White wine often become synonymous with the similarly alliterative ‘horrific hangover’.
White has a bad reputation for getting us too drunk because its cheapest iterations have homogenised into a ‘wine-flavoured’ wine, with high levels of acidity and sugar making it easy to drink. Additionally, pubs and bars often serve white wine straight from the same fridge where beers and ciders are stored. Though it is best served chilled, its flavours become reduced when served cooler than 8 degrees, so we’re better able to knock it back at a rate of knots.
It can literally leave a bad taste in your mouth too, with the acidity levels increasing sickness feelings in a hangover and the extra sugar possibly increasing energy levels while drunk.
So how to fall back in love with white wine? One way is to mix up the usual suspects. Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were the most popular grape styles sold in the UK in 2015, but they’re only a snapshot of the huge range available.
With this in mind, we asked the experts to recommend some tasty alternatives to be gently sipped or enjoyed with food. Read on for white wine inspiration.
Picpoul de Pinet
Picpoul is slowly invading the bar and restaurant scene, thanks to its fresh taste and perfect balance of fruity flavours mixed with its dry body. If you don’t know where to start with expanding your white wine horizons, Picpoul is the ideal upgrade from ‘wine-flavoured wine’. Grown in the South of France, it matches perfectly with fish and seafood dishes, but is also enjoyable with white meats and vegetarian food.
Try: Cuvee Ressac Picpoul de Pinet 2015, £9.50, Marks & Spencer
As well as being a really fun word to say, Gewürztraminer a truly alternative white wine. It is one for those with a sweet tooth, often carrying honey and lychee flavours alongside a full body and is something of a ‘Marmite’ product amongst wine drinkers. Virgin Wines’ experts say: “A spicy white grape worth experiencing if you haven't already been converted. Undoubtedly the most powerfully scented white grape. A clever concoction that somehow carries a shed load of fruit whilst maintaining pure finesse.”
Try: Cave de Turckheim Gewurztraminer Sables et Galets 2014, £13.99, Virgin Wines
Just across the Channel, there are hundreds of overlooked French whites and Muscadet is just one. It is often aged on the lees (without filtering out the yeast that is left from fermentation) giving it a biscuit-y taste too. Aldi’s wine experts say: “Similar to many popular Sauvignons, Muscadets are exceptionally dry and citrusy. If you like your whites crisp and lively, this is a great choice. Enjoy with seafood, fish and even sushi.”
Try: Exquisite Muscadet Sevre et Maine, £4.99, Aldi
OK, you caught us, here’s a Chardonnay. Chardonnay is the best of wines and the worst of wines – its cheap embodiments are the ones that practically give you a hangover on the first sip, but this extra-versatile grape can be grown anywhere and the Burgundy-based region of Chablis produces oaky whites that are light years from the cheap glass in the pub. Rob Graves, head of wine and food buying at Harvey Nichols, says: “Restrained yet complex, our eponymous wine displays hallmark aromas suggestive of apples, citrus fruit and honeyed toast with an accompanying hint of minerality.”
Try: Harvey Nichols Chablis 2012, £20, Harvey Nichols
Chenin Blanc is fast catching up on the big three as a well-known white, but a large part of its popularity relies on how different it tastes grown in different climates – cooler climates produce a sharpness, but with a mixture of fruit flavours. Anne Jones, Waitrose wine buyer, says: “Chenin Blanc is a real chameleon, and when it's from a warm climate it will appeal to Chardonnay lovers, and when it's from a cool climate, it leans more towards Sauvignon in style.”
Try: Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, Montlouis Les Dix Arpents 2014, £17.99, Waitrose
Meanwhile, in hot climates Chenin Blanc is full of flavour, mixing stone-fruit flavours amongst its typical dry characteristics. It pairs well with meats and cheeses, but is also enjoyable on its own. Diego Muntoni, OXO Restaurant’s head sommelier, says: “South Africa is blessed with a new wave of young talented winemakers that are aiming for quality rather than quantity. Run by husband and wife team Chris and Suzaan, Alheit Vineyards specialises in finding very old and interesting bush vines of Chenin Blanc. They reached cult status with their maiden vintage of Cartology in 2011.”
Try: Cartology 2014, £31, Harvey Nichols
If you like dry whites, this is for you. This grape is almost exclusively found in the Austrian Thermen region, where the cool climate gives it acidic lemon and lime hints as well as an unusual aromatic mix of flavours. Anne Jones, Waitrose wine buyer, says: “You'll often get better value out of wines that aren't as well known on a global level, thanks to the universal rules of supply and demand.”
Try: Heinrich Hartl Rotgipfler 2011, £17.99, Waitrose
This Spanish grape produces light but fruity wines, which often have a level of sweetness that make them perfect for richer food pairings. Jane, wine seller, Majestic Isle of Wight, says: “A citrussy refreshing wine with a Golden Delicious crunch. As the label depicts this is a perfect match for octopus and other seafoods.”
Try: Bienbebido Pulpo Albariño 2015, £6.99, Majestic
Italy has so much more to offer us on the wine front than Pinot Grigio and Prosecco. This grape from the north of Italy has the fresh taste we’ve come to expect from Italian whites, but with mineral and tropical fruit flourishes. Anne Jones, Waitrose wine buyer says: “You may not have heard of the Arneis variety before, but that doesn't mean it's not utterly delicious. Arneis is one of Italy's hidden treasures – elegant and fresh yet rich, it's wonderful with most fish, including roast salmon with a herby, creamy sauce.”
Try: Malvirà Roero Arneis 2014, £10.49, Waitrose
Rieslings originate from the Alsace and Germany wine regions, but have enjoyed success grown in Australia and New Zealand too. Typically light and slightly sweet in taste, they match well with all sorts of foods. Alex Davies, wine buyer for Virgin Wines, says: “The name is a reference to the wine’s suitability to spicy Asian cuisine and hot, tropical beaches, two settings where you might overlook an Old World, ancient wine style. But this is perfect for both, the slight sweetness and lime character perfectly matches the chilli and citrus of lots of Asian dishes.”
Try: Hiestand Asia de Cuba Riesling 2015, £12.99, Virgin Wines
Viognier is a traditionally French grape, which gives smoother flavours than the Burgundy whites that France is famous for. It has recently escaped to the New World, where its light style makes a great alternative to Chardonnay. Philip, wine seller, Majestic St Albans, says: “This is a remarkable combination of rich stone-fruit flavours combined with delicate floral notes and just a hint of spice on the finish.”
Try: Almos Uco Valley Viognier 2015, £6.99, Majestic
Yes, Rioja wines are typically red, but the region also makes delightfully flavoursome white wines. They’re typically aged in oak barrels to give them a refined taste and full body. Natasha Hughes, Master of Wine, says: “This Capellania is a particular treat. An elegant wine that’s almost as much about its silky texture as it is about restrained fruit (pineapples, with a twist of grapefruit) and its subtle oak spice. This is the kind of wine that turns a simple roast chicken into a special occasion.”
Try: Marques de Murrieta’s Blanco Capellania 2011, £14.95, The Wine Society
An English wine! This pale grape produces a very light wine thanks to England’s notoriously cool climate, but includes tropical fruit notes to make it seem a bit more international. Elizabeth Kelly, English Wine Buyer for Marks and Spencer, says: “Bacchus is England’s alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. It has a similar aromatic character with vibrant notes of citrus jumping out of the glass. This one is from a single vineyard in Lamberhurst in Kent made by one of England’s top producers, Chapel Down.”
Try: Lamberhurst Estate Bacchus Reserve 2015, £14, Marks & Spencer