Creamy, rich, luscious, oily — these aren’t just textural terms to describe a decadent dish. These words are also relevant to wine.
“Texture relates to many different things in wine,” says Charles Springfield, a sommelier and wine educator in New York City who wrote the book “The Less Is More Approach to Wine.”
“It can relate to the variety of the grape, the growing conditions, techniques a winemaker may use to make it. But more than anything, texture can be a way to describe the richness, the viscosity, the style and body of the wine,” Springfield continues.
Although texture was once primarily associated with red wine to explain tannin — polyphenols found in grape skin, seeds, and stems that influence the wine’s astringency — more and more wine pros are using textural elements to communicate the mouthfeel of white wines.
All about that body
When it comes to white wines with texture, the first thing to consider is its body and weight.
- How does the wine feel in your mouth?
- Is it light, or does it feel heavy?
- Is it razor-sharp with acid, or does it feel more round?
More often than not, textural whites lean more medium- to full-bodied. The acid is there, too, but it’s more integrated and balanced, like a supporting cast member rather than the star of the show.
Springfield likes to help drinkers better understand textural white wines by using the weight and thickness of milk as a comparison.
“Most people have had some interaction with milk at some point that they can pull as a reference point. For example, the weight and the body of a Sauvignon Blanc or a Vinho Verde are really light, comparable to the lightness and thinness of skim milk. A Sauvignon Blanc is lean on the palate. Skim milk is lean too,” Springfield says.
He adds, “The complete opposite of that would be whole milk, which is denser. It’s heavier, richer, and creamier in the mouth. That’s a reference to more full-bodied wines like Chardonnay from warm regions.”
Wine Spectator’s Dr. Vinny uses food to get the point across: “Brie is creamy, while Parmigiano is crumbly. A filet mignon is more supple than a chewy rib eye. Gelato is rich and unctuous, while a sherbet is crisp. Most people prefer carbonated soda to flat, or fresh, crunchy popcorn to stale. Sometimes textures are what we do or don’t like about foods. While the range of textures in wines might seem limited, it really can help distinguish wines from each other.”
A few things winemakers do post-harvest significantly impact the texture of wine. One of the most known texture-influencing techniques is malolactic fermentation, during which bacteria convert malic acid into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This process can soften the wine, give it a smooth mouthfeel, and provide buttery, creamy complexity, and nutty, toasty flavors.
Allowing the wine to remain on the lees also builds texture. Through this process — called autolysis — yeast cells leftover from fermentation are left unfiltered, and enzymes break down the dead yeast and produce amino acids that release proteins and other compounds back into the wine while it matures. This practice can add to the wine’s weight and impart a creamy and refined texture.
Aging wines in wood barrels is also a texture enhancer and is a method that can soften the wine, although it can affect the flavor, too.
Varieties to look out for
A winemaker’s methods certainly play a part in the texture of a wine, but some grapes are just more likely to deliver creamy, viscous, and oily characters.
Chardonnay is often the first grape that comes to mind, and undoubtedly rich Burgundies and varieties from warmer regions like Chile or Napa are known for their lush texture. However, there are plenty of other options to choose from when the mood calls for a glass of something opulent.
“When I want a grape that can stand up to warmer climates and be more rich and voluptuous, I reach for white wines from Southern Rhône,” says Springfield. “Down in the Rhône Valley in France, you have grapes like white Grenache, Roussanne, Marsanne. There’s also Viognier, which makes a nice and smooth wine, especially when it’s from Condrieu.”
Springfield adds, “These wines are rich and full-bodied, smooth, silky, and lush, with well-balanced acidity. They’re great all throughout the year but especially when the weather is transitioning from winter to spring.”
What about food?
Although many styles of white wines with unique rich textures are fine to drink solo, it’s worth noting that they can be on the higher side regarding alcohol. But that makes them all the more food-friendly. And they work well alongside many dishes.
However, the best pairing partner for a textural white wine may be richer, fattier seafood.
“Drink them with something that also has a rich texture, like scallops, lobster rolls, shrimp boils with potatoes. Dishes on the richer side work well with white wines that have that heavier backbone,” says Springfield.
Bottles to try:
Loimer Langenlois Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2019 (~$23)
Produced in the Kampala region of Austria by winemaker Fred Loimer, this structured Grüner Veltliner exudes a savory character with flavors of herbs and spice and well-balanced acidity. With a backbone that can tolerate some bottle age, the wine’s texture and flavors only continue to evolve for the better over time.
Au Bon Climat Los Alamos Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2019 (~$27)
Here’s a wine with layers that continue to unfold the longer it sits in the glass. This medium-bodied Chardonnay produced by Au Bon Climat in Santa Barbara County has a textured mouthfeel supported by great stone fruit flavors. Toasted spices and coconut lead the aroma, while the finish is silky clean with a dash of acidity.
Donnafugata Sul Vulcano Etna Bianco 2019 (~$36)
“Etna Bianco wines are really cool because the wine has all these spicy elements influenced by the volcanic ash from the Mount Etna volcano,” says Springfield. This refreshing yet savory Italian Carricante produced by Donnafugata in Sicily displays white flowers and Mediterranean herb aromas. The wine is dry and complex, with herbal nuances backed by caper and olive flavors and minerality. The finish is as smooth as silk and seems to linger forever and ever.
Domaine Jessiaume Santenay 1er Cru Les Gravieres Blanc 2019 (~$39)
This rich and plush Chardonnay is the epitome of a textural white wine with its ripe apple, peach, pear, and honey aromas and flavors. Produced in Burgundy by Domaine Jessiaume, the full-bodied wine features a soft and elegant texture that feels fleshy on the palate.
Maison Brotte Versant Doré Condrieu 2020 (~$45)
Elegant and complex, this wine by Maison Brotte hails from the Condrieu region of Rhône, France. “It’s so rich and lush with a little bit of aged and dried peach, nutmeg, and vanilla flavors and an oily mouthfeel,” says Springfield. “It’s really a smooth and delicious wine.”