Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from the process of fermenting grapes. Whereas red wine is made with the grapes’ skins on, resulting in a darker hue, white wine is made from grapes that have had the skin removed from them, giving the wine that’s made from these grapes a lighter color, closer to straw or gold, sometimes even looking a little green. Unlike its darker, redder counterpart, white wine is served chilled and is more refreshing, making it ideal for consumption during the warmer Spring and Summer months. For a bit more info on how wine is made and what makes it so unique, check out this Wine 101 article for you.
There are many different types of white wine – they may be dry or sweet, bubbly or not bubbly (still). White wines of all types pair nicely with certain foods, particularly fish, poultry, salads, desserts, pork, and pasta, or we can just teach you how to pair wine and food yourself. We will introduce you to the world of white wine, providing short descriptions of taste, specific food pairings as well as other tidbits of information about each type. In addition to this article, take a Wine 101 course to round out what you’re about to learn and be on your way to becoming an expert. Be aware that, while a certain wine has specific characteristics, they may not always hold true, with taste differing due to many different factors, including the region it was grown in, that area’s climate, grower’s preferences, etc., but half the fun is tasting the differences yourself.
Dry white wines are the most popular variety due to their crisp flavor and ability to pair well with foods. A white wine is considered dry when a majority of the sugars from the grapes are converted to alcohol during fermentation, leaving sugar that equals less than 1% of the wine’s volume. Because of its fermentation process, dry wines will have more alcohol content, or ABV (alcohol by volume), than sweeter wines, usually with an ABV of over 12.5%. Many dry wines have a fruity flavor, but this should not be confused with sweetness. California is known for some of its dry whites, especially Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Learn more about California’s contributions to the world of wine here.
- Sauvignon Blanc
This wine contains herbal background flavors, with hints of bell pepper and freshly mown grass, sometimes with a bit of acidity. The dominant flavors are more fruity, with apples, pears, gooseberries, melon, mango, and blackcurrant. Sauvignon blanc is one of the only wines that pairs well with sushi and may also be used in cooking. Like the Chardonnay, this wine may be infused with a creamy, toasty, vanilla flavor when introduced to oak barrels.
Good with: seafood, poultry, salads, cheese, sushi, as an aperitif (a pre-meal alcoholic drink that stimulates appetite)
Perhaps the most popular of all the white wines, Chardonnay has a taste that is described as “wide-bodied”, or velvety, containing citrus flavors, such as lemon, pineapple, and grapefruit as well as hints of apple. This wine is aged in new oak barrels, which, as we learned with the Chardonnay, imparts several different flavors, such as vanilla, toast, coconut, and toffee. The Chardonnay is a good wine to cook with, as well.
Good with: fish, chicken
- Pinot Blanc
This wine is a lighter version of the Chardonnay with flavors ranging from hints of herbs to citrus. Pinot Blancs are fermented in stainless steel containers in order to retain some of the natural sugars to balance the acidity.
Good with: seafood, cheese, pasta with cream sauce, quiche
- Pinot Grigio/Gris
Light and very versatile with food, this wine is the second most popular in the United States (behind Chardonnay) and has a bit more body when compared to the Sauvignon Blanc. The nose contains mineral and pear notes which makes it a good pair for seafood, but sometimes the winemakers leave it on the vine a bit longer, making it more difficult to go well with food.
Good with: seafood, Thai food, spicy Chinese food, turkey dishes
The French Chablis is more acidic and less fruity than Chardonnay and is sometimes referred to as “flinty”, meaning mineral-like in taste with a hard, dry, clean taste. This French wine, like the Pinot Blanc, is aged for a bit in stainless steel tanks as well as in oak barrels.
Good with: oysters, poultry, shellfish, seafood with cream sauce, fish and chips
This Italian wine, which has been made since the Middle Ages, has a rich history in Italy and was once referred to as “The Pope’s wine”. Orvieto wine was formerly a sweet dessert wine, but is now more of a dry wine, but with hints of its fruity past. Orvieto has a mellow taste but also slightly bitter and velvety.
Good with: appetizers, soups, cheeses, white meats, fish, truffled dishes
The French Cheverny comes in both red and white versions, with the white having a medium-bodied flavor of fresh fruit that’s slightly acidic. The aroma is is floral with fresh fruit notes, and if aged, develops honey, beeswax, and lemon notes.
Good with: spicy and acidic foods, soups, salads, green vegetables, foods with fresh herbs, light seafood,
White wines whose fermentation process is stopped early end up with a sweeter taste due to more of the grapes’ sugars remaining as opposed to being converted into alcohol like in drier whites. These wines are not as well-paired with foods as their drier brethren, but instead are best enjoyed alone, or as an after-dinner or dessert beverage. We can help with matching some of these sweeter wines with food, just cruise by here.
Just a bit bubbly and low in alcohol content, Moscato, or Muscat, is sweet and refreshing with a very strong and perfume-like aroma. It’s perfect for sipping on a warm day with aromatics that cover a wide variety of sensations: orange blossom, honeysuckle, almonds, ginger, citrus.
Good with: fresh berries, fruit tarts, biscotti, light appetizers and desserts
This fortified wine (wine that’s had a spirit added to it) is mostly produced in Spain and typically has a nutty flavor. There are many types of sherry, varying in color, texture and sweetness. Sherry is also widely used in cooking.
