Editor’s note: As so many beverage trends begin at bars and restaurants, we occasionally cross-post from our on-premise sister publication Cheers magazine.
A glass of white wine can refresh like a dip in the sea in the summer, take the chill off a crisp autumn night and everything in between. It’s never out of style or season. Whether guests’ tastes lean towards herbaceous and zesty or earthy and round, there is a great white to suit them. Here are some of the unique wines that on-premise operators are pouring by the glass.
Crisp Whites…Always in Season
In a tropical locale such as Hawaii’s Maui, where the weather is beautiful all year, seasonality doesn’t mean the same thing as it does elsewhere. So bright crisp white wines are always in season, says John Toigo, beverage manager and sommelier for the 150-seat restaurant Humuhumunukunukuapua’a at the 776-room Grand Wailea Resort.
The resort’s Polynesian meat- and fish-focused restaurant is named for Hawaii’s state fish and called Humu for short. It carries nine white wines by the glass priced from $12 to $25. One popular option is the JM Brocard, “Vau de Vey” Premier Cru Chablis ($22 a glass), a surprise for chardonnay fans used to buttery expressions with lots of toasted oak and vanilla.
“This wine tastes like a tart green apple that has been baked every so slightly, with a dollop of lemon cream,” Toigo notes. Because Chablis is generally vinified either unoaked or in neutral oak and made in a region (Burgundy) that’s more temperate than other areas for which the grape is known, it retains vibrant acidity, minerality and tart notes. This makes it an affable food partner.
Toigo likes the Chablis with the restaurant’s marinated tomatoes ($16), a Hawaiian take on a classic caprese salad with local tomatoes, pulled mozzarella and a smoked Kula strawberry reduction. The wine refreshes the palate in between bites, yet its creamy finish balances the rich cheese.
Like many somms today, Toigo is quick to extol the virtues of riesling. One of the world’s classic white varietals, it unfairly often gets stereotyped as only being made in a sweet style. But the majority of riesling made around the world is dry.
Even if it does tout residual sugar, all riesling has high acidity that’s easily capable of balancing it out. That makes it a suitable match for Pacific Rim cuisine.
“We get a wonderful mix of so many cultures, and Asian elements play a big part, Toigo points out. “It’s fortunate for me that Asian- and Polynesian-inspired cuisine go perfectly with the fresh clean flavor of a dry riesling.”
He deems Dr. Hermann Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling ($16 a glass) “both fun to say and delicious,” with notes of ripe green apples and pears candied with honey sweetness. It pairs perfectly with crispy mahi mahi drizzled with an orange, lychee and jalapeño sauce ($36); the wine softens the spice and balances the sweetness.
Unexpected Varietals Pique Palates
At Aviary Wine & Kitchen, a 52-seat Mediterranean-influenced restaurant in Austin, TX, beverage director Alex Wheatley Bell says he never knows from day to day what guests are going to “geek out” and fall in love with. From grüner veltliner from Niederösterreich in Austria to rkatsiteli wines from Georgia to dry rieslings from the Morovia region of the Czech Republic, ther are plenty of unique options.
“We love these wines because they provide people with that extra spin of an experience here,” Bell says. “They leave having tasted something they’ve never had before…opening doors to something new.”
Aviary Wine & Kitchen offers a rotating selection of six to eight white wines by the glass. Prices range from $8 to $14 to keep the wines affordble for guests, Bell says.
Because the list offers unfamiliar and unique varietals and regions, customers typically ask staff for suggestions based on flavor profiles and styles with which they are familiar. But Texas’ warm climate tends to bring out cravings for mineral-driven white wine with citrus, refreshing fruit, zesty acidity and floral hints, Bell notes.
An alternative to New Zealand sauvignon blanc is the 2016 Domaine du Vieil Orme ($9 a glass) from Touraine-Chenonceaux, France. Also made with sauvignon blanc, its pineapple, unripe mango flavors and salinity, along with a bright finish, go well with pickled peach and charred green bean shrimp risotto ($16). It’s also great all by itself on a warm Texas patio Happy Hour, Bell says.
One “oddity” on the menu is the 2017 Clos d’Albizzi Cassis Blanc ($11 a glass) from Cassis, France, a region better known for its black currant liqueur that’s the basis of a Kir Royale. “It’s all sea air, white flower, lilac and wild rosemary adorning a shaved fennel and Bosc pear salad with bits of jicama and radish spice,” Bell says. It’s like teleporting to the cliff sides of the southern French coast, he adds, especially when it’s paired with a selection of Aviary’s rotating oysters ($3.50 each, $18 for 6, $33 a dozen) with pink peppercorn mignonette and freshly shaved horseradish.
The 2016 Lightning CdP Blanc is produced in California ($14 a glass) with Rhône varietals grenache blanc, picpoul blanc and marsanne that are popular in the blends of Châteaunneuf du Pape. “It’s a whirlwind of citrus blossom, wet stones and touches of white peach all coming together on the palate with hints of toasted pine nut [and] brûléed banana, while still staying playfully light,” Bell says.
What does he pair the wine with? Aviary’s Branzino with almond crust ($19) adds more texture, while its herbal, earthy notes are the perfect complement to basil pistou and green rice.
