Food & Recipe

Wine Basics: Getting to Know the Varieties of White Wine

When choosing a white wine, I usually just got with my regular choice of Pinot Grigio. But what if they’re out? Is a Pinot Gris the same? How do the other white wines compare? Our Guest Geek post this week dives into the details of the basic white wine varieties, so you know what to pick when choosing your next glass.

White wine bottles
So many wines to choose from!

The Basic White Wine Varieties

White wine is the perfect classic and elegant option no matter if you are having dinner in a restaurant or having drinks at the bar. A good glass of white wine will not let you down. But today the wine market is overflowing with options, so it can be hard for the average consumer to know what to order. Luckily, it is actually not that complicated because all white wines can be categorized into three basic categories and if you learn to identify these three types of white wines, you can narrow down which ones will work for you, and which will not.

This is why in this article we cover the three major white wine variants, their characteristics, and some of the most famous white bottles of wines. Once you figure out what you like, you can confidently enter the world of white wines and even explore more by joining the best wine club for beginners.

Light-Bodied White Wine

A light body white wine is light in weight and is thinner in its consistency. It is known to have less residual sugar content, lower alcohol, and higher acidity. Light-bodied white wines are delicate with subtle flavor and herbal, citrus, or floral aromas. White wines have significantly lower tannin levels than red wines. This is mainly because during the production of white wine the juice from the grapes has to be separated from the skins and seeds in order to produce white wine. They pair well with seafood, grilled white meat dishes, sushi, and Mexican food. White wines do not age as well as red wines. Because they tend to contain little to no tannin, they oxidize more quickly so they best age for five to 15 years. Some of the best light-bodied whites are:

Pinot Gris and Grigio- This is a famous crisp and dry white wine, with a fruity aroma and distinct flavors of white peach, lemon zest, cantaloupe, raw almond, and crushed gravel. The wine is sweet or semi-sweet, with an off-dry taste. It has light fine tannins and medium to high acidity. It can age for up to 3-5 years. Pairs well with fresh vegetables, pulled pork, cured meats, gruyere cheese, seafood, and creamy pasta.

*As for the differences, Pinot Gris comes from France and leans more toward rich and sweet, while Pinot Grigio comes from Italy and is crisp, light bodied and on the dryer side.

Sauvignon Blanc– Wildly popular white wine with a highly, intense aroma. Sauvignon Blanc has the most identifiable taste in the world with fruit flavors such as white peach, grapefruit, lime, pear, passion fruit, and other tropical fruits. Sauvignon Blanc is typically high in acidity, has light to moderately high alcohol, and lower tannin levels. Sauvignon Blanc can age between 18 months to 2 years. Sauvignon Blanc is a wonderful choice for pairing with herb-driven sauces over chicken,  tofu,  fish dishes, feta or chèvre, and Thai or Vietnamese cuisines.

Riesling- Delicious refreshing aromatic white wine with expressive fruity, floral notes. Riesling has natural flavors of apple, apricot, peach, and pear. Riesling is very acidic which leads to a very enjoyable crisp taste. Riesling can be cellared for twenty years or longer. Riesling pairs best with acidic dishes like poached salmon, chicken, salads with vinaigrette, and smoked and cured meats. (Most Rieslings are going to be on the sweeter side, but you can find dryer ones that are crisper and more reminiscent of green apples)

glass of white wine

Medium-Bodied White Wine

Medium-bodied white wines have 12.5% to 13.5% ABV. The acidity of medium-bodied white wines is much lower in comparison to light-bodied wines. They have a richer, smoother taste and a little higher tannin level. Medium-bodied white wines are well balanced and do not have excess tannin or alcohol. Medium-bodied wines are a great option for people who want to try light wines with a little more fullness. These white wines can be cellared for a longer period of time. They pair well with more complex foods like seafood, oysters, scallops, sashimi, salads with mild vinaigrettes, roasted chicken, or pasta. Some famous options for medium-bodied white wines are:

Chenin Blanc- The Chenin Blanc is the most classic form of white wine with floral and honeyed aromas and quince and apple-like flavors. It has medium to high acidity, low tanning level and ABV: 12-14.5%. Chenin blanc ages best between 1 to 5 years. Pairs great with meats like roast chicken, grilled white fish, cold cut meats, and other seafood dishes but also with desserts and spicy food dishes.

Unoaked chardonnay– Unoaked or naked Chardonnay is a crisp, floral white wine with fresh notes of green apple and lemon. It has a lighter body than the classic one, lower tannins, and it’s crisp and refreshing. Its acidity is usually medium to high. Most unoaked chardonnays can age between 1 to 3 years. Unoaked Chardonnay pairs well with sushi, shellfish, white fish, grilled chicken, soft and creamy cheeses like Brie, Camembert, and Mozzarella.

Marsanne- Marsanne is a dry white wine, with a deep color and hints of spice and pear. An aged Marsanne can have a higher alcohol level than most white wines. It allows an oak-aged option for consumers who look for a fuller body wine. As Marsanne wine ages it has even richer color and a more complex taste. Pairs well with all seafood dishes like shellfish, lobster, crab, shrimp, seabass, clams, and mussels.

pouring a glass of white wine

Full-Bodied White Wine

Full-bodied white wines have a rich smooth taste and subtle creaminess. Full-bodied white wines have a higher alcohol content and have flavors that are more complex. Flavor-wise, they are creamy and nutty with tropical-fruit flavors. The full-bodied white wines have a significantly longer shelf life than all the other white wines and they usually get better with time. Fuller body white wine is softer in texture and has far less citrus acidity. They are often made with special winemaking techniques like oak-aging. Fully bodied white wines are more clunky which makes them more difficult to pair, they pair best with roast chicken, turkey, seafood dishes like salmon or trout, and pasta.

Chardonnay- The most famous full-bodied white wine with moderate acidity and alcohol level. It has a specific flavor with notes of apple, lemon, papaya, and pineapple, and it also has a hint of vanilla when it’s aged with oak. Chardonnay has a total acidity of 0.58 grams per 100 mL, a pH of 3.4, and a high tannin level. Chardonnay can age between 2 to 3 years, some even for 5-7 years. When it comes to pairing with food it goes great with white fish, buttered scallops, creamy pasta, and cheeses like bleu or gouda.

Viognier- Full-bodied white wine with aromas of peach, tangerine, and honeysuckle. When oak-aged, Viognier can also have a rich creamy taste with hints of vanilla. Viognier is softer in acidity, a bit lighter, and also more aromatic than the other white wines. Viognier ranges from about 13.5%–15% alcohol by volume. Most well-made viogniers age no more than 5 to 6 years. Viognier is best paired with foods like lighter meats like pork or veal, roast chicken, turkey, seafood, shellfish, spicy flavors, and Asian cuisine.

Muscat- Muscat wines are low in acidity, tannins, and alcohol. It has tropical fruity notes such as tangerine, mango, lychee, jasmine, beach rose, and orange. Muscat wine can age longer because of the residual sugar level. A good Muscat wine can age from 10 to 15 years. Muscat wine pairs best with spicy food, like Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese cuisine but also with dessert cheesecake, chocolate, or dried fruit.

Now that you have a better understanding of the white wines, cheers to your next refreshing choice!

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