What to Drink Now

Episode V: Aromatic whites


Another step in our plan to map your palate, you ask? Why, yes it is and this is one of the most divisive groups of wine in this series, primarily because we’re not really talking about your palate; we’re really talking about your nose!

As you might know, we “taste” mostly with our nose, the tongue only being capable of sensing relative intensities of salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami. All those great flavors you taste are really an array of aromas laid over the structural grid of the five basic flavors.

The reason this group of aromatic whites is divisive comes down to personal preferences. Some people like the intensity of these wines, others find them overwhelming. The truth, of course, is that the intensity of aromatic whites varies greatly, but they all tend to be particularly perfumed which might be just what you’re looking for!

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Gewurztraminer (literally the spice of Tramin) is probably the poster child for aromatic white wines with intense perfumes of flowers, lychees and passion fruit. As with so many of these wines, Gewurz can easily fall into multiple categories since it’s grown around the globe with varying traits.

While the perfume remains relatively constant, the character of the wine changes from the rather high alcohol versions with some residual sugar that are typical of Alsace, to drier versions from Chile and New Zealand where the cooler climate helps to moderate the wine’s proclivity to produce prodigious levels of sugar and alcohol.

The ease with which Gewurz produces high sugar grapes has also made it a natural for the production of sweet dessert wines, but that’s a discussion better left for another time.

So if Gewurztraminer tickles your fancy but you find it over powering, where do you turn to?

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If you like the floral and spice notes of Gewürztraminer but find the wines either too intense, too sweet or too soft (a typical trait of this rather low-acid variety), go south to Greece and try the equally difficult to pronounce, Moschofilero.

Like Gewurztraminer, Moscholfilero is a grey grape used to produce white wines. The term grey refers not to the color of the grapes, which are pink to purple, but rather to the intensity of their color which falls somewhere between white grapes and the black grapes used to produce red wines.

Those skins are rich in in aromatic compounds, as well as pigments, lending Moscholfilero wines some spicy notes and a rich floral bouquet. Moscholfilero is gently aromatic when compared to Gewurztraminer, though the aromatic profiles can be similar, though the wines tend to be lighter bodied and feature zesty acidity. If Moschofilero proves elusive for you, there is always….

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Torrontes is so closely associated with Argentina it is almost like the white Malbec! Okay, it has nothing to do with Malbec, but it has emerged as the country’s signature white varietal wine, which is not surprising since these are grapes indigenous to Argentina.

Like Moscholfilero, Torrontes generally produces wines with good acidity, though they may tend to be a bit richer in the mouth. Many examples could easily be included in the light crisp wine category, yet the fall here due to their aromas, aromas that recall exotic flowers, mandarin oranges and candied lime peels, certainly a bit more of a fruity profile than some aromatic whites.

In the mouth, Torrontes wines (whether light or of the richer style) tend to rely on their aromatics, and as such they feature a rather front-loaded rush of fruit, finishing lightly and often with a faint hint of bitterness. That reminds me of another aromatic white variety that lovers of Torrontes will probably enjoy.

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Viognier has enjoyed a mini boom over the past decade or so, yet it has yet to really break out. The sweet aromatics of flowers, peaches and apricots are certainly enticing and beguiling. Unlike many grape varieties, there seems to be a fairly great consistency among Viognier planted around the globe, as the wines tend to have a lightly oily richness with plenty of supporting acidity.

Like Torrontes, Viognier is so perfumed that the wines explode in the mouth with its pungent aromatics, then finishes rather lightly, often with a lingering hint of bitterness that refreshes the palate. Those effusive aromas can be fleeting, though, and are best enjoyed shortly after the wine’s release.

The floral element of Viognier’s bouquet comes from compounds known as terpenes, which are found in the grape’s skins. Terpenes are one of the most common attributes of aromatic wines, so it’s no surprise that another terpene-rich variety is next on our list.

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Muscat is almost the king of aromatic wines. In fact, one of the common adjectives used to describe the aroma of aromatic wines is Muscatty! Of course, Muscat is actually a family of grapes that share certain traits besides genetic material.

The most common variety of Muscat goes by the name Muscat a Petits Grains in France or Moscato Bianco in Italy, where it is used in the production of Moscato d’Asti! While that sparkling wine is in the midst of a renaissance here in the U.S. and worthy of trying, I’m focusing on still wine here and in particular, I am suggesting you try to find a dry Muscat. Some of the best dry Muscats come from Spain and Portugal and like Viognier, they are wines to enjoy shortly after release for their wonderful intense, yet mysteriously light, floral aromas. Dry Muscats tend to be light-bodied, lean wine perfect for pairing with fish and shellfish. If you’ve decided that all these floral aromas are not your thing, but you’re still looking for something aromatic, you should check out…

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What’s with these aromatic varieties and their names? It’s like the name is directly proportionate with the intensity and variety of aromas! Scheurebe is primarily grown in Germany, and even there it is not a particularly common grape, though it certainly has become easier to find over the years.

Unlike most aromatic varieties, Scheurebe’s perfume is particularly fruity, with lots of exotic passion fruit, grapefruit and citrus aromas melding with surprising black currant aromas! What may be even more surprising is that unlike many of the aromatic varieties, Scheurebe is actually a white grape (a cross between Sylvaner and Riesling) so those black currant aromas and flavors can be totally unexpected.

With such a delicious and unusual flavor profile Scheurebe is one aromatic variety everyone should try. The wines come in both dry and sweet wine with varying sugar levels. It’s a great way to cap off an exploration of aromatic white wines!

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Want to Learn More?

To learn about more white wines, check out our others in the What to Drink Now series.

What to Drink Now - Whites

What to Drink Now - Light crisp whites

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