November 22, 2017

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The Wine Atelier Podcast Episode #3: White Wine 101

This episode kicks off our Wine Atelier 101 Series, and we’ll be talking all about White Wine. In the 101 series, I’m going to be providing you with a foundation to begin your journey towards incorporating wine into everyday life, and sharing strategies for selecting, enjoying, and sharing wine with your friends and family.Please hit the play button above to listen to the entire podcast OR you can read the transcript below.

Let’s get started!


Welcome to The Wine Atelier podcast, your insider's guide to mastering wine, with certified sommelier Stephanie Miskew.Hey there fellow wine lovers! Welcome to the third episode of The Wine Atelier podcast. I'm thrilled to be back with you again, sharing more insider tips and strategies for mastering and enjoying wine.If this is your first time joining us, welcome, and I'm so excited you can be with us today. I hope by the end of the episode you're tempted to hit that subscribe button, because I've got even more great wine info for you in the future. That's a promise. And if you're back with us again, I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. I hope you can just pour yourself a glass of something special, and kick back and relax as you listen today.I'm very excited about today's episode, which is going to kick off something I'm very excited about, which is our Wine Atelier 101 series. My inspiration for this was I know when you're first learning about wine, and when I was first learning about wine, it's such a big topic. I mean, there's so many wine regions, and grape varieties, and producers, so it's really hard to know where to start. And I thought, you know, it would be great to provide folks with the basics, like a foundation and a place to start when they're learning about wine. Otherwise, it can just be totally overwhelming.So, that's essentially what the 101 series is going to be about. It's going to be a foundation and a framework for you to learn about wine, but I'm also going to share real-world advice for selecting, enjoying, and sharing wine with your family and friends, because let's face it; the scientific stuff and the wine geeky stuff is all well and good, but if I'm not sharing ways for you to incorporate wine into your life every day, what's the point, right? So I want this to be real-world advice and help and strategies for enjoying and learning about wine.And I thought, what better place to start than with White Wine 101? I have a confession to make, because I am a huge white wine fan. Honestly, if given the choice between a glass of red and a glass of white wine, nine times out of ten I'm reaching for that white wine. Maybe that's because I live in South Florida, where it's 1000 degrees 90% of the time, or it could also be because I get the worst red wine-stained teeth on the planet. So in a social situation, it's more of a vanity choice.But honestly, all joking aside, I honestly just love the flavor of white wine, I love the diversity. There's so much to enjoy when it comes to white wine. Unfortunately, I know there's a lot of people out there who think white wine can be boring, and if you're in that camp, you've got a lot to learn, and I'm thrilled that you are listening today, because I have a feeling by the end of today's episode, you're going to think differently.I think I have a story that really sums this up nicely, and it's a common scenario. Either you're the person going through this, or you know somebody who is. A good friend of mine was once stuck in a major Pinot grigio rut. And I'm talking serious rut, like you'd go to her house, swing open the refrigerator door and there on the door would be these big, you know, the large-sized bottles of boring Pinot grigio, just staring back at you, all sad.And, you know, it made me sad and I would always ask her, "Why do you keep reaching for this same white wine, time after time? It's this mass produced crap." She just looked at me and she gave me this look. She was like, "You know, with two kids and a full-time job, that wine is exactly what I need it to be: it's affordable and it's easy." And you know what? I totally get that. We are all so busy, and who's got hours to spend a week on researching the right wine for them, or a wine that they're going to like? I get it.So one night, I went over to her house and I brought a few different types of white wine. I brought a Chablis from Burgundy, a Gavi from Italy, and a Chenin Blanc from South Africa. We sat down and we tasted through the wines, and we had a great chance to catch up. It was such a fun night. But at the end of the night, she was just blown away at how great white wine could be. And I was so thrilled to see her kind of have that light bulb moment, and I made sure all the wines were affordable and that they were all available at her local grocery store. So, again, I hope that that maybe gives you some inspiration into expanding your horizons when it comes to white wine. But I know some of you might still be thinking, "Well yeah, white wine's fine for your mom friend and for women," but honestly, you couldn't