All types of white wine come from the growing, the harvesting, the processing, and the bottling of white grapes.
The numerous tantalizing types of white wine on display at a local wine seller’s shop arrived there from vineyards and wineries found around the world and in regions most favorable in terms of environment and climate to growing white wine grapes.
With a bit of background on types of white wine and the white wine grapes that make them so unique, you’ll soon be selecting bottles of wine like a pro. The first thing to know is that there are at least four key aspects in the making of white wine that when blended together in ideal conditions give us a beautiful, balanced, often times complex, wine. And the mix of these conditions will change by the region and the environment, giving us many unique bottles of white wine types to stock our wine cellars or wine racks in great style.
The flavor of white wine varies and is dependent upon these key factors:
- Growing region and environment (i.e. rainfall, temperature, and soil)
- The white wine grapes used in the wine – Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Moscsato, or blends, etc.
- How the white grape is harvested
- How the white grape is processed into wine
Types of White Wine and Their Grapes Harvested Round the World
White wine grapes are harvested in a number of regions world-wide. The USA primarily grows white wine grapes in its Northwestern regions of California, Oregon, and Washington State, but vineyards and wineries are also found in New York and other less-known locals through the country.
Europe has many regions that are quite conducive to growing white grapes, such as in France, Italy, Germany, and Austria. The grape plant is also found in Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Top 10 Types of White Wine and Their Grapes
Naturally, the flavor, characteristics, and types of white wine can vary widely and is largely dependent upon the white grape variety used in its making; the most widely-used white wine grapes in today’s winemaking include:
Throughout the 1990’s the Chardonnay was the most widely used type of white wine grape and is easily considered to be “Queen” of the white grapes. Having the most complex, voluptuous characteristics of all white wine grapes, it makes a wonderful, full-bodied, golden, stand-alone drink with its flavors and aromas having hints of butter, cream, citrus, vanilla and oak. Wines made from this grape have medium- to high-acidity. It’s a versatile white wine grape that is frequently used to make sparkling wine and champagnes.
The Chardonnay grapevine can grow under a variety of conditions, which means that it is grown in many wine producing regions. The vine originated in Bourgogne, France and continues to be used in their Burgundy white wine offerings. The plant is also grown in California, Washington State, and Oregon in the United States, as well in the countries of France, Australia, Italy, Moldavia, South Africa, Argentina and Chile.
2. Chenin Blanc
The Chenin Blanc grape is an acidic grape that is used best in making sweet, aged wines as is done in the Anjou Valley of France. The grape has a greater than average level of acidity. White wines typically do not do well with aging, making Chenin Blanc quite unique in that way; it can age well for 10 years or more. California wines made from the Chenin Blanc plant are typically not aged and do not have the quality of the French version; California Chenin Blanc grapes are usually bottled into jug wines or table wines. Characteristics of a Chenin Blanc will thus vary, but one might describe it as fruity and light.
Chenin Blanc originated thousands of years ago in France’s Loire Valley and continues to be cultivated there today. Plants are also grown in California (used in jug wines), Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
Note: The Chenin Blanc plant is known as “Steen” in South Africa; other names for it are Pinot Blanco or White Pinot.
Originating in Germany, the Gewurztraminer grape is best described as one of the world’s most intensely flavored and aromatic grapes creating wine that ranges in taste from spicy (Gewurztraminer literally translated means spicy) and nutty to peachy and floral. The grapes are usually used to make either a very sweet wine or a very dry wine, both with bold flavors and crisp acidity.
The Gewurztraminer plant is primarily cultivated in Germany and France’s Alsace region, but it is also grown in Italy, Australia, Canada, and in New York and California in the United States.
4. Pinot Grigio
The Pinot Grigio white wine grapes (aka Pinot Gris) typically produce a wine that is quite light-bodied with a lemon or other citrus aroma and flavor, but its acidity varies by growing region. A Pinot Grigio made by European wine makers tend to be slightly more acidic than those found in the United States. Pinot Grigio types of white wine tend to improve with a couple of years in the wine cellar. In comparison to Chardonnay types of white wine, a Pinot Grigio is significantly lighter.
