I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs as an Eagles fan, part of that notorious hardscrabble, bleeding-green fan base whose behavior sometimes borders on hooliganism. While Eagles fanatics hate every other team's fans, there was a special disdain for supporters of the California teams, such as the San Francisco 49ers. From a young age, I was keenly aware that laid-back 49ers fans were to be called "chardonnay sippers," the word chardonnay spat like a curse.
The implication was clear: "Real men" do not drink white wine.
Of course, as I grew up and began to prefer wine to PBR and found myself more often at bars with extensive wine lists than at raucous tailgates, my appreciation of white wine grew dramatically. Times have changed, and plenty of guys now drink Riesling and albariño and, yes, chardonnay from places like Chablis or Montrachet. Yet there is a significant portion of men who are still resistant to white wines. I've had friends who work in finance suggest that it would be career suicide to even broach the idea of ordering a white wine at a business dinner.
This is a shame. After all, some of the greatest, most sought-after wines in the world are dry whites. Consider Domaine Leflaive, in Burgundy, whose Montrachet Grand Cru fetches over $5,000 a bottle (if you can find it; try Hong Kong). I'd guess few men would mind being called a "chardonnay sipper" if they were poured a glass of that. If $5,000 is a little too pricey, there's Weingut Keller G-Max 2009, a dry Riesling from Germany's Rheinhessen— a double magnum sold for over $4,000 several years ago.
White wine also suits the man who knows the value of being understated, interesting, and surprising. Today, real men know that white wines can often offer more intrigue and complexity than red.
My father's generation would scarcely consider cellaring white over red. But faced with astronomical prices, I'm seeing younger collectors move away from the classic reds of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, and Brunello, and begin to stock their cellars with Rieslings from Germany and Austria, pinot gris from Alsace, chenin blanc from the Loire Valley, pinot blanc from Alto Adige, and look to aged examples of indigenous grapes like grüner veltliner and garganega.
I'm also beginning to see more people seek out higher-quality white wine, to look for more special reserve bottlings, and to demand whites that can be aged for years. For $60 to $80 on a restaurant wine list, you can find whites that offer better value than any red you could find at double that price. For $25 and above on the retail shelf, you can be drinking the best white wines in the world. And if some knucklehead calls you a chardonnay sipper? Just laugh and say, "Absolutely."
Here are six great whites to change your red wine bias:
Domaine Leflaive's Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières 2011. Burgundy, France. $200. Elegant, fresh, and intense, this is the affordable label of the famed Montrachet house (at a fraction of its $5,000 grand cru).
Patrick Piuze Chablis Grand Cru Bougros 2014. Burgundy, France. $75. Lively and rich, with notes of lemon and crushed seashell. Though not as prestigious as Montrachet, good Chablis will still age nicely for at least a decade or more.
Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon 2009. Loire Valley, France. $35. Savennières, in the Loire, produces chenin blanc–based wines that have been called "demanding" and "the thinking man's wine." This one is intense and captivating, a big ripe golden apple rolled in salted butter and almonds, with an amazingly long finish.
Hirsch Grüner Veltliner Lamm Reserve 2013. Kamptal, Austria. $60. Don't fear the umlaut. Austria's grüner veltliner isn't an obscure fad, but one of the world's classics. The Lamm Reserve, with rich, deep flavors of fleshy pear and apricot, white pepper, and sage, is elegant and insanely delicious. Best wine you can drink with sushi.
Clusel-Roch Condrieu Verchery 2014. Rhône, France. $60. Condrieu is an area of France's Rhône Valley where wines are made with 100 percent viognier, a grape that's intriguing and strange (in a good way). Like a beautiful, ripe melon garnished with herbs that's been dropped into a crystal-blue, tropical bay.
Inama Soave Classico Vigneto du Lot 2013. Veneto, Italy. $25. Soave, made from garganega, used to mean thin, cheap plonk wine, but not anymore. This is a serious, burgundy-like wine, full-bodied and steely, with flowers, fruit, and almond, but also a deep minerality and pleasant earthy finish. One of Italy's finest whites.
Jason Wilson is working on a book about the world's rarest and most obscure wines .