What are the criteria that go into picking the white wines for red wine drinkers will love? Well, for starters, I’ve found that the most ardent and dedicated drinkers of red wines tend to gravitate to wines that are big and bold, with dry tannin and complex, savoury and spicy flavours and aromas. These are generally wines that have the capacity to age well and pair perfectly with robust and full-flavoured foods. Some white wines embody the antithesis of these virtues, produced in a light and refreshing style, generally unoaked and sometimes with a touch of sweetness, these whites are fruity quaffers, rather than complex and serious “food wines”. That said, when chosen carefully, there are a handful of white wines out there that offer many of the virtues that even the most dedicated of red wine enthusiasts can embrace and enjoy.
#1: Barrel Aged White Rioja
While there is no particular rank or order to this list today, if we were to rank these wines in an order that reflects the probability that they’d be loved by red wine drinkers, there is little doubt that these Viura-based barrel-aged whites produced in Spain’s Rioja region would be #1 on any list. These white wines are absolutely unique in their ability to deliver savoury, toasty and complex wines that have the capacity to age longer than just about any other white wines produced anywhere. Traditional Rioja whites are generally given extended barrel treatment imparting flavours of coffee, hazelnuts and coconut, with amazing intensity and concentration.
#2: Alsace Pinot Gris
OK, so you probably realize that Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are cousins – so before you go and discount this entire list, please realize that the better and more interesting version of Alsace Pinot Gris are a whole different character, especially when given the chance to reach maturity. With time (as well as low yields and thoughtful craftsmanship) well-made Pinot Gris has the potential to be one of the most rich, complex and serious white wines made anywhere, particularly with a bit of botrytis at harvest. These whites take on a rich and full, almost creamy texture with botrytis introducing savoury flavours and aromas of tea, petrol and hay.
#3: California Fume Blanc
Wine #3 on our list is the most fruit-forward amongst these selections, but the inherent citrus and tropical fruit typically found in Sauvignon Blanc is balanced out by (a) the vibrant acidity and countervailing herbaceous aromatic qualities of Sauvignon Blanc, and (b) the aggressive oak treatment that separates “Fume Blanc” from standard varietal expressions of Sauvignon Blanc produced in other places. The introduction of a high proportion of new oak barrels in the fermentation/aging process, introduces a smoky and toasty flavour profile, often hinting at bitterness, creating a savoury balance red wines lover tend to, well, love.
#4: Australian Barrel Aged Semillon
Barrel-aged Semillon from Australia – and most notably the Hunter Valley – offer an imaginary blend between barrel-aged Chardonnay and Fume Blanc. Semillon has a somewhat richer and fuller texture than Sauvignon Blanc, more mindful of Chardonnay, but the aromatics emphasizing citrus and tropical fruit tend to share more in common with the former than the latter. And in a manner somewhat similar to Pinot Gris, these whites produced from Semillon often find themselves impacted by a touch (or more) of botrytis which introduces a richness of texture and savoury, oftentimes pleasantly astringent nature.
#5: White Burgundy
We could have listed “barrel-aged Chardonnay” as a broader inclusion on this list, as they deliver many of the virtues outlined at the beginning of this piece. However, the whites of Burgundy deliver a special magic; an amped up expression of these virtues, making them especially suitable choices for red wine lovers. I have yet to find a region that has – on the whole – done such a good job of achieving harmony and balance in the introduction of oak to their wines. Combine this sophisticated introduction of spicy complexity with the natural gifts of terroir and minerality enjoyed in Burgundy, and the wines are pure drinking pleasure.