"Secret" Spring Whites

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By Courtney Cochran

Surprise pals with your vinous prowess as you uncork these lesser-known whites this spring.

AlbardoubleTreeSpecial.jpgiño
Famously made in northwestern Spain's ocean side Galicia region, Albariño is also grown stateside by a handful of adventurous growers including central coast white wine powerhouse Tangent.  A crowd pleaser thanks to its medium body, food friendliness and fruit basket aromatic profile, Albariño works as well with fish tacos as it does with fruit salad and lighter meat dishes - though it may shine brightest of all when sipped on its own. 

Arneis
Wonderfully full-bodied, this aromatic variety from northwestern Italy has surprising heft for a white wine, making it an excellent choice for food pairings where you might otherwise look to red.  But take note: Arneis' eclectic flavor profile - think blossoms, pears and herbs, punctuated by an almond finish - make it tricky for food pairings, though it may just be tailor-made for chicken salad tossed with dill, almond slivers, pear slices and a kiss of dried cranberry.
Note: look for versions from Roero DOC.
Grüner Veltliner
Once you've gotten over your embarrassment in trying to pronounce this one (try GROON-er velt-LEEN-er), take a few moments to savor its unmistakable fresh quality.  One of the few whites that manages to smell both fruity and vegetal (Sauvignon Blanc is another), this Austrian charmer enchants with its complex aromas of peaches, lime and sometimes banana alongside funkier mineral, pepper and - yes - peas. A slam-dunk for Asian and so-called fusion fare.  

Marsanne
Pronounce this one just like it looks, then pour yourself a glass and prepare to be intrigued by its deep golden hue and heady aromas of spice, pear, honeysuckle and melon. Home in France's southerly Rhône Valley, Marsanne is now being made stateside in growing quantities, particularly by adherents to the Rhône Rangers' credo. Try it with honey baked ham, grilled pineapple or a caramelized onion tart.  Mai, oui.

Muscadet
After Champagne, there's nothing better for washing down oysters than a yeasty, lively Muscadet from France's westerly Loire Valley.  Easily one of the world's most under-appreciated whites, Muscadet grows best in the Sèvre-et-Maine sub region of the Loire and rarely costs more than $15 - earning this shellfish friendly white an A+ for affordability.  And thanks to subtle richness imparted from sûr-lie aging, Muscadet pairs perfectly with salty starters like nuts and cheeses, too.

Sémillon
Waxy. Honeyed. Golden. These are a few of the descriptors often used to describe little-known Sémillon, a native of Bordeaux that's the key ingredient in the unctuous sweet wines of Sauternes. As a dry wine, Sémillon offers richness (witty wine wonks call the grape "fat") and a peculiar flavor profile that must be tasted to appreciate.  Almost always enlivened with an electric current of acid thanks to the addition of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon has set up new homes in Australia's Hunter Valley and the Bay Area's own Livermore Valley.  

Torrontès
Now that Argentines have firmly cornered the red wine market with Malbec, they're looking to a white variety that will shine with equal luster on the international wine scene. Enter Torrontès, a native of Galicia that's charming casual sippers with its light body, bright acidity and high-toned aromatics.  Rather than the queen to Malbec's king, think of it as the Paula Abdul to Simon Cowell - a mellower version that can be just as assertive if given the opportunity.

Vermentino
If Grace Kelly were a wine, she would no doubt be Vermentino. Lovely, interesting, elegant and often lively, Vermentino is a wine that's always a pleasure to have around - and adds, if you will, a certain star quality to any gathering.  Pour this medium-bodied white native to Italy's Corsica with the gamut of picnic fare, light- to heavy hors d'oeuvres and most fish and light meat dishes. Like Ms. Kelly, its star power is subtle - yet won't be soon forgotten.

CLICK HERE for other suggested wines for the Spring Season

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