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This is the second installment of markers for classic grapes and wines.  The last and initial post covered several of the most important white varieties including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. This post will wrap up the major white varieties including the aromatic grapes (the Elvis family as I like to call it) including Viognier, Gewürztraminer and Muscat.  But 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.  So here are some pointers to remember when practicing in the future:  
 
·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 evidenc 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 the use of new oak.  Take a look at the label and ask yourself 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 of new world or old world.  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 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
and detailed and position it at eye level.  Then practice calibrating all the structural elements with extremes. Example: for acidity, imagine biting into a fresh lemon slice and tasting/feeling just how remarkably acidic it is. 
Use that for your high acid reference.  Then compare that to the acidity in—as in no acid whatsoever.  Use other liquids or fruits to calibrate medium and other markers on the scale. Do the same with tannin and 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 pear fruit with notes of wax-lanolin, floral, lemon citrus and earth.  Many 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.  
 
Sauternes – Barsac

Sight
: medium yellow to gold.
Nose: honey, ripe stone fruits, butterscotch, sweet spices, 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.  
 
Australia

Sight:
straw or deep yellow depending on the style of the given wine.
Nose:
traditional Aussie Semillons 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 and bright lemon-lime citrus, floral and malic 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; 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. Gewürztraminer: 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 touch of 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 alcohol; 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 dry to bone 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 found in all the aromatic grape varieties (Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Torrontés).
Some wines offer new oak aromas and flavors.  Usually more acidity and less alcohol than New World counterparts. 

California

Sight: deep straw to deep yellow gold.  
Nose: profile similar to Condrieu but but much riper and without minerality.  Fruits include apricot/peach/nectarine, golden apple, 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 with elements of new oak.  
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

Alsace

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 and lychee, ripe stone fruits and earth-mineral.  Wood rarely used.
Palate: medium to full-bodied and dry to bone dry.  Once again, like 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 a touch 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 to fmedium-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

Northern Italian Pinot Grigio

Sight: pale to medium straw with a touch of rose/copper. 
Nose: tart apple, green pear, citrus, straw, almond and stone/mineral. 
Palate: dry to bone dry and light to medium-bodied with tart apple/citrus and mineral notes.
Structure: alcohol: medium to medium-plus; acidity: medium-plus.  
 
ID Keys: most Pinot Grigios are light and citrusy with tart fruit, almond and mineral notes.  The best examples come from Alto Adige and can be much richer with considerable intensity of fruit and minerality. May of the wines show a brassy/coppery hue in the color.

Alsace Pinot Gris

Sight: deep straw to medium yellow with 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.
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.
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. Ripe fruit and the celery-radish-white pepper combination are unique 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 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 and mineral; Albariño is often describe as “Viognier nose and Riesling palate.” 

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