White wines come in a variety of styles: crisp, tart, fragrant, and expressive. They are as much a journey for the palate as they are a tour of the world. However, many people believe that all white wines are too flat, too sugary, or worse, not sophisticated enough to compete with reds.
White wine grapes are grown in every wine-growing region on Earth for a reason. With hundreds of varietals and variants, each variety of white wine exhibits unique aromas, sights, and flavors not found in other beverages.
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What is white wine and how is it made?
Wineries produce white wines utilizing over 20 different varieties of white grapes. Around 90% of grapes planted worldwide descend from a single grape varietal called Vitis vinifera. While the original Vitis vinifera grapes were black, a genetic mutation resulted in the development of white grapes. These grapes make most white wines available today.
Before the fermentation process begins, wineries remove the stems, seeds, and skins of most white grapes. This process contrasts with red wine, which retains the seeds and skins and frequently contains the stems. Because the portions of the grape used to manufacture white wine contain a high concentration of tannins, white wines often have a lower tannin content than red wines. The high tannin content of many red wines contributes to the dry-mouth sensation that most either enjoy or despise.
White wine enthusiasts adore their crisp, refreshing acidity, flowery aromas, and fruity character. At the same time, most vineyards age their white wines in stainless steel vats to retain floral and fruity characteristics. Some, such as chardonnay, mature in oak to create a nutty flavor and creamy consistency. The process for making white wines use a variety of approaches. As a result, you can find whites ranging from acidic and light-bodied to more full-bodied, dry whites. White wines are remarkably adaptable. Certain varieties, such as viognier, match well with fruit. In contrast, others, such as pinot blanc, can hold their own against hearty red meats.
White Wine Varieties
Rieslings are often lighter in color, lower in alcohol, and less prone to overwhelm the palate either sipped alone or paired with food. They perform well without significant fermentation or oak influence during the aging process, distinguishing this white wine variety from others. Winemakers can harvest, bottle, and let rieslings mature without much bother.
Honey, citrus, apricot, green apples, and earthy minerals characterize this kind of white wine. Older bottles tend to have more decadent flavors. Riesling grapes ripen swiftly on the vine and cannot fully develop their naturally complex tastes. Riesling should be served chilled, between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
Pinot grigios have a viscous mouthfeel in comparison to the other white wine varieties on the list. Sips will coat your tongue in an oilier, velvety coating that best describes the sensation as buttery. This greater body does not necessarily translate into a more indulgent drink; however, grigios and gris still retain white wines’ delicate, sparkling aroma. It just turns up the volume, balancing earthy and sweet notes and concluding with a refreshing rather than overpowering tartness.
Pinot gris is a wine that appeals to those who want fuller-bodied wines with a bit less fruit-forward palate. Lemons, white nectarine, jicama, clove, and ginger are typical notes in a standard glass. Serve pinot grigios and pinot gris “cold,” at a temperature of about 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Vineyards that grow Chardonnay rely on fermentation modifications to transform the grape’s natural acidity into softer, silkier aromas. The most notable is the malolactic fermentation. This process imparts Chardonnay’s distinctively light and creamy aftertaste. Many have even compared the flavor of this white wine variety to butter or toffee.
Your Chardonnay should have a green apple, lemon, pineapple, and celery note, with a candy-like coconut or caramel finish. Chardonnays range in sweetness from sweet to dry, depending on the variety. Yet, their distinct finish prevents them from becoming too bland or dessert-like.
4. Pinot Blanc
The flavor profile of this sort of white wine is critical. While being exceedingly light, pinot blanc exhibits a distinct muskiness on the scent and palate. The finest Pinot Blancs will also develop nutty flavors. On the other hand, their medium bodies do not overwhelm with their unique blend of heavy and light flavors. A glass of pinot blanc has pear, lemon, and yellow apple pieces, as well as star anise, walnuts, applewood, and mulch.
5. Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon blancs grown in the New World is slightly more fruit-forward than those produced in France. This white wine grape has thrived on New Zealand’s colder slopes, where sauvignon blanc accounts for 58 percent of the country’s wine acreage.
The younger the blanc, the more prominent the green or grassy notes will be regardless of the country of origin of the vineyard. This cultivar produces more distinct and full-bodied waves of nectarine and peach to balance out the savory flavors when more developed.
As the name implies, gewürztraminers have a highly distinct collection of flavor and aroma profiles that entice you even as you pour a glass. Gewürztraminers are naturally aromatic grapes that fool the senses into believing they are sweeter and less acidic than they are, resulting in some interesting effects.
A glass of gewürztraminers accompanies the scents of lavender and roses, followed by lychee, pineapple, strawberries, and spices. It’s an ultra-light, refreshing, and mildly spiced white wine that’s ideal for a hot summer afternoon.
