White wines are a classic representation of elegance and sophistication in the world of wine. They come in a variety of styles, from crisp and refreshing to rich and complex. With so many different types of white wines available, it can be challenging to understand the differences between them. This comprehensive guide will take you through the distinct characteristics of white wines, from the grapes they’re made from to the flavors and aromas they possess. By the end of this guide, you’ll be an expert on white wines, knowing exactly which varietals are best for your taste buds and occasions!
How Is White Wine Different from Red Wine?
White wines are made from white grape varietals, while red wines are generally made with darker, red-skinned grapes. White wines tend to have a lighter body and color than their red counterparts. They usually contain less tannins, which gives them a softer mouthfeel and makes them more approachable for those just starting out in the world of wine. Additionally, white wines often feature notes of floral or fruity aromas such as citrus or stone fruit, whereas red wine may have flavors that range from earthy (such as mushrooms) to spicy (think black pepper).
What Does White Wine Taste Like?
White wines can range in flavor from light and crisp to full-bodied and complex. Some of the most popular white wine varietals include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Moscato. These all have their own unique flavor profiles that can be described as anything from tropical fruit aromas (e.g., mango or pineapple) to grassy notes. White wines may also present flavors like lemon zest, grapefruit, melon, apple, or pear depending on the type of grape used and the winemaking method employed.
Types of White Wine
There are many different types of white wine, over dozens and dozens. Keep reading as we discuss six of the most popular white wine varietals in more detail:
Wine style: bold and dry
Flavors: citrus, apple, starfruit, pineapple, vanilla, cream & butter
Food pairings: roasted chicken, sea bass, lobster, mushrooms, and brie cheese
Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the world, to the point that it is almost interchangeable with the term “white wine.” Chardonnay grapes, named after a village in the French region of Burgundy, are widely grown in wine regions around the globe. Chardonnay is also one of the three main grape varieties used in Champagne. Chardonnay grapes are easy to grow and have a subtle taste. This makes them a great choice for winemakers to customize white wine according to their preferences. In addition, Chardonnay has the ability to convey the unique characteristics of the region in which it was grown, known as “terroir”, which is reflected in its flavor profile.
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
Wine style: light and dry
Flavors: peach, lemon zest, almonds, honey, spice, and stone
Food pairings: chicken, pasta with light sauce, shellfish, scallops, and mozzarella
To clarify, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are actually interchangeable terms for the same type of grape. This grape is actually a variation of the Pinot noir grape, and has a pinkish tint to it. The grape that grows in northeastern Italy is called Pinot Grigio in Italian, while in the Alsace region it is called Pinot Gris in French. These two wines are similar, but there are some slight variations.
The flavors of French Pinot Gris wines often include hints of honey and spice, while the characteristics of Italian Pinot Grigio wines tend to be more on the lighter, crisper, and refreshing side. Italian wines are known for having a mineral taste because of their distinct stone or gravel notes.
Wine style: dry, off-dry, or sweet
Flavors: apple, pear, peach, lemon, lime, jasmine, beeswax, and petroleum
Food pairings: German food, pork, bacon, shrimp, and spicy food
Riesling grapes, originating in Germany, are used to make a white wine varietal called Riesling. The majority of Rieslings are still produced in Germany, and they come in a variety of styles, from bone dry to off-dry to very sweet. Although Riesling is often thought of as a sweet white wine, the most esteemed types are actually dry. Overall, Riesling wines feature notes of fruit, citrus, jasmine, and can even have mineral notes.
Wine style: bold and dry
Flavors: tangerine, melon, mango, apricot, peach, honeysuckle, rose, and chamomile
Food pairings: grilled shrimp, Thai basil, coconut curry, veal, and roasted chicken
Viognier grapes, which are known for their temperamental nature, originally came from the Northern Rhône Valley in France and are used to make a rich and oily white wine called Viognier. Viognier plantings used to be rare, but this grape and its wine are gaining popularity nowadays. Viognier wine is now being produced in various places such as California, Australia, South Africa, and North Carolina. The wine’s richness is reminiscent of Chardonnay and its bold fruit flavors range from melon and mango to tangerine and apricot.
Wine style: dry, herbaceous
Flavors: peach, lime, green apple, grapefruit, honeydew, and passionfruit
Food pairings: smoked salmon, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and salad
Sauvignon Blanc is a well-known type of white wine that has a crisp and herbaceous taste. It is made from a grape that is associated with two famous wine regions in France, namely Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Sauvignon blanc grapes are now grown all over the world.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes tend to absorb the flavors of the land they are grown in, resulting in a variety of tastes in Sauvignon Blanc bottles around the world. For instance, North Carolina Sauvignon Blancs tend to be citrusy, while those from California tend to be more tropical and fruity.
Wine style: light and sweet or semi-sweet
Flavors: mandarins, lemon, pear, orange blossom, and honeysuckle
Food pairings: Vietnamese food, fruit desserts, brie, and goat cheese
The muscat family of grapes, which is one of the oldest wine grape varieties in the world, is used to make Moscato. There are over 200 grape varieties in the muscat family. Among mainstream white wines, Moscato is generally regarded as being on the sweeter side. Keep in mind that not all Moscato types are extremely sweet, though. Some Moscatos are only semi-sweet. Although Moscatel wine from Spain and Muskateller wine from Austria are dry, their fruity aromatics can trick your brain into perceiving them as sweeter than they actually are.
Find the Perfect Bottle of White Wine
From sweet to dry, light to bold, white wine is as diverse and complex as any type of wine can be. As long as you know what to look for in each grape variety, you should have no trouble finding the perfect bottle of white wine for your next gathering! We hope you’ll try out some of the wines discussed here from RayLen Vineyards. Cheers!
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