White wines are made with many different grape varietals including red varietals and offer a broad selection of characteristics in their aroma, flavor and taste. All too often, white wine is considered light and highly drinkable during the warmer months of the year, however this mindset shortchanges the incredible world of white wines and limits your enjoyment in drinking and learning about white wines. Referring to wine as red or white only refers to the color of the wine (as we discovered in How To Choose a Red Wine) and not to the grape varietal used or wine style of the wine. Grape varietals and wine style are what determines the aromas, flavors and tastes of the wine in a glass.

Choosing White Wines by Color

When you are tasting wine, the first step is to look at the wine in the glass and observe its color. The color of a white wine can tell you about the wine making/aging process, the flavor and the body of the wine. White wines that are very light green or pale straw in color were macerated and separated from skins, seeds and stems quickly, these wines will be the classic refreshing, light and crisp white wines. White wines that are a deep-golden straw or yellow color may have been exposed to the skins, seeds and stems longer during maceration or have been aged in oak barrels, both of which introduce tannins to the white wine allowing it be aged longer and to develop a fuller and richer flavor profile. Chardonnay is an incredibly popular white wine varietal and is well known to make a smooth, full-bodied wine that is aged often in oak, allowing the wine to develop its classic flavors of oak, butter, citrus and vanilla.

White Wines by Varietal:

The varietals commonly used to make white wine include;

  • Chenin Blanc
  • Chardonnay
  • Gewurtztraminer
  • Muscat
  • Semillon
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Grigio/Gris

These white wine varietals produce most of the white wines that you will encounter in still and sparkling white wines. Red grape varietals are also used to make white wine and those varietals include:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Pinot Meunier

When these varietals are used for making white wines, they are macerated and separated quickly so that the color of the skins does not color the wines. It should also be noted that white wine varietals can also have darker skins, as is the case with Pinot Gris. Pinot gris is a blue-grey skinned grape used to make Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris.

Choosing White Wine By Wine Style

Wine style refers to the way the wine is made to create a specific type of wine. Wine styles compliment the characteristics of the grape to their best advantage. Some wines can be included in 2 categories, especially with some crossover between sweet wines and dessert wines. An example of the dramatic effect of wine style is the difference between Pinot Grigio Wine and Pinot Gris Wine, which are both made from the same grape varietal but have completely different flavor profiles due to the different wine making styles that each wine undergoes. White wine styles include:

  • Bold Oaked Whites - these are full bodied and have deep and complex flavor profiles, in blind taste tests they can often be mistaken for red wines. These wines are often aged in oak, which adds tannins and allows the wine to develop complex flavors. In addition to Chardonnay, the bold white wines of Bordeaux which are a blend primarily of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are an example of rich, bold white wines.
  • Crisp Whites are light bodied dry wines with bright acidity and clean crisp flavors. Sauvignon blanc with its light, signature pale green color and bright flavors is a classic example of a crisp white.
  • Sweet Whites have a medium body with pronounced aromas and flavors of fresh juice. These off-dry wines are not as sweet as dessert wines, a classic sweet white is Riesling.
  • Sparkling Wines are effervescent wines and are made with a blend of varietals including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, sparkling wines include Cava (Spain), Champagne (France) and Proseco (Italy).
  • Fortified & Dessert Wines are known to have concentrated aromas and flavors. Dessert wines include Moscato and Riesling, while fortified wines are made by adding brandy to make sherry or port.