It should come as no surprise that there is no tannin in white wine but some times there can be phenolic bitterness. The best way to perceive this is to imagine sucking on a peach pith. You might be wondering why is this relevant? Well, when you blind taste. Color can tell you about aging… Acidity can take you to a cooler climate, a very ripe white can lead you to believe it is from a specific place BUT where phenolic bitterness comes in is to help you assess (way down the path) what the wine actually is and what it is made from because phenolic bitterness can only be found in some particular wines made from specific grapes!
Here are some very basic blind tasting tips about the most widely planted white varietals.
Actually, let’s go over primary, secondary and tertiary aromas first… Below I’ll only get into the first category which has to do with the fruit aromas.
– Primary = Fruit
– Secondary = Winemaking
– Tertiary = Ageing
Sauvignon Blanc always has that grassiness on the nose aka fresh cut grass aroma. Black currant bud too but it’s mostly very citrusy when it comes to the fruit but can be tropical too… some lichee can even show up in there, in warmer climate lime zest can become mandarine peel. Lots of variations here. Let’s keep things simple.
Chardonnay to me in general = stone fruits. Peach mostly. Wether underripe or overripe. That’s somehow always there and citrus of course but more towards lemon compared to Sauv. Blanc… Depending where the wine is from, grapes clusters will achieve more ripeness and be exposed to the sun for a longer period of time; therefore the berries will develop tropical fruit aromas like pineapple and starfruit.
The aromas of Chardonnay can be very different from a region to another. Each winemaker has their own style and preferred techniques as well…
Secondly, the most common thing about Chardonnay has to do with the winemaking techniques that are used to make it taste creamy/ buttery (malolactic fermentation), oaky (time spent in oak), etc.
Some varietals will never see oak. It would taste weird and there just isn’t a market for it. A silly example would be an Austrian Grüner Veltliner that has undergone malolactic fermentation, then spent 12 months on the lees to then be aged for 24 months in new french oak barriques and finally released 3 years after harvest. NO. That just does NOT make any sense for Grüner, but when it comes to Chardonnay… This description makes a lot more sense on a tech sheet! Especially for Burgundy and the New World even. Not so much the lees part…that’s more common to the Loire.
When I think Grüner I want fresh crisp acidity, very dry, with lots of citrus and that freshness, that freshness you only get from wines coming from Austria due to the climate (classic example : Kemptal). The mouth watering acidity is just amazing. So can you imagine why a buttery oaky Grüner just sounds strange?
Grüner is very high in acidity in general and shows aromas of green apple, asparagus, white pepper and is usually mineral especially in the best sites of the Austrian AOCs. It’s green (vegetal) but clean compared to most whites.
This is a very interesting, less fruit driven wine that you must try if you haven’t. Forget Chablis (mostky unoaked chardonnay) and Sancerre (Sauv.Blanc) both very high acidity… and turn to Grüner for a change!You wont regret it. The minerality is there but not like Chablis. Chablis is more chalky where grüner is flinty and I would describe Sancerre as flinty as well.
Note : Minerality comes from the soil aka terroir. #geology
Again the stone fruit aromas can be here but mostly pear and apples… Pear tends to show up a lot in PG. Low acidity, easy drinking, mellow! There’s not a whole lot to say about Pinot Grigio. Probably because it’s not my favorite but I can appreciate it on a hot summer day on a patio. Wine to me is always a journey and an opportunity to jump into a terroir and analyse why does it taste the way it does and why?
Ha! Albariño!! Here we go with the phenolic bitterness. It’s not always there but it’s worth looking into to experience what it feels like on the palate because this my friends will become very handy eventually. It kind of affects the palate in the same way tannins do, but with a bitter flavor. This kind of comes in on the finish too.
Note : It’s not because a white wine as a long finish that there is phenolic there but to understand the finish you can think : How long does the wine linger? Then try again and see if that bitter grippy bitterness is there. This is very technical.
Albariño comes from Rias Baixas in the North West of Spain. The climate is influenced by the Atlantic and so is the wine, so it’s commun to hear of ‘’saltiness’’ coming from this region. Lots of fruit here also. Anyways, this is where we get into terroir… But in another post!
PS: I recommend gathering a few friends and getting a few bottles :
BLIND TASTING : WHITES
I recommend focusing on understanding the texture of malolactic fermentation first, the flavors of oak next, then lees contact and eventually phenolic bitterness. Pinots (Gris, Blanc…) can have it too. Grüner also, but I personally remember experiencing this first with Albariño so I think that’s a good place to start.
WHAT TO GET : THE FLIGH aka LINEUP
– Pinot Grigio : Veneto, ItalyChenin Blanc : Anjou, Loire, France.
– Chardonnay : Pouilly Fuissé, Burgundy, France
– Sauvignon Blanc : Marlborough, New Zealand
– Grüner Veltliner : Kemptal, Austria
– Albariño : Rias Baixas, Sain