Because white wines often have pleasantly fruity, flowery or honeyed aromas, there have always been some white wines I don’t enjoy, simply because the scent doesn’t take my fancy. For me, the “drink what you like” school of wine preference is most clear with white wine. I’d just rather leave on the table any white wine with an aroma that doesn’t interest me or I find unpleasant or unapproachable. Usually if I don’t like the scent I don’t stick around to find out about the finish.
To this end, I felt somewhat vindicated by reading Lettie Teague’s article in The Wall Street Journal last weekend, “What We’re Not Supposed to Stay When We Talk About Wine,” which addressed her stance on not liking a certain kind of red wine. In her case it was South African Pinotage, a red wine that for her, has an eau de, and taste of, rubber tires.
Teague, a longtime wine writer and WSJ weekly columnist, relayed that many of her readers have tried to change her mind, to no avail. She even reported that a reader recommended she try decanting the Pinotage for many hours. “‘The foul aromas will decamp and new ones will form,’ he promised. To my mind, the fact that ‘foul aromas’ need to be dispersed says everything you need to know about Pinotage,” Teague wrote (to my glee).
I, on the other hand, enjoy Pinotage and generally find new-world reds lovely; but there certainly are a few white wines that elicit a similar rubber tire-style response from me. I have said I enjoy whites with strong aromas of fruits, herbs, flowers, yeast and oaky spices like vanilla. I tend to not like too much minerality or grassy notes in wine, which does indeed remove quite a few old-world wines from consideration, particularly French and Italian whites. I am simply not a fan of fumé blanc or Vermentino, or any wine that has a lot of “salty minerality.” Sorry.
To that end, I am recommending five white wines I have greatly enjoyed in recent months, but of course recommend that everyone “drink what you like” as always. I note that these aromatic whites tend to pair beautifully with lighter fare and dairy foods served on Shavuot, including cream and citrus or fruit sauces, grilled fish and vegetables, cheesy pastas or pesto, and salads. (But of course for lasagna or pasta with red sauce or anything with a lot of garlic, I’d choose an Italian table red every time!)
One of the real stars of the kosher white wine landscape is the Herzog Special Reserve Russian River Chardonnay, which is worth the higher price of $30. My friends Eva and Jeff Katz credit this bottle as among the first that prompted their interest in wine. This lovely wine has a strong nose of toasty vanilla and tropical fruit, a result of 12 months aged in French and American oak. I love this with salads and with anything with a cream sauce, and as it warms up in the glass, it gets even more aromatic. It’s best not served it right out of the fridge. Definitely keep it out for a half an hour before making kiddush.
I also enjoy the $15 Bartenura Pinot Grigio, a fresh white with bracing acidity and strong notes of yeast and biscuit. Enjoy this with pizza! This wine has an airy viscosity and is easy to drink, making it a nice weeknight wine as well. It also goes well with fried or roasted chicken and fish.
The Dalton Alma White, formerly known as Dalton Ivory, is a translucent and delicate wine reasonably priced at around $17; it has notes of stone fruit and honey and has more heft than the Bartenura and a longer, refreshing finish. Perfect as an accompaniment for salmon or white fish, particularly with a lemon sauce.
The Tishbi Estate Chardonnay ($20) has aromas of apricot, pear and tropical fruit. It’s very different from the California-style, oak-heavy Herzog, as the Tishbi is aged in stainless steel. It allows the fruit to be fully center-stage with a smooth and easy finish.
The Segal Wild Fermentation Chardonnay is a real treat that we remember from The Jewish Link Wine Guide. It’s a steal at $22. Its aroma is replete with ripe pears, wildflower honey and tropical fruits, accompanied by touches of creamy vanilla and oak. It has beautiful acidity and a long-ish fruity finish.
As always, with whatever wines you choose to enjoy on Shavuot, please remember to drink responsibly, with an awareness that our children are watching.
By Elizabeth Kratz