be more wrong.And I just have another quick story to share regarding a Cellar Consulting client of mine. This guy only drank red wine. And when I say only drank red wine, I mean, this guy would turn his nose up at any wine that was clear; even lighter red wines he wanted no part of. I worked with him for a while and I gradually, very gradually, introduced him to some white wines. Like, "Hey, give this a try." And then I even started introducing him to some roses and sparkling wines.But it was amazing to watch him. He really did taste the wines and he had this, again, total light bulb moment, and he was like, "God, I can't believe that I've been missing out on these wines. They're amazing." He fell hard for white Burgundy, which is 100% Chardonnay and it's a fuller-bodied white wine, which is perfect for a red wine lover if you're trying to bring them over. But he just loved it.He's at the point now where he just bought a Sauternes from me, which is a sweet white dessert wine from Bordeaux. So that's how much his tastes have expanded, and he's just loving every minute of it. I'm so glad I hung in there with him and tried to get him to taste these new things. So, I hope those stories maybe have opened your eyes or expanded your way of thinking, to maybe embrace and explore white wine.Some other pros of white wine, that those of you who already are enjoying white wine already know but that I'd like to share with everybody: The first point is that white wines are so incredibly versatile, especially when pairing with food. They don't have the harsh tannins and the big stronger flavors that red wines have, so they pair readily with a whole variety of foods. So whether you and the family are eating at home and you're all eating different things, white wine is more likely to pair with a variety of things.Or if you're bringing wine over to a friend's house for dinner and you don't exactly know what they're serving, bring a bottle of white. It's much more likely to pair with what they're making than a red wine. I mean, what if they're grilling snapper and you bring a Napa Cab? That's not really going to work out so well. So, white wine pairs readily with food, or nothing at all. White wine on its own is so crisp, cool, and refreshing, it's perfect on its own as well.And my second point is that your hangovers will be much less severe when you're drinking white wine, because let's face it, red wine has a lot more alcohol in it than white wine does. So if you're looking to pop open a bottle on a school night, where maybe you have a meeting the next day or you have to be really on the ball, drinking white wine, you'll be in a better place the next day and you won't feel it as much as if you were drinking red wine.And then my final white wine pro is most white wines are meant to be consumed while young, so there's no waiting or decanting, which can be an issue for red wine lovers. Oftentimes red wines tend to evolve in the bottle, and then you don't know if you need to decant it. The beauty of white wine is you essentially chill it and pop the cork, or unscrew the screw cap, and you're good to go, so incredibly convenient as well. I mean, what's not to love, people? You've got to be inspired by now, right?So, now I thought we'd just talk a little, since this is Wine 101 podcast ... I thought I'd talk just a little about just wine in general. It's important for any style of wine making to know that all wine is made through the process of fermentation. I won't get too geeky on you, but all fermentation is essentially yeast converting grape sugars into alcohol. So, the yeast works on the sugars that are in the grapes and converts it to alcohol, then eventually when the alcohol level gets too high, the yeast dies and voila! You have wine.Now there's definitely variations on that, that we're going to get into in the future, but I just wanted to share that with you. A key difference in white wine making as compared to red wine making ... and this is basic, but it ends up being important in the long run ... is that white wines are made from white grapes and red wines are made from red grapes, because it's the color of the grape skins that gives red wines their color. And I will go much more into that when I cover red wines next time, but just so you know, white wines are made from white grapes. And there is actually an exception where white wine can be made from red grapes, but I'm going to leave you hanging and I'll get into talking about that when we talk about sparkling wine and champagne. So, again, just a fundamental basic difference between red wine making and white wine making. Okay?It's great to know a little of the science behind it but I think essential to any Wine 101 course is you need to learn to talk the talk, because if you're trying to buy white wine at a retail store, or order white wine at a restaurant, or just simply have a conversation with some wine lovers about white wine, there are definitely some terms you should know. I would say most styles of wine, whether it's white wine, red wine, or sparkling wine, they have their own lingo, and again, those terms that are very closely associated with that particular style