Aromatic White Wines: Everything You Need to Know

gruner veltliner and riesling in pennsylvania

White wines find their place in a number of settings these days, from pairing with appetizers and salads to accompanying an entrée of fish or roast pork either at home or one of your favorite restaurants.

Riesling & Grüner Veltliner

Two grapes that thrive in a variety of Pennsylvania vineyards are Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Both can be made into delicious, food-friendly wine, with the opportunity to consume immediately or store for months or even a couple of years to allow them to age.

Molly Kelly, the enology extension educator for Pennsylvania, says both those varieties fall into the “aromatic white” category, characterized by increased fruity, floral, and even spicey aromas/flavors.

These two white varieties are classified as aromatic because the related compounds naturally occur at high levels in the fruit. In contrast to how other white varieties are typically produced, winemaking practices such as cool fermentations, stainless steel aging, and avoidance of malolactic fermentation are often used to create a pure expression of their varietal characteristics.

White Grapes Grown in PA

Of the two grapes, Riesling is grown the most across Pennsylvania. It tends to be produced more at wineries across the northern half of the state such as Presque Isle Wine Cellars, which has made it into a number of award-winning varietals and blends. It’s located in Northeast, one of almost two dozen Pa. wineries that make up Lake Erie Wine Country.

“Riesling is a cool-climate grape and expresses optimal varietal character best in areas that are moderate in temperature,” says Bob Green, the Presque Isle winemaker and a longtime instructor of enology and viticulture classes at several Pa. schools. “What seems to drive flavor more is sunlight (as opposed to heat),” and so it also favors a longer day-to-day amount of illumination.

Riesling Varieties in Pennsylvania

Riesling is well-known for its diversity of style; traditionally, most Riesling wines are on the sweeter side but more are being made dry these days by winemakers across the state.

Says Chuck Zaleski of Fero Vineyards & Winery in Lewisburg, about 60 miles north of Harrisburg: “We have made so many Riesling styles from ultra-sweet late harvest to semi-dry to dry. It has a fruit and floral aroma.”

He’s one of several wineries across the state that makes a sparkling Riesling, and has won a variety of statewide and regional awards for several styles that he has crafted out of the grape.

Pennsylvania’s Favorite White Wines

Among the most successful producers is Galen Glen Winery in Andreas, Schuylkill County, at the northern foot of Blue Mountain. In 2017, winemaker Sarah Troxell brought one of her Rieslings to the by-invitation-only International Riesling Symposium in Germany, where it was included in one of the event’s flights.

The flavor profiles differ a bit for the two Rieslings she makes as a varietal. Her Stone Cellar Riesling features candied lemon, wet slate, and pineapple; the Fossil Vineyard Riesling includes white peach, apricot, and orange blossoms.

While Grüner Veltliner is most associated with Austria, where it’s planted more than any other grape, it’s finding another home in parts of the eastern United States, including Pennsylvania. Increasingly, wineries are finding the grape fits well with their terroir, and demand for it continues to rise as a dry wine that pairs wonderfully with Asian food, seafood, and salads.

Like the acclaim it has received for its Riesling, Galen Glen has achieved national recognition for its Grüner, becoming the first winery east of the Rocky Mountains to plant the grape in 2003. Troxell makes it as a still wine and, like Zaleski, also has made it as a sparkling. It can also be produced in a late-harvest style.

“The Comfort Food of Wines”

The flavor profile of her Grüner includes white grapefruit, white pepper, sweet pea, and passion fruit. “We strive to keep the flavor profiles consistent across vintages,” she says. “The growing season along with cultural practices influences the intensity of the aromatics.”

One of the East Coast’s biggest growers of the grape is Stony Run Winery in Breinigsville, about 25 miles southeast of Galen Glen. Owner Larry Shrawder grows more than 5 acres and sells plenty of it, largely because customers find that it’s a wine that pairs with everything. “Gruner is the comfort food of wines,” he says. “It’s a nice easy-drinking style perfect for your everyday wine.”

His Grüner offers white pepper, floral, and honeysuckle notes on the nose complemented by refreshing lemon-lime flavors and hints of green apple on the palate. Another distinguishing characteristic is minerality on the midpalate.

Fruity, Floral, and Spicy Flavors

Kelly says she has tasted many Pa.-produced high-quality, dry, aromatic whites such as Riesling and Grüner Veltliner in Pennsylvania. “I like them because not only can they be enjoyed by dry wine drinkers, but they can be the transitional wine for sweeter wine drinkers,” she says. “It is the fruity and floral aromas that make them smell/taste ‘sweet.’ I encourage consumers to try a dry aromatic white, even if they prefer sweeter wines.”

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