White Wine for Red Wine Drinkers: A Case Study

June 8th, 2010 by jolan in general wine knowledge

I’d like to share a case study, as a way of suggesting a few white wines for red wine drinkers. This is not, I should mention, an extensive list of suggested wines, though you can find some good ones here and here and here. Rather, it’s an introduction into understanding why some people prefer certain wines, and how you can use this understanding of tastes to branch out to different wines (or suggest new ones to your husband, wife, friends, neighbors, and so on).

I’ve been good friends with Lauren since our freshman year of college, and I’ve seen her tastes progress from Smirnoff Ice to vodka tonics to beer to red wine. Her go-to red wines are Malbec, Merlot, and Tempranillo (usually of the Rioja variety). I’m excited to see the day when she opts for a glass of white wine over red – not because a certain wine color is inherently better than another, but because a greater variety in pleasure-giving drinks means more choices.

When I asked Lauren to describe what it is, specifically in regards to her sensory experience, she doesn’t like about white wine, she said, “I think white wine tastes like sour grapes without flavor.” When considering the basic tasting components of wine (acidity, alcohol, sugar, and tannins), my first instinct to respond to her use of the word sour. Sourness is related to acidity; white wines are often more acidic than red wines. I would recommend white wines to Lauren, then, that are relatively low in acidity, thus reducing the chance of her tasting “sour grapes”.

The second part of her description, that white wines are flavorless, has me think about the red wines she likes. She is not a fan of strongly alcoholic, intensely fruity reds like Zinfandel or Shiraz. Rather, she prefers red wines with lower alcohol levels and less tannins than big-bodied reds. What does that mean, in terms of flavor? Alcohol increases the perception of sweetness, so she doesn’t like “sweet” red wines (that is, those whose high alcohol levels increase fruit flavors), nor does she like red wines that are often heavily oaked. In terms of white wines, I would avoid recommending those with high alcohol levels, much residual sugar, and those that have been heavily oaked (Chardonnays, you know who you are).

In regards to wines made from specific grapes, I would recommend Roussane or Marsanne, both grapes historically from the Rhone Valley in France. They make lush, full-bodied white wines, complex in flavor and aromatics, and are not highly acidic. Alsatian Gewurztraminer or Riesling, in all their full-bodied, aromatic glory, would be other options, as would a fragrant, rich Viognier.

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