A Guide to White Wine

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Learn about the different types of white wine! From general flavor profiles to what food to pair with each variety, this is a crash course in the seven most popular kinds of white wine.

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Photography Credit: Alison Bickel

All white wines start with the same thing: white grapes. These grapes are separated from their skins to produce a wine that is light in color and fermented in stainless steel or oak barrels.

While there are countless white grape varieties that exist in the world, each producing a wine with its own aromas and flavors, a handful are easily the most popular.

Here are seven white wines to know.

SAUVIGNON BLANC

The Sauvignon Blanc grape produces white wines that are light, extra-crisp, and versatile. It grows in almost every major wine region, but its aromas and flavors vary widely depending on factors like climate and soil.

It originates from the Loire Valley in France, where it’s most commonly known as Pouilly Fumé or Sancerre depending on the area in which it is grown. California, New Zealand, and Chile are a few other very popular regions.

  • Tasting Notes: Herbs, grass, citrus
  • Food Pairings: Seafood, poultry, green vegetables and herbs, and soft cheeses like goat cheese
A glass of white wine a flower and stick of butter drawn to the left.

Oaked Chardonnay – butter, vanilla, baking spices

CHARDONNAY

When many people think of white wine, it’s Chardonnay that first comes to mind. Many assume it’s always buttery and oaky, but it’s important to set the record straight: Chardonnay can be two very different beasts depending on how it’s made.

The grape itself produces a dry, lean white wine that’s wonderfully crisp. However, because it’s often aged in oak, many bottles are rounder and full of butter and vanilla notes.

California is most known for producing heavily oaked Chardonnays while France, specifically Burgundy and its sub-region of Chablis, is known for producing leaner, unoaked bottles with lots of minerality.

  • Tasting Notes: Unoaked: Citrus, pear, mineral; Oaked: Butter, vanilla, baking spices
  • Food Pairings: Unoaked: Vegetable risotto, sushi, oysters, and flaky white fish; Oaked: Mushrooms, lobster, winter squash, and roast chicken

PINOT GRIGIO/GRIS

In Italy, this grape is known as Pinot Grigio, while in France it’s called Pinot Gris. Either way, it produces a light, easy-drinking white wine.

It’s mostly grown in these two countries, particularly in northern regions. However, it’s also grown in Germany, California, Oregon, and Australia.

Its aromas and flavors vary a bit depending on where it is grown, but it’s generally a bone-dry wine with lots of acidity.

  • Tasting Notes: Apple, citrus, and melon
  • Food Pairings: Salads, seafood, cured meats like Prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella

bottles of white white with blue label in front

RIESLING

This is another grape that deserves a bit of debunking, as most people assume Riesling is a sweet white wine. While it can indeed be made in that style, bottles actually run the gamut from bone-dry to sticky-sweet. The majority of Rieslings are made in Germany, but the northeastern region of Alsace, France, as well as Austria, Washington, and even New York also produce it.

To ensure what you’re buying is dry, check the bottle; it will usually spell it out on the label. If it’s a German Riesling, it will say “trocken” which translates to dry.

No matter the sweetness level, though, it’s a highly aromatic wine that’s incredibly food-friendly.

  • Tasting Notes: Apricot, peach, jasmine
  • Food Pairings: Spicy Indian and Asian cuisine, seafood, Tex-Mex, and pork
A glass of white wine with a rose, ginger and berry drawn to the right.

Gewürztraminer – lychee, rose, ginger

GEWÜRTZTRAMINER

This grape is most commonly found in Germany, Austria, and northeastern Italy and France, though it’s also made in other cool climates in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

Like Riesling, Gewürztraminer is intensely aromatic and can range from dry to sweet. It’s usually medium-bodied with low acidity, so even if it’s made in a dry style, it can be perceived as a bit sweeter than it actually is, because its tropical fruit-like aromas shine through.

VIOGNIER 

You get a medium-bodied, perfumed white wine from the Viognier grape. It originated from the Northern Rhône region of France but today is found in California, Washington, South Africa, and Australia.

Similar to Chardonnay, Viognier is usually either made unoaked or oaked, which plays a big role in the final product. Without oak aging, the wine is crisp, acidic, and floral, while it is rounder, creamier, and more vanilla and spice-forward when aged in oak.

If you love buttery, rich, oak-aged Chardonnays, you’ll love oak-aged Viognier. However, if you prefer your white wine to be crisp and lean, opt for unoaked.

  • Tasting Notes: Unoaked: Rose, stone fruit, honeysuckle; Oaked: Tropical fruit, vanilla, baking spices
  • Food Pairings: Unoaked: Scallops, aromatic herbs such as tarragon, Middle Eastern cuisine, and spicy Indian and Asian cuisine; Oaked: Fondue, crab, winter squash, and baked brie
A glass of white wine with pears, apple and daisies drawn to the right.

Chenin Blanc – apple, chamomile, pear

CHENIN BLANC

It’s hard to pinpoint Chenin Blanc, because this grape grows well in a large number of different regions and climates to produce a white wine with a vast array of styles. It’s most commonly grown in South Africa and the Loire Valley of France, but you’ll find it in the United States, Australia, and even India.

It’s often a fruit-forward, light-bodied dry wine that’s high in acidity, but it can also be off-dry and very aromatic.

  • Tasting Notes: Apple, chamomile, pear
  • Food Pairings: Quiche, poultry, smoked salmon, and dishes with cream sauces

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Sheela Prakash

Sheela Prakash is a food and wine writer, recipe developer, and the author of Mediterranean Every Day. Her writing and recipes can be found in numerous online and print publications, including Kitchn, Epicurious, Food52, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, The Splendid Table, Culture Cheese Magazine, Clean Plates, and Slow Food USA.

Sheela received her master's degree from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, holds Level 2 and Level 3 Awards in Wines from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), graduated from New York University's Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, and is also a Registered Dietitian.

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3 Comments

No ImageA Guide to White Wine

  1. ab

    Gruyère is not a stinky cheese.

  2. Gokul

    Great info for a wine lover and very helpful while choosing a White wine. Great job !!!!

  3. laura

    Sharing over at Everyday Edits dot co this weekend! Pinning shortly! Love this! laura in Colorado!

Guide to White WineA Guide to White Wine