Old World Summer Whites

This is the unedited version of my column which appeared in theTelegraph Journal on June 28, 2013


by Craig Pinhey

I know Canada Day is coming soon, and I always urge Canadians to drink local, but my column this week doesn’t focus on Canadian wine. My previous column did – email me if you missed it.

When I go shopping at my friendly neighbourhood ANBL store, I’m not only looking for wines to write about; I’m buying wine to drink. And, often, when I look at my cart at the end of shopping during these warmer months, it is mostly filled with Old World white wine. If any of you don’t know what I mean by Old World, I’m talking about wines from the European countries that have been making wine for centuries, or even millennia.

Mainly I mean France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany, but Old World also encompasses the rest of Europe, and even parts of Asia and Africa. I do buy more than my fair share of Canadian wines too, as they tend to be closer in style to European wine than they are to most New World Regions. I would buy more if we could get a wider selection here.

This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the wines of the New World, but more an indication of my personal preferences for a certain style of wine. Other than the clearly off-dry wines like most of the German Rieslings we see here in New Brunswick, wines from the Old World are perceived as drier in style than their New World counterparts. There is also a textural component that I love, a smooth but not sweet mid-palate, and this generally points me in the direction of Europe. More winemakers there tend to make wine in a way that accentuates texture over fruitiness, and I don’t mean body from alcohol or sugar, although these components can certainly provide fullness. The alcohol tends to be lower, actually, which is appropriate for summer. I’m talking about a natural richness from the grapes themselves, as well as oxidative rather than reductive winemaking, in some cases. Making wine in old barrels gives richness without any oak or vanilla flavours.

Fruity doesn’t mean sweet, of course, and you can’t smell sugar. That’s an essential lesson for new wine students. But a touch of sweetness does push up the perceived fruitiness of wine on the palate, which is why many inexpensive wines these days – white and red – are made with an added dose of sugar. It can also take the edge off of a dry wine that has firm acidity and bitter tannins.

But I prefer wines with an edge.

Besides the 400+ Canadian wines I judged at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada last week, I also tasted through a dozen Old World whites since my last column. Here are my three ‘edgy’ favourites from the tasting. You’ll note they all have a moderate alcohol level of 12.5%.

2012 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio, IGT Dolomiti, Italy, 12.5% alc, $14.99
This old favourite has changed from a DOC Trentino to an IGT Dolomiti wine recently, but is still estate grown Pinot Grigio, made in the crisp, fresh, dry Northern Italian style. So much of the Pinot Grigio on the market today is too sweet and simple, but not Mezzacorona.

2011 Viura, Finca Antigua, La Mancha, Spain, 12.5% alc, $14.79
Viura is hardly a household name, but it can make really solid wine. This is a dry white with fruity pear notes, good body and balanced acidity. It is a good value, everyday, versatile white.

Wine of the Week: 2011 Periquita White, VR Peninsula de Setubal, Portugal, 12.5% alc, $12.79
This is terrific value for a really good, fresh, crisp, fruity white that also has good body and a clean, smooth, finish. A blend of Moscatel (Muscat), Verdelho, and Viognier, with a bit of Viosinho. A “chill and thrill” wine.


Upcoming events:
Saturday, July 13th: Picaroons’ Brewer’s Bash, Fredericton, www.brewersbash.picaroons.ca
Saturday, July 20th, Uncorked River Cruise: Beer Tasting, Saint John, www.uncorkednb.com/events.html
Monday, July 29th, Summer Wine Tasting at happinez wine bar, Saint John, www.happinezwinebar.com


Craig Pinhey is a Sommelier and writer. “Like” his Facebook site at www.facebook.com/Craig.Pinhey.FrogsPad or follow him on Twitter as @frogspadca