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‘All white now,’ made with red grapes

When we think about white wines, we usually think about them being made from green-skinned grapes. And in most instances, that is the case. The grapes are pressed, the skins removed, white wine happens.

But not always. Since the late 17th century, Blanc de Noirs Champagne has been made from pinot noir or pinot meunière, both red varietals. The skins are indeed removed, and while this is common practice in making these sparkling wines, using red grapes to create still white wines is not as common, but emergent in the imaginative wine world.

But why? What comes through when drinking red grapes vinified into white wine to make it important enough for the extra work involved? It seems it may come down to two main qualities — the essence of the wine, and the texture it imparts onto the white wine.

Rob Folin owner/winemaker of Ryan Rose Wine and the winemaker at Belle Fiore Winery, has a 2020 Ryan Rose Mourvèdre Blanc that presents as “all white now.” Gone are the dark berries, earthiness and bold, full-bodied flavors characteristic of mourvèdre. Present is an incredible mouthfeel, with a poise of caramel on the mid-tongue. The color is pale straw, slightly over vintaged and aged in neutral French oak. On the palate, there’s a sense of butter, similar to chardonnay — but there’s something different, sporting a citrus cream texture, tinged with a seep of wet clay. Folin says, “It smells like older barrels, but lack of barrel spice, with a subtleness that’s more minimalistic. There’s mourvèdre tannins that are adding to the back-of-the-tongue-kind of grittiness.”

Folin doesn’t particularly like “tannic” and says “I hate acid.” But words you will hear him use are viscosity and texture. “The mouthfeel is always thought of: It’s well-conceived. Viscous, a viscosity to it. A kind of mouth coating, it doesn’t have to be tannic, it doesn’t have to be acidic,” he says.

He also explores using the white wine as a learning tool for the flavor essence of the grape.

“I would like to do every varietal as a white wine at some point. Removing the skin tannin, anything coming from the skin, you’ve removed it. So this is like a skinny margarita, a skinny version of what the core components are of the mourvèdre from this vintage … to use the white as the basis of the red grape, kind of like its core components. You can’t hide anything in a white wine. They show everything. They’re just walking around naked.”

This wine can be found at Catalyst Wine Collective and Red Lily Vineyards and is the last of the Folin mourvèdre wines.

Also of note are two by Grizzly Peak Winery. The 2017 and 2018 Reserve White Cabernet Franc. Opening notes of peach and nectarine move into a slick flavor of stone fruit mid-palate, and a delicate lemon finish. They also have a 2017 and 2018 White Tempranillo. It’s deeper, richer in texture, and more savory with a finish of bitter apricot. Both of these wines are aged in neutral oak. They also each present the underlying vegetal taste that is part of the distinctive Grizzly Peak terroir. You can find them at the Grizzly Peak tasting room and The Urban Cork.

Reach Paula Bandy at pbthegrapevine@gmail.com and connect with her on Instagram at @pbthroughthegrapevine.