One of the joys that springs from our high altitude, cool climate vineyard is the quality of the wines we make from aromatic white varieties.
Aromatic whites are loosely defined as those varieties that have pronounced floral or spicy aromas. Gewurztraminer is a perfect example and one of the most distinctive of all, its heady rose petal aroma leaping out of the glass. Riesling is another, its intense, lifted scent of white flowers and talc teased out of this noble grape in cool growing conditions. Pinot gris is a little more spicy than floral in the Australia context, though wines from this variety in the cool Alsace region in the north east of France can have pronounced aromas. In this region it is also common to blend these three aromatic varieties as we do at Colmar Estate with our Le Moche blend.
One thing the aromatic white varieties have in common is their affinity with cool growing conditions. With all those wonderful aromatic compounds slowly developing in the grapes as they ripen the last thing these varieties need is to have them all burnt off in a baking hot summer. Not surprisingly, aromatic whites do much better in Tasmania, the Victorian highlands and the higher vineyards of Orange than they do in hotter Australian wine regions. In the European context, the better examples of aromatic whites are to be found in Germany, Austria and norther France rather than the warmer regions around the Mediterranean. Although aromatic white wines from cooler regions are often dry, they may also be off-dry i.e. contain a little residual sugar to balance the higher natural acidity so typical of cool climates.
The winemaking approach with aromatic white varieties is aimed at capturing and retaining the aromas and flavours naturally present in the grapes. Typically, winemakers will keep it simple by fermenting the juice at cool temperatures in stainless steel tanks. Fancy winemaking techniques, such as wild yeast ferments, malolactic fermentation, lees stirring and maturation in oak barrels are generally avoided. While these techniques may build richness and complexity in chardonnay, they tend to mask and flatten the fragrance that makes aromatic whites so special.
The lightness and freshness of aromatic white wines makes them an ideal aperitif, drunk cool but not icy in order to fully appreciate their perfume. Feel free to stick your nose right into the glass and take in the vinous joy on offer! Food-wine matches will follow the usual general rules: try to align the weight of the wine with the weight of the dish – lighter wines with lighted dishes – for example riesling goes nicely with oysters or white fish. Dry aromatic white varieties are a natural match with lightly spiced Asian food, though off-dry wines tend to go better with highly spiced foods, the slight sweetness taking the sting out of chilli.