Ripeness tends to be the base criterion by which red wines are judged. That doesn't apply to white wines, however. Unlike reds, most white wines have almost no tannins to express textural complexity, and therefore rely solely on acidity to deliver the sense of freshness that serves as a counterweight to alcohol.
As grapes ripen, sugar levels are inversely proportional to acid levels. The higher the sugar, the lower the acid. Yet, harvesting grapes early isn't a perfect solution. Aromatic compounds responsible for notes of grapefruit, citrus, melons or flowers are only developed with sufficient physical ripeness. Therefore, finding the precise time to harvest grapes for white wine is an art.
With acidity being the pillar, white wines can be divided into aromatic or neutral categories. Aromatic grapes such as Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Chenin Blanc and Riesling are almost perfume-like, and making wine from them is all about deciding how best to flatter these attributes. Neutral white wines, on the other hand, are often considerably restrained, and show more minerality. This makes them ideal for making traditional sparkling wines such as Champagne. Chardonnay, Trebbiano Toscano and Vermentino are examples of mineral-driven neutral varieties.
Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2012 (Vinicole Asia) Price: S$55
The Trimbach family settled in the Riquewihr commune of Alsace during the Thirty Years War. Now in its 12th generation, the company continues to make well structured, elegant and balanced wine. Several wines of Trimbach are made using grapes harvested from Grand Cru vineyards, but the Grand Cru designation never appears on Trimbach bottles. The Trimbach style is more important than anything else. Gewurztraminer is one of the noble grapes of Alsace. Its roses and lychee aroma is unmistakeable, and so is the light, bitter finish.
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Muscat Goldert Grand Cru 2011 (Wein & Vin) Price: S$85
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, represented by Olivier Humbrecht, was a pioneer in crafting low yield, biodynamic Alsatian wines with residual sugar. This style of wine is considered a break from Alsatian tradition, and some drinkers find it hard to judge sweetness levels in Alsatian dry white. In the Goldert Grand Cru vineyard, Humbrecht moved from planting Muscat Ottonel grapes to Muscat d'Alsace, since the latter variety is known for late ripening and capable of retaining better acidity.
Guy Saget Vouvray 2013 (Vinicole Asia) Price: S$50
Jean-Louis Saget took over the reins of the family business when his father Guy Saget passed away in an accident in 1972. The two-century-old company that based itself in Pouilly-sur-Loire did not halt with the sudden passing of its former owner. Instead Jean-Louis brought the business out of Upper Loire into areas in Anjou, Touraine and Muscadet. Chenin Blanc is the key white grape variety of Vouvray. It is capable of making an array of wine styles, ranging from sparkling to still, and even to sweet wine.
Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Rausch Auslese 2014 (Wein & Vin) Price: S$93
The company laid low for more than 250 years until it was managed by Hans-Joachim Zilliken, who took over in 1981. Under his leadership, today's Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken stands as one of the most distinguished producers in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer of Germany. Its late harvested Rausch Auslese 2014 comes from a 10-hectare vineyard planted only to Riesling. Grown on slate and volcanic rock, the Riesling vines penetrate up to 10 metres into the soil, from which they draw their desired mineral nutrients. This vineyard is also classified as a Grosse Lage, the Germanic equivalent of a Grand Cru.
Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Spatlese 2011 (SUTL Wines and Spirits) Price: S$110
In the 19th century, Balthasar Ress was raised and trained as a butcher - the trade of his forefathers. By the later part of the century, however, Ress had hung up his butcher's cleaver to be a hotelier while his family also decided to venture into the wine business, which bears his name today. A few generations later, in 1978, Ress's family company seized the opportunity to acquire the vineyards of Schloss Reichartshausen from the bankrupt Jakob Horz estate. This gave Ress total ownership of the Schloss Reichartshausen appellation, and the vineyard was subsequently classified an Erste Lage, which is the equivalent of a Premier Cru.
Domaine Font de Michelle Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2011 (Corney and Barrow) Price: S$70
Domaine Font de Michelle was founded in 1950 by the well-known Gonnet family of France's Southern Rhone valley. While most of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's fame lies in its robust full bodied red wines, its white wines made from native grape varieties can offer surprises. Like with red Chateauneuf-du-Pape, it is common to have a blend of grapes in the white wine, and recognising the right producers is key to picking good wines from the region. Domaine Font de Michelle Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc was made from a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc; grape varieties that can only be found in the South of France.
Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Crystal Wines) Price: S$50.50
New Zealand's Marlborough region is synonymous for many international drinkers with Cloudy Bay, but the reputation of both region and brand owe much to a single winemaker, Kevin Judd. In 1985, Australian winemaker David Hohnen arrived in New Zealand and engaged Judd as the founding winemaker of Cloudy Bay. By their second vintage in 1986, Judd had launched Marlborough on to the international stage with its full-on fruit flavours. After 25 vintages, Judd started Greywacke using Dog Point Winery's facilities and continues to create stunning wines with Marlborough grapes.
Twomey Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Excaliber Fine Wines) Price: S$60
Twomey was a spinoff from its parent brand Silver Oak - an established brand known for its Napa and Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. The Duncan family that owns Silver Oak created Twomey to explore wines made from grape varieties other than Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is a blend of fruit harvested from two vineyards in Napa and two vineyards in Sonoma. The fermentation was carried out in a mixture of oak barrels and stainless steel tanks, resulting in a wine that balances acidity and lushness.
Two Rivers "Juliet" Riesling 2013 (Certain Cellars) Price: S$50
Rows of Riesling vines may not be a common sight in New Zealand's Marlborough region, but that didn't deter owner-winemaker David Clouston. He worked 22 vintages around the world before returning to New Zealand to build his own winery business. Despite being a less common variety in Marlborough, the fruit-driven characteristic of the region is very much present in Clouston's Riesling. The Juliet Riesling is known for its ripe fruit profile, with enough residual sugar to complement the mouth-watering acidity.
Ryme Vermentino "His" 2013 (Artisan Cellars) Price: S$68
Ryme Cellars is the passion of husband-and-wife team Ryan and Megan Glaab, who share the same love of wines and make their own portfolio with old-world varieties planted in New World California. They agree with each other 99 per cent of the time, and the remaining one per cent is spent disagreeing on how best to make wine from Vermentino grapes. The only solution was to make separate versions of Vermentino. Megan's version aims to be clean and fresh, while Ryan's version ferments naturally on grape skins and is also aged longer before bottling. This is Ryan's version, with an orange cursive "His" printed on the lower right corner of the label.
The BT Wine Challenge 2015 - CEOs' Choice, in partnership with UBS, recently concluded its judging process. The Top 10 CEOs' Choice wines will be unveiled in an awards ceremony on Oct 9.
This article was first published on September 19, 2015. Get The Business Times for more stories.