White Wines of the World
From Portugal to Hungary in Europe, from Australia and South Africa, and from the Americas, comes a wide variety of white wines.
Portugal’s Vinhos Verdes are fresh, slightly sparkling wines which charm the eye as well as the palate, are greenish in tinge but they are only ‘green’ in the sense of ‘new’. In actual fact Vinhos Verdes can be white (familiar brand names are Casal Garcia and Lagosta), red or rose. They come from the Minho province, north of Oporto, more particularly from the vicinity of Moncao and Viana do Castelo; a distinctive feature of the vineyards is that the grapes are grown on trellises or even up trees. These wines can be very dry, almost astringent, but some of them, the exported ones, are distinctly less so — to suit the ‘average’ palate. The best, chilled, make admirable aperitifs as does the still Vila Real from a wine growing district near the rolling slopes producing Port. This can be dry enough to make you sit up, if flagging. At the other end of the sugar scale, there is a good sweet dessert wine, Moscatel de Setubal with a distinctive aroma.
Spain, is perhaps noted more for its red than white table wines, but there are some excellent Rioja whites, a dry white of merit from Valdespenas and, for those who like it pretty sweet, a Muscatel. ITAL Best known Italian white wines, outside Italy at any rate, are Verdicchio, from Marche, medium dry and agreeable; Orvieto, from Umbria, generally to be found in flat-bottomed wicker bottles; Soave, best-known of the lot, fresh and flavoury; from Verona, Lacrima Christi, delicate and with a hint (sometimes more of a nudge) of sweetness; Frascati; and, from Montefiascone, the oddly named Est! Est! Est!, golden yellow and fruity. The legend is that a 12th century bishop sent his steward ahead with the instructions to mark Est! (short for vinum bonum est — the wine is good) on the doors of taverns where it was so. He became over-enthusiastic.
Much of the best wine comes from around the lovely old town of Krems, some 70 miles from Vienna, and from Durnstein, where some good wines are made from the Sylvaner, Riesling, Traminer and Veltliner grapes, often with a tingle on the tongue and a deceptive suggestion of lightness in alcohol. It has been claimed for them that they are less likely than other wines to induce a hangover. Familiar to’ travellers are the Schluck, which can be ‘prickly’ and is generally medium dry — delicious on a very hot day — and Gumboldskirchner, from south of Vienna, made from the Traminer and the Rotgipfler grape peculiar to Austria. A good ‘middle taste’ wine.
Swiss white wines tend to resemble the lighter and drier Moselles, often have a light sparkle, and are usually drunk young. Fendant, a fairly full wine, comes from some of the highest vineyards in Europe, in the Valais, and Neuchatel from the shores of the lake of that name.
The fabulously successful Lutomer Riesling, named simply from district and grape is medium dry, fruity, and dependable. ‘Tiger Milk’ is a sweet white wine made from late picked grapes.
Hungary’s chief claim to wine fame is its incomparable Tokay, golden, lusciously sweet and deliciously flavoured. It has been compared in quality, as a dessert wine, with Sauternes. The term ‘puttonyos’ indicates the degree of sweetness. The best and most luscious, such as Tokay Aszu, 5 puttonyos, 1964, is superb. Balatoni Riesling, light straw coloured and full, somewhat sweet.
The Lebanon produces a full dry white something like a Graves. Greece, a dry white which is aromatic but free of resin, which makes it acceptable to non-Greeks. Israel has a white called ‘Hock’, as indeed has Cyprus, and palatable enough it is; Rumania, a medium dry from the Perla grape grown beside the Tirnave River.
A variety of attractive white wines come from South Africa, some of those coming from the Paarl and Stellenbosch somewhat resembling white Burgundies. (Paarl is in Cape Province, and is the centre of the Co-operative Wine Growers’ Association of South Africa). Another area for white wine is Tulbagh. Some excellent Hock-type wines are produced, and also dessert wines made from the Muscat grape and from the famous Constantia vineyards, where the first wine was produced in South Africa in 1659.
South African wines are generally of good quality, carefully controlled and well produced.
Australia’s list is long, many wines called by the grape name after the grower’s name, others using the French district terms such as ‘White Burgundy’ and ‘Sauternes’ — with the explanation that “the use of generic descriptions is still appreciated by many as an aid to description”. Among the many palatable and consistent whites exported are Gramp’s Orlando Barossa Riesling, the cheapest and, at a higher quality and price level, Lindemann’s Coolalta White Burgundy.
Canada and the United States both produce white wine. Most of Canada’s production comes from the area around Niagara, and a little comes from British Columbia. Most tend to be rather sweet, though Chateau Gai is slightly less so. The United States produces a fine variety of wines, from very sweet to very dry. But anyone familiar with the sweeter Sauternes of France will be rather surprised to find that the white wines of the United States described as ‘Sauternes’ are comparatively dry.
California alone has about 200 wineries, producing splendid wines, able to hold their own with the best French wines. Unfortunately very little of it is exported! The Californian wines are usually described by the grape from which they have been made or their region of origin, like Napa Valley, Sonoma, Santa Clara, Livermore Valley and Fresno. Apart from California, the other important wine producing area is around New York State, which produces some fine white wines and especially sparkling one. One of the best wines from the United States is called Emerald Riesling.
Finally, don’t laugh, even England with its damp climate, manages to produce its own white wines, notably Hambledon, estate bottled by Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones and made from grapes grown in his Hambledon vineyards, hinting at a dry and elegant Vouvray.