Wine can seem deceptively simple at first glance. There are just three types, right? White wine, red wine, and rosé. Except, you already know that isn’t the case. Even with white wine alone, there’s an insane number of wines out there. Chardonnay, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, and riesling are a few of the most well-known types of white wine, but there are many others too, including grenache blanc, viognier, and torrontés.
After all, there are more than 600 varieties of white grapes currently growing. Sometimes, a single one of these may be used to make a varietal wine, like chardonnay grapes, which are the only grapes used in chardonnay. Other times, multiple grape varieties may be used together, such as wines that combine chardonnay and sauvignon blanc grapes.
White wines also vary considerably from one another. There are some interesting characteristics to consider when comparing white wines and choosing between them.
The first is the body. This refers to how heavy the wine feels when it is in your mouth. Then there’s dry versus off-dry and sweet, which all refer to the wine’s sweetness. Dry wines aren’t very sweet at all, while off-dry wine has just a little sweetness.
Acidity is another factor, where acidic whites tend to be tarter than non-acidic ones. White wines are generally more acidic than red ones, but there’s still plenty of variation between them.
Which type of white wine is best? The answer comes down to personal preference. This is why it’s worth trying different types of white wine and getting a feel for your own individual tastes. In the process, experiment with different versions of the same wine, like a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand versus one from California. While those wines rely on the same type of grape, they have distinct flavors and characteristics.
Chardonnay is one of the most popular types of white wine. It’s made from the chardonnay grape and originates in the Burgundy region of France, the home of many great wines.
The popularity of chardonnay comes from a few factors. For one thing, the grape is easy to grow and is produced in many places, so bottles of chardonnay wine can be found worldwide.
Chardonnay also is delightfully complex, more than most other types of white wine. It’s sometimes even known as the red wine of white wines because of this effect. Some of the complexity comes from how chardonnay goes through some degree of oaking, which often provides notes of vanilla and spice.
Beyond that, chardonnay is famous having buttery notes. This comes from malo fermentation, which is more common in red wine than in white wine. Chardonnay tends to have a medium body and medium acidity without much sweetness, but these features vary depending on the winemaker.
Pinot Gris And Pinot Grigio
Pinot gris and pinot grigio are different names for the same type of grape. The pinot gris name is French, while pinot grigio is Italian instead, but this doesn’t make the wines identical.
Because the grape is the same, pinot gris and pinot grigio wines tend to be very similar. However, pinot gris wines tend to have a richer flavor and a fuller body, while pinot grigio wines tend to be lighter and more acidic. Pinot gris also tends to be the sweeter option of the two.
Those differences are partly related to winemaking traditions in France and Italy, along with subtle differences in the grapes because of the climate and soil they were grown in.
Of course, pinot gris and pinot grigio wines are now produced in many other parts of the world, which creates more variation in the features of the wine. This can mean that some pinot grigio wines are actually sweeter or have a fuller body than pinot gris – so it’s important to experiment.
Riesling is another popular varietal white wine, made from riesling grapes. This white wine hails from Germany and is still frequently produced there. The wine generally has a light body and high acidity, making it excellent for pairing with many finger foods.
An interesting feature is the sweetness. Rieslings are famous as a sweet wine and many versions are indeed very sweet. However, rieslings can also be dry or off-dry. The off-dry versions are especially popular for food pairing and can be even more enjoyable than sweet rieslings.
Rieslings all have fruity aromas, with sweet versions tasting more strongly of peach and apricot, while dry ones highlight more citrus and apple notes. The aromatic qualities make rieslings easy to enjoy and a firm favorite among many.
Sauvignon blanc is another one of the classic white wines, famous for being bright, crisp, and often dry. Citrus features strongly in the flavor profile, with underlying green notes. In fact, the aroma of sauvignon blanc is so recognizable that even new wine drinkers can often identify it.
The wine is produced throughout the world, resulting in different styles and flavor profiles. New Zealand sauvignon blanc has become the most highly fashionable version of sauvignon blanc, partly because it is complex and highly aromatic.
Of course, New Zealand sauvignon blanc isn’t the only option. France, Italy, and Spain also produce delightful sauvignon blanc expressions worth experimenting with. If you’re planning on wine pairing, try matching sauvignon blanc with herb-heavy meals, particularly those that include chicken or similar sources of protein.
Gewürztraminer grapes are unusual, as they have pink skins rather than green ones (similar to pinot gris grapes). The resulting wine is distinctive, with strong aromatic flavors, including notes of stone fruit and lychees, some of which can be quite strong.
The wine can even have a slight pink tinge due to the pink skin of the grapes. However, this isn’t always the case and many gewürztraminer wines are white instead.
