White Wines: Coming out of the Shadows
For many years, red wines, particularly those made primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon, have reigned as the favorites of kosher wine consumers. While we have witnessed a growing supply and demand for other varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Syrah or Carignan, it seems that white wines have been left behind. Luckily, that is changing, and an increasing interest in whites has started to yield more and more quality kosher offerings from all over the world.
The growing popularity of white wines from many different regions continues to entice wine enthusiasts and occasional drinkers alike. White wine varietals are often brushed to the side as not powerful or boring compared to their red counterparts. This could not be less true, especially in recent years with the explosion of interest in the kosher wine industry. In fact, many people who try white wines find that they enjoy the crisp succulent taste of a Riesling dancing across the palate to complement a veal shoulder roast more than a heavily oaked red wine.
White wines open a whole new world of aromas, flavors, and tastes. Some meals require the palate-cleansing abilities of a white wine that many reds could never stand up to. The most wonderful part of partaking in the white wine craze is that you will not suffer from palate fatigue. White wines are bright and refreshing with bracing acidity, which will prepare you for the spring and summer months.
So, what is white wine?
First of all, we all know that all wines are made from grape juice. Most people also know that red wines come from red (which are actually more blue or purple) grapes. What many people do not know however, is that white wines can also be made from red grapes. Why is that? Well, the juice comes from the flesh of the grapes, whereas the color of the wine comes from the skins. The flesh of all grapes, such as, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc is always white.
Almost all white wines nowadays are made with little to no use of the skins, to avoid the wine becoming bitter from the tannins or developing an amber or orange color from the pigments in the skin.
Some wineries produce wines that are called “blanc de noirs,” which from French translates to “white from black.” As indicated by this name, these are white wines made from the juice of red grapes. Red wines are the result of extended maceration of the grape juice with the skins, while white wines are, as explained above, produced with little to no skin contact. The blanc de noirs method is mainly used in Champagne’s sparkling wines and other sparkling wines using the Champenoise traditional method. These wines are often made with Pinot Noir grapes, which is a red variety. However, only the juice of the grapes is used, not the skins.
White wines have many redeeming qualities, starting with their versatile character and food-friendliness. These wines are also typically lighter than most red wines. Some whites are aged in oak like certain red wines and it is usually easier to detect the oaky flavors in a white wine and appreciate the many tantalizing aromas.
There are many different types of white wines produced from dozens of different grape varieties all over the world. Some wine-growing regions owe their fame to the white wines they specialize in. Here are a few examples: Riesling from Mosel (Germany) or from the Finger Lakes (New York-USA), Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand or Sancerre in the Loire Valley (France), Chardonnay from Côtes de Beaune in Burgundy (France) or from Sonoma (California-USA), Viognier from Condrieu in the Rhône Valley (also in France) or from Virginia (USA), Sémillon from Sauternes (Bordeaux-France) or from Hunter Valley (Australia).
Some wine regions are even famous for their white blends, such as the white Bordeaux wines from the Pessac-Léognan appellation or those from the Rhône Valley, particularly the wines from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. While not all of the aforementioned regions produce kosher wines at the moment, there is some delightful kosher Sancerre, excellent kosher Riesling from Alsace, Israel and California, as well as outstanding Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
Take for instance the Matar Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon.
This is a white blend from the Golan Heights by one of Israel’s top boutique wineries. It is the typical blend of the white Bordeaux wines, yet made in Israel by Tal Pelter, a winemaker who studied enology and winemaking in Perth, Australia. This wine is elegant and refreshing, with aromas of spring, flavors of citrus fruits as well as mouth-watering acidity. This wine would go perfectly with classic gefilte fish or a pan seared halibut filet in a lemon caper sauce.
Another great example is the Sancerre Chavignol from Domaine Moreux. This is not your typical Sauvignon Blanc from Israel or New Zealand. It has a core of bracing acidity and unique aromas of minerals and grapefruit pith, and it is one of very few white wines that can age and evolve for more than three to four years if stored properly. In contrast, the Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc is a superb wine from California that is crisp and flavorful, a white that can stand up to and complement many dishes including fish and poultry. It is really amazing how the one variety of a grape produce so many different flavors and aromas.
Israelis are known for their creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Tabor Winery, at the foot of Mount Tabor in Israel, is famous for the enticing and eclectic collection of varietals it is producing. In fact, Tabor Winery has a goal to one day make white varietals half of its wine production. Brilliant, especially if all the whites they produce are as mouthwatering as the Tabor Adama II Zohar, a blend of several white grape varieties originating from an array of regions in France.
The Koenig Winery in Alsace is an excellent example of a winery in France which has been producing white kosher wine since the 1960s! The Koenig Gewürztraminer is an off-dry and fragrant wine with notes of rose petals, lychee and white peach. It would make an original yet delightful pairing with a spicy matza ball soup.
The aforementioned wines are only a few among a growing number of bottles that can change the mind of any Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot drinker out there. Crossing over to the white side is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the more wines one tries the sharper one’s senses and palate become. White wine is great. This season try to taste one new white wine. You may be surprised how much you enjoy it and you will not regret it!
This article originally appeared in Divine magazine.
Photography by Tzvi Cohen.