White light

In recent years, I have heard quite a few wine-biz veterans say that they find white wines a lot more interesting and varied than reds. And yet when a group of us gets together to break bread, there’s almost always a lot more rouge than blanc among the vins brought to the occasion, even in summer.

That changed on Saturday night, when our friends Joe and Kris came over. We get together frequently, and the protein portions of the meal always seem to involve seafood appetizers and sundry slabs (beef or lamb) as the entree. My way better half and I decided it was time to break out of that rut and have Tuscan grilled chicken, and Joe and I opted for a perhaps unprecedented all-white night on the wine front.

It won’t be the last time.

We had a wonderfully wide-ranging array of flavors and textures throughout the evening, from oaky Kistler chardonnays to oxidated Joly chenin blanc. And that was without even popping the cork on the Donnhoff riesling on hand. Joe put it best in a subsequent email:

“The differences between multiple varietals and styles can be more fully explored when all the bottles are white wines. Details seem more transparent.”

Seeing how these wines played with the soy-marinated grilled shrimp, the lemony chicken and my semi-disastrous corn-beet medley was delightful and enlightening. Comparing and contrasting a pair of 2005 Kistler chards — the Dutton’s fruit, oak and acid were extraordinarily balanced, while the Kistler Vineyard was slightly flabby and tired, but still quite tasty — proved to be great good fun.

We mixed in a brisk picpoul de pinet, the extraordinary Joly Savennieres (which, like a couple of other bottles, had been opened the night before, another great learning experience), a rich Russian River sauvignon blanc from Atascadero Creek and a 2009 Drouhin Meursault that might have slightly disappointed only because of the strong company.

The weather was perfect, the conversation splendid and sometimes spirited, and a big part of the joy was again articulated perfectly by Joe: “Revisiting a wine you tasted earlier in the evening often provides a clearer and deeper understanding. It’s so much easier to revert when all the wines are whites.”

As I was still reveling in the experience two days later, I came across a splendid article by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonné, who is rivaling the NYTimes’ Eric Asimov as the best newspaper wine writer in the country.

In “A new age for white wines,” Bonné delves deeply into the fascinating work going on in California on the white-grape front, and mentions several wines I have enjoyed mightily during my own exploration into this realm over the past year or so.

The Matthiasson white blend is profound but refreshing. Two Italian-American blends made by Massican are compelling and superbly structured. Wind Gap‘s trousseau gris looks like dirty water and tastes like perfectly ripe apricots, with bracing minerality. Two blends from Sonoma Valley’s Compagni Portis Vineyard are contrapuntal: the Bedrock quite sweet but then earthier on the finish, the Arnot-Roberts bracing and multilayered.

Bonné touts another wine that Dan Berger had lavished praise upon in his marvelous California Grapevine newsletter, a colombard from Y. Rousseau. Joe, our mutual friend Mark and I ordered a case of this last week; after reading what Jon Bonné had to say about it, we might shoulda opted for two.

Last year, Joe and I actually ran into Jon at the shed that Arnot-Roberts and Wind Gap share, and the next day we sampled a seriously compelling chardonnay from another new winery, Salinia. Some of that wine also is en route once the weather cools enough for shipping. (Alas, most of the wineries above do not have wide distribution, which is why I provided links to their websites.)

Clearly, there will be some more predominantly if not entirely white nights in the coming months. We’re not about to let a little ol’ thing like a Minnesota winter deter us in this quest.

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