With hundreds of varieties of wine white grapes, there’s as much white wine information to learn about as there are white wine grapes planted in all corners of the globe. That being said, you’ll likely encounter only a handful of these grapes most often. In this white wine basics section, we cover the flavor profiles and regions of the most common white wine grapes. You can certainly choose to discover more beyond this short list, but for a quick and easy white wine 101, the following will fit the bill:
Flavors: Green apple, citrus, pineapple, papaya
Versatile and popular, chardonnay grows all over the world. It reaches its mineral-laced pinnacle in Burgundy, ripens to tropical richness in California and Australia, and takes very well to new oak. It picks up buttery aromas from malolactic fermentation, and toasty or vanilla scents from aging in new barrels. By itself, young Chardonnay is most likely to recall fresh green apples in both smell and flavor. Depending upon the winemaker, it can be made to be crisp and stony, buttery and toasty, or brilliantly fresh with green apple and citrus flavors.
Chenin Blanc :
Flavors: Ripe apple, lemon drop, pear, honeydew
Chenin Blanc is a white grape common in the Loire Valley of France. It’s versatile, and can produce dry, off-dry, sparkling and sweet dessert wines. Also known as Steen in South Africa, wines made from Chenin Blanc typically exhibit floral aromas, apple and pear-like flavors and assertive acidity.
Flavors: Lychee, grapefruit, flowers, talc
This grape reaches its apex in Alsace, where it produces intensely floral, aromatic, spicy wines that range from bone dry to decadently sweet. In cooler climate regions such as Oregon and northern Italy (where it is called simply Traminer), Gewürztraminer makes a crisp, grapefruit-flavored white wine that rarely sees oak and often pairs well with Asian dishes and spicy foods.
Flavors: Marzipan, white peaches, pears
The most important white wine grape of the northern Rhône, Marsanne has only recently begun to be varietally labeled in the U.S. Both here and in France it is often blended with Roussanne, Viognier and (sometimes) Grenache Blanc. Marsanne ripens reliably and makes full-bodied, low-acid wines with flavors of almonds, white peaches and lightly spiced pears. Australia boasts some of the oldest plantings in the world.
Flavors: Oranges, tangerines
There are many varieties of Muscat throughout the world, but all are marked by a penetrating aroma of oranges. When fermented dry, Muscat’s fruit-driven scents and flavors generally impart a hint of sweetness. It can be made into excellent light sparkling wines, especially the Moscato d’Asti of northern Italy, or rich dessert wines such as Beaumes de Venise. The fortified Muscats of Australia take the grape to its most luscious and dense extremes.
Pinot Blanc :
Flavors: Green apple, citrus
Similar to Chardonnay, but lighter and more elegant, Pinot Blanc has never acquired the cachet or reputation of its big brother Pinot Grigio. But in Alsace, northeast Italy, Oregon and parts of California some very nice versions are made, ranging from lightly herbal to spicy to citrusy. Pinot Blanc is best when left in stainless steel.
Pinot Gris/Grigio :
Flavors: Citrus, fresh pear, melon
Pinot Grigio creates light, zippy, food-friendly white wines that do not clobber the palate with oak and alcohol. Most popular versions come from the Tre Venezie, but Alsace and the Pfalz region of Germany also do well with the grape. Its alter ego, pinot gris (same grape, different name), has become the pre-eminent white wine of Oregon, where it produces lively, pear-flavored wines that may carry a hint of fruity sweetness. The California version of Pinot Grigio is a bit heavier, but vintners in Washington make intense, tart wines that match well with seafood.