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White Wine

Learn about white wine — the range of styles, how it’s made and more ...

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Types of white wine varieties

While only a handful of white wine varieties are responsible for most of the commercial production of white wine worldwide, hundreds of native varieties are important not only to local culture, but to the diversity of the global wine world. From lean and crisp to oaky and buttery, white wine comes in an array of styles and is produced in almost every wine region of the world. While they’re all important to local cultures and global wine diversity, these are the top white grapes used for production:

  • Chardonnay: Diverse styles, but often shows oak influence and a buttery quality.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp, aromatic, often un-oaked. Citrus, grassy and tropical notes.
  • Pinot Grigio/Gris: Usually un-oaked, medium-bodied, with apple, pear and citrus.
  • Chenin Blanc: Made into dry, sweet, still and sparkling wines. Apple, pear, ginger, “steel wool” minerality.
  • Riesling: Tolerates cold weather, high in acid. Lime, peach and petrol notes. Can be dry, medium sweet or lusciously sweet.
  • Semillon: Often blended with Sauvignon Blanc. Has a viscous texture and notes of citrus and tropical fruit. Susceptible to botrytis and used in rich dessert wines.

Styles of white wine

Apart from the differences between dry and sweet wines, there are 3 basic styles in dry white wines.

  • Light, crisp and uncomplicated. Think Pinot Grigio.
  • Medium-bodied, aromatic and flavorful. Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc.
  • Full, textured and richly-flavored. Chardonnay or Viognier.
  • Sweet white wine - Sweet whites occur when the winemaker stops fermentation before the yeasts have converted all the sugar to alcohol, the result being a sweet, low alcohol wine. A German Auslese Reisling is a good example of a still sweet wine.
  • Dry white wine - Dry white wine happens when the winemaker allows fermentation to continue until little to no residual sugar is left. These can be higher in alcohol, though the percentage will vary depending on the ripeness of the grapes. Cooler climate whites will be lighter in body, ranging from 11% to 12.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). Warm climate whites will be fuller, from 13% to as high as 15% ABV in some cases.

Some of the most popular New World white wine regions are California’s Sonoma and Central Coast regions, New Zealand’s Marlborough region and Chile. In the Old World, legendary regions include Burgundy and the Loire Valley in France, Germany’s Mosel and Rheingau, Italy’s Veneto and Alto Adige and Spain’s Rias Baixas.

How is white wine made?

Unlike red winemaking, the juice from white grapes is not typically left in contact with the grape skins during the fermentation process. As quickly as possible after harvest, grapes are crushed and pressed, removing the juice from the grape skins and other solids. To preserve fresh aromatics and fruit, white wines are fermented cooler than reds. The winemaker may let the wine rest on its lees (spent yeast cells) for a period of time, providing additional texture or a “biscuity” quality. They may also initiate malolactic fermentation, a process that converts tart malic acid into softer lactic acid and lends a creamy, buttery essence to the wine. Whether and how to use oak is another important decision. Barrels, especially new ones, can have a dramatic influence on a wine’s aromas and flavors, adding notes of vanilla, toast, spice and coconut. Though, older barrels can provide neutral containers for the development of the wine.

What gives white wine its color?

White wines can vary in color from nearly clear lemon-green to medium gold to pale orange or almost light brown, depending on grape variety, winemaking methods and age.

Red wine gets its color from time spent in contact with the skins. Since white wine juice is separated from the skins quickly, it tends to be pale. Un-oaked white wines are often light yellow, sometimes with greenish tints. White wines that mature in new oak will become richer in color; subtle oxidation that occurs with oak aging causes a more golden hue.

White wine color

Evaluating white wine color is best done in a well-lit room. Hold your glass against a white background and look closely. A very pale wine indicates an un-oaked, lighter-bodied wine that might come from a cool climate region like Italy’s Alto Adige or Germany’s Mosel. A straw-colored wine suggests Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Pinot Blanc, while fuller, oaked whites often appear golden in the glass. Deeper, darker colors result either from deliberate skin contact or longer, oxidative aging.

Pairing white wine with food

White wines can be versatile with food. Here are some terrific pairing ideas:

  • Chardonnay with poultry, lobster or crab, rich and creamy cheeses.
  • Sauvignon Blanc with light salads, light seafood dishes, goat cheese.
  • Albariño with shellfish.
  • Riesling (medium-sweet versions) with spicy Asian cuisine.

Health benefits of white wine

While white wine is lower than red wine in certain healthful compounds like resveratrol, multiple studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption raises HDL (good cholesterol), reduces the risk of blood clots and helps prevent artery damage caused by LDL (bad cholesterol). Moderate consumption is typically defined as up to one drink per day for women, two for men.

How do you serve white wine?

Light-bodied white wines like Pinot Grigio should be served cool, at 45F to 50F. Fuller white wines like oaked Chardonnay are best served at 55F. As for stemware, the best white wine glasses have a stem and a narrow bowl large enough to allow swirling without spilling. Ideally for storing white wine in any long-term sense, it should be at cellar temperature, about 55F.

How long does white wine last?

Once opened, a bottle of white wine will usually stay fresh in the refrigerator for a couple of days or so. Unopened, white wines stay good for about a year to, in some cases, several decades. Assessing how long to hold on to a bottle is a complicated science. If you are planning to strategically store white wine, reach out to a wine expert/professional.

