Off-brand whites

Please, try something besides chardonnay. In 2006, almost one out of every four wine dollars was spent on chardonnay. That not only makes it the top-selling varietal in the U.S., according to The Nielsen Company, with almost twice the sales of cabernet sauvignon, but puts chardonnay so far ahead of every other white wine that it’s kind of spooky.

In the Nielsen report, consumers bought three times as much chardonnay as pinot grigio and pinot gris, and six times as much chardonnay as saugvinon blanc. Riesling was barely mentioned, and viognier and gewurtztraminer weren’t even counted. Now, the Wine Curmudgeon loves chardonnay as much as the next oenophile, but enough is enough. There is more white wine than chardonnay.

How has this happened? Some of it, certainly, has to do with pronunciation. Chardonnay is easier to say, which means it gets ordered more often in restaurants. Some of it is style. Not only is most chardonnay fruit-forward and easy to drink (with less citrusy flavors), but it’s consistent There are differences between producers and regions, but chardonnay is pretty much chardonnay regardless of who makes it and where it’s from. That isn’t true for pinot grigio and gris, for example, where it’s sometimes difficult to believe the Italians and Alsatians use the same grape.

But that doesn’t mean you need to drink chardonnay all the time. The next time you reach for the usual, think about one of these:

Gainey Riesling 2006 ($10). I was pleasantly surprised by this California label, which is just a touch sweet (or, as it’s called in the trade, off-dry). It has riesling’s characteristic floral aromas, with a bit of peach-like flavor. Serve this chilled with spicy Chinese or Thai food, and it should even work with roasted turkey.

White Knight Viognier 2006 ($13). Viognier, a Rhone grape often used for blending, has had fair success as a varietal in the U.S. This California wine is dry, but very soft without any harsh tannins or oak. Look for the orange-ish bouquet and a peach pit kind of finish. Serve chilled with chicken braised in white wine, using this for the wine.

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2006 ($17). This dry white from South Africa, which is fruitier (think tropical flavors) than its French counterpart and doesn’t have the earthy funkiness that plagues so many South African wines. Serve it chilled with roast pork loin and apples.

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