Muscat grapes thrive in warm climates, thriving in the Mediterranean region and some parts of Australia. Orange blossoms, Japanese pear, lilacs, and white cherries contribute to the wine’s sweet profile, devoid of acidity or tang. Additionally, white wine Moscato will be available in “still” and “sparkling” varieties, with bubbles providing a textural element that pairs well with certain appetizers and main courses.
In many ways, viogniers are Chardonnay’s older, perhaps “nicer” twin sister. Their origins date back to ancient Roman vineyards planted throughout their Eastern and Western European empires. However, viognier’s lush, low-yielding grapes were the more rare and prized variety. This attitude has persisted to the present day, with only about 30,000 acres of viognier vines worldwide.
Semillion grapes exhibit special herbaceous notes similar to sauvignon blanc while retaining the body and acidity of chardonnay. That is, flavors tend to linger longer on the tongue and roof of the mouth, as well as leaving a more subtle aftertaste than the initial sip. Semillon’s texture is oily or waxy, yet its flavors are plump and vibrant. It’s an uncommon dichotomy in other white varietals.
Torrontés is a fragrant white wine indigenous to Argentina’s northern regions. A glass of torrontés consists of a sweet floral aroma of roses and geraniums, along with flavors of white peach and lemon zest. Despite its sweet aroma, the majority of torrontés wines are dry. If you enjoy dry riesling, torrontés are a must-try due to the wines’ similarities. While it is a dry wine with little residual sugar, the sweet aroma enhances its dryness and imparts a light jovialness.
While Cortese grapes are among the greatest yielding plants, they require a hot environment to mature their fruit slowly. The heat ripens the sugars in the grapes, resulting in more complex flavors rather than simply imparting a hit-and-run acidity punch. However, excessive heat causes the Cortese grapes to mature without achieving this necessary sugar balance. As a result, more sour flavors occur through tempering using malolactic fermentation processes.
12. Gruner Veltliner
The grape runer Veltliner is one of Austria’s most popular and linked to the country’s identity. They are grown throughout Austria, but three wine regions in particular – Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal – are credited with producing some of the best wines from this varietal.
These grapevines grow on steeply sloped terraces on hillsides near rivers like the Danube, which provides an ideal growing climate for these cool-weather varietals.
This bone-dry white wine has high acidity, distinct spice notes, and fruity flavors such as lemon, lime, and grapefruit. It goes well with Asian dishes like Vietnamese or Thai food, as well as seafood like salmon.
13. Chenin Blanc
While it was once associated with locales such as Anjou and Vouvray, you may today find instances of this delectable pleasure from places as different as Canada, New Zealand, China, and Argentina!
The dry Chenin Blanc has a minerally flavor similar to quince, acidic pear, with ginger spice notes. This wine tastes like ripe pear, peach, or honey with a faint note of passionfruit and can pair excellently with vegetable meals, salads, desserts, or pungent cheeses.
Depending on the growth conditions, Fiano grapes can embrace many white wine styles, such as light mineral or indulgently rich textures.
Fiano is a famous white wine in coastal areas because it pairs well with seafood, shellfish, and vegetarian pasta dishes. It also works well with tomato-based sauces because of its acidity, which balances the acidic nature of tomatoes and offsets the richness of cream-based ingredients.
Marsanne is an important white grape that originated in the Northern Rhone Region and has since been planted in most French areas, including Savoy and Languedoc.
Marsanne’s aging process develops richer colors and more diverse flavor profiles with time. It is one of the best white wines to combine with shellfish, lobster, crab, shrimp, seabass, clams, and mussels.
This dry white wine has a light yellow tinge with a distinct hue. It smells like ripe fruit like banana, pineapple, or grapefruit and is pleasantly sweet on the tongue despite its low acidity.
Airén white wine is ideal for mixing with a variety of seafood meals. The fruity, floral, and lemony flavors will complement delicate seafood with a lightness not found in other wines.
Muller-Thurgau is a versatile grape first grown in 1882 in Germany’s Rheingau region. It is now manufactured worldwide, with some of the greatest coming from Hungary, Belgium, France, New Zealand, and the United States.
Müller-Thurgau wines compliment light foods because of their dry, gentle, peach aromas and fruity tastes.
Garganega is an Italian white grape that originates in the Veneto region. However, it is currently grown in Umbria and Friuli as well. On the nose, it has melon, peach, and traces of green herbal aromas.
Garganega goes well with mussels and scallops, lobster, and a range of fish such as tuna, salmon, codfish, and haddock. Cook any dish over a herbal-based butter sauce to bring out the green tones!
