Most of us are creatures of habit; if we find something we like, we stick with it. It’s not a terrible philosophy, even if it is monotonous.
If you ask the majority of Cayman Islands bartenders which white wines they serve the most, the answer you’ll undoubtedly get is Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. There’s nothing wrong with those wines; each has earned its place in the international market for good reason. But drinking those same wines all the time can become tiresome.
For each of these wines you like, there are others that have similar but distinct characteristics that you’ll most likely enjoy – if you only give them a chance.
Depending on where it’s grown and how it’s made, Chardonnay can take on many different characteristics. The New World style of oaky and buttery Chardonnay has a strong following and many people who like that style would not like the stark minerality and bracing acidity of Chablis, even though Chablis is made entirely of Chardonnay grapes.
Farther south from Chablis in Burgundy is the region that produces Pouilly Fuissé. Like Chablis, Pouilly Fuissé is made entirely of Chardonnay grapes, but the similarities end there. Unlike most Chablis, Pouilly Fuissé is oaked and because the grapes are grown in a warmer climate, the wine has more fruit flavors. If you’re a New World Chardonnay fan, chances are you’ll like Pouilly Fuissé, a friendly wine that is less ostentatious than its New World cousins.
One to try: Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuissé. Compared to New World Chardonnays under $50, Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuissé is more elegant and precise, but it is still a very easy-to-drink wine that will pair with a wide variety of foods.
Beyond Chardonnay, there are other grapes that have similar characteristics. Chenin Blanc, like Chardonnay, is a versatile grape that can be used to produce a wide palette of wine styles. Because of its high acidity, it is often used to make sparkling wines, just like Chardonnay. When that acidity is softened through malolactic fermentation and then aged in oak, Chenin Blanc can take on very similar flavors to New World Chardonnay.
One to try: Indaba Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is South Africa’s most important white wine. Indaba Chenin Blanc is partially oaked to produce a rich and creamy wine with lots of lush fruit flavors – just like New World Chardonnay – at a very affordable price point.
Up until recent decades, Viognier was mainly used in French white wine blends, particularly in the Rhone Valley. However, it is increasingly being used throughout the world as a single varietal wine. It has the similar body, creamy texture, tropical fruit flavors and acidity of Chardonnay, but with added intense floral aromas. It is sometimes oaked, which adds vanilla flavors to the wine.
One to try: Darioush Signature Viognier. A stunning example of California single-varietal Viognier, this is an intensely flavored and aromatic wine that is partially fermented and aged in French oak barrels. It’s priced about the same as a good bottle of Napa Valley Chardonnay.
For the past couple of decades, New World Sauvignon Blanc has become the go-to white wine for many people in Cayman and for good reason: It’s light, it’s fruity, it’s refreshing, all of which means it pairs well with Cayman’s climate and cuisine.
There are several other good white wines out there that have the same characteristics of New World Sauvignon Blanc, but with a little more restraint. You can start with the French versions of the white wine – Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé – from the Loire Valley. Both are made entirely of Sauvignon Blanc and have more nuanced aromas than the over-powering New World versions of the wine.
One to try: Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Blanc. A fruity, fresh and vibrant expression of Sauvignon Blanc that is easy to drink, but still has elegance and finesse.
A different wine Sauvignon Blanc lovers should try is Verdejo, which mostly comes from Spain’s Rueda region. Many Spanish wineries are investing significant resources into Verdejo plantings because of its potential as the next big white wine on the global market. Verdejo has very similar aromas and acidity levels to Sauvignon Blanc, with a little more body, making it a versatile wine for food pairings.
One to try: Bodegas Juan Gil “Arindo” Verdejo. Cheap and cheerful with good acidity and flavors of pineapple and mango, this wine is perfect for a hot day by the pool or sitting at the oceanside bar.
The mass-produced Pinot Grigio wines from Italy are popular not so much because of what they are, but because of what they aren’t. There is virtually nothing offensive about Pinot Grigio unless you happen to find a lack of taste complexity offensive. These wines are light, crisp and refreshing and super easy to drink. But not all Pinot Grigio in Italy is made in the way of the big producers, nor is it made that way in other parts of the world, where it is known as Pinot Gris.
One to try: Elk Cove Pinot Gris. It is bright and refreshing, with lemon and pineapple aromas, a soft texture, and flavors of melons and citrus.
Looking for other “what’s not to like?” wines, Albariño from Spain fits the bill. Light, tangy and juicy with floral and stone-fruit aromatics, Albariño makes a natural pairing with sushi and all kinds of cooked seafood.
One to try: Paco & Lola Albariño. From the Rias Baixas region of Spain, everything about Paco & Lola Albariño is fun, from the name of the winery and polka-dotted bottle label, to the sweet aromas of flowers and intense fruits on the palate. A great food pairing wine.
Another wine to try if you like Italian Pinot Grigio comes from farther south in Italy, in Campania. Falanghina is an ancient grape of Greek origin, but it has found a home in the volcanic soils around Mount Vesuvius, which imparts a distinctive minerality base in the wines. It is medium-bodied with good acidity and pairs well with seafood, as well as pasta and rice dishes.
One to try: Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina. With intense aromas of tropical fruits, apples, pears and white flowers, this is an elegant, yet inexpensive white wine with the versatility to carry an entire meal that does not include red meat.