Alternative white wines
Author: Elisa De Luca
Some white wines can truly be counted as household names. Stalwarts of many a wine rack, these have reached all corners of the globe, and are tried-and-tested favourites.
Yet venture outside the familiar confines of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, and there are real treasures to be found. Here, we’ve brought together some of our favourites from outside the better-trodden paths of the wine world.
Albariño is one of Spain’s most distinctive white grapes. Largely hailing from the rainswept, coastal region of Galicia, these grapes make wonderful wines: intensely aromatic, with a real saline edge. Many famous examples come from Rías Baixas DO. Albariño is also found in northern Portugal, where it is known as Alvarinho. Mostly, all are sold young and unoaked to preserve their fresh acidity, and all have a light texture.
Ideal for fans of Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis or Picpoul de Pinet, the best Albariños will be full of green fruit, peach and almond notes – alongside that famed salty note. Most of Albariño’s heartlands lie in proximity to the ocean, so it’s no surprise that seafood and fish are often recommended as food pairings. Our Own Selection Albariño is an excellent bottle to try: fresh and full of salted lemon and tarragon.
Arneis is a rare grape, although it’s increasingly being planted by leading producers in Italy. Meaning “little rascal” in the Piemontese language – a nod to how difficult it is to grow – Arneis is indigenous to the Roero Hills of Piedmont, just north of Alba. Having nearly become extinct, it has now made a small comeback. However, there are still only a few thousand hectares of vines worldwide.
It’s an excellent choice for fans of Pinot Gris. Arneis produces lovely dry wines, with distinctively perfumed aromas of ripe apple, almond and pear. Medium to full bodied, they’re excellent to drink with creamy pastas and herb-rich chicken dishes. Our pick is the Roero Arneis from Giovanni Rosso, which also benefits from some delicious elderflower and melon notes.
Bacchus is seeing something of a revolution in England. It’s currently the fourth most-planted grape on these shores. It makes wines similar to Sauvignon Blanc: zesty, fresh, and full of green fruit flavours. England’s cool climate also coaxes out flavours of hedgerow, elderflower, and pear.
This hardy grape was first bred by humans at the Geilweilerhof Institute for Grape Breeding in 1993, as a cross between Silvaner, Riesling, and Müller-Thurgau. Originally, it was designed to be able to withstand cold, damper climates. This made it ideal for England, where the wines it produces are certainly worth trying. Flint Vineyard’s Bacchus is one of the best examples we’ve discovered: beautifully fresh, with lemon sherbet, saline and pineapple notes.
Furmint, in its sweet form, is best known for being used in Tokaji. Yet, some winemakers in Hungary and beyond are now championing dry versions. A smoky tinge is prevalent through most dry Furmints, which are sometimes compared to Riesling.
The rest can vary considerably: some have zippy, citrus freshness, others, richer quince-like fruit flavours. Other common flavours are ginger, spice and spearmint. All tend to have a rich, smooth and round texture, similar to Marsanne or Roussane. Oremus’ 2019 Tokaji Furmint Mandolas is a fantastic choice; drink alongside delicate Asian dishes like sushi or dumplings, or with a chicken liver parfait. The acidity will cut right through the fat.
Gewürztraminer is hard to compare with others. This distinctive grape is the second most widely planted grape in France’s Alsace region – although great examples can also be found in Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and even California.
Gewürztraminer grapes rapidly develop high sugar levels, which results in headier wines with warming alcohol, rich aromas, and a sprinkling of spice. The leading aroma will be that of lychee, alongside rose petal, ginger, orange blossom and peach. They’re often quite full-bodied – meaning they can hold their own against Asian, Middle Eastern or Moroccan spiced dishes. Our recommendation is the floral Gewürztraminer Trocken from Selbach-Oster; it’s a refreshing, yet intense, example of how fantastic this unique grape can be.
Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s most famous grape, although it’s widely planted across several Eastern European countries. The wines are d lean, with flavours of white pepper, fresh herb, green bell pepper and grapefruit – some from warmer regions may have some notes of peach and nectarine, too.
A great choice for fans of Sauvignon Blanc or Vermentino, most Grüner Veltliners have a signature steely acidity that makes them ideal for drinking with creamy, fatty foods. For an harmonious pairing, we’d suggest trying the Kamptaler Terrassen from Willi Bründlmayer with a chicken supreme, or a four-cheese risotto.
Semillon (spelt Sémillon in France) isn’t a secret; after all, it’s used in a huge number of Bordeaux’s famed white blends. Yet, on the other side of the globe, largely in Australia’s Hunter Valley, it is being championed in single-varietal wines unlike any others.
In youth, these are lean and citrussy wines – it’s with age that they really come into their own. Hunter Valley-style Semillon should be drunk after at least five years in bottle, which will result in hugely complex flavours of wax, hay, hazelnut and fig. They’re a fantastic choice for lovers of the hefty flavours in “big” whites like Viognier or buttery Chardonnay – despite the fact that often, they’re lower in alcohol, sitting at around 10% ABV, and also are quite light-bodied. They do a stellar job of cutting through heavy, rich dishes: think risotto or pork belly. We’d recommend the Tyrrells HVD Single Vineyard as a fantastic example of an Australian Semillon – but try keeping it for a few years, to really see what it can do.
Browse all white wines on our website here.