Types of White Wine
There are 50 major white grapes grown in the world today, 24 in
California alone. The most important types are listed below.
Chablis is a dry, steely, often ageworthy wine from the most northern
vineyards in Burgandy. Chablis vineyards are ranked as Chablis Grand Cru,
Chablis Premier Cru, Chablis, and Petit Chablis. Like all fine white wine in
Burgandy, it is made from Chardonnay. In the New World, the name Chablis has
been burrowed as a generic name and is used to describe dry white jug or box
wine that bears no true resemblence (other than color) to Chablis.
Chardonnay is to white wine what Cabernet Sauvignon is to red wine.
Chardonnay is used to produce France's magnificent white Burgundies and is the
main grape in Champagne. In the last decade or so, Chardonnay has become the
world's most often-purchased dry white wine. Because of its great
adaptability, it grows in nearly every wine-producing regionof the world. Some
California Chardonnays are stellar examples of the genre. When they are made
with care, Chardonnay wines are bold, rich and complex. They taste of ripe
figs and peach, honey and butter, hazelnuts and spice. The best Chardonnays
are medium-bodied, medium dry and high in acidity. Chardonnays, more than any
other white wine, love to be aged in oak.
Chenin Blanc is one of the most widely grown grapes in California, but has
largely disappeared from the most famous growing regions because vineyard
owners can get higher prices for Chardonnay and other grapes. Chenin Blanc is
perhaps the Beaujolais of white grapes. The best examples have a beguiling
fresh fruit character with hints of pears, peaches and fresh grapes. Chenin
Blanc can be made in a full range of styles from dry and crisp to semi-sweet
and fruity to full blown late-harvest dessert wines. You can detect honey,
straw and even exotic scents like oil of Bergamot in the best examples. Chenin
Blanc can also make charming sparkling wines, especially from Anjou and
California. Chenin Blancs will even stand up to modest oak ageing. It is still
a workhorse grape in California, and is frequently blended into Chardonnays
and other wines to add fruit and acidity.
Gewürztraminer is a distinctive wine with an intense spicy bouquet. It can
be made in a range of styles from totally dry and crisp, like those from
Alsace, to slightly sweet and flabby, to luscious, honeyed sweet dessert wines
. Besides spice elements, Gewurztraminer can offer suggestions of various
fruits, flowers and even nuts! No wine ends up tasting more like its initial
grape flavors when freshly picked, so few winemakers barrel-age Gewurztraminer
or do anything in the cellar which would interfere with its delightful
varietal character. The dry versions of Gewurztraminer are refreshing
complements to a wide variety of foods from pork and white meat dishes to
onion quiche and various Asian cuisines.
Muscat is a fascinating variety of grape, probably the first to be
positively identified by ancient Mediterraneans. It has at least four
principal sub varieties, and all of them are famously perfumed, with scents of
musk, orange peel, and ripe table grapes. Muscat makes some of the best sweet
wines, both light fizzy ones and heavy sugary ones, as well as fully dry table
wines. Some of the best Muscats come from Italy, France, Oregon, California
It was once believed that these grapes were related to Chardonnay but
actually they are part of the Pinot family (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris/Grigio).
And though they are often compared to Chardonnays, they are not as complex and
flavorful and as a rule don't lend themselves as well to aging as Chardonnays.
Pinot Blanc grapes produce dry, medium-bodied wines with high acidity and
hints of apple and spice. Pinot Blanc grows well in France's Alsace region,
and some very good offerings are coming from California.
Pinot Gris is a darkly colored white wine grape that evolved from the Pinot
Noir. It was originally a popular wine from Alsace and northeastern Italy.
Pinot Gris has become one of the most successful wines grown in Oregon. Most
versions are quite dry, but Pinot Gris wines can range from light and delicate
to fairly full-bodied. Rarely barrel-aged, Pinot Gris wines tend to be dry and
crisp, the perfect accompaniment to salmon and seafood. It can be rather
subtle in both flavor and aroma, though the best examples are reminiscent of
almonds, minerals and peaches.
Riesling grapes produce both refreshing light-bodied wines and full-bodied
table wines to pair with the greatest cuisine. Riesling has a very high
natural acidity, which both balances the sugar in sweeter wines and acts as a
preservative for long aging. The oldest, still-living wine ever tasted was not
red--it was a German Riesling from the 1540 vintage. It was tasted in 1961,
after 420 years, and had not yet perished. Rieslings are both floral and
fruity, and can be delicate, subtle, and low in alcohol, making for a very
nice summer wine. But even the sweet, low-alcohol wines from the Mosel in
Germany balance the sugar with a steely, teeth-cleaning acidity. And though
you might think of Rieslings as necessarily sweet, there are many dry
Rieslings, the best being from Alsace. These show best with several years of
bottle age, though they are certainly fine to drink young. Riesling wines pair
magnificently with pork, foie gras, and other rich foods.
Sauvignon Blanc is crisp, high in acidity and light- to medium-bodied, and
recognizable for its grassy, herbaceous flavor and aroma. When grown in warmer
climates the flavors are more fruity, melon-like. Sauvignon Blanc is important
in California, New Zealand and Northeastern Italy, but it really shines in the
Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions of France. There it is used prodigiously as
a blending grape and is responsible for the stand-alone varietals Sancerre and
Pouilly-Fume. Though not as rich and complex as Chardonnay, this is a
versatile grape, one that grows well in a number of places, responds well to
oak or a lack thereof, and can be drunk young or aged several years. Sauvignon
Blanc also makes for some fabulous late-harvest offerings.
Semillon is one of the unheralded whites in the world of wine. It plays a
key role in white Bordeaux wine and in Sauternes, and it makes a great value
white from Washington State. Semillon is also the grape responsible for
''Hunter Riesling'' or ''Honey Hunters,'' one of the most interesting of
Australia's wines. Semillon takes to bottle aging surprisingly well, and it's
often inexpensive enough to make laying some down for five years or so very
easy. In Bordeaux region, Semillon is used to fill out the leaner and more
acidic Sauvignon Blanc, and the two complement each other very nicely.
Semillon is often a brilliant gold wine with a soft, full, and sometimes even
oily texture, and often shows a scent of figs. It can be made dry or sweet.
This noble white varietal, famous for its magnificent Rhone Valley wines
such as Condrieu and Ardeche, has been steadily making a name for itself in
America. Winery owners and growers on both coasts are planting more and more
Vigonier as the demand for it increases. Viognier has flavors all its own and
texture that can easily match the most full-bodied Chardonnay. Some Vigoniers
are fermented in stainless steel tanks, which results in a precise, aromatic,
crisp wine that shows off the peach and apricot flavors of the grape. Many
California producers have also used wood barrels to ferment or age the wine,
adding further complexities and complements to the fruits natural flavors.
Notes of anise, tangerine and fig blend with spicy aromas. Some Viogniers can
be feminine and some quite brawny. The region of origin is also an important
factor to the varying styles, with warmer regions producing riper wines and
cooler retaining more acidity and precision. True of almost all however, is
that they are best when consumed fairly young.
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