Most white wine is produced from white grapes. I say most, because there are a few exceptions. Wine gets its color from letting the skins soak in the juice.
Since this is the case, it is possible to make white wine out of black grapes by carefully extracting the juice and keeping the skins separated. Champagne is the most famous example. It is made from a blend of grapes which include Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (black grapes).
Besides color, not allowing the skins and stems to soak in the juice also reduces the amount of tannin in the wine. Tannin has a mouth drying quality that causes the wine to feel firm in your mouth. Sometimes though, a white wine will be allowed to ferment or age in oak barrels. The oak barrels will impart some tannin to the wine, but not as much as in a typical red wine.
Rosés (Blush) are White?
Believe it or not, a blush, which is just another term for rosé, is considered a white wine. They are made by allowing the skins to soak for only a short period of time before extracting. A good rosé should be delicate and refreshing, not cloyingly sweet.
The best rosés are made from the Grenache grape. Rosés have been given a bad reputation from some of the extremely sweet and cheap varieties on the market. Don’t let that stop you from finding some that are truely delicious and worth savoring.
Major White Wine (Grape) Varieties
Chardonnay – The world’s most popular white variety. It is usually oak aged and has a buttery flavor.
Chenin Blanc – Common in the Loire Valley of France. It is a highly acidic wine that can range from very dry to very sweet.
Gewürztraminer – The most intensely aromatic of all wines. The aromas are of florals and spice.
Muscat – Produces the only wine to actually smell like grapes. Can have a variety of styles and popluar in sparkling wines.
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio – A very wide variety of styles from dry to sweet to spicy. Often they will have a hint of honey.
Reisling – A low alcholic wine with striking acidity. Many are very sweet but they can also be dry.
Sauvignon Blanc – Meant to drink young, these are the most tangy and pungent of the wine varieties.
Other White Wine (Grape) Varieties
Cabernet Franc – A relative of Cabernet Sauvignon but is usually used in blends.
Colombard – Produces a crisp every day wine with tropical fruit aromas.
Garganega – Famous for making Italy’s Soave. This wine is fresh and tangy like green apples.
Müller Thurgau – A faily unexciting grape popular in cooler climates for its early ripening qualities.
Pinot Blanc – Highly acidic and low sugar levels resulting in a dry, crisp wine.
Torrontés – The popular white grape from Argentina. It produces a highly aromatic wine.
Trebbiano – A very mild grape producing a neutral wine that won’t interfere with most foods.
Verdelho – A rich, white wine with the taste of limes.
Viognier – A low acid wine with floral aromas and an apricot quality. It is so richly aromatic that even though it is dry, it seems sweet.
European White Wines
The Europeans label their wines by the region in which the grapes are grown, not the grape variety like in the U.S. Many times they are blends of multiple grape varieties. Here is a chart of some of Europe’s white wines.
Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
Riesling or others
Riesling or others
Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc
Garganega and others
Enjoying White Wine
White wines are typically less complicated than reds because of the effect tannin has on red wines. Therefore, white wine can be enjoyed whenever and whereever the mood strikes you. White wines can make an excellent apértif or before dinner drink instead of a cocktail. They are also the least likely to offend the palate of a novice wine drinker.
Most people know to drink white wine chilled, but it can be too cold. For more specific guidelines, see chart below.
Sample White Wines
Chablis, Soave, Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano, cheap sparkling wine
39°F – 43°F (4°C – 6°C)
Sauvignon Blanc, Champagne, Rosé or Blush, Riesling
43°F – 46°F (6°C – 8°C)
Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, white Rioja, Viognier
46°F – 50°F (8°C – 10°C)
Yes, I know, you’re not going to get a thermometer and take the temperature of the wine every time you are going to drink it. What I would recommend is to actually drink wines at all three of the above temperatures until you get a feel for them without a thermometer.
With practice, you will have a good idea of the approximate temperature.
General Temperature Guidelines
- Simple and dry white wines should be consumed at the coolest temperature.
- Complex, heavier wines should be consumed at the warmest temperature (but still cool) of the other whites.
- More expensive, higher quality wines should generally be served at the warmer temperatures.
- Less expensive wines generally need to be served at lower temperatures.
The important thing to know is that a white wine needs to be refreshingly cool, but if its too cold, you will lose the subtle nuances of that expensive chardonnay.
Tip – It takes about 3 hours to chill a bottle of wine down to the temperature of the refrigerator. To quickly chill a bottle of white wine, fill a bucket full of ice water. Add some salt and then put the bottle in and twist several times. This causes more of the wine inside the bottle to come into contact with the cold glass. Let sit and occasionally repeat twisting for a few minutes. I wouldn’t recommend this with sparkling wines for obvious reasons!