre,” we’re not surprised – it’s a specific region of France’s Loire Valley known for producing fantastic sauvignon blanc.  Californian winemakers have also adopted this versatile grape – and your guests may notice a creamier edge to California sauvignon blanc because the winemakers often blend a little Semillon grape into the wine.  Note that “Fume Blanc” is just another way to describe Sauvignon Blanc.  The phrase was coined by Robert Mondavi based on the “fumes” of fog emerging from his vineyard, as he thought it might sell better than a wine called Sauvignon Blanc!  Finally, throw in a $10 Chilean for fun and you’ve got an around-the-world wine tasting!

We recommend this as a “blind” tasting – disguise the bottles in advance and let your guests determine which they like best.  It should be fascinating to see if they can tell a difference between a $10 and $30 wine, and if they have a preference for the more tangy citrusy wines made overseas or the creamier versions from California. 

Music

What music would you play for an outdoor picnic?  This is the perfect wine for such an occasion, so choose the music accordingly.  Pick something fun that evokes carefree spring and summer gatherings with friends outdoors.  We’d pick Counting Crows’ greatest hits album “Films About Ghosts,” Dave Matthews’ Band’s “Under the Table & Dreaming” album, Sheryl Crow’s “The Very Best of Sheryl Crow,” Madonna’s “Immaculate Collection,” and John Mayer’s “Room for Squares.”

Pairings

Sauvignon Blanc and Goat’s Cheese are one of the best food and wine pairings there is.  Just as you’re showing off wines from around the world, do the same with the cheeses!  Pick four very different goat’s cheeses that show off different styles, and place them around the room so that as your guests move from wine to wine, they discover different cheeses as well.  Serve with table water crackers and whole wheat crackers.   We’d recommend the following five cheeses, but your local cheese store or grocery can help you pick a nice variety.

  1. Humboldt Fog, California
  2. Crottin, Les Chevrots, France (presented as small firm “discs”)
  3. Chevre, France (presented as a soft “log”)
  4. Manchester, England
  5. Valencay, France

Humboldt Fog is rapidly becoming famous in its own right, one of the emerging cheese “brands” that people specifically ask for from California’s Cowgirl Creamery.  It’s noticeable for its grey ash-colored line down the center.  Valencay makes a striking presentation and you can mention it was Napoleon’s favorite cheese!  And of course France makes a variety of goat’s cheese worth exploring.

This is such a specific wine-and-cheese event that we wouldn’t recommend much else in the way of food pairings (certainly not heavy apps).  Add some grapes, maybe some dried apricots, and you’re all set.

 

Tasting Notes

In our view, the most important thing in selecting wines for this tasting is picking a variety of wines from around the world – making sure not to miss the Marlborough region of New Zealand.  We love Villa Maria and Cloudy Bay, and they happen to present a nice “less expensive / more expensive” pair for your “blind” tasting.  But really, we’ve rarely had a bad New Zealand sauvignon blanc from this region.  We do think it’s worth introducing your guests to Cloudy Bay as arguably the most famous sauvignon blanc in the world, but the success of your event doesn’t depend on it. 

When choosing California wines, feel free to choose other producers but we’d recommend keeping two things in mind.  First, choose at least one “Fume Blanc” if you can find it, just to highlight to your guests that this is just another way of describing the same wine, and a testimony to Robert Mondavi’s marketing genius.  Second, try to find at least one if not two California wines that blend in some Semillon for a creamy edge.  It’ll make your “blind” tasting more interesting if there’s a noticeable difference in style amongst the wines you select.

For Sancerre, we picked Pascal Jolivet because their wines are widely distributed, but just about any Sancerre will do – it’s always a crowd pleaser.  Mulderbosch is one of the few famous South African makers of this grape, so on the margin try to find that one if you can – it’s a worthwhile brand for your guests to know (if you’re only going to know one South African wine, this is a good one).  We added in Chile on a lark, but again the specific producer there is less important that introducing another region known for value-priced wines. 

Make sure to emphasize to your guests how food-friendly Sauvignon Blanc is.  It’s a great white wine to serve with just about any meal (with the exception of spicy foods, for which Riesling is a better choice).   Not everyone likes Chardonnay, and for that reason Sauvignon Blanc is also our choice for a white to serve at a cocktail party or as an aperitif before a meal.

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Discovering Italian Whites

Theme

Ask many people to name an Italian white wine and the conversation starts and ends with “Pinot Grigio.”  In fact, the various regions of Italy produce a wide variety of delicious whites that vary quite a bit in style and taste.  If you and your guests prefer white wines and want to do an Italian-themed event – or if you love Italian food and white wine but want to move beyond Pinot Grigio – then this is the tasting for you!

Angle

We’d recommend doing this as a “blind” tasting of a range of different Italian white varietals.  Disguise the wines and let your guests see how the various wines taste and which ones they prefer, using only their nose and their palate to tell them apart.  When everyone’s tried all the wines once and noted their preferences, unveil the wines and distribute some “tasting notes” describing each wine and the region it comes from.  It should be a fun, laid back tasting that introduces your guests to some new summer whites!  Bellissimo!

