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Aromatic White Wines Get Left Behind—Why?

By Charles Olken

It’s a simple truth when you get right down to it. Any wine that is not popular gets left behind because it is not popular. I get that. I used be an economist. Demand equals demand, and the absence of demand equals left behind.

But that’s not really my point. I just needed to get the truisms out of the way to stop the wise guys from butting in.

I happen to like grapes like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Albariño—lighter whites with fresh, fruity personalities and often a touch of residual sugar to help their burgeoning acidities go down. If you ask me to name my favorite white variety, I would say Riesling.

And then I would admit that I drink far more Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc than I do Riesling. And the amounts of Gewürz and Chenin that Mrs. Olken and I consume drops off from there. In fact, we go out of our ways to choose one of those less popular whites whenever we can. But we can’t—at least as often as we would like. They do not exist on most wine lists and they barely exist, if at all in most wine stores.

Why? Why, indeed?

Frankly, I blame Chardonnay. Before Chardonnay became popular, grapes like Riesling, Chenin Blanc, even Gewürz, had standing local acreages greater than Chardonnay. Sure, you have to go back four and five decades, but I happen to go back that far.

Then came the great wine rediscovery in California, and Chardonnay acreage grew from not much more than a hundred or so acres in 1960 to over 100,000 acres at its peak and is still near that peak. Yet Riesling and Chenin Blanc in particular fell from tens of thousands of acres to a mere pittance.

Damn that Chardonnay that I love so much because it tastes so good. You chased my other friends away.

Where once white wines made in California had to be sweet—and yes, even Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling somehow was made very ripe and very dry. Sad to say, California Riesling was not a favorite. Still, the grape has hung on gamely, and there is a small, slowly expanding coterie of makers both here and up in Washington and Oregon who are showing us the lighter, delicious side of Riesling. We would have got there a lot sooner if Chardonnay had not pushed out most of the other whites, and we are not likely to see Riesling or any of the others on my list, push Chardonnay out of center stage any time soon.

I am about over my snit with Chardonnay. I do like the wines made from the grape whether crisply acidic or rich, fat and buttery. But now, I am able to root for my old favorites because they are making a comeback. Who knows, maybe years from now a new set of winewriters will be not be able to write nostalgic columns like this one because the aromatic whites have made a full return to popularity.


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Aromatic white wines overlooked in the marketplace
by Bob Henry
Posted on:10/3/2016 9:30:39 PM

I recently attended a comprehensive tasting of wines from distributor Young's Market portfolio.

In my humble opinion, the most enjoyable white wine at the tasting (comprising hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of wines for sampling) was a Pinot Gris from Giesen winery hailing from New Zealand. 

Oh, my, was it aromatically gorgeous!

Giesen has some of the oldest -- if not THE OLDEST -- white wine vineyards in New Zealand.  A winery founded by an immigrant from Austria.

Charlie, a wine available in your own backyard, at a ridiculously low retail price: pinot gris marlborough new zealand/2015/usa-ca

Take that, Oregon!

Take that, Alsace!

(And don't even get me started on those insipid Pinot Grigios . . .)

Giesen NZ
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/6/2016 12:42:36 AM


Giesen does indeed make very attractive wines. We just did a review of NZ Sauv Blancs and both their Fuder bottling and their sweet late harvest were very highly rated.


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