White wine can be made from white or black grapes, but the majority of white wines are made from white grapes. White wine can be made from black grapes by gently pressing the grape juice from the black grapes and then by discarding the skins before fermentation. The skin is where the red color comes from and the juice is actually the same color. A good example of this is Champagne, which is often made from Pinot Noir. The skins are discarded before fermentation when creating white wine, regardless if the grapes are black or white.
White Wine Principal Varieties
There are 4 main white wine grape varieties that make up a majority of the white wine grown and produced in the world; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling.
Chardonnay is the world’s most popular grape type, owing mainly to its ability to reflect a gamut of flavours and styles. One can find anything from an acidic light-bodied Chardonnay with mineral notes from Chablis (the birthplace of Chardonnay) to a heavily oaked, full-mouthed Chardonnay with tropical fruit aromas from the New World. Chardonnay is also one of the three grape types (along with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) that make up champagne. Champagne can also be made exclusively of Chardonnay, and is called a Blanc de Blanc. The tendency to mass market Chardonnay these days has resulted in a decline in its popularity.
Sauvignon Blanc typically polarises wine lovers into groups who either love it or hate it. In France, it is traditionally associated with the minerality and flinty notes of the Eastern Loire Valley or as a blending partner with Semillon and Muscadelle in white Bordeaux wines. In the New World, New Zealand has encouraged Sauvignon Blanc to bring forth aromas of green grass, asparagus and tropical fruit (guava and passion fruit). Despite its crisp acidity, Sauvignon Blancs don’t age well, and need to be drunk young.
Riesling languished in the doldrums of neglect until quite recently, but its distinctive characteristics have now earned it a cult following that is now rapidly growing in size. It is highly aromatic, with notes of nuts, lemons, apples and peaches in its youth to heady notes of petrol and toast in its prime. When botrytized, fragrances of honey and flowers abound. The Riesling doesn’t travel well beyond the borders of Germany, where the cool climate and the slaty slopes of the Mosel Valley produce Rieslings worth waiting for. Most aficionados do end up waiting for them, as Rieslings age extremely well in the bottle, often maturing several decades later (in tandem with some Bordeaux Growths).
Sometimes referred to as Pinot Gris, this wine is a dry white wine originating from Burgundy, France. You now find pinot grigio being made in Italy, Australia, and New Zealand and it can be sweet or dry, but most often on the drier side. The wine will have notes of subtle honey and floral aromas. It often has a high minerality, which makes it perfect to pair with seafood!
Dry White Wine Varietals
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling can all be considered dry wine, although Pinot Grigio and Riesling can be off-dry or semi-sweet depending on the style and region it is grown.
Albariño – this dry white wine is very similar to sauvignon blanc. Grown in Spain and Portugal, the wine has notes of citrus, grapefruit & lemons with a high minerality. Pair albarino with a nice arugula salad.
Grüner Veltliner – one of the most popular Austrian wines produced, mostly in 3 regions of Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal. The wine is very dry with notes of spice, citrus like lemon and lime and also has a high acidity. The wine is excellent paired with Thai food.
Marsanne – A grape variety that contributes to the Rhône Valley white wine blends, often producing wines with notes of honey, pear, and almond.
Roussanne – Another grape used in Rhône Valley blends, typically offering flavors of apricot, herbal notes, and a creamy texture.
Colombard – Often used in blending, Colombard is known for its high acidity and citrus flavors.
Picpoul Blanc – A grape from the Languedoc region in France, known for its high acidity and notes of green apple and lemon.
Muscadet – Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape in the Loire Valley, Muscadet wines are known for their minerality and crisp, citrus notes.
Sancerre – Sancerre is a region in France that primarily produces Sauvignon Blanc wines with a distinct flinty character and citrusy flavors.
Assyrtiko – A grape variety from Greece, known for its high acidity and citrusy flavors, often used in the production of Santorini wines.
Silvaner – A German grape variety known for its delicate, herbal, and mineral-driven wines.
Torrontés – from Argentina & Chile, this dry white wine has a high acidity but smooth texture. The floral fragrances of fruit and roses come off as sweet even though the wine is dry. This wine goes very well with light Asian dishes.
Fiano – this ancient Italian dry white wine is from the warmer regions of Campania and Sicily. This easy drinking wine has a high acidity and a subtle fragrance of pear, honey and citrus. Pair this with seafood or even tomato based sauces, because the high acidity of the wine can hold up to it.
