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White Wine 101

You want to purchase a bottle or order a glass of white wine for dinner, but have no idea which to choose. We get it. The number of white wine varieties cultivated from a multitude of producers throughout the world will make any thirsty wine-lover's head spin. But finding that delicious white wine with the style (and price) you'll love doesn't have to be complicated when you know a few basics.

If the only thing you know about white wine is that you like to drink it than this White Wine 101 guide is for you.

How Is White Wine Made?

But first (for the geek in you...)

1. White wine can be made from either red or white grapes. The major difference is that white wines are fermented without the skins.


2. Once the grapes are harvested and destemmed, they're sent to the press to extract the juice, although fragments of cells from the skin and pulp may be present (sediment).

3. The juice is fermented in tanks set to a low temperature in order to preserve a natural fruit profile. During this process, sugar and yeast from the juice is converted into alcohol and CO2. 


4. If the wine should be unoaked, the fermented juice is racked, whereby the clear wine is removed from the sediment, and bottled. However, if the winemaker prefers an oaked style, the fermented wine is aged in barrels where malic acid (tart) is converted into lactic acid (creamy), then racked and bottled. Whew! 

The trick to discovering which white wine is for you is to discover which wine style and flavor profile you prefer.

Go-To White Wines

Chardonnay
Where it's found: Chardonnay is the world's most planted white grape and is found throughout the world. Popular regions that produce outstanding Chardonnay wines include Burgundy, Champagne, and Russian River and Carneros in California.

How it tastes: Chardonnay is a full bodied white wine. When grown in cool climates, such as Champagne and Chablis, Chardonnay is medium to light in body, is highly acidic with steely minerality, and expresses flavors of apple and pear. In warm to hot climates such as Chile, Chardonnay can show tropical fruit notes, and convey higher alcohol. A Chardonnay grown in moderate climates such as California may express more citrus, melon, and peach flavors. You may enjoy rich, toasty, nutty flavors or buttery, creamy notes in an oaked Chardonnay or the fresh, fruit forward profile of an unoaked choice fermented in stainless steel.

Pair with: Enjoy savory Chicken Kiev, freshly baked quiche, or grilled marinated shrimp with a glass of your favorite Chardonnay.

Favorites to try:

Sauvignon Blanc

Where it's found: Sauvignon Blanc is planted in Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, New Zealand, California, South Africa, Chile, and many other regions of the world.

How it tastes: A light bodied white wine that's fruit forward with plenty of acidity and medium amounts of alcohol, every region offers a different profile. When grown in cool or moderate climates such as the Marlborough, New Zealand, you may find high acidity, green, herbaceous flavors and fruit notes such as passion fruit or elderflower. Notes of peaches and grapefruit are often found in Sauvignon Blanc wines from grapes grown in the north coast of California. A touch of minerality and notes of lime can be found in a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley.

Pair with: Try crab cakes, Japanese fare, or grilled trout with a lovely, chilled Sauvignon Blanc that's no more than a couple of years old.

Favorites to try:

Riesling

Where it's found: This fruity, aromatic white wine is cultivated predominantly in the Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau and Pfalz areas of Germany, the Wachau in Austria, Alsace in France, and the Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia, and the Finger Lakes region of New York where both dry and sweet examples are produced.

How it tastes: Riesling can be found in styles ranging from dry to sweet, thanks to its ability to ripen late and grow in a variety of climates. A lovely Riesling may exude flavors of lime, green apple, orange, jasmine, and petrol. This variety doesn't benefit from malolactic fermentation or oak ageing and can be kept up to ten years.

Pair with: Pair a sweet Riesling with any Asian food such as spicy Thai or sushi, Southwestern fare (tacos!), or your favorite pulled pork sandwich. A bone-dry style will complement chicken piccata, halibut stew, or fresh seafood.

Favorites to try:

White Wine Gems

Viognier

Where it's found: Viognier thrives in warm to hot conditions and is notable in the small, northern Rhone Valley regions of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. I've found some beautiful Viogniers in Virginia, too, where it has been named the state grape.

How it tastes: Offering the soft, full bodied texture of a Chardonnay with some additional aromas of fruit as a bonus, Viognier is just delicious. In cooler climates, you'll discover aromas and flavors of lime, honeysuckle, and minerality, whereas in warmer regions,  notes of pineapple, mango, apricot, red flowers, and vanilla are prevalent.

Pair with: You’ll love a cheese plate with fresh chèvre, gruyère, aged gouda, and French brie, a seafood salad, and a glass or two of Viognier.

Favorites to try:

Pinot Grigio

Where it's found: Winemakers from the Trentino or Fruili regions of Italy produce consistently outstanding Pinot Grigio, although you can find wonderful choices from the United States, Germany and even Australia.

How it tastes: Pinot Grigio is a fresh, dry wine that's light in body with moderate fruit notes and acidity. You'll discover citrus and salty, sea breeze notes in a Pinot Grigio from northern Italy and flavors of yellow apple and lemon in those from the United States or Australia.

Pair with: Open a bottle of Pinot Grigio and pair with spaghetti carbonara, white cheese chicken lasagna, or your favorite light seafood dish.

Favorites to try:

About the Author:
Cindy Rynning is a Chicago based blogger who has been writing about wine for several years. Her articles have been featured on her own site, Grape Experiences, in digital magazines such as Crave Local and Wine Tourist Magazine, and as part of wine club newsletters including those for Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurants and Wine of the Month Club. Cindy reviews exceptional wines, interviews movers and shakers in the wine industry, shares adventurous tales of wine travel, and writes about mouthwatering food and wine pairings. Her mission is to help wine lovers find that perfect bottle of wine to swirl, sip, and savor…for any occasion. Check out her Top Shelf Blogger profile!