Great Whites

Winemaker Rita Jammet on choosing a bottle of white wine that’s cool and complex.

woman holding stem of glass with white wine

White wine goes beyond the lightweight with our surprisingly complex picks.

Nothing against pinot grigio, but if you’re up for an adventure, there are some complex white wines just waiting to be tasted, says Rita Jammet, Rach’s pal and La Caravelle Champagne’s Chief Bubble Officer.

When most people think of white wines, they think light and refreshing. And while many of the most popular wines are—pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc—there are many others out there with heft and body that are still crisp and cooling as warmer temps arrive.

Let’s back up a bit: Red wines are made with red grapes, and the color comes from leaving the skins and seeds in the winemaking process. (Champagne is an exception, but that’s another story for another issue!) Red wines often contain tannins—chemicals left behind by those skins, seeds, and stems—that make wines feel dry and astringent (a good thing!). White wines, on the other hand, are made with white grapes and are generally lighter-bodied than reds. We drink whites chilled to optimize their acidity, and we keep reds on the cooler side of room temperature (55 to 60 degrees, ideally) because tannins are accentuated at a lower temp.

But there are bolder whites that, when chilled, are cool and more complex. In warmer climates, white grapes ripen faster and accumulate more sugars, creating full-bodied wines. When they’re maximized by great vintners who can coax out intense, ripe fruit flavors and still maintain a good level of acidity, you get a balanced, bold, and delicious glass. (And it’s also often higher in alcohol content—heads up!)

What follows are a few of my favorite varietals you may not have heard of. You can also pop into to your local wine shop and explore. Remember, that sales person or sommelier is happy to share their own favorites! 

White Wine World Tour 

Send your palate globe-trotting with these great bottles.

France 

The Rhône Valley is known for its Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds, but it also produces deliciously complex and food-friendly white wines, thanks to local grapes viognier, marsanne, and roussanne. Elegant, powerful, and balanced, they’re as great with grilled lamb and pork and cheese as the reds they’re typically paired with. I recommend Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2018 ($16.99).

Lebanon

Farther south, Lebanon (where I grew up) is home to some excellent white wines composed of a blend of indigenous grapes such as obaideh and merwah, which results in rich, aromatic yet bright wines. There’s a saying that “what grows together goes together,” and these whites pair beautifully with Lebanese mezze (flavorful small bites) and grilled meats. I recommend Massaya Blanc, Bekaa Valley 2018 ($16.96).

Argentina

On to the Southern Hemisphere, where Argentina is known for its bold and rich malbec red wines. But it’s also home to torrontes, a white grape that produces wines bursting with intense fruit and flower notes, great with spicy dishes like your next Thai or Indian takeout order. I recommend Bodegas Esmeralda Tilia Torrontes 2018 ($11.99).

Napa Valley

And right in our backyard thrives a familiar grape, sauvignon blanc. You may think of it as light and crisp, but Napa’s abundant sunshine coupled with oak-barrel aging can result in ripe fruit and toasty notes on top of the grape’s trademark tropical and citrusy ones. Surprisingly complex, these wines stand up to smoked foods and the first barbecued shrimp of the season. I recommend St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($14.99).

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2021 issue. Get the magazine here.

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