WHAT ABOUT WINE: Off White

In 2007, nearly one out of every four wine dollars in the was spent on chardonnay. That not only makes it the top-selling varietal in the United States, according to The Nielsen Company, but puts chardonnay so far ahead of every other white wine that it’s kind of spooky.

Consumers bought almost three times as much chardonnay as pinot grigio and pinot gris, five times as much chardonnay as sauvignon blanc, and 10 times as much chardonnay as riesling. Now, I love chardonnay as much as the next oenophile, but enough is enough. There is more white wine than chardonnay.

How has this happened? Some of it has to do with pronunciation. Chardonnay is easier to say, which means it gets ordered more often in restaurants. How many of us want to ask for gewürztraminer in front of a snotty waiter? And some of it is style. Not only is most chardonnay fruit-forward and easy to drink (with less citrusy flavors), but it’s consistent. There are differences between producers and regions, but chardonnay is pretty much chardonnay regardless of who makes it and where it’s from. That isn’t true for pinot grigio and gris, for example, where it’s sometimes difficult to believe the Italians and Alsatians use the same grape.

But that doesn’t mean you need to drink chardonnay all the time. The next time you reach for the usual, think about one of these:

• Bloom Riesling 2006 ($10).  A good introduction to riesling — sweet but not sugary, with a bit of green apple tartness. Plus, since it’s only nine percent alcohol, it’s light enough for warm September days.

• Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2007 ($15). This off-dry white from is fruitier (think tropical flavors) than its French counterpart and doesn’t have the earthy funkiness that plagues so many South African wines.

• Brennan Vineyards Viognier 2007 ($20). Viognier, a Rhone grape often used for blending, has had fair success in California, but much more in Texas. The Brennan is dry, but soft and fruity without any harsh tannins or oak.

Jeff Siegel’s weekly wine reviews appear every Thursday on the Advocate’s Back Talk blog, advocatemag.com.

Faux Caesar salad
Most restaurant Caesar salads come with industrial-strength dressing and sodium-boosted croutons. This is better, cheaper and easier — and you don’t have to mess with the egg yolk. Serve with almost any white wine that isn’t chardonnay.

Serves 4, takes about 20 minutes (adapted from Jacques Pepin)

8 cups lettuce, preferably romaine or escarole (but any salad green will do)
4 slices stale bread
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 to 1 Tbsp anchovy paste
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup grated hard cheese like Parmesan (but most cheese will do)

1. Cube the bread, toss with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and bake on a cookie sheet in a 400-degree oven until brown, 5-8 minutes.

2. Prepare the vinaigrette: Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, anchovy paste, Dijon mustard, garlic and cheese. Mix well.

3. Clean and tear the salad greens into bite-sized pieces, and place in a salad bowl. When you’re ready to serve, top with the croutons, add the vinaigrette, and toss.

Ask the wine guy

Q: What is the most popular red wine in the ?
A: Cabernet sauvignon, with about 14 percent of sales based on dollar volume, according to the 2007 Nielsen survey. Merlot (11.5 percent) is second, and pinot noir (5 percent) is third.

 


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