of wine.For white wine, I'm going to go through five terms that you should know and the first is stainless steel. Essentially when you hear that a wine is stainless steel fermented, that essentially means the wine is going to be crisp, fresh, and fruity. The stainless steel is a neutral medium, so it preserves the fruity qualities of the grapes, so that's what that means. You'll see that commonly used to refer to summer wines that are bright, crisp, and refreshing.Now, word number two is oak. Oak is at one end of the spectrum, and you have stainless on the other end of the spectrum. Think of these two terms as opposites. So we know wines fermented in stainless steel are crisp, fruity, and refreshing. Wines that are fermented in oak, or have oak treatment, are rich, complex, and spicy. The oak adds those qualities into the wine, as well as giving it added complexity and a fuller body. It also can bump the alcohol on the wine up a little, too. So these wines are generally more popular in the fall and winter months, and they tend to pair well with dishes that are popular during those seasons as well.Our third word is a little term that I like to call malolactic fermentation. I actually don't like to call it that; that's what it's called. But it's a mouthful, so you'll often hear winemakers or sommeliers refer to it as malo or ml. All this means ... I'm going to simplify it for you ... essentially it's a secondary fermentation after the primary fermentation that we just spoke about, and it converts harsh astringent malic acid into creamy, buttery, lactic acid. Just think of malic acid as a tart Granny Smith apple. We've all bitten into that green Granny Smith apple and it makes you almost pucker, because it's so tart.So malolactic fermentation converts that tart acid into creamy, buttery lactic acid. It essentially converts that green Granny Smith apple into a rich, buttery, baked apple. If you've ever had the apples baked in the oven with the butter and cinnamon, that's kind of the transition that the wine makes. You'll most likely hear that term used in conjunction with fuller-bodied whites, like Chardonnay, but if you are a white wine lover, you probably will hear it come up from time to time.The next term I'd like to familiarize you with is sulfur. This is important, because sulfur plays a bigger role in white wine making than it does in red wine making, because there's actually about twice the level of sulfites in white wine as there are in red wine. And that usually comes as a big surprise to many people, especially those like me, who suffer from red wine headaches, because many people who get red wine headaches think it's because of the sulfites in the red wine, but I'm here to happily debunk that myth, because if you aren't getting the headaches from white wine too, it is not the sulfites causing those headaches. There's actually another chemical compound in red wine that's causing those headaches, and I will get to that in our next episode, so stay tuned. But I just had to clarify that; if you're not getting the headaches from white wine too, then it's not those sulfites. But again, I will tell you in the next episode what it is that's causing you those terrible headaches, and they are no fun. I totally feel you on that.Our fifth and final term you'll hear used in conjunction with white wine is Stelvin, and a Stelvin is essentially a brand name for the screw cap. You will often find white wines that are meant to be consumed while young, you'll see them with a screw cap or Stelvin closure.I am a huge fan of the screw cap closure. I feel that all wines, reds, whites, whatever, should be closed with a screw cap closure and I won't bore you with all the details, but essentially it guarantees that the wine will not be affected by cork taint. And they've made a lot of scientific advances, but for now, I won't go on and on about it, but a Stelvin is a screw cap, and commonly found in white wines. It is no indication of quality. Nowadays you will find plenty of high-quality, delicious white wines with a screw cap closure and you should by no means avoid these wines, just be sure to drink them while they're young. They're not going to improve with age, so drink them while they're young. But by all means, embrace them.So, those are my top five white wine terms that I think will help you in your exploration of white wine.All right. So now that you know how to talk the talk, if you will; you know the lingo, you know the top five terms, now we're going to talk about walking the walk. And this section includes three white wine grapes I'd love for you to try. I have specific wines, even, to recommend, so that you can really familiarize yourself with these three types of grapes. You might say, "Well how can you limit it to only three grapes?" and that is a great question, but I think in sampling these particular grapes, they're different enough that it will really give you a sense of which types of white wine that you really like, because white wine is made from a variety of different grapes.There's hundreds of different white wine grapes out there. I mean, the most common ones we run into in the store are Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, which are the same grape, Chardonnay, there's Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling, and Chenin Blanc, and Viognier. There's even Semillon, and one of my favorites, Gewurztraminer. But you know, each one has their own different flavor profile, and even the same grape can taste completely different when it's grown in a different place. Like, for instance, chardonnay from California is much, much different than Chardonnay from France. So, it's so fun to explore these different grapes from different regions and, you know, getting to know the individual grapes and even drilling down and sampling the same grape from different regions. And that's pretty much what I'm going to have you do here. That's your homework.Gosh, I remember when I was first introduced to white wine, I clung to white zinfandel and Pinot grigio, just out of sheer fear of not knowing what the heck to pick, because there were just so many different things. So this is going to give you a good foundation and a good place to start to discover the white wines that you truly enjoy.And, another thing, because this is our first episode; if you really want to learn about wine, unless you have something to refer back to, you're never going to remember what you tasted and what you learned. Because after the first few glasses of wine, when you sit down, you think you're going to remember, but after that third or fourth glass of wine, it all goes right out of your brain. So be sure to either take pictures with your phone of the wine labels of the wines you're tasting, which is an excellent way. Sometimes the apps are too difficult. Just snap a picture of the label and you can either record a quick voice memo, or use the Notes app on your phone, or just have a pad and pen there with you.If you want to use an app, I love Delectable, I think that's a great one to use, but Vivino is also wonderful. Honestly, the one you're going to use is the one you should use. Just as long as you're using something to record these notes, record your impressions, even if you don't have all the right words yet. In your own language, keep notes that you will remember. It could be as simple as, "I really like this wine," or, "I really didn't like this wine."So. Here are our three grape varieties to try, as well as specific bottle recommendations to look for. The first grape I would recommend that you try is Sauvignon Blanc. Now this grape is known for producing beautiful lighter-bodied white wines that, again, are bright, crisp, refreshing and fruity. And you might already know, this is mostly due to the fact that they are fermented in stainless steel.So if you happen to be interested in exploring Sauvignon Blanc, look for these following wines. And generally, Sauvignon Blancs are not very expensive wines at all, so the first one I would recommend is the Decoy Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley. It's probably around $15 a bottle. And Decoy, it's by Duckhorn, which is such a reliable brand, you really can't go wrong with them. Their Decoy Sauvignon Blanc is super affordable, super crisp, fruity, and refreshing and lovely, with notes of peach, nectarine, and apricot, and really gives you a beautiful sense of what Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is about. It's a lovely wine.My second Sauvignon Blanc recommendation is from New Zealand, another region that's known for producing beautiful Sauvignon Blancs, and that's the Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, from the Marlborough region. That bottle runs around $15 a bottle. New Zealand Sauv Blancs are more grassy, and grapefruit-y, whereas California Sauvignon Blancs are more peachy. So again, you can taste them side by side and compare and contrast.And then, I don't think any tasting of Sauvignon Blanc would be complete without an example from France's Loire Valley, which is probably where the grape originated. I recommend the Pascale Jolivet Sancerre from the Loire Valley. It will be a little pricier, because it's from France. It's between $25 and $30 a bottle.But, if you can taste these wines all back to back, that would be wonderful. And you will immediately notice that the Loire Valley Sauv Blanc is characterized by beautiful acidity and beautiful citrus fruit as well, but marked, marked, acidity and a minerality that's just beautiful.But again, once you taste these wines, you'll see that even one grape can be so different, depending on where it's from.The next grape I would recommend that you dive into is Chardonnay. For those of you who are already Chardonnay fans, you're probably aware that Chardonnay can produce a wide range of wines. It can produce light-bodied white wines, with crisp acid and subtle fruit flavors, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, it can produce lush, voluptuous, full-bodied wines with really opulent flavors. And the style of the Chardonnay really depends on if the wine was fermented in stainless steel or oak, whether malolactic fermentation was used, and ultimately, where the wine is from. So to really explore the Chardonnay grape, I'd really love you to try the following examples.The first