Not only is the wine aromatic, but it also tends to be semi-sweet or off-dry. While it’s not sweet enough to be a dessert wine, the sweetness is hard to ignore. What’s more, gewürztraminer is one of the few wine varieties that can normally be identified in blind taste tests, even if you have little experience with wine.
Gewürztraminer is normally produced as a fresh young wine. Its flavors are most noticeable when it is young and most bottles aren’t designed for aging.
Chenin blanc can be tough to identify from flavor alone, partly because chenin blanc grapes are versatile and the wine can be made in many different styles. Some versions tend to be light and dry, others are richer and even aged in oak (much like chardonnay), and there are even sparkling chenin blancs.
The sweetness covers the whole range, including dry, off-dry, and sweet versions. Flavors change with sweetness. In particular, the dry versions have mineral notes, along with flavors of pear and quince. Sweeter expressions feature flavors like mango and dried persimmon. However, ginger notes shine through in most expressions.
Still, regardless of winemaking style, chenin blanc wines tend to be acidic. The wines are excellent with turkey, perhaps as part of a Thanksgiving dinner. Chenin blanc also pairs well with soft cow’s milk cheese and many vegetarian dishes.
Chenin blanc grapes are also used to produce multiple specific wines, including savennières, vouvray, and crémant de loire. Savennières and vouvray are still white wines, made only with chenin blanc grapes, while crémant de loire is a sparkling wine that uses a combination of chenin blanc and other grapes.
Moscato is more complex than normal, as the term refers to a popular type of white wine and also to an entire family of grapes (muscat grapes). However, you’re likely most familiar with moscato d’Asti, as this is the most famous version of moscato.
Moscato d’Asti is a DOCG-certified wine that must be produced in the Piedmont region of Italy. It’s a lightly sparkling wine, with low alcohol content and slight sweetness. In fact, moscato d’Asti often comes in at just 5.5% ABV, while most wines are between 11% and 13% ABV instead.
There are also non-sparkling versions of moscato wine. These tend to be drier, although they’re easy to enjoy and the fruitiness makes them taste sweet. These wines often use various muscat grapes, leading to variations in body, sweetness, and aroma.
Still, regardless of type, moscato wines tend to be fragrant with a sweet taste. You’ll often notice notes of citrus and apricot, along with floral tones. Try pairing moscato with Asian dishes. The melding of flavors is often exceptional.
Sémillon wine originally hails from Bordeaux in France, although it is now produced in many other parts of the world. It is an aromatic wine, often featuring floral notes and beeswax on the nose, along with citrus and apple flavors.
The acidity is often moderate and accompanied by a full body, which makes it a flavorful and decadent wine. It can even be aged in oak, at which point it takes on some notes that are reminiscent of chardonnay.
Indeed, aging sémillon produces some impressive deep and complex flavor notes, with nuts and honey shining through. Sweet sémillon is especially good for aging and can often be aged for more than 15 years.
For wine pairing, try matching the light unaged versions of sémillon with rich dishes like salmon. In contrast, the complexity of sémillon aged in oak pairs well with roast chicken and even lobster.
Interestingly, the dessert wine sauternes relies on sémillon, muscadelle, and sauvignon blanc grapes. The wine is unusual in that the grapes used have been affected with noble rot. This fungus partly dehydrates the grapes and intensifies their flavor, creating distinct notes within the wine.
Viognier grapes produce full-bodied wines with some similarities to chardonnay. However, viognier tends to have more natural aromatics than chardonnay, along with some mineral notes. Aging the wines in oak also gives them a similar richness to chardonnay, making them even more enjoyable.
However, the grapes are difficult to grow and have low yields. As a result, viogner wine is created less frequently than some of the other styles discussed. Viognier wines are often expensive, often costing more than $100. However, there are cheaper options if you want to experiment, including young viogniers produced in California and Australia.
Viognier is most famous for the French northern Rhône Valley wine Condrieu AOC. This region only produces white wines primarily made using the viognier grape. These luxury wines are best enjoyed when they are young, although some vintages can be aged for longer.
Beyond this, viognier grapes are used in a variety of blends. This approach is especially common in the Rhône region, where viognier may be blended to produce either white or red wines.
Grüner veltliner is a relatively obscure wine from Austria that is now starting to become popular throughout the world. It is primarily a dry white wine with distinct lemon-lime and herbal flavors. That flavor profile makes grüner veltliner an excellent alternative to sauvignon blanc, especially for customers who want something a little unusual.