Good with: everything! Depending on the type of sherry, nuts, almonds, most meats, cheeses, fish, chicken
- Tokaji Aszu
This sweet, full-bodied Hungarian wine is a rich dessert wine with apricot and honey notes that takes up to seven years to mature then retains its flavor for a while afterwards.
Good with: cheese, cheesecake, duck, foie gras, pumpkin pie, strawberries with cream
This sweet French wine is made with the help of the process of noble rot. This process, used to make sweeter wines, is when the winemaker allows the grapes to be infected by a benevolent fungus called Botrytis cinerea. This fungus grows in moist climates and causes the grapes to become partially raisined on the vine which then results in concentrated and unusually flavored wines. Sauternes has a nice balance of sweetness with a bit of acidity with flavor notes of apricots, honey and peaches with nutty notes.
Good with: foie gras, seafood, cream sauces, acidic and spicy dishes, fatty cheeses, salty and briny foods
This syrupy, full-bodied wine has very fig-like characteristics. Semillon has an aroma of toast and honey with flavors of nut and figs with a waxy texture.
Goes with: shellfish, fish and chips, soft goat’s cheese, sashini
Produced all over the wine-making world, Malvasia has an aroma of honey and ripe Bosc pears along with fruity flavors that linger on the palate.
Good with: almond biscotti, cannoli, apricot or plum tart
Dry and Sweet
These wines may fall into either of the dry or sweet categories, depending on how they were fermented. A good way to tell if the white wine you’re about to buy is sweet or dry is to check the ABV on the label. Wines with an ABV of under 10% will be quite sweet, while wines with an ABV of 10-12% will be “off-dry”. Since all of the following wines may fall into either category, be sure to check the label either for its ABV or see if it flat out just says if it’s dry or sweet. To help you determine whether a wine falls on the dry or sweet side of the equation, this visual aid will clear it up.
The crispness of the Riesling makes it a good match for tuna and salmon and its acidity pairs well with the smokiness of eel. Lighter than Chardonnay, Riesling sometimes has the aroma of fresh apples and has a certain freshness to it, and other times there are earthy, mineral aromas. This wine, like red wine, ages well, so it may do you well to put it on the shelf and forget about if for a while.
Good with: seafood, chicken, pork, Asian cuisine, spicy food
A fine wine to sip, the Gewurtztraminer is a spicy wine, but can sometimes be sweet, with an aroma of rose petals, peaches, allspice, and lychee and a hint of grapefruit as well as a bit of acidity. This wine can also run the gamut from incredibly dry to very sweet.
Good with: Asian food, pork, grilled sausages, spicy food
This wine is usually blended with the Rousanne grape in order to give it a more complex flavor as well as to bring acidity to the table. When on its own, Marsanne has a rich body with spice, melon, and pear hints.
Good with: shellfish, seafood
These refreshing wines are just like regular still wines, but with an effervescent bubbly addition. The bubbles are added by the process of double fermentation, as opposed to just the one fermentation process that regular, non-bubbly wines go through. Sugar may also be added during this second fermentation, giving it a sweeter taste.
This most famous of bubbly white wines comes primarily from the Chardonnay grape and attains its fizzy nature from secondary fermentation, occurring either in the bottle or in the tank. Champagne can also be sweet and must come from the Champagne region of France in order to rightly be called “Champagne”, otherwise it’s just “Sparkling Wine”.
Good with: partying
This Spanish sparkling wine, made primarily from the macabeu grape, may be white or pink and is mostly produced in the region of Catalonia. Formally referred to as “Spanish champagne” until forbidden by the European Union, cava has floral aromatics, a lemony flavor, and a bitter finish that’s not unlike green almonds.
Goes with: vegetable tempura, beignets, brie, squash soup, foie gras
This dry, sweet northeastern Italian sparkling wine, made from Glera grapes, may be found in both lightly sparkling (frizzante) and fully sparkling (spumante) versions. Prosecco has a delicate fruity taste that’s a bit sweeter than champagne, and the more money you are willing to spend on this wine, the taste and aromatics jump a great deal in intensity, with apple, pear, and citrus flavorings. Prosecco may be enjoyed as an aperitif or paired with dessert, especially one whose sweetness you may need a break from.
Goes with: rich sweets such as cake, finger foods, cheese, spicy Asian dishes, seafood
Hailing from Portugal, Espumantes are high in acidity,and very fragrant, with rich, earthy fruit flavors. It’s easy to find an affordable Espumante and it is versatile in that it may be used as an aperitif or a dessert wine.
Goes with: light white fish, suckling pig
If you can’t afford a plane ticket to Spain, Italy, France, or any other exotic country that produces the wines you just read about, just stay at home and drink your way through their wine-making regions with a little help from both our white wine breakdown that you just read, as well as this Wine Connoisseur class that will help you become a connoisseur. There’s a lot to learn, and, depending on your tastes, there’s probably several types of wine out there that will tickle your fancy, not to mention the many specific wineries who all may tackle a specific type of wine in completely different ways. After becoming fluent in the language of vino, take this gourmet cooking class and learn to whip up a fancy dinner, then pair it with one of the wines from above and you’ve got yourself a fancy night on the town without even leaving home.