Monday, April 2, 2012

Wine Education 411: Light-Bodied and Aromatic White Wines

What makes a wine a "Light, Aromatic White?"  Next to White Zinfandel and the now popular Moscato D'Asti, this wine style is often where many wine drinkers initiate their wine drinking experiences.  It is the easiest style to adjust to, usually quite pleasant regardless of variety, easy drinking by itself or with food, and somewhat easy to find. 

Aromatic White Wine
(Photo by author)

The term "light" refers to the "body" or "mouthfeel" of the wine.  What does this mean?  "Mouthfeel" is essentially how the wine feels in the mouth.  Is it full (viscous, have a syrupy texture) or light (watery, thin)?  Surely the best way to understand this term is through an example.  Water is, obviously, light bodied.  In comparison, corn syrup, maple syrup, or chocolate syrup is very viscous and will feel heavy (full) in your mouth.  This sensory sensation can often be felt mid-tongue and on the sides of one's mouth.  One gets a sense of "roundness" of the liquid in the mouth.  

Water vs. Corn Syrup
(Photos from Google Images)

In winemaking, some varieties can handle more "body" or "mouthfeel" than others.  Sometimes this is represented by the variety itself (based on the grape genetics and composition) or the style of winemaking (e.g. sur lie aging or barrel aging or stainless steel aging).  However, both of these examples can often impart several different types of "mouthfeel" sensations and flavors... which just gets too complicated for this blog post! However, a good general comparison for "body" or "mouthfeel"in wines is to taste a non-oaked (or stainless steel fermented) Chardonnay vs. an oaked Chardonnay - try one from CA. :)  Many wineries will feature both, especially in the Eastern U.S. as the stainless steel Chardonnay has become quite popular.  (If you are out wine tasting and you see Chardonnay on the list, I encourage you to ask for details!)

 (And for the wine experts out there, I know Chardonnay is not usually classified as a "Light, Aromatic White" wine, but I think the comparison serves a purpose for mouthfeel understanding.)

So for a "light" wine, especially with whites, many have a texture that is more reminiscent of water than corn syrup (for generalization sake).  Additionally, as many "light, aromatic whites" are not oak aged, there tends to be a lack of additional "mouthfeel" or structure from oak components.  And many "light aromatic whites" have a very crisp acidity (sourness) that makes that great for food pairing or for drinking on really hot days.  

The term "aromatic" refers to the aroma and flavor profile of the wine.  Aroma is in reference to what you smell before drinking any of the wine, although some people "smell" better when the wine is their mouth (this is essentially flavor) compared to smelling directly with the nose only.  "Aromatic" varieties often have very profound, distinctive smells emanating from the glass.  Such varieties have unmistakable aromas and flavors, which originate in the grape.  Again, generally speaking, although not always true, "aromatic" varieties are not usually oaked, and would, therefore, only contribute varietal fruit aromas and flavors. 

Swallow Gewurz - an Aromatic White
(Photo by author)

Anthony Road Winery Aromatic Riesling - Art Series
(Photo by author)

Glenora Wine Cellars Gewurz - an Aromatic White
(Photo by author)

Several "Light White Wine" Varieties:
1) Non-oaked Chardonnay
4) Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio (they are the same thing; can have some oak, but generally light bodied; found throughout the U.S. and Italy)
5) Chenin Blanc (I encourage everyone out there to buy a bottle of Vouvrey (which is a part of the Loire Valley in France that is famous for their Chenin Blanc: Thrifty Vouvray's (Chenin Blanc) at Total Wine)
7) Gruner Veltliner
8) Trebbiano
9) Marsanne
10) Roussane

Several "Light, Aromatic White" Varieties:
1) Riesling (found in New York, Alsace, France, and Germany)
2) Gewurztraminer (cousin to Riesling; Pennsylvania is producing more Gewurz these days)

3) Vidal Blanc
4) Traminette
6) Muscadet (aka Melon de Bourgogne)

7) Sauvignon Blanc (especially New Zealand or New-World style)

Food Pairings with "Light-Bodied and Aromatic Whites":
1) salads (if one can pair a salad)
2) spicy Asian cuisine
3) Chinese
4) Vegetarian meals
5) white sauce based pastas
6) fish (including things like shellfish, oysters, and octopus)
7) pork
8) fruits (as these wines are very fruity... usually)
9) goat cheese, Feta cheese
10) or drink by itself on hot summer days

(Photo from Google Images)

Vegetarian Cuisine
(Photo from Google Images)

Pork Chops 
(Photo from Google Images)

Oysters and Riesling - A Common Pairing
(Photo from Google Images)

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