one is an unoaked version of Chardonnay. Yes, they do exist. And two that I really enjoy are the Morgan Metallico, from the Santa Lucia Highlands in California, which is around $20 a bottle. Or, I also like ... and this one's quite popular ... the Mer Soleil Silver from Monterey, which is also around $20 a bottle. You'll find that wines made from the Chardonnay grape are a little more expensive than those made from Sauvignon Blanc, so you might have to shell out a little more money to try these wines, but this would be a good time to maybe invite some friends over. They each bring a different wine and you all get to try them together. So again, the unoaked Chardonnays will be bright, crisp, and fruity. And you'll find that they're probably very different from any oaked versions that you may have tried before.I should mention that to taste the wines back to back, to have them all in front of you at the same time is such a great learning experience. Now if you just want to try them one by one, that's fine, but to be able to compare and contrast is a really great experience for anyone that's looking to learn more about wine.So the second Chardonnay that I would recommend to you is the La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, obviously from Sonoma, California. That bottle's about $30 per bottle. And you'll notice that relative to wine number one, the Mer Soleil, Morgan Metallico, this oaked version of Chardonnay is going to be richer and more fuller-bodied, and just have more complex aromas and flavors, that in addition to the apple and citrus will also have spice notes to them, a little clove or nutmeg, and a bit of toasty oak going on there. Again, just something to look out for when you're tasting it.The third chardonnay that I would recommend to you comes from Burgundy, France. And that would be the Maison Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuisse and that's about $30 a bottle, but, the important thing to keep in mind when you're shopping for the wine is that you won't see the words "Chardonnay" anywhere on that label because you see, over in France ... and Burgundy is essentially the spiritual home of Chardonnay, it's where it originated. In fact, you'll often see many California wine makers use the term Burgundian to describe their Chardonnays, if in fact they were at all influenced by the style of wine from Burgundy, France.So again, you'll see the words Pouilly-Fuisse, which automatically when you see that means the wine is 100% Chardonnay, and that's what you need to look for. But you'll notice that a Chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France is less fruity than any Chardonnays you'll find from California or anywhere else in the New World. It's just more mineral-driven, but again, with a beautiful complexity and notes of citrus and spice and everything nice. But again, I think this would make a great tasting of the Chardonnay grape.And the third and final grape that I would recommend to you is Riesling. You might be a little surprised by this, but Riesling is actually a very, very interesting grape and is grown in many different wine regions around the world. It's similar to Chardonnay, in the sense that it can also produce a wide range of wines, from dry, sweet, to sparkling wines. And it also expresses very different flavors depending on where it's grown and the climate of where it's grown.Like Chardonnay, it's also known for having high acidity, which allows it to age remarkably well. And three bottles that I would recommend to you are, number one would be the Charles Smith Kung Fu Riesling from the Columbia Valley in Washington state, which runs about $12 a bottle. It's beautiful, super fresh and fruity, slightly off-dry, but it's balanced by a really beautiful acidity. It's just one of my favorite every day wines and it is a steal at $12 a bottle.Next would be Red Newt Cellars Riesling, from the Finger Lakes region of New York. They make beautiful Riesling there. The climate is well-suited to it. And again, this wine, slightly off-dry, but again has a great acidity, with the notes of lime, pear, and green apple. And that, again, runs for about $15 a bottle.The next Riesling I'm going to recommend comes from Alsace, and that's the Paul Blanck Riesling from Alsace, France. Again, this wine will be more mineral-driven, with notes of citrus, and green apple, and honey, and just a really, really nice wine.That's a great tasting. If you can taste those wines side by side, that would be a great thing. And that wine runs about $20 a bottle.Now I know a lot of people can be put off by Riesling. They don't know if the wine that they're getting is going to be sweet or not. And a really good tip for that is check the alcohol content on the Riesling bottle. If the alcohol content is anywhere around 8 to 9%, you know that the wine is going to be pretty sweet, because the fermentation to the alcohol didn't get above that, so there's probably some sweetness in that wine. Now if you look at the label and you see anything around 10 to 12%, then that wine is probably going to be dryer, not sweet. So just a little tip when you're shopping for Riesling; if you like your wines