It is an innately human tendency to gravitate toward the familiar in the hopes of finding comfort and consistency. This tendency applies to all types of behavior, including the wines we choose to drink. Guess what? Comfort and consistency can get—how do I put this mildly?–stale. Wine should be about adventure and discovery and should transport you, albeit virtually, to a romantic, idyllic place where vineyards extend for miles and all that’s important in life is the pleasure of the moment. So if you’re ready to get out of your white wine rut and try something new, you’re in the right place!
Love reds? Check out Get Out of Your Red Wine Rut!
To use this guide, simply browse the list below, find the grape variety (i.e., sauvignon blanc, chardonnay or pinot grigio) that you tend to drink most often, and explore the funky and offbeat alternatives listed below it.
If you love sipping on sauvignon blanc, these three wines will be right up your alley.
The region of Rías Baixas on Spain’s western coastline is home to the albariño grape, which makes the perfect alternative to sauvignon blanc. Albariños typically feature brilliant flavors of lemon and grapefruit, which serve as the perfect acid-driven complement to fresh seafood, be it oysters from the raw bar or whole-roasted flaky fish like branzino or striped bass. Think of albariño as a much-needed lemon squeeze on any food that could use a boost of citrusy brightness.
This Italian iteration of pinot blanc, which is prolific in the Alsace region of France, takes on a crisper, more citrusy expression in the northern Italian regions of Alto Adige, the Veneto and Friuli. The best examples of Italian pinot bianco share sauvignon blanc’s piercing citrus, gooseberry and grass notes, and like sauvignon blanc, are vinified primarily in stainless steel, which yields clean, refreshing wines that pairs wonderfully with green salads, shellfish and white-fleshed fish dishes.
This incredibly aromatic grape, which like sauvignon blanc, is native to the Loire Valley in France, is the country’s unsung hero and tends to get much more attention from sommeliers and the wine press than it does from consumers. It’s a real shame, since chenin blanc is one of the world’s most captivating and versatile white grapes, yielding gorgeous, mineral wines that possess nervy acidity, a characteristic nose of honeysuckle flowers, and pretty flavors of citrus, apricot and peach. Look for examples from the regions of Vouvray, Savennières, Saumur and Anjou. Chenin blanc is often made in a demi-sec or slightly sweet style, so look for the word “sec” on the label if you’re looking for a dry wine.
This northern Rhone grape is the perfect next step for chardonnay lovers since it yields wines that recall chardonnay’s typically rich texture and broad mouthfeel. Viognier is generally a bit oilier on the palate and more floral than chardonnay and tends to display ripe flavors of peach and apricot. Most examples you’ll see hail from the northern Rhone in France, particularly from the regions of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet, but many less pricy examples can be found in France’s Languedoc. California’s Central Coast puts out many lovely examples as well. Viognier makes an excellent white wine pairing for lighter-style meats such as roasted chicken, pork tenderloin or veal cutlets.
The northern Rhone in France is also home to many full-bodied white wines that combine the local grapes marsanne and roussane. These round and fleshy wines share chardonnay’s opulent texture and, like most California chardonnays, are typically aged in oak. Like viognier, marsanne/roussane blends have become quite prolific in California’s warm Central Coast and pair very nicely with lighter style meats or with dishes that feature cream-based sauces.
This obscure white grape thrives in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northern Italy and also in Slovenia, where it goes by the name “rebula,” although its origins are Greek. Wines made from ribolla gialla are much more floral and mineral in character than they are fruity. They tend to possess a very distinct waxy texture that attributes nice richness and weight in the mouth and are oftentimes aged in either new or neutral oak barrels.
If you’re a fan of pinot grigio, give these grape varieties a go.
This native Austrian variety makes an extremely lively alternative to pinot grigio, which can often be a bit neutral in flavor and thin in texture. Grüner veltliners are usually quite lean, linear and mineral in style, and show textbook aromas of white pepper and lemon rind. Look for examples that hail from the regions of Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal in Austria.
This dynamic white grape is indigenous to the Greek island of Santorini and is one of the major reasons Greece is now considered to be a world-class grape growing region. The best examples of assyrtiko are characterized by a briny, mouthwatering and mineral-edged salinity that comes from the maritime climate in which assyrtiko is grown. Wines made from assyrtiko are typically bright and bold in the mouth and show vivacious notes of grapefruit, lemon peel, chalky minerals and tangy passion fruit.
Melon de Bourgogne
Melon is the exclusive grape used in the fabulous yet vastly overlooked wines of Muscadet in France’s Loire Valley. These wines can easily be had for under $15 and are the perfect aperitif wine with oysters on the half shell or with any other form of fresh shellfish. Like assyrtiko, most Muscadets feature an appetizing briny quality and are very high in acid.
Editor’s Note: Have you tried any of these offbeat whites? If so, what are some of your favorite pairings? Let’s hear it!
Etty Lewensztain is the owner of Plonk Wine Merchants, an online shop focused on small-production, artisanal and altogether great cheap wine. The food- and wine- obsessed Los Angeles native cut her teeth in the wine biz running a marketing campaign to promote Chilean wine in the United States, and is certified by the esteemed Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the American Sommelier Association. Plonk Wine Merchants specializes in hidden gems from around the globe and every bottle in the store is priced below $30. Follow Plonk Wine Merchants on Twitter @ PlonkOnline.