Knowing the most popular white wine grapes unlocks a large part of the wine world. There are thousands of grape varieties in existence, so that we will focus on the white varieties you will most likely encounter at a wine bar or a wine shop. White wine grapes vary in color, but they are pretty different from the black grape used in making white wine.
White Wine Grapes: Climate Matters!
When you look at different white wine grape varieties, it pays to keep climate differences in mind. For example, wines grown in a continental climate will differ from wine regions close to the sea. To see the difference climate makes, drink a Chablis (a white wine from France made from Chardonnay) and a California Chardonnay. You’ll see an immediate difference partially due to climate.
- Wine Regions: Chardonnay is made all around the world. Wine regions of note include Burgundy in France and California in the USA.
- Typical Aromas: Tropical fruits, apples, lemons, and peaches.,
- Flavors: You will probably taste citrus fruits (lemon, lime, and orange) and other fruits like apple and pear,
Chardonnay is easily one of the most popular white grape varieties in the world. It is also a highly flexible white wine grape. In a cool climate like France, it will have more of a mineral character. IF the wine has gone through malolactic fermentation, the taste will evolve to include butter, cream, and notes of hazelnut. In appearance, Wine Folly points out that Chardonnay can look golden yellow.
The winemaking process has a significant impact on Chardonnay. For example, aging the wine in oak barrels will add different flavors. In contrast, aging the wine in a fermentation tank made of steel or concrete will not add new flavors to the wine. The wide variety of white winemaking methods used to make Chardonnay is one reason why this wine is so interesting! Further, Chardonnay is often used in making sparkling wine.
2 Pinot Gris (also known as Pinot Grigio)
- Wine Regions: Alsace (i.e. France) and Italy (.e. Trentino-Alto Adige)
- Typical Aromas: Floral aromas are part of the picture. In addition, you may come across notes of honey and mineral aspects.
- Flavors: Typical fruit flavors include green apple, white peaches, and lemon. Some people also notice clove, ginger, and other spices.
While Europe is home to most of the leading wine regions for this white wine grape, it is also grown elsewhere. For instance, you can find good Pinot Grigio in Oregon. Pinot Gris is best served relatively cold (i.e., 45 Fahrenheit or 7 Celsius). Don’t overdo the chilling, or you will miss out on what this white wine offers.
- Wine Regions: The German vineyard is the King of Riesling. Excellent Riesling is also made in the Alsace region of France.
- Typical Aromas: Intense aromas are part of the Riesling experience. Fruity aromas like pear and apricot are typical.
- Flavors: Riesling is known for its high acidity level, so it is a great choice when looking for a refreshing drink in hot weather. In addition, you will probably taste pear, nectarine, and apricot.
Riesling wine is most commonly made in colder climates like Germany and Canada. Look for dry Riesling from the Alsace wine region of France. For something different, look for a sweet Riesling wine from Germany or Canada.
Tip: Wine enthusiasts who want to fully experience the crisp flavor of Riesling wine find it easier to experience in comparison. Find out more in the following comparison article: Riesling vs Pinot Grigio.
4 Sauvignon Blanc
- Wine Regions: The Marlborough region of New Zealand is one option. You can also find good Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux vineyards in France.
- Typical Aromas: Sauvignon Blanc is part of the aromatic wines club. That means it is easy to enjoy its aromas. Depending on the wine region, this white wine has floral aromas and citrus notes.
- Flavors: Fruity flavors are front and center for Sauvignon Blanc. Expect to taste passion fruit, honeydew, and grapefruit. Many people taste tropical fruit in Sauvignon Blanc.
5 Chenin Blanc
- Wine Regions: Unlike other white wine grapes, Chenin Blanc is strongly associated with France’s Loire Valley wine region.
- Typical Aromas: Expect to enjoy floral notes and quince in this white wine.
- Flavors: Apple flavors are typical, along with a refreshing level of acidity.
Note this white wine grape is also grown in South Africa and California. You could have a wine tasting at home comparing Chenin Blanc from France to wines made in other wine regions.
6 Pinot Blanc
- Wine Regions: This white wine grape is planted in many locations but look for it in the Alsace region of France and the Alto Adige wine region of Italy.
- Typical Aromas: Expect fruity aromas in the wine glass like apple and citrus fruit.
- Flavors: This full-bodied wine is usually marked by apple flavors and crisp acidity.
Wine expert Jancis Robinson has described Pinot Blanc as “useful rather than exciting.” The wine grape is related to its much more famous red wine grape cousin, Pinot Noir. Unlike Chardonnay, oak aging for Pinot Blanc is rare.
Germany produces the most significant amount of Pinot Blanc (33% of global production), followed by Italy (28%) and France (21%).
Tip: Pinot Blanc goes by a different name in Italy, “Pinot Bianco.”
7 Pinot Meunier
- Wine Regions: Pinot Meunier is produced in the Champagne wine region, British Columbia, Oregon, and Württemberg, Germany.
- Typical Aromas: Fruity aromas are front and center in Pinot Meunier. Expect to notice raspberry, strawberry, and mineral notes.
- Flavors: The fruity aromas deliver – expect to taste raspberry and strawberry. However, these tastes are balanced by acidity.
Pinot Meunier is typically grown in colder climates like the Champagne region of France and Canada.
Tip: Sparkling wines from the Champagne wine region often include Pinot Meunier.
8 Gruner Veltliner
- Wine Regions: Gruner Veltliner is made almost exclusively in Austria.
- Typical Aromas: This aromatic white wine smells like herbs, citrus fruits, rocks, and white pepper.
- Flavors: The prominent fruit flavors in the wine are lime, grapefruit, and lemon (i.e., citrus flavors). In addition, you will also detect white pepper if you pay attention.
Tip: Confused by the Gruner Veltliner grape name? It can be translated as “Green Wine of Veltin,” a reference to the early history of Gruner Veltliner when it was grown in the Alps region.
What About Orange Wine?
If you spend much time in the wine world, you might hear about orange wine. It is far less common than white wine and red wine. Wine enthusiasts know that the critical difference in the winemaking process to make orange wine involves grape skins. When orange wine is made, the wine skins are left in contact with the grape juice for days or months. As a result, orange wine’s appearance, aroma, and taste change from a traditional white wine.
One More Way To Keep Exploring White Wines
This introduction to white wine grapes is the start of your journey. To continue learning more about these exciting grape varieties, here are is one quick idea.
Wine enthusiasts will tell you that acidity is one of the essential variables in wine. However, simply pointing out high or low acidity is only one part of the story. For example, compare a buttery Chardonnay with low malic acid to a Chardonnay that has not gone through malolactic fermentation. Want to invite a few friends over to share the experience? Read these tips to organize a wine tasting at home.