Aromatic Whites (June 2019)

What exactly is an ‘aromatic white’, do I hear you asking?  The category excludes Chardonnay, which bases its appeal principally on its substantial body and deep, complex, dry flavours, and has also traditionally excluded Sauvignon Blanc – although Marlborough’s intensely aromatic Sauvignon Blancs have made things complicated.

In New Zealand, when winemakers talk about ‘aromatic whites’, they principally mean Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.  Other white-wine varieties that fall into the ‘aromatic’ category include Viognier, Grüner Veltliner, Albarino, Muscat, Arneis and Verdelho.  If you hunt around at the bottom of the national vineyard surveys, you’ll also find tiny plantings of such ‘aromatic’ grape varieties as Flora, Reichensteiner and (barely surviving, with just two hectares) Muller-Thurgau.

Riesling, the great grape of Germany, in New Zealand attracts winegrowers – especially those in the South Island – more than the average wine lover.  This could change, as more and more dry Rieslings hit the shelves.

The most exciting newcomer is Albarino, popular in the coastal cafés of Spain and Portugal, which has loads of personality – peachy, citrusy and slightly spicy, with appetising acidity and good flavour intensity.  One winemaker told me recently that he was phasing out Viognier and Gewürztraminer.  “They’ve had plenty of time to attract a following, but it didn’t happen,” he said.  “The sales force don’t want more than a couple of ‘hard to sell’ wines in the range, and we are keen to explore the potential of some of the newer arrivals, such as Albarino and Grüner Veltliner.”