Verdicchio, originally from the Marche region of Italy, has now extended to Umbria and Lazio as well! It’s only one of the numerous grapes that Italian winemakers have been cultivating for generations.
This drink is ideal for a light, refreshing summer wine. It’s often dry, with high acidity and citric (plenty of lemons) overtones, as well as characteristic almond flavors. Additionally, Verdicchio wines go well with seafood risotto or paella, and don’t forget the pasta!
Trebbiano is a grape variety prevalent throughout Italy, including Tuscany, Romagna, Abruzzo, Lazio, and Umbria. It has a medium body and a mild flavor with an acidic finish. The nose of this dry white wine contains delicate aromatics such as pears, flowers, apples, and acacia, as well as notes of honey.
Trebbiano’s floral and fruity flavors pair well with hard cheeses, seafood, and white pizza. Additionally, it goes well with poultry dishes and helps balance out the flavors of pesto so that you don’t get overwhelmed by garlic cloves!
Vermentino is a versatile grape found in various locales, including Italy’s Liguria region and the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica, where it originated.
This wine is a versatile wine that goes well with practically any meal. Additionally, it goes nicely with seafood, herbs, and zesty flavors, famous throughout the warmer months of spring and summer.
Albarino is a white grape that grows in Spain’s and Portugal’s North Atlantic coast. Albarino’s traditional home was the Galicia district of Spain, but it became available in Portugal throughout time.
This dry wine has a flavor profile comparable to Sauvignon Blanc, with zesty notes like grapefruit or lemons and stone fruit aromas like peaches and nectarines. Albarino goes nicely with white fish, meats, and leafy green herbs such as arugula.
Verdelho has a crisp, green, or spicy scent and is medium-dry. In the Old World, it is rich and ripe with apricot and stonefruit notes, whereas, in Australia, it is reminiscent of citrus fruits like oranges and tropical fruit like pineapple.
Its sweetness and fruity aromas make it ideal for those who enjoy white or light fish, chicken, and Asian food with a hint of spice.
Arneis, which originated in Italy’s Piedmont region (best known for producing white wines at Roero), is grown in California’s Sonoma County and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
It is a wonderful white wine for individuals who want less robust flavors in their drinks. Arneis compliments the notes of fresh herbs in creamy pasta, chicken, turkey, and fish recipes.
Silvaner is an aromatic and full-bodied wine with hints of smoke, earthy notes, and subtle fruit flavors akin to some red wines. Würzburger Stein’s Silvaners have all of these characteristics, as well as undertones of citrus and melon on the nose.
Because of its delicate flavor profile, this refreshing drink goes well with fruit-forward salads and light beef, tofu, or fish meals. In addition, it is also excellently served with fresh aromatic herbs!
Roussanne is a white grape variety that originated in the Northern Rhône Valley and is now prominent in other Southern French wine regions such as Provence and Languedoc.
As soon as you smell this wine, its rich aroma transforms into an experience for your senses. Deep breathing via your nose infuses the space with fragrances such as stone fruit, almonds, baked bread, and spices.
It tastes just as one would expect, with lusciously ripe peaches combined with pear, beeswax, and lanolin, with surprising acidity on the aftertaste. This dry wine goes excellent with pate on toast points, roast chicken covered liberally with your favorite mushroom sauce, or spicy pork sausages.
Rarer White Wine Varieties
1. Dry Tokaji
Few westerners are familiar with Hungary’s Tokaj area. Tokaj was the world’s first officially categorized wine area (classified in 1730 and officiated by noble decree in 1757).
In the eighteenth century, the world was infatuated with sugary white wines, which is just what Tokaj is.
Today, the Tokaj region continues to produce plenty of sweet wine. However, many up-and-coming winemakers are experimenting with dry wines.
Furmint, the primary grape, has exceptionally high acidity and a balanced sweet-savory flavor profile. Furmint possesses the pedigree to last decades.
2. Hunter Valley Sémillon
The Hunter Valley was the first region in Australia to cultivate grapes. Sémillon first arrived at this humid, warm location in 1831 as part of James Busby’s 20,000 grape cuttings (the “father of Australian wine!”).
While it may appear impossible to cultivate Sémillon in Australia, the Australian imaginative spirit has not only found a way. However, it has created something extraordinary in the process.
Sémillon from the Hunter Valley has the potential to age for decades, developing rich, honeyed aromas with a slight nutty-straw flavor. They accomplish this by selecting grapes early and ripening them in a cold, clean environment. The ultimate result is a slim, green mineral machine that gradually expands as it ages.
At 10–11% ABV, they are among the lowest-alcohol whites available.