Pinot Grigio offers lemony refreshment. Chardonnay is a luscious complement to poultry and grilled seafood. Sauvignon Blanc smacks the palate with bracing herbality.
These three white grapes account for the lion's share of American white wine drinking. But wine lovers who venture past the wide retail aisles and dog-eared wine lists may discover a tiny bin or pristine page alternatively called "Alternative," "Unique," or "Interesting Whites."
Ross' choiceGruner Veltliner "Hugo"
Ÿ Suggested retail and availability: About $10 at liquor chains, specialty grocers and wine and spirits shops (distributed by Pure Wine Co., Bensenville)
In Vienna, this user-friendly version of Austria's signature grape is served in sidewalk cafes with assorted sausages, pickled veggies and salads, crusty bread and mustard. Along yourstrasse, add international fare to the menu, including guacamole and chips, hummus and pita and of course (Vienna) hot dogs on toasted buns with relish and mustard. With light but plump body and dry-ish flavors of orange fruits sprinkled with white pepper, this entry-level Gruner is a unique alternative to Pinot Grigio and great introduction to much pricier wines of Austria.
Here are a few of my favorite alternative, unique and interesting whites:
Pinot Blanc (PEE-no BLAHNCK) is the white-skinned cousin of gray-skinned Pinot Gris and black Pinot Noir. First observed in France's Burgundy region, the vines were originally misidentified as Chardonnay, as was the relatively full-bodied and apple-y wine, that nonetheless never attained Chardonnay's elegance.
Today, Pinot Blanc has its own identity and plenty of monikers. It's Pinot Bianco in Italy and Weissburgunder in Austria. Sometimes it's even called Klevner in France's Alsace where the grape's high acidity brightens flavorful Alsatian dishes including onion tart and flammekueche, a thin-crust pizza-like pastry topped with bacon, white onions and crème fraîche as well as classic with egg-based dishes, such as quiche, frittatas and souffles.
Domaines Schlumberger "Les Princes Abbes' Pinot Blanc (France, less than $15): Dry and bracing with accents of mango, orange and citrus zest, with pleasingly tart finish.
Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc (California, less than $15): Pinot Blanc warms up to California sunshine with off-dry peach and kiwi flavors, nearly Chardonnay-rich mouth feel and balanced acidity.
While Pinot Blanc adapts successfully throughout world, Albarino (AL-bar-REEN-nyo) excels only in a damp and dreary corner of northwest Spain called Rias Baixas.
Sea encroaches land in the form of five estuaries (rias), bathing vineyards in cool Atlantic mists. While other crops succumb to mildew, thick-skinned Albarino translates fog into sun-filled flavors compared to orange zest and peach with fleshy texture defined by bracing acidity.
Don't fight the logic of serving Albarino with shellfish, mollusks and sushi. The scallop is a symbol of the Way of St. James to nearby Santiago de Compostela and seared sea scallops with saffron is often enjoyed with Albarino by less-than aesthetic pilgrims.
Burgans Albarino (Spain, less than $15): A juicy, friendly style, with lemon curd and tropical flavors, supple texture and satisfying finish. While tiptop Albarinos are produced in minuscule amounts, Burgans is the best, widely available example.
Don Alegario Albarino (Spain, limited availability): Long, lean and graceful flavors of orange zest, raw almonds and minerals and extended finish. (Spritz orange zest oils into the glass for exciting enhancement!) Small production, available in restaurants only (distributed through Wirtz Beverage Group, Glen Ellyn).
Crossing south into Portugal's Costa Verde ("green coast") Albarino changes its name to Alvarinho and changes its character from elegance to the light, citrusy refreshment in the wine called Vinho Verde.
Immediate gratification is Vinho Verde's strong suit, served like adult lemonade -- cool in spring and chilled to slush when the temperature soars -- with dishes suitable to back porches, boats and beaches.
Freshness is essential to Vinho Verde; in fact, the wine should retain a touch of spritz from fermentation. Unlike Albarino, Vinho Verde is widely available. Look for top-sellers Casal Garcia (less than $10) and the Whole Foods Market exclusive Orlana ($7.99.)
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.