a little sweeter, look for the lower alcohol content, and if you like your Rieslings a little on the dry side, look for a little higher alcohol content.So now it's actually time for my favorite part of the show that I like to call, "What Would Stephanie Do?" and this is where I answer your questions here on the show. You can actually email me your questions at any time to: Today I have a question from Monica, and she writes, "Stephanie. I'm always reaching for the same bottle of Chardonnay on the wine store shelf. It's easy, dependable, and affordable, but so boring. I'd love to discover other white wines I'd enjoy, but I don't even know where to begin. Those wine shelves at the wine store are so intimidating. I've tried sampling random bottles in the past, but I haven't had any luck. How do I find more wines that are similar to the Chardonnay that I like without risking purchasing bottles that I won't like? Please help."Monica, thank you so much for writing in. I appreciate it. And you know what? I totally hear you. That wall of wine, when you walk into a wine store, can be pretty scary with no guide or road map. I mean, you wouldn't take off on a cross-country road trip without your Google Map app on, right?But you know who knows the wine shelves the best? A knowledgeable sales clerk. And that is my advice, Monica. Because you know what? Here's the truth. You can numb yourself with the same boring-as-hell Chardonnay night after night, or you can expand your horizons by simply asking a knowledgeable sales clerk for help. That is really my best advice. And you need to find a local wine retailer or two. Get to know the staff, and after going there a couple of times, you'll probably gravitate towards someone who really gets a feel for what it is you like, and they are able to guide you towards new selections.Or, I know some people would rather order wine online or they don't want to ask for help. Do some research online based on the wines that you already like and go in there with a few suggestions. And you know, you can look at other wine websites, or and you know, find a wine writer whose taste aligns with yours, get some suggestions, and go to the wine store with some suggestions in hand. And that's a great way to combine the methods: you go in there with suggestions and ask the person to guide you to wines like those. Because oftentimes, they won't have the exact wines that are recommended, but any knowledgeable wine sales clerk should be able to guide you to something similar.And that is actually another tip I wanted to bring up, for the wines that I just recommended to you in the previous section: a lot of times you're not going to be able to find those exact wines, so that's why it's so important to anybody wanting to learn about wine, to develop a great relationship with a local wine retailer, because if they don't carry that exact wine ... and sometimes you can ask them to order it, but more often the best bet is for them to guide you to something similar. Because I love to say, a favorite saying of mine is, "Give someone a bottle of wine and they drink for a day, but teach someone to shop for wine they'll drink what they like for a lifetime." So no more wasting money on bottles that you don't like, because you're going to have your own personal wine guide.And you know what, Monica? I know you can do this, and it would be such a shame to quash your urge for adventure here, so head on over to that wine store today, lady. Don't wait. Hop in the car and pop over there, and ask someone ... tell someone the style of wine you like, ask them for suggestions, and let them do their job.And if you're like Monica, honestly simply enlisting the help of a knowledgeable sales person at your local wine store, or learning about wine online and going in with suggestions can be the immediate cure for Vinus boredom, and more importantly, a road map to so many exciting discoveries.So, I hope you've enjoyed learning about white wine today, and that you might have found some inspiration and respect for this ever-so-enjoyable style of wine. And remember, the first key to enjoying and learning about wine is remaining open to new experiences. That's what it's all about my friends.So I thought the perfect quote to wrap up this episode of The Wine Atelier podcast was from Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. And if this doesn't inspire you to drink more white wine, I don't know what will. So he writes, "As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans."Thank you so much for joining me for this episode of The Wine Atelier podcast. For any resources mentioned in this show, or to sign up for my weekly newsletter, please go to Also, if you have any questions you'd like me to answer here on the show, please email them to me at: if you haven't done so already, please go ahead and hit that subscribe button. I would greatly appreciate it, and I've got so much great advice, and tips and tricks for enjoying wine in store for you. Thanks again for tuning in, and remember, life's too short to drink bad wine ~ see you next time!P.S. For my blog post on White Wine 101, please click here!

Stephanie Miskew
Stephanie Miskew