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The Other White Wines

Hogue Cellars' Gary Hogue champions the underdog grapes: chenin blanc and Riesling.

Hogue Cellars began as a hop farm in 1949 with 40 acres. They still sell some hops to microbrewers. Then they moved on to asparagus, which is still available in those little glass jars with distinctive blue labels. From the first, their wine style was defined as more elegant than bold, and certainly food-friendly. "It could be our proximity to all of those oysters, or it could be our proximity to California with its blockbuster-style wines, but we chose to make our wine crisp with forward fruit, not with forward oak."

Hogue Cellars Fume Blanc, 2000, Columbia Valley, $11, has that crispness. "This is to go with oysters. It is made in stainless steel with just a few days in oak, sort of to mellow it out," he says. Another way to enjoy it would be with a shrimp salad, with some cut-up apples and pears on the side. The wine turns into the flavors of the apples and pears as the perfect foil for shrimp.

You don't even want to get him started on the subject of chardonnay. "Most chardonnay tastes like oak juice. Wine should be a palate cleanser, and not an overoaked, oily apple." He always tries to have chardonnay flavors that are closer to France than California.

Hogue Cellars Chardonnay, 2000, Columbia Valley, $13: The fruit comes forward with just enough aging in oak to soften and add complexity to the apple flavors of the grape. No toast here. It complements plain or lightly sauced fish or poultry dishes.

Gary's finest moments are reserved not for the chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon grapes, but for some unpopular orphans of the wine world. "We drink what we know and don't try or encourage our friends to try new wines," he says. "We may look foolish. Wine tends to be the most confusing product on the face of the earth. People need to start relying on their own taste."

This brings us to two of the big unknown grapes: chenin blanc and Riesling. There are few wines on earth that are labeled chenin blanc anymore, certainly not more than a bare handful in America. The grape's demise occurred when it got stuck between the rising popularity of chardonnay (for the dry-wine drinker) and white zinfandel (for the sweet-wine drinker). Chenin blanc was left high and semidry.

Hogue Cellars Chenin Blanc, 1999, Columbia Valley, $11, is loaded with both floral and melon flavors, and it isn't too sweet. It's a great warm-weather wine. Serve it chilled with fruit salad. If you tell a few friends, perhaps it will make a comeback.

Gary Hogue is most adamant about his Riesling. Washington State is the unofficial capital of the grape for the U.S. Riesling has always been about abundant fruit, most specifically the fruit of fresh peaches. Riesling is usually a touch too fruity for the hardened chardonnay drinker, but his comes in at 2 percent residual sugar, the ideal amount for sipping or dining. It is right with Chinese and Thai foods or even jambalaya.

Hogue is opinionated and obviously proud of his products: "Here it is, the new red-wine drinkers' wine — both soft and adorable." Unlikely words from a guy who is over 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. But the Hogue Cellars Cabernet-Merlot, 2000, Columbia Valley, $13, is soft, delightful and a value to boot. Goes to show, it is not a bad idea to listen to a guy with strong opinions. S

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