Guide to White Wine
There is a virtual universe of white wines to be explored. Easily accessible to an amateur wine-lover and complex enough to attract the seasoned collector, white wines are a refreshing accompaniment to any meal. The most obvious characteristic of white wine is its colour: whites have minimal contact with grape skins during the fermentation process. This is why they have such a markedly different colour than red wines; in fact, they can range from almost to a clear white to a vivid golden yellow. Often quite light in body, they can be dry, sweet or semi-sweet, so you will most certainly find a white to suit almost whatever you are serving - or the perfect glass to be enjoyed on its own!
Are you looking for a guide to Red Wine? Click here.
- To select the best white, always taste them cold: make sure they are chilled before you pour them.
- Focus on one particular region at a time: for example, if you prefer a more balanced Chardonnay , consider focusing on France , but if you enjoy a fruitier, oakier wine, you might enjoy Californian varieties.
- Conduct a blind taste test with at least three different types of the same variety.
- Note the colour: is it clear, pale yellow, light green, amber? Is it opaque or clear? Is there sediment or are there bits of cork floating in the glass?
- Note the smell: swirl your glass and inhale deeply through your nose. What are your impressions? What do you notice: oak, berry, citrus, vanilla, floral aromas?
- Note the taste: take a small sip and let it roll around your tongue.
- Notice the intensity of the wine during this first taste, whether it feels heavy or light, sweet or dry, crispy or creamy.
- What flavours do you taste? Apple, pear, citrus, honey? Is the wine earthy or herbaceous?
- After swallowed, consider the after-taste. How long does it last? Was it light- or full-bodied? What was your last flavour impression?
- Observe how the flavours can vary within the growing area and look for contrasts - do you prefer a bolder or subtler wine? Are you a fan of fruitier whites or do you enjoy oaky notes?
- Don't forget to cleanse your palate in between tastings.
- Finally, try pairing your wines with different foods to see how the flavours are enhanced.
- Remember to note your favourites and in no time, you'll be a connoisseur!
Chardonnay is instantly recognizable: the stand out of the white wine world. Quality and style can vary according to region and production, but the wines tend to be light golden in colour and often taste of tropical fruits, citrus, peach and green apple. If aged in oak, they can take on a toasted, smoky or vanilla flavour. Though traditionally a product of France , grapes are also widely grown in New Zealand and California .
Chenin Blanc grapes produce lighter-bodied wines that are slightly acidic and have notes of green apple and honey. They can be dry ("sec"), semi-sweet ("demi-sec") or sweet ("moelleux"), so be sure to read the label before you buy. Loire valley wines may be called Vouvray ,Montlouis or Pineau de la Loire , but outside of the region, vines are found in South Africa (where grapes are known as Steen ) and the US . Look for Brazilian, Chilean, Mexican and Argentinean wines under the name Pinot Blanco .
The Clairette blanche grape yields wines high in alcohol with low acidity; however such wines tend to oxidize easily and therefore are usually blended. These grapes are sweet (in fact, they are often used to make Muscat ) and tend to have notes of peach and apricot. They are widely grown in the Provence, Rhône and Languedoc regions of France (try Clairette de Die for a sparkling option) but can be found in South Africa and Australia as well.
Gewürztraminer is intensely aromatic and characterised by a certain spicy yet floral quality. Wines are vividly coloured (often deep and coppery in appearance) and light- to medium-bodied with hints of ginger, clove, roses, lavender or lychee. The best varieties are arguably from Alsace , but don't be afraid to experiment with other French and German versions as well.
Pinot Grigio grapes are very easy to grow, which has resulted in a number of low-quality wines being produced. However, a Pinot Grigio done correctly can be a beautiful thing, so pay attention. Colour can range from a straw yellow to deep copper depending on the region, and it should be crisp and light-bodied with notes of apple or lemon. Beware of Alsatian Pinot Gris , which can be intense and spicy, or pear-flavoured Oregon versions; the taste should also not be peppery or tangy. Try wines from Venezia in Italy as these tend to be simple and refreshing.
Riesling originates in Germany's Rhine region and is known for being extremely balanced and complex. Young wines should be nearly clear in colour and become more golden with age (this is a wine that ages extremely well). Body tends to be light to medium and it usually has floral, citrus and mineral characteristics. As Rieslings can range from extremely dry or decadently sweet, there is sure to be one to suit your tastes.
Sauvignon Blanc is indigenous to South-western France but is also widely cultivated around the globe. It is light- to medium-bodied and known for a distinctive herbaceous taste, similar to the smell of freshly cut grass, though there may also be aromas of grapefruit, passion fruit, lemon grass or melon. Since wines are typically aged in stainless steel, they do not benefit from ageing and thus should be consumed while young. Look for a nearly clear colour and be sure to chill slightly.
Since the Sémillon grape can be rather heavy, it is often blended with Sauvignon blanc or Chardonnay, but consider trying it on its own. Dry style wines are crisp, herbaceous and full of pleasant citrus flavours while sweet styles are rich, complex, fruity and young. Sémillon is usually light golden to clear and moderate in body; wines should be enjoyed while young since they do not age especially well.
Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)
Ugni Blanc or Trebbiano is, due to its high acidity, the primary grape used for Cognac and some brandies. It is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world and yields excellent harvests; however, the wines produced are rather undistinguished. They tend to be clear in colour, light in body and are typically fresh and fruity.
Viognier grapes make intense wines that are full of personality. A native of the Rhône river valley, it is being used increasingly in California and Australia. Look for clear to straw-coloured wines with notes of orange blossom and peach. Body should be light to medium but flavours can be powerful and sometimes peppery; the wine might even have a butter-cream mouth feel. Its aromatic qualities allow it to pair well with spicy foods, so give it a try the next time you have a Thai or Vietnamese dish.