Sample Lineup

  1. Vermentino, Mancini, Vermentino di Gallura ($15)
  2. Tocai Friulano, Ermacora ($15)
  3. Soave, Allegrini ($12)
  4. Pinot Grigio, Alois Legeder ($15)
  5. Gavi, Broglia “La Meirana” Gavi di Gavi ($15)
  6. Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Le Rote ($13)
  7. Orvieto Classico, Ruffino ($9)

 

 The Wines

With this tasting, the range of varietals is more important than the specific winemakers.  The lineup above includes recommended versions of each from some of our favorite merchants, and all in the $10-15 range.  Work with your local wine merchant and find a version of each varietal that they carry regularly and recommend.  The eight white wines above hail from regions throughout Italy, and providing your guests this sense of geographic diversity is half the fun of the tasting. 

 

Vermentino is a dry, floral white that hails from two seaside areas: Liguria (the Italian Riviera) and the isle of Sardinia.  Not surprisingly, it pairs really well with seafood.  Tocai is a bold, flavorful, tangy white from Friuli that will go great with prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe.  Soave is a light, fresh and smooth (literally, “suave”) white from a town located just west of Verona (of Romeo & Juliet fame).  Pinot Grigio is a versatile white that at its best can be tangy & minerally.  Some of the best come from the Trentino-Alto Adige region in the Italian Alps, just south of Austria. 

Gavi is a dry, crisp wine with notes of citrus & minerals that hails from the Piemonte region in the shadow of the Alps.  Though Piemonte is better known as a land of serious reds (notably Barolo and Barbaresco), Gavi was considered several decades ago to be one of the great wines of Italy.  Vernaccia is the great white wine of Tuscany, hailing from a town called San Gimignano referred to as “the Manhattan of Tuscany” because of its tall medieval towers.  Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a lively, flavorful dry white and the best ones can be mouth-puckering beauties.  Orvieto is the best-known white wine from Umbria, the region in central Italy that was the home of St. Francis of Assisi.  Orvieto is light, crisp and peachy and is often made into a higher-end version called Orvieto Classico.

Music

This is a relaxed tasting of light white wines that would accompany a summer picnic perfectly, while the fact they’re all from Italy imbues the event with a sense of romance and la dolce vita.  We’d pick easygoing music that wouldn’t be out of place at a romantic summer picnic for two. 

Start with Norah Jones’ debut album “Come Away With Me.” From there transition into Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits album, which picks up the energy a bit just as your guests are getting a spring in their step from the wine and the atmosphere!  By the time “Cecilia” plays as the final track, everyone should be having a blast.  From there you could go anywhere; Sting’s “Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994” might be a nice bridge to something more contemporary, with a good collection of recognizable easy-listening pop tunes that still wouldn’t be out of place at a picnic.

Pairings

Italian wines deserve Italian cheeses, though we’d stick primarily with softer cheeses.  The crispness and acidity of the wines help cleanse the mouth in a way that works very nicely with cheese like Taleggio, fresh Ricotta, or Fontina.  Throw in some Asiago as a nice contrast, and you’ve got a beautiful light Italian cheese board to complement your tasting.

A perfect appetizer for this event would be prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe.  Many crisp Italian whites (like Tocai) complement prosciutto perfectly, and prosciutto and cantaloupe make a fantastic combination for a summer picnic-type event.  We’d cube the cantaloupe in advance, wrap each bite-size piece with a bit of prosciutto and serve with toothpicks.  Another fun finger-food appetizer you can make in advance would be mini-Caprese skewers, using a toothpick to skewer a halved grape tomato, a fresh basil leaf and a small mozzarella ball.  Along the same lines, halved fresh figs topped with a fresh basil leaf and a dab of goat’s cheese make a great summer-time finger food that would complement your theme and your wines perfectly.

Tasting Notes

This tasting explores the subtle differences among a variety of light, refreshing Italian white wines.  Whereas some “blind” tastings focus on comparing the same type of wine at a variety of price points, all of the wines presented here can be found for $10-15/bottle.  It’s fun to discover wines that are a little bit different.  I still remember the first time I ever ordered a bottle of Soave; it was on a date, we loved it, and we felt as though we were the only people in the world who had discovered the secret of this wonderful wine’s existence.  Wine tasting can be like that – the sheer variety of wonderful wines out there makes for a sense of ongoing adventure, discovery, and virtual world travel as you explore new grapes and bottles for the first time.

We recommend printing out a map of Italy (or finding a map in a book) where you can highlight for your guests the regions from which the various wines hail.  Wine tasting is a form of world travel in between vacations, and we’ve always found guests enjoy connecting the various wines they’re trying to the far-off and (particularly in the case of Italy) romantic places the wines were made.  Tuscany, the Italian Riviera, Verona, the Italian Alps… In the same vein, highlight the types of foods unique to each region, as Italians tend to eat primarily local meats and produce and to pair them with local wines. 

Italian wines can be daunting to get to know because the wines can be named either for the region/village where the wine is made, or for the grape itself (which in most cases you probably aren’t familiar with).  Orvieto, for example, is made primarily from the “trebbiano” grape.  Soave blends trebbiano with the “garganega” grape.  Gavi is made from the “cortese” grape native to Piemonte (Gavi itself is a village).  By contrast, Vernaccia is a grape; the town San Gimignano in Tuscany is the only place in the world where it’s produced with fanfare.  Tocai too is a grape, one native to the Friuli region.  Vermentino is also the name of a grape, while Pinot Grigio is the grape known as “Pinot Gris” elsewhere in the world.    

And when it comes to Pinot Grigio…we recommend you try to find a bottle of the Alois Lageder if you can.  They make consistently great versions of Pinot Grigio, a wine that can be mediocre if not made with care, at a price that won’t break the bank.  Alois Lageder is a fantastic producer in the Alto Adige region of Italy, and you may find you want to explore some of their other delicious wines as well.

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