Italy Beyond Pinot Grigio
Most by-the-glass wine lists provide a least one pinot grigio. But Italy is a veritable treasure trove of wine with myriad more-interesting white options.
At Lupo Marino, a 75-seat restaurant in Washington, D.C. that focuses on Italian street food and pizza, managing partner Antonio Matarazzo is partial to white wine from Campania. It’s his birth region, for one thing, plus its diverse microclimates produce a wide range of styles.
“You can go from the Greco di Tufo and Fiano from Avellino area that can be drunk young and fresh [and] can be aged longer than [many] white wines,” Matarazzo says. Bottles from the Amalfi Coast and Cilento offer minerality thanks to vineyards positioned close to the coast.
Lupo Marino offers eight white wines by the glass, priced $10 to $13. The Pieropan Soave Classico ($12 a glass) is a blend of garganega and trebbiano grapes from the country’s northern Veneto. Grown on volcanic soil in the hills, it boasts high aromatics of white flowers and citrus, acidity, round mouthfeel and an appealing, slightly bitter almond finish, yet the wine is very diverse for the kitchen.
“Soave is known as a light-bodied wine; dry, tart and refreshing.” Enjoy it young while it’s vibrant and fresh, Matarazzo says, as an aperitif with cheeses, lean fish or vegetarian dishes.
Verdicchio (whose name means “little green one”) is an off-the-radar Italian grape. It produces a crisp yet powerful wine in the 2016 Casalfarneto Fontevecchia ($10 a glass), with minerality from the limestone and clay soils in the rivers that flow to the Adriatic Sea in Le Marche where it’s made.
“The DOCG Classico zone constitutes 90% of the region, so it’s not hard to find a classic example from a time-tested vineyard site,” Matarazzo says. This wine shows minerals, fresh-squeezed lemon, texture and complexity. It can be served with non-tomato-based pastas, appetizers and leaner fish.
Josephine Estelle in New Orleans combines the culinary traditions of Italy with the spirit and seasonal ingredients of the Big Easy. The restaurant offers seven still white wines by the glass, priced from $10 to $14; the predominant wine focus is on Italian varietals. General manager Steven Rogers has seen an uptick in the popularity of natural wines, especially among younger wine drinkers.
Grillo from the island of Sicily is often grown on volcanic soil, and boasts a gorgeous balance of fruit, acidity, earthiness and restraint. Rogers likes the 2016 Grillo Di Giovanna Vurria ($11 a glass) for its grapefruit, underripe pineapple, minerality and subtle roundness from aging it on the lees. He serves it with a cheese plate, or striped bass with farro verde ($29).
Falanghina from Campania is lean and crisp—and usually fermented in stainless steel to lend it a clean finish. The 2015 Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina ($11 a glass) shows green and yellow apples, tropical fruit and minerality. It’s a match with Josephine Estelle’s spaghetti with tomato, saffron, tuna, shrimp and panna grata ($15).
White Wines for Latin Flavors
At the Llama Inn, a 65-seat restaurant in Brooklyn, NY, the wine list skews South American and Spanish to go with chef Erik Ramirez’s modern take on Peruvian cuisine. “We are trying to balance the art of the obscure and under-appreciated wines and make them approachable and easy to navigate—without making it stuffy and uptight,” says service and wine director and assistant general manager Kasia Krupinska.
The Llama Inn offers five whites by the glass priced $12 to $16. Options change seasonally and become more bold and intense in flavor during the colder months, Krupinska says. But lighter wines are also always available as they can be the best pairings to offset richer dishes.
Torrontes is a highly aromatic, floral grape that draws comparisons to viognier, moscatel and some rieslings. The 2015 Jelu torrontes from San Juan, Argentina ($12 a glass) is an organic and biodynamic wine produced with grapes grown at high altitude and hand-harvested.
Krupinska describes it as bright and expressive, with notes of honeysuckle, white peach and lively acidity. The torrontes pairs well for Llama Inn’s rich snapper served with macho sauce, papa seca, crispy rice chip and nori ($26).
Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain’s northwest region has emerged as a crisp, lively, almost effervescent white expression. But the 2016 Pedralonga albariño ($15 a glass) is surprisingly rounder than those typically found on the market, Krupinska says.
It provides “a breath of freshness and soothes the palate with its briny, salty and acidic notes,” she notes. It’s especially tasty with whole branzino rubbed with Amazonian sofrito, seasoned with cilantro, red onions, habanero and garlic, wrapped in a banana leaf and seared.
And while Uruguay is best known for its full-bodied reds made with the tannat grape, producers in this South American country have been making some interesting whites with international varietals.
The 2015 Los Vientos Estival gewürztraminer from Canelones, Uruguay, ($13 a glass) blends the spicy aromatic grape usually found in Germany with chardonnay and moscato bianco, resulting in a multilayered glass. “Silky textured and bursting with lychee, pineapple skins and an almond cream finish…this lean and crisp wine is a perfect partner for our lamb belly dish ($28),” Krupinska says.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area. Read her recent piece From Sotol to Soju, Bartender Tips for Exotic Spirits.