Wine Folly’s Basic “Guide to White Wine” has a colorful diagram array depicting 40 different types of white wine arranged into five different categories:
- Bold and dry (ex. Chardonnay, Viognier);
- Bold and sweet ( ex. Sauternes, Sherry);
- Light and Sweet (Riesling, Torrontes, Gewurztraminer);
- Light and Zesty (Chablis, Albarino, Verdejo, Pinot Grigio/Gris);
- Herbaceous (Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner).
For this article, I am only going to deal with five or six of the most popular types of white wines, starting with my most favorite, Chardonnay.
Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the world and can be grown in both cooler or warmer climates.
There are two distinct styles of Chardonnay – rich and creamy having been” aged in oak barrels”, or dry and minerally which is typically referred to as “unoaked”. The latter would include grapes produced in either stainless steel barrels or neutral oak barrels that have been used several times.
The difference between the two styles will depend on the climate where the chardonnay grape is grown and the style of the winemaker.
Chardonnays from cooler climates will tend to exhibit notes of green apples, pears, and citrus. Warmer climate Chardonnays will tend to show notes of peach, pineapple, and mango.
I prefer the classic oak aged style while my wife now prefers the unoaked style and has even taken up with Sauvignon Blanc (“ick”). To be fair, there are a few Sauvignon Blancs that I can tolerate, but not many! More on that later.
The Cote d’or region in Burgundy is famous for its oaked Chardonnays while the Chablis region is renowned for it unoaked varieties. Other famous Chardonnay grape growing regions are California, Chile, Argentina, Italy and Australia.
Oaked Chardonnays will tend to be softer, have medium to low acidity and will exhibit flavors of vanilla and butter creme brulee while unoaked chardonnays (also referred to as stainless steel) will have flavors of lemon and green apples and have medium to high acidity.
The second most popular white wine in the US, and perhaps worldwide, would be Pinot Grigio/Gris. And what is not to like about this chilled zesty white wine on a hot summer day?
Did you know that this wine can come in three different styles? It can be:
- Minerally and dry – Produced in cooler climates in the mountains of Italy, Austria and Hungary. Typically, produced in stainless steel tanks, with no oak aging and with lower alcohol levels. Tends to have less fruity taste.
- Fruity and dry – This fruit style is produced in warmer regions in Italy (Sicily and Tuscany), Australia, Chile, California, Oregon and Argentina. There are flavors of lemon, apple and peach you will notice in the glass. These wines will often be produced in neutral barrels or stainless steel tanks and will be less acidic.
- Fruity and sweet – The one region in the world known for producing this sweet, honey crisp Pinot Gris is Alsace, France. For what it is worth, don’t bother in seeking out Pinot Gris from this area.
Even though this is a white wine, the grapes are actually a blue gray. The grape skins will determine wine color and for this wine, the thin skins are discarded before fermentation.
This grape will mature very early and can be harvested before most other varietals thus allowing winemakers to obtain the appropriate amount of acidity and fruity flavors. No need to store this wine; you can drink it right away.
There are a lot of good inexpensive Pinot Grigios. Once you find a Pinot Grigio that you like, stay with it.
There is probably no other wine that is more reflective of the region and climate where its grape is grown. Grapes grown in warmer climates will tend to have flavors of melon and citrus, while cooler climates will produce wines that can range from grapefruity and grassy to more herbal and green peppery
This wine type has to be my least favorite and I tend to go out of my way to not drink a Sauvignon Blanc (SB). If I have to drink a SB, ( on a warm summer day) I would prefer a Honig (Napa), or a Simi (Sonoma) which are both produced in warmer climates.
Unfortunately, my wife has gone from a lover of buttery, creamy, oak-aged Chardonnays (which I love) to warm climate SBs. Neither of us seem to like SBs from cooler to cold climates, particularly most SBs from New Zealand, the Loire Valley, or the Cape area of South Africa.
I think my wife likes the crisp, zesty citrus and melony SBs and the fact that it can be served really cold. SB are rather food friendly.
If you don’t know which type you would prefer, try different ones from different climates and regions. But, if you want my advice, stick with those SBs from warmer climates. In addition to the ones from Honig and Simi, Franciscan (Napa) and Montes (Chile) produced a “drinkable” SB.
This thick-skinned white grape originated in southern France and was almost extinct in the late 1960s due to the difficulty in growing this grape. Classic Viogniers will be dry, creamy, full-bodied, with low acidity and will have notes of apricots, peach, mango.
This grape began a comeback in France in the 1970s and is now produced in Australia, US (primarily CA and Washington), Italy, Argentina and Chile.
Viogniers will range in taste depending on the region where the grape is cultivated, its alcohol level, climate and winemaker.
This wine can range in alcohol by volume (ABV) from 13.5% -15%. A lower ABV will tend to be lighter and have a leaner taste. Viogniers with higher ABV will tend to be more fruit forward, richer, bolder and creamier. Oak-aged Viogniers will have lower acidity with flavors of vanilla, nutmeg and clove.
Viogniers aged in stainless steel (non oak-aged) will have more floral and tropical fruit aromas with more acidity.
Many people believe the warmer regions with cool nights, or close to water produce the best Viognier wine.
Chenin Blanc –
Chenin Blanc (CB), originally grown in the cooler region of the Loire Valley in France, can can be a light, dry summer wine, a sparkling wine, or an oak-aged style that would be similar to a Chardonnay.
The CB grape, similar to the Chardonnay grape, is basically neutral in taste. The wine will reflect the soil and climate from the region and the preference of the wine maker.
According to my friends over at Wine Folly. “The Indispensable Chenin Blanc Wine Guide”, Chenin Blanc (CB) is a very versatile white wine and has a range of styles:
Dry – “Grapes fermented dry will produce a very lean, minerally style CB with flavors of tart pear, quince, ginger and chamomile”;
Off – Dry – More noticeable flavors of ripe pear, passion fruit, jasmine and honeycomb are delivered when some of the grapes’ natural sugars are left in the wine;
Sweet – In sweeter styles of CBs, you will notice flavors of mango, ginger toasted almond, dried persimmon and mandarin orange;
Sparkling – Sparkling CBs typically vary from Dry (Brut) to sweet with its traditional flavors of quince, apple, plum, ginger, passion fruit, and floral notes.
Due to its versatility and acidity, CB would pair well with chicken, turkey, halibut, trout and smoked salmon. Soft to semi-firm cheeses like Brie and Gruyere would also work well with CB.
Like that commercial with the cow that encourages viewers to eat more chicken, my suggestion would be to drink more wine. Try different ones to learn what you like and don’t like.
Unlike for red wines, you can buy a very nice white wine for less than $15. My favorite white wine would be a rich, creamy oak-age Chardonnay.
There is a constant battle with my wife when it comes to wine. She much prefers white wines (currently it’s that awful Sauvignon Blanc) over any red wine. I prefer big, bold reds.
We used to drink those creamy, buttery, Chardonnays for years, but somehow, she flipped a switch toward Sauvignon Blanc.
Anytime I have a glass of “her” white wine, (most often a Joel Gott or Semi Sauvignon Blanc) I get a lot of flack. I have to remind her that I like white wine too. Particularly, since summer is almost here.
I have been trying to get her interested in Pinot Noir, but she is not buying in yet. Stay tuned.
In my next post, I will recommend my favorite white wines under $20 and a few suggested food parings.