Aging white wine

Most white wines are meant to be enjoyed soon after release, but some can age for decades. High quality Rieslings, as well as some White Burgundies and Semillons are in this category.

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  • Louis Pommery Carneros Chardonnay 2019  Front Label
    Louis Pommery Carneros Chardonnay 2019
    Chardonnay from Carneros, California
    • TP94
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  • Domaine Roux Pere & Fils Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune Blanc 2019  Front Label
    Domaine Roux Pere & Fils Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune Blanc 2019
    Chardonnay from Hautes Cotes de Beaune, Cote de Beaune, Cote d'Or, Burgundy, France
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  • St. Michael-Eppan Schulthauser Pinot Bianco 2020  Front Label
    St. Michael-Eppan Schulthauser Pinot Bianco 2020
    Pinot Blanc from Alto Adige, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
    • WE94
    • JS92
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  • Markus Huber Terrassen Riesling 2019  Front Label
    Markus Huber Terrassen Riesling 2019
    Riesling from Austria
    • JS92
    4.0 9 Ratings
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  • Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc 2021  Front Label
    Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc 2021
    Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand
    • D95
    • WS89
    4.6 7 Ratings
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  • Zilliken Butterfly Mosel Riesling 2020  Front Label
    Zilliken Butterfly Mosel Riesling 2020
    Riesling from Mosel, Germany
    • JS92
    4.0 5 Ratings
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  • Patrizi Moscato d'Asti 2021  Front Label
    Patrizi Moscato d'Asti 2021
    Muscat from Asti, Piedmont, Italy
    • WW90
    4.8 27 Ratings
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  • Willm Kirchberg de Barr Riesling 2020  Front Label
    Willm Kirchberg de Barr Riesling 2020
    Riesling from Alsace, France
    • WW93
    4.7 31 Ratings
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  • St. Michael-Eppan Lahn Sauvignon 2020  Front Label
    St. Michael-Eppan Lahn Sauvignon 2020
    Sauvignon Blanc from Alto Adige, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
    • JS92
    4.6 15 Ratings
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  • Zilliken Forstmeister Geltz Saarburg Riesling Kabinett 2020  Front Label
    Zilliken Forstmeister Geltz Saarburg Riesling Kabinett 2020
    Riesling from Mosel, Germany
    • JS92
    4.8 14 Ratings
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  • Les Cretes Cuvee Bois Chardonnay 2019  Front Label
    Les Cretes Cuvee Bois Chardonnay 2019
    Chardonnay from Valle d'Aosta, Italy
      5.0 20 Ratings
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    • The Winery of Good Hope Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2021  Front Label
      The Winery of Good Hope Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2021
      Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, South Africa
      • WW89
      4.7 35 Ratings
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    • Maison Brotte Versant Dore Condrieu 2020  Front Label
      Maison Brotte Versant Dore Condrieu 2020
      Viognier from Condrieu, Rhone, France
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      • Markus Huber Obere Steigen Gruner Veltliner 2020  Front Label
        Markus Huber Obere Steigen Gruner Veltliner 2020
        Gruner Veltliner from Austria
        • JS93
        4.2 19 Ratings
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      • Louis Latour Chablis La Chanfleure 2020  Front Label
        Louis Latour Chablis La Chanfleure 2020
        Chardonnay from Chablis, Burgundy, France
        • WW92
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      • Les Cretes Chardonnay 2021  Front Label
        Les Cretes Chardonnay 2021
        Chardonnay from Valle d'Aosta, Italy
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        • Willm Cuvee Emile Willm Riesling 2020  Front Label
          Willm Cuvee Emile Willm Riesling 2020
          Riesling from Alsace, France
            4.9 19 Ratings
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          • Planeta Etna Bianco 2019  Front Label
            Planeta Etna Bianco 2019
            Carricante from Sicily, Italy
            • WE94
            • RP93
            • WS90
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          • Vavasour Sauvignon Blanc 2021  Front Label
            Vavasour Sauvignon Blanc 2021
            Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand
            • D95
            • WW90
            • WS90
            4.7 5 Ratings
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          • Les Cretes Petite Arvine Fleur 2018  Front Label
            Les Cretes Petite Arvine Fleur 2018
            Other White Wine from Valle d'Aosta, Italy
            • RP93
            • JS93
            4.8 26 Ratings
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          • Louis Latour Marsannay Blanc 2018  Front Label
            Louis Latour Marsannay Blanc 2018
            Chardonnay from Marsannay, Cote de Nuits, Cote d'Or, Burgundy, France
            • JS91
            4.7 33 Ratings
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          • Masciarelli Colline Teatine Villa Gemma Bianco 2020  Front Label
            Masciarelli Colline Teatine Villa Gemma Bianco 2020
            Other White Blends from Abruzzo, Italy
            • JS92
            4.3 5 Ratings
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          • Atlantis Albarino 2021  Front Label
            Atlantis Albarino 2021
            Albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain
            • WW91
            4.6 34 Ratings
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          • Paul Cluver Estate Chardonnay 2018  Front Label
            Paul Cluver Estate Chardonnay 2018
            Chardonnay from Elgin, South Africa
            • D93
            • V91
            4.4 59 Ratings
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          • Domaine Laroque Cite de Carcassonne Chardonnay 2021  Front Label
            Domaine Laroque Cite de Carcassonne Chardonnay 2021
            Chardonnay from Languedoc, South of France, France
            • JS90
            4.6 43 Ratings
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