USA: U.S. White Rhone Varietals, Pinot Blanc, & Pinot Gris
New Tastes in U.S. Whites?>
Quibble not, Chardonnay is the nations most popular white wine. However, there are growing indications that the "cutting edge" of the wine consuming public is proving ever more receptive to at least the occasional Chardonnay alternative. Some of the hottest white wines, for both wine makers and consumers, include Viognier, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc.
Viognier, in its Condrieu manifestation, is fat and lush, with a honeyed, tropical fruit-accented bouquet and lower levels of acidity. As such, it does not age well and is almost always best consumed within two or three years of the vintage. In the U.S., unlike Condrieu, some Viogniers are being made like Chardonnays, with a heavy reliance on oak. Unfortunately, the varietal usually doesnt possess the structure of Chardonnay, and as a result the oak can become overwhelming. Those versions that have largely been fermented in stainless steel seem to better preserve the grapes natural attributes a lush mouthfeel and an exotic natural bouquet. Oaked or not, U.S. Viognier, like Condrieu, is best consumed early, as some of the better releases from the last year or two have already begun to fall apart. For all its richness, this can still be a wine for many seasons. Its lighter manifestations are ideal as summer wines, consumed as aperitifs or served with seafood, while heftier versions can ward off winters chill.
Pinot Gris has found a second home outside of Northeastern Italy, in Oregon. Some Oregon producers have reported that the demand for Pinot Gris has outstripped that for their Chardonnays. The Pacific Northwest is an area of the country awash with regional pride, and Pinot Gris has been looked on locally with a great deal of affection, following the success of Oregon Pinot Noir. Oregon Pinot Gris may well be the finest seafood wine produced in the United States.
Finally, though associated with Alsace, the "Pinot Blanc" often planted in the U.S., and more specifically in California is actually believed to be Melon (may-lon.) Melons origins actually lie in Burgundy where it was seen as a lesser alternative to Chardonnay, however, it is now more prevalent in the Loire, where it is bottled as Muscadet. Many U.S. Pinot Blancs have the flinty attributes of Muscadet, especially when they are fermented in stainless steel (no malolactic) and without wood aging. Many, however, use the full treatment, with some or full malolactic and lots of oak. This style is prevalent in the wines of Monterey. On the whole, U.S. Pinot Blancs range from tart orchard fruit flavors with crisp acidity and racy mouthfeels, to those with more lushness and viscosity. Pinot Blanc works well at the table in its "Chardonnay-like" Monterey versions, while lighter U.S. Pinot Blancs, like Muscadets, work well as aperitifs or with shellfish. As always, tasting notes will provide a good indication of the style in which the wine was made.
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