This is the second installment of markers for classic grapes and wines. The initial post covered several of the most important white varieties including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. This post will wrap up major white varieties including the aromatic grapes Viognier, Gewürztraminer and Muscat. Before diving in I’d like to offer some sage advice. After watching students take their Master’s tasting exam over two days last month in Aspen, I was struck by how often some of the tasting basics were completely missed with tragic results.  o here are some pointers to remember when practicing in the future:  
Phenolic bitterness vs. tannin: don’t confuse the phenolic bitterness in an aromatic white grape with oak or tannin. Both may taste bitter and may even feel a bit astringent on the palate but any substantial presence of new oak will come accompanied by all the spice/toast/vanilla aromas and flavors. Bitterness in an aromatic grape is just that—it’s bitter.

Oak vs. no oak: calibrate the presence of oak as accurately as you can. Above all, you must be convinced of oak presence by finding evidence in both the nose in palate. Unless you’re really sold on it, assume there’s little or no oak and what oak there may be is used, large format—or both.

Calibrate oak by using extremes: if you’re really stuck on finding oak and not sure if it’s even there or how much of it there is, put up an image in
your mind’s eye of the label of a California Chardonnay that is notorious, no make that shameless, in its use of new oak. Take a look at the label and ask yourself if it’s yes or no for the wine you’re tasting in the moment. The answer will come instantly. Take heed and move on.

Barrique vs. large format: small format barrels will always show more oak influence. Larger barrels show less and lend more textural elements to wine. I’ve heard some describe the aroma of used wood in white wines as “cheese rind” or mushroom. I’m inclined to agree. 

Earth vs. no earth: another basic and very important point but one that is often missed. Calibrate the presence of inorganic (rocks) and organic (dirt) earth. Look for both on the nose and palate. You must be convinced by strong evidence or the lack thereof before heading down the rosy path for New World or Old World style. If in doubt, once again turn to visualizing labels and using extremes. Example, for a New World wine with little or no earth, pick the label of the fruitiest-ripest-most-over-the-top red like a Barossa Shiraz or California Zinfandel. Ask yourself if it’s yes or no for the wine you’re tasting. The answer will come quickly. 

Calibrating structure: as in alcohol, acid, and tannin, as precisely as you can especially in regards to medium vs. medium-plus vs. high. The best tool for doing so, and I’ve written about this previously, is to visualize a scale or dial with increments marking low, medium, high etc., and a button that moves along the scale. Make your scale big, bright, detailed, and position it at eye level. Then practice calibrating all the structural elements with extremes. For example, for acidity, imagine biting into a fresh lemon slice and tasting/feeling just how remarkably acidic it is. Use that for your high acidity reference. Then compare that to the acidity in water—as in no acid whatsoever. Use other liquids or fruits to calibrate medium and other markers on the scale. Do the same with tannin, alcohol, and finish. A little practice using a visual scale/dial for calibrating structure and one becomes really proficient at it in a very short time. 

Some parting gems: 

Color: really get the difference between straw, yellow, and gold in white wines and ruby vs. garnet in reds.  

Remember to taste old wine from time to time.

Be comfortable with your voice in terms of speaking in front of a panel of examiners. Practice your “radio” voice and record yourself if necessary.

Time management: if time is an issue practice talking through wines out loud–without wines—using the stop watch function on your smart phone. With the right tasting/vocal pace timing should never be an issue.

Finally, remember to really listen to yourself as you describe the wines and trust your experience and instincts. If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, IT’S A DUCK!

White Grapes and Wines, Part II

V. Semillon: Bordeaux Blanc – with Sauvignon Blanc

Sight: medium to deep straw.
Nose: ripe apple-pear fruit with notes of wax-lanolin, floral, lemon citrus, and earth.  Some wines are blended with Sauvignon Blanc and oak aged.
Palate: medium bodied and dry with a waxy texture and notes of gravelly earth and oak.  
Structure: alcohol: medium to medium-plus; acidity: medium-plus. 
ID Keys: the combination of waxy texture, racy acidity, presence of earth and oak are keys to recognizing Semillon-based White Bordeaux. Some wines show a reductive note from mercaptan.
Sauternes – Barsac

Sight: medium yellow to gold.
Nose: botrytis notes are common: honey, ripe stone fruits, butterscotch, sweet spices, and vanilla-oak with a touch of earthiness.  
Palate: medium-plus to full-bodied; medium sweet to very sweet depending on the specific wine and vintage.  
 Structure: alcohol: medium to medium-plus; acidity: medium to medium-plus.

