I recently had the pleasure of trying several types of
wine that – prior to my drinking them – I had never even heard of before. They were an Orvieto from Italy, Vinho Verde (a slightly effervescent wine) from Portugal and Pinot Blanc from Austria and the Alsace region in France.
Orvieto is a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) located in Umbria and Lazio, Italy, centered specifically around the commune of Orvieto. Wine has been made here since the Medieval days of yore, although the actual wine making has changed a bit; while Orvieto whites were once known for their golden sweetness, now similar sweet wines are only produced in small quantities, and the majority of whites are made dry and delicious.
Most Orvieto whites are crafted from a blend consisting primarily of Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes (often called Procanico in this area, and referred to as Ugni Blanc, St. Émilion, Thalia and White Hermitage in other parts of the world). Eight blended red varietals are sold under the Rosso Orvietano DOC.
The Orvieto I tried – a 2008 Palazzone Umbria Dubini Bianco (try saying that ten times fast) – is comprised of all five of the standard varietals from this Italian region: Procanico, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia and Drupeggio.
Palazzone Umbria Dubini Bianco, as you might have guessed from the name, is a white wine. In the glass, it has the color of light golden sunlight and a nose of dried honey, apricot, pineapple and hay. The consistency is almost creamy; it’s smooth and somewhat thick. It has a lovely balance and flavor of apples and honey and stone fruit. Not sweet, but not overly sharp and acidic, either – even though this wine is aged in steel tanks. And at around $15 a bottle, it isn’t just the color that seems like sunshine in a glass.
Vinho Verde is my most exciting new alcoholic discovery, next to Jess’ La Finca Chardonnay find and adult Arnold Palmers. Vinho Verde, or “green wine,” is a popular Portuguese wine, from the Minho region in the north – a rainy and protected designation of origin (in Portuguese: Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC)). The name doesn’t refer to its color, but rather its youthfulness: Vinho Verde is best enjoyed within a year of bottling.
While available in both white and red varietals, white is exported far more than red and is rumored to be the tastier of the two (although not, perhaps, for the Portuguese, who tend to drink more of the red stuff). For the purposes of this piece, I will be referring to white Verde.
Although these wines do not qualify as sparkling or even semi-sparkling, they do contain a lovely, light effervescence. The Portuguese actually play this up by pouring one’s glass of Vinho Verde from a dramatic height. This sets all those tiny bubbles to frothing, and enhances the overall experience of the drink. But even poured from a more normal altitude, it’s still super yum.
Vinho Verde is less alcoholic than most of the wines we’re used to here. The most potent ones, made from the Alvarinho grape, top out at 11% alcohol by volume. This makes Vinho Verde great for lunch and picnics and not people who’re looking to get totally wasted – although, especially in the hot summer sun – this wine can pack a more powerful punch than you might expect.
Vinho Verde is light and crisp and refreshing and cheap. There is great stuff to be had between $5 and $10, although some go all the way to $20. I just finished a bottle of Trajarinho Vinho Verde, a blend of Trajadura and Alvarinho grapes, for about $10. It was the color of light straw with a nose of green apple and honeysuckle and peach. In the mouth it was fruity and lively and magically delicious, with flavors of honey and peach and citrus and green apple and the slightest touch of yeast. It bears repeating that Vinho Verde should not be cellared – but at these prices it’s worth it to drink up!
Pinot Blanc, like its fiery cousin, Pinot Noir (genetically mutated sibling, actually), is mysterious, seductive and – apparently – kind of hard to get to know.
Pinot Noir is genetically unstable, and sometimes a vine will produce all black fruit, but for one cane that grows all white. These freakish grapes (which are grown in their own right) are used to make still Pinot Blanc and bubbly Cremant d’Alsace in France (although buying a bottle of “Pinot Blanc” does not necessarily mean you’re getting Pinot Blanc if it comes from the Alsace AOC (speaking of freakish…). Pinot Blanc from that region only means it was made from Pinot varieties).
The most full-bodied and well-known Pinot Blanc wines (whether you’re looking for Pinot Blanc or “Pinot Blanc”) hail from Alsace. Sometimes Pinot Blanc grapes are used in the making of Champagne, although in the Champagne region, Pinot Blanc is usually called Blanc Vrai. Pinot Blanc is most widely grown in Italy, where it is known as Pinot Bianco; it is also grown abundantly in Slovenia and Croatia, where it’s called Beli Pinot. In the United States, what we tend to label Pinot Blanc is actually a variety called Melon de Bourgogne or Muscadet, but looks a lot like Chardonnay on the vine.
I’ll give you a minute to catch up.
Actually don’t bother, let’s just get right to the tastings!
I first tried Pinot Blanc while at Tasca wine bar with my friend, Jordana. It was her pour, and she picked a good one: Light straw color in the glass, with a lively nose and taste of green apple and a little citrus. An almost effervescent crispness. It was delicious, refreshing and – frankly – quite a surprise! Great balance and a nice, firm body. Went incredibly well with our ridiculously flavorful braised short ribs with spinach and goat cheese agnolotti with brown butter and sage sauce, and Tasca’s succulent wild mushroom linguine (with five types of mushrooms!) that made both of us sigh with pure contentment.
To recreate the joy of that experience, I went straight away to a local wine shop to pick up a bottle of my very own.
Much to my significant disappointment, they did not carry the 2008 Hopler Pinot Blanc from Burgenland, Austria. Instead they sold me a 2006 Domaine Stirn Pinot Blanc, from the Alsace AOC (and what did we learn about Pinot Blanc from the Alsace AOC, kids? Right. Could be any ol’ Pinot.) It was Pin-ew, in fact. Not impressed. I found it thicker and sweeter than the light, crisp Hopler. A bit flabby, without a lot of character. I guess one could describe it as the Billy Baldwin of beverages…
Whatever your taste or interest in adventure, I encourage you to try something new in 2010. In fact, I’d recommend you do it with an open heart and a glass of Vinho Verde.