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Dark-horse whites

There's big value beyond the ol' reliable varietals

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Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat -- for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013 were the top-selling white wines, dollar-wise, at Manitoba Liquor Marts.

There are a lot of great wines in our market made from those five grapes. But sometimes you just have to shake it up a bit when it comes to the wine you drink (or at least I do).

With that in mind, here are three off-the-beaten-track white wine grapes you should try this summer. Because they're not among the big five grapes in terms of popularity, wines made from these grapes often over-deliver for the price.

These wines are remarkably food-friendly too. So try something different this weekend; chances are you'll be rewarded.

VERDEJO

Primary growing area: Spain

Recommended if you like: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier

Food pairing: Grilled shrimp, kebabs, tapas

Spain continues to be a popular category in wine, and with good reason -- their wines are extremely food-friendly and often well-priced. If the popularity of Spanish wines in our market continues, Verdejo won't be a somewhat obscure white wine grape for long. Wines made from Verdejo are typically light and crisp, but manage to retain plenty of character. It's the perfect drink for Mediterranean fare.

 

BODEGA GìTICA 2012 CAMINO LA FARA VERDEJO (Rueda, Spain -- around $14, exclusive to De Luca's Fine Wines)

The Camino la Fara is pale straw in colour, with honey, melon, peach, and lime rind aromas. It's decidedly more tart on the light-plus bodied, slightly viscous palate, with juicy green apple and lime flavours backed by pear, melon and lemon juice notes. If you can't make it to De Luca's to grab this, fear not -- there are plenty of good Verdejos in our market. Good value, as most Verdejos are. 89/100

 

GRúNER VELTLINER

Primary growing area: Austria

Recommended if you like: Vinho Verde, dry Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc,

Food pairing: Milder Asian fare or curries, sushi, schnitzel

Like Germany, Austria does well with hearty grape varieties. Grºner Veltliner, often referred to as "Grooner" by wine geeks, is a grape associated predominately with Austria, with pockets found in eastern Europe. Cooler wine-growing regions in the U.S. have started growing this grape with some success, and there are reports of a couple wineries in Canada giving Grooner a try.

 

WEINGUT MEINHARD FORSTREITER 'GROONER' 2011 GRúNER VELTLINER (Niedersterreich, Austria -- $12.94, Liquor Marts and beyond)

The Grooner is very pale in colour, with some visible spritz like most Vinho Verde we see in Canada. The nose is lime-driven -- both fresh lime juice and lime rind are detectable -- as well as grapefruit and light herbal notes. It's a dry, light-bodied white, and the acidity and crisp effervescence make it racy and reminiscent of Portuguese Vinho Verde. Interestingly, I reviewed the 2010 vintage of this wine in January 2012 and it's now a dollar cheaper -- how often does that happen? Regardless, it's a really nice summer sipper. 87/100

 

CHENIN BLANC

Primary growing area: Loire Valley, South Africa

Recommended if you like: Chardonnay, Semillon

Food pairing: Roast/grilled chicken, salmon with tropical salsa, pork tenderloin

Fans of white wines from France's Loire Valley won't find this to be an obscure grape at all. But it has been growers in South Africa that have started to bolster Chenin Blanc's popularity. This grape is highly climate-dependent, meaning cool-climate and warm-climate examples taste wildly different -- ranging from citrus and pear notes (cool) to peach, nectarine and honey notes (warm).

 

INNISKILLIN 2010 DISCOVERY SERIES CHENIN BLANC (Okanagan Valley, B.C. -- $15.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Canada's not well-known for making Chenin Blanc, but there are small pockets of the grape being grown here, especially in British Columbia. There's lots of honey and tropical fruit on the nose here, as well as apple, peach, brown sugar and ripe pineapple. It's rich and viscous on the medium-plus bodied palate -- showing off the ripe stone fruit, candied nut and honey flavours -- yet there remains a thread of brisk acidity. The Babylon's Peak from South Africa, which I recently reviewed, might be a safer bet. 87/100

uncorked@mts.net Twitter: @bensigurdson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2013 D14

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