ID Keys: honey and botrytis notes, residual sugar, and the presence of oak.  

Sight: straw or deep yellow depending on the style of the given wine.
Nose: traditional wines are oak-aged for long periods of time and the aromas reflect such with elements of baked fruits, butterscotch, sweet spices, vanilla custard, and oak. Newer styled wines, especially those from the Hunter, have little or no oak with bright lemon-lime citrus, floral, and sour apple flavors.  
Palate: oak-aged wines are rich, full-bodied, and developed with nutty, oxidative notes. Newer styled wines are lighter in body with higher acid and less alcohol. Both styles are very dry.
Structure: alcohol: medium-minus to medium-plus; acidity: medium-plus to high.  
ID Keys: look for oxidative qualities with ripe fruit, butterscotch and new oak in traditional wines. Newer, non-oaked wines are remarkably distinctive wines with relatively lower alcohol and very high acidity.   

VI. Gewurztraminer: Alsace

Sight: deep straw to pale yellow.  
Nose: exotic, highly-perfumed nose of ripe stone fruits, lychee, sweet citrus, pronounced floral (rose petal and jasmine), and earth-mineral. Wood rarely used.
Palate: medium-plus to full-bodied. The palate is rich, viscous, and sometimes oily with the hallmark phenolic bitterness on the finish; wines commonly have more than a touch of residual sugar even to the point of being slightly sweet. 
Structure: alcohol: medium-plus to high; acidity; medium-minus to medium. 
ID Keys: Alsace Gewurztraminer is unmistakably flamboyant with its heady, exotically perfumed nose, succulent off-dry fruit, oily texture, bitter finish, and lack of acidity. 

VII. Viognier

Northern Rhône: Chateau Grillet & Condrieu

Sight: medium straw.
Nose: pronounced floral (white flowerer and roses), stonefruits, honey, and stony mineral.  Some wines are aged in new oak.
Palate: medium-to full-bodied and bone dry to dry.
Structure: alcohol: medium to medium-plus; acidity: medium-plus.  
ID Keys: the combination of pronounced floral notes, ripe stone fruits, minerality, and a touch of bitterness on the finish. Some wines offer new oak aromas and flavors with more acidity and less alcohol than New World counterparts. 


Sight: deep straw to deep yellow gold.  
Nose: profile similar to Condrieu, but much riper fruit and without minerality. Fruits include apricot/peach/nectarine, golden apple, and orange as well as honey and floral elements. A high percentage of new oak and full malolactic are often used. 
Palate: medium-plus to full-bodied with ripe sweet (even canned) fruit and the hallmark touch of bitterness on the finish; new oak common.  
Structure: alcohol: medium-plus to high; acidity: medium to medium-plus. 

ID Keys: ripe, often over-ripe stone fruits, floral notes and the use of new oak;  like Chardonnay with canned peaches and bitterness on the finish

VIII. Muscat


Sight: deep straw  to deep yellow. 
Nose: very similar palate to Alsace Gewurztraminer in style with an exotic floral (orange blossom and rose petal) and spicy nose; aromas include lychee, ripe stone fruits, and earth-mineral. Wood rarely used.
Palate: medium-plus to full bodied and dry. Similar in character to Alsace Gewurztraminer but with relatively higher acidity; often the perception of sweetness on the palate even when dry and still the hallmark bitterness on the finish. 
Structure: alcohol: medium-plus to high; acidity: medium to medium-plus.

