Thursday, April 02, 2015

A crisp white wine is a perfect start to a meal.

Many wine drinkers tend to gravitate to a handful of styles of wine, or even only one style, as their preferred vinous beverage. These choices commonly fall along color lines. How many times have you heard, “I only drink (red or white) wine”?

While we Americans are becoming increasingly conscious of our food and wine choices, we are still learning the art of conscious dining. For instance, the model of European dining has, for centuries, begun with an aperitif (a light, refreshing wine or spirit enjoyed before the main meal with the intention of stimulating one’s appetite).  A wine aperitif typically is a dry, unoaked white with enough acidity to enliven the senses. Wines of this type tend to pair well with tapas-style foods or appetizers that come at the beginning of the meal. Such wines also tend to be lower in alcohol content and help diners leave room for a red, if desired, later in the meal.

I savor the pleasure of a crisp white while cooking or enjoying appetizers with friends before entrées are served. What I find most fun about enjoying these wines as an aperitif is selecting from the myriad grape varieties that fall into this category. While Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and assorted sparkling wines are excellent and familiar choices to the average consumer as an aperitif, there is a growing list of diverse grape varieties that also fit the bill.

Spain is producing wines from two white grape varieties (Albariño and Verdejo) that work beautifully at the beginning of a meal. When well made, both have bright fruit and floral character in the nose and vibrant acidity. Pinot Blanc, often overshadowed by its more popular cousin Pinot Grigio (Gris), is produced in regions of Italy, France, and California. And Pinot Blanc has plenty of character and lipsmacking acidity regardless of its country of origin. It makes me wonder why more people don’t enjoy Pinot Blanc.

These examples of light and lively whites represent the tiniest portion of what is available at retail stores and restaurants. Next time you are dining, consider starting your meal with an interesting aperitif wine to stimulate your appetite and wake up your mouth.

Thomas Burke is based in Las Vegas and is director of education for Wirtz Beverage Nevada. He is one of just 100 master sommeliers in North America.

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