Search & Distill: Trial by White Wine

Try holding auditions for your house wine.

Winter means hearty food and a dark, rich red wine to wash it all down. But this is also the time of year when citrus is in full force. I want Cara Cara oranges and pamplemousse so ripe the juice oozes all over as you try to cut. Cabernet cannot do citrus justice; red wine and citrus rankles like orange juice and toothpaste. Beginning now, I start plowing through white wine by the gallon. I need quantity, quality, and value to get me through to gin-and-tonic season, and like everyone else, I must go out and buy it.

Picking your personal house wine shouldn’t pain you, but before you get stuck with 12 mediocre bottles, hold auditions. For my latest white, I trucked to Pike & Western (1934 Pike Place). These people taste far more wine than I do, which makes perusing that section of this small shop above and beyond promising to me. Everything’s been vetted, so it’s just a matter of taste.

Communication is key. Make sure to give a wine salesman your price range and flavor profile, and if possible follow up with a specific wine you’ve liked in the past. I was angling for something to go with my copious amounts of vitamin C, so I asked for a very dry, crisp, and tart appley or grapefruity wine, preferably with an herbal aroma. I referenced the last wine I burned through from the Loire Valley (the Mecca for sauvignon blanc, goat cheese, and apples).

Fruit analogies work particularly well with white wines. After all, you don’t want a peach when you feel like a green apple. When talking about wine, I think this is the closest two people can come to speaking the same language. Drier wines have more tart, citrus-like fruit. The fuller-bodied the wine, the more it will echo the flavors of ripe fruits like peach, even mango. The chances of achieving common ground with these words is far greater than when using “fruity,” “balanced,” or most other obscure adjectives.

This gave owner Michael Tier a good idea of what I wanted, namely maximum zing. “This has been one of our best sellers the last few years,” he said grabbing a bottle of Domaine de Pellehaut “Harmonie de Gascogne” ($8.49) from the Côtes de Gascogne region of southwest France. “It’s not the Loire, but it’s got great aromatics and a bright citrus flavor.” This is why he’s such a great wine guy—he hit me with a very good price first.

The second wine he shows me is (like my last tried-and-true) a white Saumur, this one from Cave de Saumur ($9.99)—another excellent pick. He probably knows he’s met all my requirements, but I still want to play the field. The third wine he offers, Chateau Courtinat’s Saint Pourcain ($14.99), intrigues me with an off-the-wall grape (70% tressailler). I buy all three and take them home to audition with goat cheese and an arugula grapefruit salad.

I tried to take the price tags off before judging, but my inner cheapskate had to peek. So right away, unless the Saint Pourcain made me weak in the knees and could do the dishes, it was between the wines from Gascony and Saumur. The little Gascony is a fantastic white wine; I’d be psyched to drink it by the glass anywhere in town (so why haven’t I seen it?). The Saint Pourcain comes off as subtle and refined, with a lovely, full citrus flavor, but not enough to spend an extra $60 ($5 more per bottle for a case). In the end, the Saumur was exactly what I craved: aromatics like the first shoots on an apple tree in March, a tart apple and lime flavor, and a sexy mouthfeel that clung to every tastebud and lingered for almost a minute, well worth $9 (after a case discount). Well played, Mr. Tier. I’ll take three cases.

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