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DO Try this at home

Wine shop owners often lament that getting consumers to reach beyond their comfort zone and try some very good wines can be very challenging.  Let's face it – most people when they find a wine they enjoy – buy it again and again.  After all, why try something different?

In this article we'll lay the ground work for several articles in the upcoming weeks that will offer suggestions for wine exploration, based on your wine profile, e.g. the style of wine you enjoy.  Experimentation can further develop your wine repertoire, save you money, and be a lot of fun.  The world offers thousands of grape varieties and hundreds of thousands of wines – why get stuck in a rut!

We will explore six distinct wine styles, three red and three white.  I know that in our discussion in Understanding Your Wine Profile we minimize the color of the wine but it is an easy way to organize styles and find the wines you are looking for in your local wine shop.  We have used the “feel” component to reduce complexity in identifying the following six styles:

  • Red – Light bodied - light and fruity, little or no tannins, fresh, made to be drunk young.
  • Red – Medium bodied – between full bodied and light bodied.
  • Red – Full bodied - big, tannic, rich fruit flavors, age worthy. 
  • White – Light bodied – fruity, acidic, fresh, made to be drunk young.
  • White – Medium bodied – between full bodied and light bodied.
  • White – Full bodied – high alcohol, malolactic fermentation, oak aging.

We begin with one of the more popular wine styles – full bodied white wine.  The archetypal wine of this category would be Chardonnay – but not all Chardonnay.  Full bodied Chardonnays are characterized by partial or full malolactic fermentation, high alcohol content and oak aging.  This combination yields a rich creamy mouth feel, with flavors of oak, butterscotch and caramel, very different than the lighter style Chardonnays such as French Chablis (also made from Chardonnay).  Examples of full bodied Chardonnays from California would include Rombauer, Schaefer, Toasted Head, and Wente.

The choices for alternate full bodied whites are less abundant than other wine styles, but there are several fun wines very much worth exploring.

Viognier – Like many of the grape varieties listed below, Viognier can be vinified in a variety of styles, many of which would be classified as medium or even light bodied.  However, with the increasing popularity of this grape variety, producers are making full bodied renditions rich with peach, melon, honey and with the 14% alcohol to go with it.  Many of the best producers are from the Rhone region of France, but less expensive wines are available from new world producers in the United States.

White Burgundy – No review of full bodied white wines would be complete without the world famous chardonnay based white Burgundies.  While the traditional old world style – barrel fermented, malolactic fermented, barrel aged, and terroir specific - can often produce a more medium bodied White Burgundy, some of the best known (Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet) are full bodied and age worthy.  Be forewarned however, these beauties can command up to four figures per bottle prices.  Further south in Burgundy, in the Maconnais region, many wines produced in the Pouilly – Fuisse appellation can rival their Cote d'Or counterparts at a much more affordable price.

Chenin Blanc – Chenin Blanc is grown widely in the Loire Valley of France, throughout South Africa, and in parts of California.  Chenin Blanc is vinified in a range of styles, including dry to very sweet.  Most of the full bodied wines will come from the Loire Valley, Vouvray in particular.  The full bodied nature of Vouvray comes from the residual sugar which adds weight and texture to the mouth feel.  Vouvray may be labeled as Sec, Demi-Sec, Moelleux, and Doux as increasingly levels of sweetness however the presence of acidity may mask the sweetness, and these terms are not regulated.  Enlist the help of your wine shop manager when searching for a good full bodied Chenin Blanc.

Gewurztraminer – Often overlooked as a full bodied white wine alternative, Gewurztraminer can deliver a rich mouth-filling experience.  This very aromatic wine tends toward higher residual sugar to provide the fullness, so if your palate shies away from any sweetness you might give this wine a pass.  But for a wine that pairs well with fowl dishes, like turkey and duck, or German dishes like pork chops, ham veal and sauerkraut, Gewurztraminer is a great bet.

White blends from the Rhone – The Rhone Valley is best known for red blends, however there are numerous white blends, delicious and full bodied, that fly below the radar of most wine consumers.  The most common Rhone white grape varieties are Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne.  Among the best examples are Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc.  Also, Rhone style wines are gaining in popularity in the United States as many wineries replicate the myriad of grape varieties grown in the Rhone.  Look for blends with the varieties above and/or Clairette Blanc, Picardin and Ugni Blanc.

Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) – The vast majority of Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio in Italy) is produced in a very light and fruity style, hardly making anyone's list of full bodied whites.  However, Pinot Gris from the Alsace region of France is a full-bodied white that is either fermented dry or with a small amount of residual sugar.  

As you experiment with these new wines, remember that the most important element of your wine profile is that you enjoy the wine!  As your tastes become more focused by finding a wine you like, then explore wines that are similar in smell, taste, feel and price.  In food terms, it's like trying flounder because you enjoy haddock!

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