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White Wines after Labor Day

by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Epernay Wine & Spirits

Sometimes in life rules are meant to be broken (or at least adjusted to the situation at hand). You probably wouldn’t even be noticed if you didn’t at least try to bend them every once in awhile. We are not talking about breaking the law here or doing something that would be harmful to yourself or others, but a little tweak in the system to benefit the common good of the people probably wouldn’t be frowned upon.

The same holds true for drinking white wines. They don’t always have to be paired with fish or only served with the first course of a meal. And drinking white wine only in the summer is a thing of the past. While summer whites are meant to keep you cool and refreshed while enjoying the sun and surf of Fisherman’s Beach, there is a vast selection of white wines that can carry you over through the fall. This will be when you break out your more expensive “winter whites” of Burgundy and Crozes-Hermitage Blanc that you may only drink on those high holidays or special occasions. As the temperature begins to drop and nights get a little cooler, now is the time to shift your focus on white wines that are best served slightly cooler than cellar temperature, but not as cold as Sauvignon Blanc or your favorite Provençal Rosé.

A perfect place to start is with Pinot Gris, aka Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio, mostly grown in the cooler Alto Adige region of Northeast Italy, is typically a lighter, easily quaffable wine for the beach without much serious consideration. Pinot Gris is the French translation, literally meaning ‘grey’ skinned grape. Alsace, where this grape is traditionally grown in France, is a warmer climate where the wine can be rich, full, and viscous on the palate with concentrated flavors that linger long after you have taken that sip. A perfect rendition of this wine after Labor Day is finding one that has the balance in between these two extremes. Enter Pinot Grigio from Monterey, California.

Barrymore by Carmel Road Pinot Grigio, Monterey 2013

While Drew Barrymore does not spend her entire summer on island, she is known to make quiet appearances here at some point during the busy season in order to visit with her in-laws who have a summer residence on Nantucket. Her passion for wine encouraged her to travel and find an area best suited to make a wine that her family can share with yours. In the coastal California region
of Monterey, where the grapes are grown to produce her eponymous wine, the grapes achieve a distinctive purity without lacking structure or being too showy. Moderate acidity and just enough alcohol showcase the exotic fruit flavors and layers of minerality found in the wine. This wine is produced entirely in stainless steel and pairs perfectly with a variety of foods, yet is ideal for just sipping in the late afternoon.

Traveling outside the realm of traditionally known white wine grape varieties, there are lesser-known ones that make great transitional wines when made as single varietals or blended.

Pax Mahle is no stranger to the island as he learned to love wine while working in restaurants here on Nantucket. He began to immerse himself in preparation for the Master Sommelier exam. Along the way during his wine travels, he realized that he would prefer to produce the wine himself versus just selling it to the customer on the restaurant floor at night. His first winery, named PAX, garnered high scores and much notoriety based on his bold, powerful Syrahs. After experimenting with fruit from cooler regions harvested as lower sugar levels, he created his new label Wind Gap in order to produce wines that were heading in a different direction than when he first started to make wine.

Wind Gap Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley 2014

A very uncommon French grape, Trousseau Gris was once widely planted in California under the name Gray Riesling. While it can thrive in a variety ofwarm weather climates, it shows best in the cooler climes of places such as Russian River Valley. When produced as a single varietal wine as in this case, it produces a fresh, yet meaty, aromatic wine with a flowery bouquet of peaches, spices and warm tropical fruit. The wine is fermented in mostly concrete and some stainless steel tanks, then aged for just a few short months in neutral French oak and stainless steel.

Ray Coursen of Elyse Winery, on the other hand, has become an expert on the blending on French white grape varietals. Ray grew up on a dairy farm in New Jersey and after serving in the Army during the Vietnam era, attending college and traveling the world, he worked at a fine wine shop in Boston where he developed an interest in fine wines from France. This eventually led him to produce his own wines and make his way to the island via the Nantucket Wine Festival back in its inaugural years.

RECOMMENDED WINE for November & Thanksgiving:
Elyse, ‘L’Ingénue,’ A White Wine, Naggiar Vineyard, Sierra Foothills 2012

The name L’Ingénue, meaning naïve girl, is apropos for this wine composed of four white grape varietals well known in the Rhone Valley of France (Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc). These grapes took well to the terroir of the inland Sierra Foothills of California. The wine is aged sur lees (on the spent yeast used to turn the grape juice into alcohol) for 16 months in experienced (read: used) French oak barrels. This aging allows the wine to develop layers and textures to the summer fresh fruit flavors without overpowering the moderate acidity and creating too much structure in the wine. The end result wine is juicy, voluptuous and should be consumed with fine food and even better company.

Heading back to France and to white wines that you may be familiar with, Winemaker Alex Gambal is also no stranger to the island or the Nantucket Wine Festival. Alex left the world of real estate to follow his passion for Burgundy wines. He attended the viticultural school in Beaune and created his own négociant wine business under the label Maison Alex Gambal in 1997. (Did you know that Beaune and Nantucket are sister cities?) In recent years, Alex became the first American (and non-French) to purchase land in the Grand Cru vineyards of Montrachet in Burgundy.

RECOMMENDED WINE for December and to ring in the New Year:
Alex Gambal, Bâtard-Montrachet;
Alex Gambal, Puligny-Montrachet, ‘Les Enseignières 2011

The Bâtard-Montrachet, made from 100% Chardonnay, is elegant and sleek with notes of toasted hazelnut, hints of warm baked pastries and floral peach components. The wines is so rare (and with a hefty price tag when it is available), when Alex is asked if he has tried a bottle yet from his first vintage of the vineyard which produced less than 2 barrels, he states not yet. As for the more affordable, yet slightly easier to source, alternative wine of Puligny-Montrachet also made from 100% Chardonnay, this wine is classified as a single vineyard village wine and considered by most to be similar to a ‘baby Bâtard’ but without the hefty price tag.

As summer flows into Nantucket’s famed Indian Summer, don’t throw in the proverbial towel on white wines just yet. Take time to transition into next season’s drinking patterns and discover a handful that allow you to bend the rules and indulge in white after Labor Day. Cheers to that!

Articles by Date from 2012