ID Keys: very similar to Alsace Gewurztraminer but with higher acidity. 
Moscato d’Asti

Sight: very pale straw with medium bubbles.
Nose: intensely grapey nose with peach, apricot, strawberry, and other fresh fruits highlighted by bright sweet and tart citrus and touch of mineral. 
Palate: light-bodied, slightly sparkling, and off-dry to slightly sweet. Fruit punch or fruit bowl in style. 
Structure: alcohol: very low (5.5%!); acidity: medium-plus. 
ID Keys: light-bodied and low alcohol; delightfully fruity, off-dry, and slightly sparkling. Spring in a glass.

Muscat de Beaumes de Venise – Vin Doux Naturel

Sight: medium to deep yellow.
Nose: spirity (from mutage/fortification), ripe white fruits, honey, floral, orange citrus, and bitter citrus peel; oak presence found in some wines. 
Palate: full-bodied and medium sweet.
Structure: alcohol: high (15% or higher); acidity: medium-plus.

ID Keys: all the fruity qualities of dry Muscat but with added spirits (and sometimes wood flavors).

IX. Pinot Gris-Grigio

Alto Adige Pinot Grigio

Sight: pale to medium straw with a touch of rose/copper. 
Nose: tart apple, green pear, citrus, lees, straw, almond, and stone/mineral. 
Palate: medium-bodied and bone dry to dry; tart apple/citrus, lees, and mineral notes with slight phenolic bitterness on the finish.
Structure: alcohol: medium to medium-plus; acidity: medium-plus.  
ID Keys: most Pinot Grigios are relatively light and citrusy with tart fruit, almond, and mineral notes with phenolic bitterness.

Alsace Pinot Gris

Sight: deep straw to medium yellow with a hint of copper. 
Nose: ripe, smoky yellow apple and melon with sweet and tart citrus, floral, honey, and dark earth-mineral.
Palate: medium-plus to full-bodied and dry to off-dry in style (some wines show noticeably residual sugar).  Very ripe fruit with an earthy character; botrytis notes often found even on wines dry in style with considerable phenolic bitterness on the finish.
Structure: alcohol: medium-plus to high; acidity: medium to medium-plus.  
ID Keys: full-bodied and off-dry with rich, smoky pear-melon fruit and earthiness. Many wines have residual sugar with a rich, palate-coating mouthfeel; the texture is often described as “oily.”
X. Marsanne: Rhône

Sight: deep straw to yellow gold.  
Nose: ripe golden apple, peach, and melon fruit with citrus and jasmine floral notes. Wines are often blended with Roussanne and oak-aged displaying oxidative qualities and a waxy-nutty character similar to some styles of Semillon.
Palate: dry, rich, and full bodied.
Structure: alcohol: medium-plus to high; acidity: medium to medium-plus.

ID Keys: ripe fruits, waxiness, high alcohol, and earthiness are keys to recognition.

X. Grüner Veltliner

Sight: pale to deep straw.
Nose: style varies with different regions/climates and even classifications (Wachau). Cool climate wines tend to be lighter in body with tart green apple/pear, bright citrus fruits and herbal-vegetal qualities (celery, caraway, radish, white pepper, lentils) with earth and/or mineral. Wines from warmer regions have much riper fruit with notes of peach-nectarine, rhubarb, yellow apple, honey and more. Further, warmer climate wines often show botrytis character. Regardless, the pepper/rotundone notes in Grüner make it very distinctive.
Palate: wines are generally very dry and styles range from light and racy to rich, weighty, and grand depending on specific region and producer.  
Structure: alcohol: medium to high; acidity: medium-plus to high acidity. 
ID Keys: can be light and racy or full-bodied and grand. The ripe fruit and the celery-radish-white pepper combination are unique for Grüner.

XI. Albariño

Sight: pale to medium straw.
Nose: white peach, green pear, mandarin/orange, and lime-citrus with notes of floral, light herb, hops/Pilsner/lees, and wet stone minerality. Wood rarely used (barrica).
Palate: light to medium bodied and bone dry to dry. 
Structure: alcohol: medium to medium-plus; acidity: medium-plus.  

ID Keys: combination of peach, sweet citrus and herbal-citrusy character with aromas of flowers, beer/hops/lees, and mineral. Albariño is often describe as “Viognier nose and Riesling palate.”