A beginner’s guide to white wine

white wine

If you like white wine, but you’d like to do more than take a random shot in the dark when choosing a bottle to whet your appetite or opt for something other than the ‘house white’ when you’re in a restaurant, or you want to pair a white wine with what you’re rustling up for supper tonight, then you might need to know more than the difference between red and white wine. 

Come to think of it, what is the difference between white wine and red wine? 

Let’s start at the very beginning…

White wine, what is it?

White wine is wine that has been fermented from grapes without skin contact i.e. the grapes are crushed to extract the juice, and the juice is separated from the grape skins before fermentation begins. Fun fact for you – you can produce white wine from black-skinned grapes, the wine colour is all in the grape skin!

There are hundreds of different types of white wines, produced all around the world. They vary in flavour, however, most white wines are considered ‘dry’, with the sweetness levels being altered throughout the fermentation process by the winemaker. 

Take note – not all wines produced from the same grape varieties will taste the same. For example, a French chardonnay (a chablis) will taste significantly different to an Australian chardonnay – this is down to (but not limited to) the way the grapes are grown, the climate in which they’re grown and how the vintner chooses to make their wine. 

Meaning, just because you don’t like one type of wine, produced from a certain grape varietal, grown by in a vineyard is a part of one country, doesn’t mean you won’t like the same type of wine produced elsewhere. 

And that’s the beauty of white wine (and all wine come to think of it) – there are so many factors that influence the way a white wine tastes, if you don’t like one bottle of wine, there are hundreds (thousands even) more out there you will like. 

7 common types of white wine

  1. Chardonnay. This is one of the most popular types of white wine the world over. The chardonnay grape is native to Burgundy (France) but thrives in cooler climates too, such as New Zealand. The classic light creamy taste associated with chardonnay is produced during the fermentation process, softening the grape’s natural acidic flavour to softer, richer notes. With chardonnays, you can expect to taste sharp flavours like green apples or citrus fruits, but these are always combined with a sweeter, caramel-like finish. Note – chardonnays can be sweet or dry, even oaky. 
  2. Viognier. This wine has a perfumed, floral aroma that is light and airy, differing somewhat to its full-bodied, fruity flavour. Viognier is the sister to chardonnay, just without the acidity. It’s soft and fruity and not so heavy on the tongue unlike chardonnay, and with less acidity too. Viogniers are bursting with juicy notes of pears, mangos and tangerines, with a smooth finish, available either oaked or unoaked.
  3. Pinot Grigio. The cousin to the popular red variety, pinot noir, the pinot grigio is a dry, zesty floral flavoured white wine. Pinot grigios tend to be slightly heavier in texture in comparison to other types of white wine, although that doesn’t translate to a heavier wine. More they have a velvety feel on your tongue when sipped, with a refreshing flavour, rather than a sharp, tart one. Pinot grigio has citrus flavours like lemons and nectarines combined with warmth from spice-like flavours of ginger and cloves. 
  4. Sauvignon Blanc. The most prolific planted grape variety in the world, the sauvignon blanc white wine is also one of the greenest tasting available, with some high acidity levels and strong citrus notes. Don’t expect anything sweet – the sauvignon blanc finish is a dry one. Expect to taste everything in a sauvignon blanc from grapefruit through to elderflowers, green peppers and grass cuttings, to gooseberries. New World sauvignon blanc like New Zealand ones tend to be more citrusy in flavour than Old World ones, this is in part due to the climate difference. 
  5. Riesling. You can find a riesling to suit almost any taste, as this white wine’s flavour profile differs tremendously depending on where the grapes have been grown. Riesling grapes are easily manipulated, producing a sharp wine from young grapes to a more refined offering if the grapes are held on the vine for longer. Rieslings are easy drinkers, they don’t have a high alcohol content and they won’t overpower any food options you pair them with. Expect flavours of honey, apricots and green apples, with dryer deeper flavours from older vintages.
  6. Gewürztraminer. Tangy yet floral, this flavourful white wine packs a punch like no other. Juicy with a highly distinct flavour profile, this aromatic grape produces a complex wine with notes of strawberries, pineapples and rose. It’s an incredibly light white wine, perfectly spiced and the ideal drink to imbibe on a warm summer’s day.
  7. Moscato. These wines are more for the sweet-toothed wine drinkers out there. With its low alcohol content (between 5-7% ABV) and sweet flavour profile of orange blossom, cherries and pears, without much acidity, these wines are perfect for puddings. Moscato (or Muscat) grapes are one of the oldest, unmodified types grown, having been around for over 3000 years. 
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