Picky wine drinkers – we all know them. Dear Aunt Barbara who only drinks Pinot Grigio, sweet cousin Julie who insists on White Zinfandel, and next-door neighbor Bob who hates everything but Chardonnay may all lack a sense of vinous adventure, but as your guests they deserve to be happy! The easiest solution would be to simply make sure you have such “go-to” crowd-pleasing bottles on hand. But this approach might prove problematic if your guest list also includes those with more discriminating palates, and you don’t need the confusion of seven or eight different bottles cluttering up the dinner table.
Fortunately, we have a solution! Here are some alternative choices that might just please everyone from picky wine drinkers to adventurous. Granted, getting some folks to try something new can require a bit of finesse (if not outright trickery). But the reward of pleasing everyone -- while introducing fussy Aunt Barbara to a new wine she actually ends up liking -- makes it well worth the effort.
“I only drink Pinot Grigio.”
Aunt Barbara is not alone. Pinot Grigio has become enormously popular and in fact is the number one imported varietal in the U.S. by volume. Why do people like it? It’s mild, crisp, easy to drink and quite refreshing. The downside is that many of them taste boringly like lemon water, albeit with a bit of a kick. Here are some great alternatives that will still give your Pinot Grigio lover what they’re looking for.
Try South African Chenin Blanc. While oaked, fuller-bodied versions can be found, for our Pinot Grigio lover, we’re looking at those with little or no oak and a crisp, fresh character. The Kloof Street Chenin from Mullineux Family Wines is a fine example, and the one from Indaba is a terrific value. Another option is Gruner Veltliner. Also fresh and tangy, these often carry notes of white and yellow fruits, along with a green, peppery character reminiscent of arugula. Pratsch and Nigl Freiheit produce tasty versions.
“White Zinfandel, please.”
Cousin Julie evidently has a bit of a sweet tooth, and obviously she’s not alone either! White Zinfandel may not be as ubiquitous as it was in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, but it is still well known and remains a “gateway wine” for some young drinkers, many of whom eventually move on to drier and more structured wines. It makes a pleasant aperitif and is a fine accompaniment to spicy fare. That said, White Zin is not very complex and will not pair well with many other types of food. Consider these alternate options.
A medium sweet Riesling can be a big hit. That sweetness combined with ripe peach, pear and lime flavors plus balancing acidity make these both delicious and flexible with food. The Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select is a good value, and the Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett is an excellent bottling from Germany’s Mosel region. But if the wine absolutely must be pink, try a Rosé from Provence. While crisper and drier than White Zin, these wines have a delightful strawberry and peach character together with inherent food-friendliness. Whispering Angel from Chateau d’Esclans is wonderful, as is the Aix Rosé.
“I’ll have Chardonnay.”
Bob loves his Chardonnay, and so do millions more. It is the most popular white wine – not only in the United States, but in the world. When made in that classic “California style,” it is rich, buttery, oaky and opulent—what some call a butterscotch bomb. This style is still in vogue but has given rise to the “ABC” movement, as in “anything but chard.” If you’re looking to please both camps, take a look at these ideas.
White Rhône blends, utilizing some or all of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, and Clairette, can be a great alternative. These are often full-bodied and lushly-textured, offering a complex range of flavors that can include oak influence. An excellent California version is the Carol Shelton Coquille Blanc, while an outstanding true Rhône example is the Chateau Vaudieu Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc.
“Any red is fine … but no Merlot.”
Yes, it’s true; the “Sideways Effect” has not fully dissipated. All these years later there are still those who won’t be caught dead ordering any @#%! Merlot. There are so many exceptional examples available that this time I’m not bothering with alternatives. These bottlings are sure to impress – just don’t tell your Merlot hater what’s in his glass.
The Browne Family Merlot from Washington’s Columbia Valley is a winner, as are any number of fine California examples, like those from Keenan, Duckhorn, and Markham. If you’re looking for a nice value, try the Merlot from Cannonball or Sterling. These deliver a nice mouthful of fruit with the structure to hold it together.
Whether you’re hosting a holiday feast or any other type of meal, these suggestions should afford you the opportunity to make everybody happy!