A short guide to white wine

white wine grapes in a vineyard

White wines are usually made from white grape varieties. However red grapes can also be used if the juice is separated from the skin once pressed.

Styles of white wine

Light and refreshing: They are usually perceived as easy drinking. Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are the usual suspects but there are many grapes to discover including Bacchus, Gruner Veltliner, Albarino, Gavi or Aligoté. Some white wines can be very complex with mineral notes such as unoaked Chardonnay in Chablis and Sancerre sauvignons.

Aromatic: Some grapes are naturally more aromatic than others. Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer are the most famous examples. Vermentino and Chenin Blanc are also worth considering. More delicate they offer a wonderful array of aromas.

Rich and full-bodied: Chardonnay is a classic example (except for Chablis) especially from Burgundy, Australia, USA, New Zealand and South Africa. Young Chardonnay is most likely to recall fresh green apples in both smell and flavour and will be light-bodied. However, through various winemaking process it can become rich, buttery and oaky.  With techniques improving worldwide it is becoming harder to distinguish the origins of many bigger styles.  Viognier and White Riojas are also worth trying.

This is only a short guide to white wine. Always remember both terroir and winemaking techniques have an impact on the wine which may taste remarkably different.


The five most popular white grape varieties

Chardonnay: This highly adaptable variety has generous fruit flavours well-balanced with the acidity. Grown in every country where vines are cultivated, it is so well known and enjoyed that it hardly merits further mention. Chardonnay is the main white grape variety, by a huge margin, used in Burgundy, responsible for some of the most famous white wines in the world, including Chablis and Meursault. It often benefits from oak aging and is capable of maturing well.

Sauvignon Blanc: Originating from Bordeaux, this is the most recognisable of all the classic grapes, with its grassy and green pepper aromas pretty evident wherever it is grown. It has proven particularly successful in the Loire Valley, on the typical Silex soils of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, where it reveals flinty aromas. Widely grown in the New World, notably in California and Chile, the grape became famous in New Zealand, due to its pungent, tropical character.

Riesling: A noble white grape, capable of ageing exceptionally well and forever associated with the wines of Germany.  In its element in the Mosel and Rheingau, where it is the major variety, it produces gloriously fresh, often semi dry and sweet wines which are relatively low in alcohol. Alsace Riesling is dry with higher alcohol content.  The grape has gained ground in Australia, California, South Africa and New Zealand where its spicy fresh style is becoming increasingly popular.

Pinot Gris: A major variety in Alsace, France, where it makes a rich, generous white wine with a spicy character. Similar style can be found in Alto Adige in Italy, but it is mainly known here as Pinot Grigio making light and easy-drinking white. It is also grown in Chile – Casablanca Valley – and in New Zealand where plantings over the past few years have been prolific.

Chenin Blanc: An important wine grape grown extensively throughout the world. In the central Loire Valley this is the main white variety, making dry, sweet (conditions permitting) and sparkling wines.  Especially successful as a grape in South African wines, where it was once called ‘Steen’, it also thrives in California.  Its high acidity gives it a good capacity for ageing.