Take a delicate skip into spring with some low-key wines

A Where’s Waldo scene. Floral wallpaper. Gaudy, gold jewelery hung on every limb. Monet-like eyeshadow up to the brow. Such images in our minds highlight how something ‘too busy’ can take away from more than it complements.

Although far removed from the extremity of my cheeky contrasts above, so it is, to a certain extent, with some wines. Of amplified aromatics, they make their presence known. Neutral wines however, display a low flavour profile. Undistracting, their discretion does not beg for attention. Uncomplicated, they’re wines you don’t have to think too hard about.

This article is an ode to those of sotto voce expression: wines of a delicate nature, elusive aromas, with an almost limpid hue, and a water-like purity.

I’m not referring to downmarket under-deliverers or sagas of sun-strapped grapes, but of certain grape varieties’ own inherent attributes of being pleasingly subtle, and where their “quietness and confidence [is their] strength”.

No preferential stance on my part; this is not to spurn the potpourri of perfumy wines out there, or any of the various flavour-enhancing tools and tricks of the trade (I do enjoy a good, oaky Chardonnay). I am merely stating that sometimes the more gentle nuances of some wines can be admired.

Their effect is arguable though. Do neutral wines not demand our attention as we crane forward trying to decipher that elusive aroma? And yet, on the other hand, they possess an unobtrusive subtlety which allows our minds to freely wander – and that’s where I find an appreciation for them can blossom.

And, as springtime is upon us and with Easter around the corner, lamb aside, pairing some classic Easter dishes would not be off limits: creamy, scalloped potatoes, green peas and a warm oven-baked ham; no spices is key here. Lighter fare is the ideal match. Seafood and salads, of course, or simple pasta dishes with a light sprinkling of pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil would also do.

Interestingly, Persian cuisine – which also tends to be somewhat bland – would be especially nice; think eggplant and fresh mint or dill. However, sipping them unaccompanied is where they are truly given open mic. If you must munch on something, matching intensity with like intensity should guide you as to not overpower their reserved nature.

There are a few neutralish reds out there, but as you might imagine, the far majority are white. The heavily-oaked and the fruit bombs were in vogue not so long ago, but are now seen as being generous to a fault by many, and the reverse trend has superseded.

Purity of character is now sought-after and often through the transparent expression of one grape. Point of difference has been attained for many regions by remaining true to their traditions through native varieties, and this coincides with an overall movement towards less blends and more of a crystalline focus on single-variety wines in general.

Wine label illiterate? Familiarize yourself with the many different grapes out there by choosing varietal wines, and why not begin with some neutral ones? They’re almost incapable of untruth. As with people, affectation is often avoided one on one; a quiet entrance and an unassuming nature is often to one’s approbation, and as with accessories, sometimes less is more.

Château des Charmes Aligoté VQA, $15.95 LCBO # 296848
Jaffelin Bourgogne Aligoté AOC, $19.00 LCBO # 53868
Fari Societa Agricola Semplice Ribolla Gialla 2019, $24.15 LCBO # 918002

Bourgogne Aligoté Les Fossiles $16.45 SAQ # 14168648
Ribolla Gialla Tenuta Fernanda Cappello 2020 $16.65 SAQ # 13859818
Les Jardins de mon Père 2020, Nicolas Grosbois $18.80 SAQ # 14834321
Les Tètes Tète Nat’ 2021 (sparkling) $21.40 SAQ # 13863770
Prà Morandina Valpolicella 2020 $25.25 (red) SAQ # 12131964 (For those who prefer red wine, Valpolicella is not normally neutral, however, this biodynamic version is surprisingly discreet.)

Further intrigue can be satisfied by searching liquor store websites for where quantities last of the following comparatively neutral wines: Aligoté (sometimes labelled under the appellation Bouzeron) from Burgundy; Altesse from Savoie; a young Semillon from Hunter Valley, Australia; Ribolla Gialla from Italy’s Friuli region; Chasselas from Switzerland; Txakoli wines of Spain.

Written by Leah Beauchamp, sommelier and DipWSET (Diploma in Wine & Spirits Education Trust) candidate.