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The lineup of wines for Thursday's tasting

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
Feb. 25, 2004
There are two wines which year in and year out are America's top sellers, chardonnay and white zinfandel. Chardonnay can offer a multitude of different flavors. White zinfandel offers only one, sweetness.
But for those who like to adventure in wine there are many more. Since this week is an all white wine tasting let's run through what to expect from the various bottlings on today's market as researched in Wine Spectator magazine.
Chardonnay is the king of white wines, consistently excellent. The grape was first introduced in to California in the 1930s but it took 40 years before it really caught on. Today's wines have evolved from lesser efforts and are no far better than in the past.
A well made chardonnay can offer bold, rich flavors of apple, fig, melon, pear, peach, pineapple, lemon and grapefruit among others, depending on the wine makers skill or preference. The grapes are usually crushed or pressed and not fermented with their skins the way red wines are.
Chardonnay vines are prolific producers that can yield as much as four to five tons of grapes per acre. It is a cash cow in every country in which it is produced.
Pinot Gris
More common in Italy the wine is dry and can range from undistinguished to quite good. When good this varietal is soft, gently perfumed and has more color than most whites.
One of the world's greatest white wine grapes the variety excels in cooler climates where it has a tendency to ripen slowly. That makes it an excellent source for sweet wines. Germany produces many great ones, sweet but yet with a certain amount of tartness that have a personality all their own.
But rieslings are also used extensively in Alsace where they can produce an entirely different type of wine, dry or just off-dry. It has a high acid content with distinctive flavors of citrus, minerals, even flowers. It pairs with food beautifully and many believe it will be the next grape to challenge chardonnay for popularity.
Sauvignon Blanc
A highly underrated wine that at its best can give chardonnay a run for its money. Some excellent sauvignon blancs are made in California but in recent years the greatest of these wines have been coming from New Zealand.
It is not a rich wine like chardonnay but is usually delightfully lemon or grapefruit in its flavor. It is sometimes blended with chardonnay but it is often capable of producing amazingly complex and beautifully flavored wines.
This grape is often used as a blender wine but it can produce a full bodied rich, almost honey like wine with complex fig, pear and tobacco notes. As a late harvest wine it can be truly outstanding. Sauvignon blanc is its traditional partner since the semillon adds body, flavor and texture.
It is interesting to note the state warehouse is now stocking several different labels of this somewhat unusual, short supply wine. It is a very difficult grape to grow. The wine basically offers floral, spicy aromas and flavors but is not particularly complex. Its native habitat is the Rhone Valley in France but it is now being grown in California as well. The grape's name is pronounced vee-oh-NYAY.
It is considered one of the great wines from the Alsace region of France but is unusual spicy flavor is just not for me. This is a very acidic wine and a great deal of it is late harvest meaning it develops into a dessert wine. Try it but be warned that its potent spiciness can be overpowering unless the wine maker keeps it under control.
Chenin Blanc
This wine can be a perfect summertime patio wine. Served very cold it has a sweet, deep flavor, not at all like the sugary taste of white zinfandel. It is South Africa's most planted grape where it is called "steen" and it is also heavily planted in the Loire Valley of France. Washington State and Oregon grows a lot of it and produces the patio style mentioned earlier.
Pinot Blanc
Often confused with chardonnay because of its similar flavor and texture. It can be a terrific wine. When well made it is intense, concentrated and complex with ripe pear, spice, citrus and honey notes.
Many of the above wines will be served at this week's blind tasting of whites. We will pour six white wines (plus a door wine) without telling you what they are and then ask you to identify the wine in your glass. Each table will act as a team and produce a jointly arrived at decision.
Each member of the winning table will receive a nice prize, pate' purchased in New Orleans especially as a reward to the winners of this tasting. The event is, as always, at Northwood Country club at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and the fee is $25. There are some spaces remaining so call 482-0930 and make a reservation if you wish to come.