Textural White Wines—And The Details That Enrich Their ‘Plot’

Food & Drink

Fuller bodied, and more richly aromatic.

Those are a few of the descriptors that typically accompany the category of “textural white wine.” Varieties like viognier, chardonnay, friulano, gewürztraminer and roussanne are safe bets for this category, which for me represents a welcome cool-down from the summer heat and a shift into more substantial meals to fortify our bodies against the chill and gusts of autumn wind.

What accounts for the “texture” of textural white wines?

Usually the texture of a wine refers to its mouthfeel, or the weight and sensation of a wine when you sip it. Think silky or round or tannic, that grippy sensation most often used in reference to red wine for its polyphenols released from the grape skins as well as its treatment in oak. In white wines, “texture” as a description is more easily an indicator of particular grapes or blends of grapes (viognier, for example, has a distinctly different feel than pinot grigio), origin of the wine (such as gewürztraminer from Alsace, chardonnay from Alto Adige or friulano from Friuli), and treatment in the winery (skin contact, clay amphorae and oak vessels).

Those are all details that add to the “plot” or the narrative of a textural white wine, that enrich and enhance a wine lover’s experience.

Here are two wines I’ve tasted recently (and the foods to go with them) that embody the category of textural white wine. Consider them, also, as one of several closely-related wines that are typical of their place: the first example is a specific wine made from müller thurgau grapes in the Alto Adige region of Italy, though I can just as readily recommend certain grüner veltliners or kerners from the same region. For the second example, the “adjacent” wines I’d recommend — grüner veltliner, that is — are typical of their place thanks to the winemaker’s devotion to the terroir of the eastern Santa Ynez Valley.

2021 Erste + Neue Müller Thurgau

Though used predominantly (and not often favorably) in Germany, the müller thurgau grape takes on a particularly hearty expression in the mountainous region of Italy’s Alto Adige. There, after fermentation at low temperatures, the wine takes on nutty, floral aromas that are unusually robust. The aroma complements the medium-bodied mouthfeel of this wine, delivering an unexpected twist on a textured white wine made from an unexpected variety.

Special note on food pairing: I poured this wine with a dinner of pork medallions in lemon-caper sauce; the wine accentuated the tang of the capers with lemon zest and juice while also adding bright flavors of elderflower and herbs.

2016 Fiddlehead Cellars “Happy Canyon” Sauvignon Blanc

Some white varieties don’t jump to mind as substantial enough for the textured wine category — pinot grigio, for example, or albariño or sauvignon blanc. There are exceptions to every rule, however, as this sauvignon blanc from winemaker Kathy Joseph attests. The texture results partly from its age (2016), partly from its gentle oak treatment, and partly from the different intentional layers that have been added: Joseph fermented the wine in equal proportions of stainless steel, neutral barrels, and new Damy French oak. There is a sense also of Joseph’s mastery cultivated over 30 years of farming this specific grape in the specific place of Happy Canyon in California’s Santa Barbara in the eastern Santa Ynez Valley.

Special note on food pairing: I opened this bottle, mindful of this article about textured white wines. Obviously it fit the bill and, moreover, it offered a beautiful complement to our family meal later that day of roasted butternut squash soup and hearty grain bread. Both the wine and the food were studies in balance / counter-balance: light on the palate (the vegetables in the soup and the sauvignon blanc grape) yet also substantial (the roasted squash and the grain bread plus the aged, gently-oaked wine).

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