White wines come from white grapes, right? This is mostly true, but not always. In grape world, the pulp is white whichever the color of the skin. The trick to make white wine is to separate the must - sweet freshly pressed grape juice - from the skins and stems as soon as possible because those are the responsible part for color and tannin. It is possible to make white wine from not so white grapes.
White grapes can actually be green, yellow, pink or brown, and the wines they make range from sharply refreshing to lusciosly exotic, with a selection of intriguing fruity flavors in between.
Most notable white grape varieties
Albariño – Origin of refreshing, very high quality, dry white wines. Mostly grown in the North West of Spain - albariño wines- and Portugal - vinho verde and albarinho. Their taste will remind you of peaches, apricots and grapefruit; Spanish grapes rend a more intense flavor. These grapes are low yield and have a very thick skin and little juice can be extracted from them and they are virtually not grown out of Portugal or Spain.
Aligoté - Cultivated in Burgundy and East Europe where the simple, sharp wines this variety produces are well appreciated.
Chardonnay - This is probably the most popular white grape for wine and it is grown virtually everywhere. Champagne wines and the white wines of Burgundy are made with Chardonnay. It produces very good quality wines which are rich and creamy when matured in oak barrels, fruity and fresh when not matured in this way. Therefore, the flavor and aroma of the wines vary depending on the technique used to produce them and where the grapes where grown.
Chasselas - Produces dry, fresh and subtly flavored wines with a characteristic mineral concentration, low in alcohol and low in acid. Cultivated in France and Germany, but most prized in Switzerland. I is also known as Dorin or Fendant.
Chenin Blanc / Pineau de Loire – white grape widely planted in the Loira Valley, France, where it gives the best it can give. This grape is used to produce a wide variety of wines from rich and sweet, to medium sweet, to sparkling, to dry and robust dry white wines. Chenin Blanc displays a beguiling array of flavors: honey, guava, lime, melon, quince, vanilla, and some steely or mineral flavors. It has a high acidity to balance its sweetness allowing Chenin Blanc wines to age long and well. It is also widely cultivated in South Africa, but the wines produced don’t have yet much character, and not so widely in Australia, New Zealand, both make small amounts of good Chenin Blancs, and California or Chile, where the wines are still unremarkable.
Colombard – This is a highly productive grape origin of reliable everyday white wines which have been described as fruity and crisp, mostly uninteresting but with occasional tropical aromas. It is widely grown in California, South Africa and Australia, as this grape variety is able to grow and yield decent wines in hot climates which would have been rendered as unsuitable. Colombard was cultivated in France, Charente region, for Cognac but was replaced almost entirely with other varieties. In the hottest growing areas in Francs, some winemakers are bringing Colombard back for white wines using the modern methods from California.
Furmint – The white grape used to make Hungary’s famous sweet wine, tokaji. Furmint grapes are thin skinned and well known for its acidity and potent alcohol. They are ideal to make dessert wines.
Garganega – This is the white grape largely responsible for Italy’s legendary Soave. It tastes of green apples at its best, but it is very often cultivated in excess which weakens the flavors.
Gewürztraminer – Distinctive grape mainly grown in Alsace, France; purported to have aromas of lychees and roses, Turkish delight and smoked bacon, being, therefore, dead easy to recognize for those with less privileged noses.
Grüner Veltiner – A potential top of the white grape charts. This variety is cultivated extensively in Austria, giving its best examples in the Wachau region. White wines mad from Grüner Veltiner grapes age beautifully and they are dry, full bodied, and with a unique piquant flavor.
Marsanne - A grape grown in the Southern Rhone. It gives origin to full bodied white wines, with low acidity and a hint of almonds, or marzipan, which is made of almond. It is often blended with the other white grape of the region, Roussane. This grape is also grown in other regions, mainly Australia and California.
Macabeo / Viura - Grown in several areas in Spain, it is the main white grape in La Rioja. The wines from this grape are fruity, light and refreshing, although they do not age well. It is often blended with Chardonnay to produce more rounded wines.
Muscat - There are many varieties of Muscat grapes, so it is considered more a family of grapes. The best known varieties are Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains, grown in Alsace; Ottonel, also grown in Alsace and often blended with the former; and Alexandira. The Alsace wines from Muscat are usually dry white wines, intensely aromatic.
Palomino - This is the sherry grape. Mainly grown in Andalucia, southern Spain where it develops its best character in the solera system used to make sherry. Because the Palomino grape is low in sugar and it has low acidity, it does not fare well in any type of wine other than sherry.
Pinot Blanc / Clevner / Beli Pino - Pinot Blanc is a rather neutral grape, but it can produce full bodied white with low acidity in Alsace, and complex whites when harvested late.
Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio - A colored grape that is used to make white wines. Its smoky and spicy flavors have become very popular. It is mainly grown in Alsace and Italy, with the Italian wines being lighter than those of Alsace, but it has been successfully transported to Oregon and New Zealand.
Riesling - Riesling grapes produce fruity and lively wines that are not that high in alcohol. It is a very popular white grape. It is grown mainly in Germany and Alsace, but it has moved to many other regions, especially Australia and New Zealand. Germany produces a wide variety of wines, from very dry to very sweet, from these grapes.
Sauvignon Blanc / Bland Fume - A grape from the Loire Valley, and grown also in Bordeaux, that has extended throughout the world. It produces fresh and lively wines, with plenty of fruit characteristics and perfume, although the aroma and taste varies depending where the grapes were cultivated. It can be blended with Sémillon in Bordeaux, in both dry and sweet wines, while in New Zealand this grape produces very expressive single varietal wines. Sauvignon Blanc wines are best when young.
Sémillon - This is the grape used to make sweet wines in Sauternes and Bordeaux. The grape has very low acidity, but when affected by "noble rot" which shrivels the grapes and concentrates the flavors, produces very distinctive wines. It is often blended with other white grapes
Silvaner / Sylvaner - Grown mainly in Alsace and Germany, where dry white wines, with a distinctive floral bouquet, reasonable acidity, and a herbal aromas.
Trebbiano / Ugni Blanc - It is widely planted in Italy as Trebbiano, being the main white grpae, and France as Ugni Blanc. This grape produces dry white wines that can be bland, so it is often blended with other varieties.
Verdelho / Verdejo - This is the grape used in Madeira and white port wines, and it is manly grown in those areas. It is also grown in Australia.
Viognier - A white grape considered high quality because it is the origin of full bodied, dry white wines with plenty of fruit aroma, mainly peach and apricot. From the northern Rhone, it has been transported to other regions in France, USA, Australia and Canada.