Lighter than red wine and full of different flavors, white wine is considered less collectible than the great red wines. Often high in acidity, white wine differs from red wine due to the lack of tannins, the bitter part of the grape skin that gives red wine its color and characteristic taste. In general, white wine is talked about in terms of richness. Also, white wine does not age well, with a few notable exceptions.
International Varieties: Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc
Major Varieties: Airén, Chenin Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc, Sémillon, Silvaner, Trebbiano Viognier
Regional Varieties: Albariño, Aligoté, Amigne, Arneis, Chasselas, Colombard, Cortese, Fiano, Grechetto, Grenache Blanc, Malvasia, Istriana, Marsanne, Muscadelle, Muscat of Alexandria, Ortega, Palomino, Parellada, Petite Arvine, Prosecco, Rieslaner, Roussanne, Savagnin, Scheurebe, Seyval Blanc, Tocai, Friulano, Torrontés, Vermentino, Welschriesling
While the grapes that produce red wine are purple and/or black, white wine is produced from either light yellow-green grapes like Chardonnay, or light red grapes like Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. Although Champagne is considered the topmost luxury wine, almost all the world’s most expensive wines are red.
In order to keep the acidity and light fruit flavors crisp and refreshing, white wine should be refrigerated before drinking. Whites can be stored at 55-60 degrees, while sweet white wines should be kept at 50-53 degrees. This is cooler than the storage temperatures used for red wines. It is best to serve whites in a thinner glass than those used for red wine.
Although white wine is generally much lighter-bodied than red wine, some choices are full-bodied. Many French wines, such as aged white Burgundies, as well as certain California and Oregon Chardonnays, are famously full-bodied. White wine has acidity, which can be low, high, or anywhere in between. Riesling boasts the highest acidity of all white grapes, while in wines from Pinot Gris, acidity can often be fairly low. Wines that are too high in acidity are bitter and unapproachable, whereas low-acidity wines can be bland and uninteresting. Generally, producers try to reach a compromise with acidity levels.
The flavors of white wine are incredibly varied and span many different regions and tastes. The flavors of fruits, such as banana, apple, pear, peach, and citrus, may appear in Chardonnays, while the more oaked products are described as buttery. Rich, fruity wines reach their peak of expression–and cost–in luxurious Sauternes. Lusciously flavored with apricot, banana, and peach, as well as a decadent honey overtone, the nickname “liquid gold” describes Sauternes perfectly.
Another flavor set in white wines is mineral: flint, gunpowder, steel, and slate, and occasionally lime, may flavor white wines. Such earthy flavors can impart character that is unique and memorable. Chablis, made from the same Chardonnay as white Burgundy but in a different style, is legendary for its mineral flavors. German and Austrian Rieslings are similarly tasteful and austere.
The third common flavor set is floral. Rather than fruits or minerals, floral wines smell like flowers. Less common in general, floral wines reach their peak in Gewürztraminer. Floral wines can also be found in Alsace. The king of floral grapes is Viognier; the white wines from this grape, such as Condrieu, are highly coveted for their floral taste. Viognier may be blended with red wine to impart its heady aroma.
The versatility of white wine is part of its charm. Many Americans think of white wine as California Chardonnay. In reality, this is but one of many choices. There are other white grapes that offer an entirely different wine experience.
Some of the finest regions producing white wine include Alsace, Sauternes, Burgundy, Champagne, and the Loire in France; Alto Adige in Italy; Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, and the Central Coast in California; and the Mosel and Nahe in Germany.
The following is a list of prominent grapes used in the production of white wine.
These wine grapes are unanimously recognized for winemaking, and are regularly planted all over the world.
Chardonnay is the king of white grapes, the Cabernet of whites. By far the most recognized white grape, it is planted everywhere that white wine is being made. While many Americans are only familiar with the occasional Napa Chardonnay, replete with fruity flavors and oaky richness, there are many other styles of Chardonnay being made around the world. The wines of Burgundy, especially the Montrachet areas, are considered by critics to be the best of the best. Chablis, which is made from Chardonnay grapes, is famous for its unique mineral flavors. Read more about Chardonnay’s characteristic versatility.
|Finicky and difficult, lightish red grape Gewürztraminer is almost always best in Alsace, where its aromatic bouquet and fruity flavors manifest deliciously in the wine. Gewürztraminer can be dry or sweet, and both styles are widely respected. All over the world, winemakers are trying to replicate the unique appeal of these flavors. Read more about these attempts at spreading the production of this fantastic grape.|
|Rich and tasty, Muscat is one of only a few grapes that regularly produces wines that actually taste of grapes! This is strange but true. It is also odd that wine critics look down on Muscat for its flavors that are seen as lacking in refinement. However, Muscat can be approachable, and there’s always a place in the wine world for light and lively wines. Muscat is produced in a variety of styles. Read more about the many countries other than France where Muscat is also planted.|
|Pinot Gris has become more widely known of late as Pinot Grigio. Light and unintimidating, Pinot Grigios from California and Italy are popular and appealing. While simple and approachable, these wines have an excellent fruity flavor, often of light tropical fruits. The classicist’s Pinot Grigio is called Pinot Gris and is found in Alsace. Rich and full-bodied, these wines have garnered praise for as long as they have been produced.|
|Riesling is the classic German grape. The German wines, especially Mosel, have a high-acidity elegance which reaches a peak of expression with an even balance between fruits and minerals. When produced elsewhere, Riesling rarely achieves the high levels of praise afforded the German wines. Unlike most white wines but similar to Sauternes, Riesling ages well. German Rieslings can last for 30 years or more, even the downmarket products. Intensely flavored, low in alcohol, and highly acidic, these wines are sold in tall, thin bottles.|
|The Sauvignon Blanc grape was once a moderately popular white grape best known for the smoky, tangy wines of Sancerre. Sauvignon was also used for the making of Sauternes. Wine critics were happy with the oldstyle flavors, but the average wine consumer was not a fan. Then the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc boomed when winemakers in New Zealand adjusted the processing methods. Sancerre with a modern twist, these wines are more aromatic and approachable. The popularity of New Zealand Sauvignon has caused interest to flourish elsewhere, and Sauvignon Blanc is now used in wines all over the world. Sauvignon Blanc is still popular in France as well.|