The Unheralded Pleasures of Crisp White Blends
A top-value category that’s hiding in plain sight — and perfect for spring
Emerging from a universally terrible year, one thing I’m grateful for is small wins. Finding joy in unexpected places. Questioning long-held assumptions. Making new discoveries.
My latest little thrill? Mining for hidden gems on online wine shops. That’s where I’ve discovered some truly exciting, lively white blends. But they’re not always easy to find.
Typically, wine sites are organized by variety and location. For good reason: Americans primarily buy varietal wines (e.g. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.), so that’s a dominant way to navigate through a site. Then there’s browsing by country, often with popular regions highlighted. Clicking into those regions helps to limit bottle results, but there’s a risk — missing out on beautiful, top-value wines from less popular regions, or ones that aren’t easily classified.
A while back, I stumbled onto a different way of browsing — by “All” whites or “All” whites by country. Suddenly a whole new bottle selection came into focus. That led to some awesome spring finds: Crisp white blends that defy easy classification but deliver outsized pleasure. Here’s my cheat sheet on what to look for.
The Scoop on White Blends
White blends are a completely overlooked category. For white wines in the U.S., sales of single variety wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc lead the way, while white blends are at the back of the pack. No one seems to know what to make of these wines, so they’re largely ignored. But that’s also an opportunity: A secret category waiting to be explored!
Why seek out white blends? I think of their appeal in baking terms. A baker may take the Ina Garten minimalist approach, using few ingredients and simple techniques to make a delicious chocolate cake.
Or they may opt for the Christina Tosi maximalist approach and stack that chocolate cake with ribbons of malted fudge, crunchy chocolate crumbs, and charred marshmallows to add layers of flavor and texture. To be sure, both are delicious, they’re just different approaches.
That’s the idea behind blending grapes. Blended wines have layers of flavor and textural complexity that differ from single varietal expressions. I find that exciting.
White blends are made all over the world. Some of the better-known blends are rich and full-bodied, like those from France’s Southern Rhône region (I’ve covered those here) or complex, long-lived wines like white Rioja. But hardly anyone talks about the crisp, white blends coming from around Europe.
Here are the regional styles to look for:
Gemischter Satz — These dry, lively wines are field blends, meaning they come from grapes that are co-planted, co-harvested, and fermented together. The style is traditional to Austria’s heurigen (wine taverns), and these wines may include Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Chardonnay, and Riesling, among others.
Cheverny — Made in the Loire region of France, this steely, refreshing wine is typically a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc mixed in.
Gentil — Hailing from the French region of Alsace, these blends tend to be dry, zesty, and aromatic, led by Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and Muscat, with other grapes like Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner playing supporting roles.
Collio Bianco — From the Italian region of Friuli, the wines can be made from nine different grapes, including Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. They tend to have tangy acidity, and range in flavor and weight based on the grapes used.
And there are even more: Bordeaux Blanc from France and Vinho Verde from Portugal come to mind, but I’ll be covering those in upcoming newsletters (stay tuned!).
The wines I’ve selected to highlight this week were chosen to pair with the spring vegetables I’m snapping up at the farmers’ market. Artichokes and asparagus can be a particular challenge to match with wines. The key to pairing artichokes is to go with a dry, un-oaked, acid-driven wine, as there’s a compound in artichokes that can make wines taste sweet and flabby. And with asparagus, I find that aromatic, minerally whites go best, especially those with herbal notes, which complement vegetal flavors.
These wines were so inspiring that I got out of my cooking rut and back into the kitchen. The Cheverny? Brilliant with this shortcut recipe for “oven-fried” Roman artichokes from fellow Saveur alums Ben Mims and Helen Rosner (#obsessed). The Collio Bianco? Fantastic with last night’s fluke with herb butter, alongside roasted asparagus. And the Gemischter Satz? Delish with a goat cheese-topped salad. (Next up: I’m planning to make Melissa Clark’s asparagus and goat cheese tart while there’s still some wine left). TGISpring.
Three Crisp White Blends to Try
These wines deliver top value for the price because they’re harder to classify and market. So take advantage!
Fascinatingly, this biodynamic wine is made from grapes grown within the city limits of Vienna, Austria! I can imagine sitting at a sidewalk cafe and sipping this all afternoon. It’s a refreshing, lemonade-like wine, dry and super quaffable with with lively acidity, apple and lemon zest aromas and flavors, and hints of jasmine and melon. It features 11 different grapes, including Grüner Veltliner, Weissburger, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and others.
Top value. I absolutely love this wine from the renowned natural winemaker Philippe Tessier in France’s Loire Valley. It has concentrated flavors (green apple + grapefruit + herbs) with racy acidity and steely minerality. It’s made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with a bit of the local variety Orbois. This will be my secret-weapon “unusual” wine to take to picnic this summer.
Edi Keber is a well-respected organic producer known to make wines that show the best of Italy’s Collio region, located along the Slovenian border. This wine is crisp and aromatic with notes of pears, lemons, and jasmine, alongside herbs and straw. It’s refreshing, but richly textured and surprisingly full-bodied — an intriguing contrast that comes from blending Friulano (for body and structure), Malvasia (for aromatics), and Ribolla Gialla (for acidity).