While Austria remains the main country producing grüner veltliner, you can now find the wine elsewhere. New Zealand, the Czech Republic, California, and Northern Italy are just a few places experimenting with the wine, with different winemakers creating their own distinct versions.
Another attractive feature is the price, as grüner veltliner tends to be fairly inexpensive. Picking up a decent bottle shouldn’t cost you too much and gives you a fantastic chance to experience this exciting variety.
Torrontés hails from Argentina and is famous for producing aromatic wines with fruity notes. The floral and fruity notes are surprisingly powerful, but the underlying minerality is enough to stop the wine from tasting too sweet. The wine is fantastic for pairing, working especially well with spiced and herb-rich dishes.
There are actually three distinct torrontés grape varieties, with torrontés mendocino being the most commonly used and torrontés riojano offering the best flavor profile. The wines themselves tend to have medium acidity and are fairly dry.
However, the quality of the wine strongly depends on winemaking skill and even the harvest size. Because of this, some bottles of torrontés can be too high in alcohol and have bitter notes. New varieties of torrontés are now being produced, leading to exciting flavor variations.
If you want something rich and flavorful, Fiano is an exceptional white wine variety. While the wine is typically enjoyed young, it can be cellared for five years to add depth to the flavor profile.
The fiano grape is mostly grown within Campania in Southern Italy, although it is starting to be popular in Australia as well, partly because the grape grows well in hot and dry climates. Even the wine’s acidity remains when grown in such environments, which isn’t the case for some other wines, like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
A large number of DOC wines allow fiano to be included as a grape, such as Galluccio, Campi Flegrei, and Ischia. Such wines typically rely on a blend of grapes, rather than using a single variety.
Grenache is one of the most famous red wine grapes and is used to create rich and intensely flavored red wines (either on its own or as part of a blend). The Grenache blanc grape is the result of a natural color mutation, which has created a white version of the same grape.
Not surprisingly, grenache blanc grapes produce full-bodied white wines with high alcohol content. The wine can also be aged in oak, which gives it a complex flavor profile and even more richness (similar to an oaked chardonnay).
Malvasia is a complicated wine, partly because malvasia grapes are an entire family of different grapes, rather than a single variety. The grapes can be used to create dry, sweet, or sparkling wines. These aren’t limited to white wines either, as some malvasia grapes can produce red wine or rosé instead.
The white wines are often sweet, with a light body and low to medium acidity. Malvasia wines are often aromatic as well, a feature that’s especially attractive in dry malvasia wines.
Because malvasia wines can be quite different from each other, experimentation is often. You may need to try multiple bottles to understand the different styles and which ones you prefer. You might find some options in a white wine of the month club, along with many other white wines.
Albariño grapes are tiny with thick skins, often produced in Spain. The grape is also becoming popular elsewhere, with growers experimenting with it in California, New Zealand, Australia, and even the UK.
Varietal albariño wine tends to have high acidity, with complementary fruit notes. There is both sweetness and crispness present, making this an easy-to-drink wine.
Decanting isn’t helpful for this white wine, as extra oxygen does not improve the flavor profile. This means you can pour the wine straight from the bottle. Just be sure to keep it cool without over-chilling it. Keeping it at the right temperature will enhance the flavor profile and give you the most from your bottle of wine.
Garganega wine is seriously underrated, as it is reasonably priced and has a similar style to pinot grigio wine. It is frequently dry with a light to medium body and high acidity. Flavor notes include tangerine, citrus, and peach, all of which help to make it an easy drinking wine style.
Garganega grapes are also frequently used in the Italian Soave wine, which consists of at least 70% garganega. This is common in Italy and is difficult to find elsewhere. Still, if you can find the wine, it is certainly worth buying.
Pinot blanc is the result of a genetic mutation to the pinot noir grape. It’s still a very similar grape, except that pinot blanc is white instead of red.
Pinot blanc wine is often described as being similar to chardonnay and does have some of the same body and complexity. Despite this, pinot blanc wines are often seen as being inferior to chardonnay, partly because they are gentler. That gentleness does make pinot blanc attractive as an everyday easy drinking wine
Nevertheless, pinot blanc is a versatile wine that can be made in different styles depending on the winemaker’s skill and focus. Some versions have even more noticeable fruity tones that make the wine even more enjoyable.
Marsanne grapes are rare and most often grown in the Rhône Valley in France. Here, the grape is typically blended to create luxurious white wines, like Côtes du Rhône. Roussanne grapes are especially common as a blending partner. These provide extra flavor and perfume, enhancing the wine.
Varietal expressions of marsanne are less common and most often produced outside of France, particularly in Australia. These wines tend to be light and acidic, with mild citrus fruit aromas.