Did you know that white wine can be made from both white and blue grapes? This is because the juice of both blue and white grapes is white. White wine is made using the grape juice only by taking out the seeds, stalks and husks.
And why is it that they call it white wine, as no white wine in the world is really white? Well, white is just used as a generic term for this type of wine in order to set it apart from the red and rose ones. The grape variety used determines its distinct colour. In addition, the age determines the wine’s final colour, which can vary considerably. A young wine has a more greenish colour while older wines have a much darker yellow one or even start looking orange or brownish.
This website is all about Chardonnay but as there are many varieties of white wine grapes, I thought I put the best known whites in this summary of white wines.
Three types of whites
White wine comes in many types, but generally is differentiated in three kinds. White wines are often divided by taste into dry, semi-dry and sweet wines.
- A dry wine is a wine with very little residual sugar. The sugars present during fermentation are completely consumed by the yeast cells. According to many the best dry white wines are made in Europe. But even outside of Europe they continue to produce better wines. Dry white wines come in all varieties and you recognize them by their labels by the words sec, dry, or trocken (German wines) on the labels. They are wines that can be dominated by fruit. They are also wines that just have a smoky or toasty flavour (Chardonnays especially).
- A semi-dry wine does have a little residual sugar. People who do not like an acid taste will find that these wines are softer. The labels, which can be found on these types of white wine, will mention demi-sec, halbtrocken or Feinherb.
- The last type is the sweet white wine. In many cases this is also called dessert wine. Sweet wine is produced with extra sweet wine grapes. In order to make them sweet, the fermentation is stopped before the yeast turns all the natural grape sugar into alcohol. Look on the labels for Doux (in French), Dolce / Dulce ( Italian / Spanish) and Moelleux (for some French wines).
A dry wine with little sugar is for instance the French Muscadet. A distinguished, rich, round, soft wine could be a white Burgundy.
For many wine drinkers, the classic white wines come from Chablis. A tight refreshing wine made from Chardonnay. Meursault wine, also from the Chardonnay grape, is considered one of the top white Burgundies. They produce rich quality wines, but they are also very refreshing.
Sancerre is known for dry white wines. This area is famous for its delicious fresh wines of Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauternes (Bordeaux) produced delicious exclusive sweet white wines. Those who love sweet white should try out Sauternes.
Sauvignon Blanc is not only doing well only in the Loire region of France. New Zealand is known to make great white wines like Chardonnay and its number one variety Sauvignon Blanc.
Grapes used for white wine
In many cases, the grape’s name is also the name of the wine. In that sense, the wine can be easily recognized. There are also a lot of white wine blends, in which the composition of the grapes is not readily recognizable. Often these are table wines or wines with just a classic old or famous name.
Although there are many types of white wine the grapes below are the most commonly used:
- Muscat (or Moscato) can be sweet or dry and has a floral aroma. Muscat is sometimes used in sparkling wines.
- Riesling is common in Germany and has aromas of citrus and green apple. In some cases, you could come across a Riesling sparkling wine.
- Chardonnay you encounter throughout the world. It is a neutral white wine that has a rich buttery flavour. The grape adapts well to cold and warm climates and the various soils they grow in. Nowadays both the Old and New World wine regions produce premium Chardonnay wines that can compete with the world’s best.
- Pinot Gris is rich and full, and comes in different colours, from golden yellow through greenish to light pink. Originally from France and Italy, its clone is called Pinot Grigio, which has slightly more body and contains more acids.
- Sauvignon Blanc is dry, crisp and refreshing and usually pale in colour. Drinking this wine goes well with eating fish.
- Viognier is a difficult grape to grow and it is from France. They have mostly dry, complex and powerful flavours and a subtle aroma.
- Gewürztraminer is a German wine, known for its spiciness. Often has a flowery fragrance.
Food and drink
White wines are usually served cold or chilled. How cool is dependent on several factors. The type of wine and / or quality of the wine play a role. The cooler the wine is consumed, the less the wine can reveal her taste. They are therefore often the lesser wines that are recommended to drink rather cold.
At which course, a particular wine can be drunk is just wine and food dependent. A dry wine tastes great with a salad or fish, but is also delicious with cheese. For semi-dry wine it is the same. It just depends on how a particular dish is prepared and what’s inside. Sweet wines can be drunk with certain desserts. With a pâté, cheese or just certain neutral flavours it is often even preferable. I have dedicated an article how to best pair wine and food here.
Above summary is not exhaustive. In countries like Italy, Spain and Argentina, a lot of indigenous grapes are used to produce white wines. In fact, there are literally hundreds of different types of white wine grapes. However, there are just a view that you will likely encounter in your local shop or even the internet. Those are the ones described above.
If you are a Chardonnay lover, then this site is for you and you will not only find here a wealth of information, but access to top Chardonnays as well. I have reviewed some of the finest Chardonnays in my product reviews and you can find a summary by clicking the three images to the right (for mobile users just under this text) under the heading World best Chardonnays for delivery to the USA, UK or Australia markets.
You are invited to share your experiences here and if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment box and I will get back to you within 24 hours.
I like white wine, but feel so much more knowledgeable about it now! I will try to remember all the different grapes and the sorts of wines they produce. Very useful to know!
Regarding the food and drink pairings, I’ve heard in the past, “When in doubt, get Riesling.” Do you find that to be a true assessment of Riesling?
Hi Samantha, thank you for your interest. Riesling is growing in popularity and it has wines from very dry all the way to sweet ones. Maybe that is why you hear the saying you mention. In my experience Riesling goes very well with spicy food, such as Thai dishes. As with all things in life, it all depends on your personal taste. I can usually find a Chardonnay with most of the dishes I eat. These also go well with cheeses. You can also check out everything about food and white wine pairing here. Cheers, Jerry
Very interesting. I had always assumed red was from red grapes and white from white, and a mix of the two for rose. Feel silly writing that now lol
I’m looking forward to hearing more on New Zealand wines. I like to buy local, when I can, and as we have some of the best in the world it seems like I won’t be missing out by doing so. What would you say is the best NZ chardonnay? I had a lovely one at dinner last week but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, from Marlborough I think.
Hi Marisa, yes New Zealand produces some very fine white wines, the most famous of which is the Sauvignon Blanc. Moreover, some of its Chardonnays can compete with the best in the world. As a matter of fact, I have reviewed some of the best in this article. The best rated one is the Nautilus Estate Chardonnay, vintage 2013, which is indeed from the Marlborough area. Cheers, Jerry
I’ll be sure to give it a try
Thanks Marisa, and when you have tried, please share your experience and personal rating for this wine on this site. Cheers, Jerry