The Pinot Grigio grape is cultivated extensively in Northern Italy, Germany, Australia, and the west coast regions of the United States, i.e., California, Oregon and Washington State.
Riesling grapes produce a fresh wine with hints of apples, apricots, and flowers and mid- to high-acidity. In comparison to Chardonnay, Riesling is a much lighter wine. Riesling types of white wine are sometimes sweet dessert wines but they are just as often crisp, dry and fruity wines from grapes that have been left to mature longer on the vine.
The Riesling grape is native to Germany where it is used to make the classic sweet Rhine wine, but it is also grown in nearly all wine regions. Rieslings processed in California are considered of less quality than those made in other regions as they tend to be too sweet without enough acidity to balance the flavor.
6. Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc (aka Fumé Blanc) grapes typically produce a light, tangy wine with grassy, sour apple and tropical fruit flavors having a crisp, light- to medium-acidity.
The Sauvignon Blanc grape is primarily cultivated in France’s Bordeaux region where it is blended with Semillon grapes. It’s also grown in the Loire Valley of France, as well as in California, Australia, and New Zealand.
The Semillon grape is rather unique in that it has a distinctly figgy, grassy flavor and it is rarely used in the making of a stand-alone wine. The unripe grape is often blended with other grapes, such as Sauvignon Blanc to help balance out the strong Semillon flavors. In the Bordeaux region, mature Semillon grapes are blended with Sauvignon Blanc grapes to produce sweet, full-bodied wines (Barsac and Sauternes) that may be world-class.
Semillon is grown in the Bordeaux region of France, as well as in Chile, Australia, Argentina, and California.
The Viognier grape produces a complex, medium-body, low- to medium-acidity wine with flavors and aromas that hint of apricots, peaches, and spice, but without the floral aromas found in other types of white wine.
The Viognier grape originated in the Rhone Valley of France and continues to thrive there today. This varietal is also grown in California, South America and Australia.
The Moscato (aka Muscat and Muscatel, among several others in a family of grapes) is an extremely grapey flavored grape that is used to make fruity, sweet, dessert wines that carry a hint of musk. Its aroma is often that of the grape itself. As well, this grape is used to make Italy’s Asti Spumanti, a sparkling wine.
The Moscato grape is grown in most grapevine growing regions, including Italy, France (the Rhone Valley), and Austria.
10. Pinot Blanc
Although the Pinot Blanc grape is a mutation of the Pinot Grigio grape that produces a very light wine, Pinot Blanc makes a white wine that is very similar in flavor to a Chardonnay.
The Pinot Blanc grape is cultivated in Alsace (Italy), in Austria where it’s referred to as Weissburgunder, and in California where it is used to make sparkling wines.
Types of White Wine Can be Sweet, Dry or Bubbly (Sparkling)
Types of white wine created from white wine grapes vary by winery. The white wine grapes can be processed into a sweet wine that ranges from a good table wine to a syrupy dessert wine; it can be a fruity, oaky (having lingered in oak barrels), citrusy, crisp dry wine; or it can made into a sparkling, bubbly wine like is found in our champagnes. It all depends upon the outcome that the winemaker wants to see from his or her grapes. Dry types of white wine will have much of their residual sugars turned to alcohol in the processing of the wine and sweet types of white wine will retain much of the sugar.
As you can see, a wine maker has a wide variety of options for the types of white wine he or she can produce with a bunch of grapes.
Other articles that might interest you:
Types of Red Wine
How to Build Your Own Wine Cellar
Food and Wine Pairing
How to Choose a Wine
Just one more note: typically most types of white wine are lighter in body than are red wines, and white wines are served chilled; so if you are looking for a lighter, refreshing taste, go for the white wine! Cheers!