By Tom Marquardt And Patrick Darr
White wine consumers are divided between those who love oak and those who hate it. Although a listing of top white wines sold in the U.S. is surprisingly topped by moscato, number two is chardonnay. This is where the discord begins. Many current wine lovers were raised during the 1990s and 2000s where a distressingly high proportion of chardonnay came with a strong dollop of oak courtesy of oak barrel aging. Some winemakers also used an array of oak supplements such as oak barrel staves, oak chips and even oak powder to mimic the flavors imparted by expensive oak barrels.
Today some consumers are moving away from oaks pervasive influence on white wines and seeking alternatives. A strong rise in interest in pinot grigio and pinot gris points to this shift. However, for all its popularity pinot grigio tends to offer a pleasant but pretty simplistic experience. So, what is an unoaked white wine lovers to do?
A recent tasting of Calabrian white wines gave us some insight into alternatives. Calabria is located on the western coast of the lower portion of the famous boot and surrounds the city of Naples. Home to the currently dormant Mt. Vesuvius, much of the soil tends to be volcanic in nature.
The region produces three white wines made from indigenous white grapes: falanghina, greco and fiano. These wines offer an interesting and complex drinking experience for those willing to seek them out. Prices are a bit higher than many pinot grigios, which seem to have become commoditized, and can be found on retail shelves in the $20 to $30 range.
We tasted six Calabrian white wines recently, three from Feudi di San Gregorio. Feudi di San Gregorio, a leading red and white wine producer in Campania, crafts wines from local indigenous grapes in their newish ultra-modern facility.
All three of these white wines were terrific and surprisingly presented similar taste profiles. They were fermented and aged in stainless steel, eliminating any oak influences and offering clean citrusy notes, a streak of minerality and ample palate-cleansing acidity.
The Feudi di Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2020 ($28) and Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino 2019 ($28) were a bit superior over the more pedestrian Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina 2020 ($23). The Greco di Tufo presented lemon notes, a pleasant floral element and a soft presence in the mouth. The Fiano di Avellino offered lemon and orange notes with a hint of nuts and a creamy finish.
We also tasted the Guido Marsella Fiano di Avellino 2019 ($30), which along with the Petilla Fiano di Avellino 2020 ($20), were the two biggest of the wines we tasted.
The Guido Marsella was soft and round with pear, citrus notes and a hint of olive that made this wine a very nice package. The Petilla presented a honied pear, melon flavor profile with a hint of smoke in the finish.
We also sampled a Casa Comerci Refulu Greco Bianco Calabria IGT 2020 ($28) which tasted of honey, lemon and grapefruit and a slight floral note.
We’ve been ardent fans of Napa Valley’s St. Supery Estate Winery over the past decades because of their high quality and easily accessible wines. St. Supery is known for its estate-grown sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon.
Founded by the Skalli family in the 1980s, they converted a former cattle ranch into vineyards and built a tasting room and winery. In 2015 the Skalli family sold their holdings to the French luxury brand Chanel, which also own significant wine holdings including Chateau Canon in St. Emilion, and Chateau Rauzan-Segla in Bordeaux.
We recently tasted three new cabernet sauvignon-based releases from St. Supery and again we were impressed by their quality. Intense pure fruit abounds in these releases, all of which use only traditional Bordeaux varietals and 100 percent French oak aging with a minimum of 38 percent new barrels. St. Supery utilizes a generous oak barrel aging program. However, their wines are balanced with no overt woody character or excessive tannins.
Although these wines are relatively pricey their quality on the pleasure meter makes them worth the tariff for those seeking a high-quality drinking experience. Pairing these wines with most steak house red meat offerings struck us as a perfect match.
Following are our tasting notes.
St. Supery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate 2019 ($53). This well-made wine is 90 percent cabernet sauvignon with a soupcon of malbec, petite verdot and merlot. The wine exhibits a classic Napa Valley profile with ripe plum, berry and cherry notes. Very smooth with soft tannins.
St. Supery Elu Napa Valley Estate 2017 ($93). Although this blend could be labelled cabernet sauvignon due to the percentage (77 percent) of this grape variety, St. Supery chose the proprietary name Elu. All Bordeaux varietals are included and present a delicious, smooth mélange of cassis and berries with a hint of coffee. Very soft and agreeable.
St. Supery Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Dollarhide Vineyard 2017 ($115). We found this wine to present primarily intense black cherry notes with a hint of cedar. This wine is the least developed of the three and can definitely develop with at least five years of aging to show its best.
Ram’s Gate Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 ($70). Using a blend of musque and Robert Young clones, this Carneros chardonnay has a perfumy, melon nose and a rich texture. Only the Robert Young clone portion of the blend underwent malolatic fermentation to retain the purity of the musque clone portion. Tropical fruit and honey flavors with a dash of spice.
Stags’ Leap Chardonnay 2020 ($30). We liked the balance in this reasonably priced Napa Valley chardonnay. White peach aromas and crisp apple flavors with hints of vanilla and spice.
FEL Anderson Valley Chardonnay 2020 ($34). A sister winery of Cliff Lede Vineyards, FEL makes consistently good chardonnay at a reasonable price. The cool climate of Anderson Valley keeps this version fresh and bright. There is no malolactic fermentation, which makes for a good match with food. Peach flavors abound.
Fetzer California Chardonnay 2019 ($8). Ripe pear and apple notes with a hint of spice.