Cortese – from Italy’s Piedmont region, this wine has crisp notes of lime, apple, peach, honeydew and even almonds. The high acidity and fresh flavors make this a perfect wine to enjoy on a hot day. Pair this wine with a light cheese or seafood. Müller-Thurgau – A German wine that is now also grown in other areas of Europe in Hungary, Belgium and France and also in New Zealand and the United States. This dry wine has notes of peaches and other mild fruity flavors. Pair this with asparagus to enhance the flavors of both.
Verdicchio – this light white wine is wonderful in the summer with refreshing strong citrusy notes of lemons. Originating from Italy, this wine has been cultivated for centuries to perfection. Enjoy this wine with a nice seafood risotto.
Trebbiano – this floral and fruity white wine comes from several regions in Italy including Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo, Lazio & Romagna. The wine has a medium body and high acidity. The notes of mandarin oranges, lavender, pears & apples make a distinct experience when enjoying the wine. Pair it with white pizza, chicken or pesto dishes.
Off-Dry to Semi-Dry White Wines
Chenin Blanc – India’s most beloved white wine grape was born in the Loire valley in France. Owing to its high acidity and susceptibility to botrytis, this grape variety can be made in a variety of styles, from the very dry to the very sweet. Expect the drier variety to have floral and fruity aromas (apple and pear) noticeable on the nose. Botrytized (late harvest) Chenin Blancs are more honeyed on both nose and palate. Beyond the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc is generally treated as an inferior grape type, with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc vastly preferred to it.
Viognier – This well known white wine is grown worldwide. It can have spicy undertones with notes of apricots & peaches. It has a signature fragrance of spring blossoms and jasmine. Pair this with spicy dishes to cut through the strong flavors or grilled chicken & veal also go great with a nice viognier.
Garganega – this Italian dry white wine from the regions of Veneto, Umbria and Friuli has crip notes of citrus, melon, peach and sweet almond. Bring this wine out for your next dinner party to surprise your guests with an easy drinking white wine that most everyone should enjoy. Even better when paired with mussels and scallops!
Malvasia – A family of grapes used to make sweet and dry wines in various regions, with flavors ranging from floral and fruity to nutty and honeyed.
Falanghina – A white grape from southern Italy, producing wines with tropical fruit and floral aromas.
Verdelho – Commonly grown in Madeira and the Azores, Verdelho produces wines with fruity and floral notes.
Vermentino – This grape is widely planted in Italy and produces a wine with bright acidity and flavors of citrus, pear, and herbal notes.
Grechetto – An Italian grape used to make white wines in the Umbria region, with flavors of citrus, pear, and almond.
Sweet White Wine Varietals
Gewürztraminer – Pronounced guh-VURTS-trah-MEE-ner, this deep-coloured wine is very popular with novices, who love its extremely heady aromas of lychee, rose petal, cinnamon and ginger. Gewurztraminer is considered too strong a wine to be paired with food, however we recommend pairing it with hot wings! The wine is not known for aging as well as other white wines either. Gewurztraminer from Alsace are particularly noteworthy, though California and Oregon also produce it wonderfully well.
Sémillon – this wine can be dry or sweet. The wine was originally from France’s Bordeaux region, but is now also produced in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and in South America in Chile, and Argentina. The notes of lemon, apple & papaya pairs well with shellfish, pork and chicken.
Palomino – The primary grape used to make Sherry in Spain, offering a wide range of styles from dry to sweet.
Airén – this Spanish wine has notes of ripe fruits like banana, pineapple, or grapefruit and a low acidity. This delicate wine isn’t as sweet as other sweet white wines, but does have a surprising sweetness to it. Pair it with a white flaky fish to enhance the delicate flavors.
White Zinfandel – White Zinfandel is a type of rosé wine that is made from the grape variety Zinfandel. It is a light-bodied, fruity wine with a pinkish hue. The flavor of White Zinfandel ranges from dry to sweet but it is usually on the sweeter side. And the flavor can be described as having notes of strawberry, raspberry, and citrus.
Moscato / Muscat – originating from Italy’s Piedmont region, this sweet white wine has a low alcohol ABV % and is great for beginning wine drinkers with a low alcohol tolerance. The refreshing notes of apricots, raspberries & peaches make this wine good to pair with fruit and light cheeses.
Sparkling White Wine Varietals
Txakoli – A refreshing and slightly sparkling white wine from the Basque Country in Spain, often with green apple and citrus notes.
Xarel·lo – A grape used in the production of Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, known for its green apple and floral aromas.
Keep in mind that the sweetness level of wines can vary, even within the same grape variety, depending on the winemaking process and the region where the wine is produced. The list above provides a general guideline, but it’s always a good idea to check the label or seek recommendations from the winery or wine merchant for specific sweetness levels.