Monthly Dozen: European White Wines
by Jane Garvey
Savannah, Christian Depken operates a most out-of-the-box kind
of retail wine operation. There is no sexy merchandising. Depken’s
bicycle—he eschewed automobile transport some years ago—hangs
on a wall, ready to bear him home. The most lavish appointment
in the space is a fine new computer with a huge screen. There’s
a sofa. And some modern art, the work of girlfriend Katrina
Schmidt-Rinke? He wears neither tie nor jacket. He doesn’t need
For the past half dozen years, Christian Depken has been a Savannah
leading voice for “Old World” wines. It’s a position—indeed
a passion—he’s come to after years in the restaurant business
and finding that big, over-extracted, alcoholic, over-oaked
wines just don’t go with food. But the more restrained, evolved
fruit of European wines, he found, worked easily with food.
While on balance that is accurate, the more robustly flavored
new world foods—from the southern hemisphere to the northern—seem
to need the more robustly flavored wines to go with them. For
instance, a Sancerre doesn’t handle Asian food nearly as well
as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc does (although a Riesling certainly
Thus, unique to most markets, Depken only sells European wines.
It’s a tough niche, but he makes filling it seem, if not easy,
certainly comfortable. Perhaps even inevitable. The task no
longer breaks a sweat for him, for he has a good kitbag of customers
who trust him explicitly.
Depken is fussy about what goes into the small space he has
for storing wine, which is both humidity (70%) and temperature
(55º) controlled. But don’t think that all of it is high price
tag wine, either. He’s out for value.
As we sit down to talk about European wines, we talk about the
rationale for his business plan. He says he’s tasted every wine
that’s in the chai, and if a wine doesn’t pass muster with his
palate, it doesn’t get in the door. Period.
I can identify with that process. What governs his decision
making is pretty much the same rationale that drives this column:
What pleases this palate goes forward in print. And like Depken,
I’m finding that Old World wines go with food almost effortlessly,
in fact, except for more exuberantly flavored dishes.
This summer, take a moment (even if you’re a red-wine enthusiast)
to sample some of Europe’s white wines. Explore beyond the regions
and grape types you’re accustomed to, and sample what you might
find in Eastern Europe. Greece produces some outstanding white
wines, perfect for summer’s enjoyment. I’ve not included in
this line-up some of my favorites, but don’t overlook them:
Muscadet (from the Loire Valley), especially when done sur lie;
Grüner Veltliner from Austria (so good with sushi); Viura and
Parellada from Spain; and so many from Italy that aren’t mentioned
here, especially Inzolia from Sicily, its native soil. Also
from France, check out white Chateauneuf du Pape, splendid with
salads, smoked or grilled salmon and heftier dishes. In fact,
I find this especially useful with the “red wine only” crowd,
as they’re amazed to discover a white wine they can enjoy with
enthusiasm. Look, too, for dessert wines made with some of these
grapes, such as Riesling or Garganega, the grape of Soave. A
recioto di Soave (Anselmi) and summer fruits work perfectly
for warm weather.
For serving white wines, choose (generally) a medium-sized tulip-shaped
glass, although white Burgundy needs something more generously
proportioned, such as glasses you would use for Pinot Noir.
Don’t serve white wines too cold, a common practice in this
country but one that should be banned. Serve a white wine too
cold, and you won’t smell or taste anything. Keep them around
cellar temperature, in fact, 55F/13C.