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Thinking Outside the Barrel: Alternative White Grapes

By Alex Russell on March 17, 2018 in Food

Viognier in the wine-growing Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée of Condrieu.

In Australia, we’re only used to a few different grape varieties. In the whites, we’re all pretty aware of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Riesling and Semillon (and blends of some of these), and in the reds, we tend to stick with Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
In this series of articles, I’m going to try to tempt you with a few different grapes. Some of them are a bit more prevalent in Australia, while others will be up-and-comers. I’ll start with the whites and move on to the reds next month.

Viognier
Those who are aware of Viognier usually came to know it from its frequent blending with Shiraz to soften the big bold red, but it’s an absolute cracker when bottled by itself. The flavours are generally subtle apricot and the texture is usually rich, although there are some examples of fresher, zingier styles, such as Clonakilla Viognier Nouveau. If you like a Chardonnay, you really should try this.
Yalumba makes a range of Viogniers, and their Eden Valley Viognier is a great introduction to this grape variety. If you have the money to spare, give their Virgilius a try. Other great producers include Clonakilla and By Farr, although many producers make Viognier in small quantities. Look in regions that produce Shiraz.

Gewürztraminer
My wife absolutely loves Gewurz. The nose and flavours are those of rose petals or Turkish Delight – Gewurz means herb or spice in German. Wines made from this grape usually have just a touch of sweetness, which works really well with spicy dishes. Gewürztraminer is a favourite of ours with Thai food. If you like Riesling, you should enjoy it.
Some of my favourite producers include Huia, Dry River and Delatite, and most of the Gewürztraminers that come out of Alsace.

Albarino
If you’ve found that you like Viognier and Gewurz, then your next step is Albarino. Popular in Spain and Portugal, Albarinos are around 12% alcohol (high enough without being excessive), and fresh and zingy due to the relatively high acidity. They’re light in flavour and therefore go very well with less flavoursome dishes, and they’re great for a hot summer’s day.
There are only a handful of producers in Australia making Albarinos, so try them before trying some foreign options, and visit www.vinodiversity.com for more information.

Grüner Veltliner
There isn’t much of this in Australia yet, but if you want to see it done well, get in touch with the crew at Hahndorf Hill in the Adelaide Hills. It’s a spicy little grape, even with a touch of pepper, that develops a honeyed, more complex character with age. It can be oaked or unoaked. You may sometimes hear this referred to as GrüVe (pronounced ‘groovy’). For me, this also goes well with spicy Asian dishes and is a fascinating drop with cheese dishes as well. It also tends to be great value.

There are many others to try. Personal favourites include Vermentino, Marsanne (Tahbilk!) and Fiano. There’s even an Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. Check out www.aavws.com for some inspiration.

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