Even the newest wine drinkers can tell the difference between whites and reds, but distinguishing the subtle differences among white varietals is a bit more challenging. Each type of white wine offers its own unique profile, and knowing the basics is the first step to finding new favorites. This guide examines what makes a white wine and explores three of the most popular white varietals: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigio.
White Wine Basics
Wine novices may be surprised to learn that white wines can be produced from either red or white grapes; many white wines get their lighter hue because they’re fermented without the skins. Juice from these grapes is fermented at lower temperatures in order to preserve more fruit-forward flavors. White wines can be paired with a number of different foods, but they’re especially suited for seafood, lighter vegetables, and cream- or oil-based sauces.
Found across the globe, chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the world. It is bold, dry, and full-bodied, and its oak aging gives it a distinct note of creamy vanilla. When chardonnay grapes are grown in cooler climates, the wine emerges more acidic and offers notes of apple and pear. In warmer climates, chardonnay can often be higher in alcohol content, with more tropical fruit flavors.
While its reach isn’t quite as far as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc is produced in a variety of regions, from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley in France to California, New Zealand, and Chile. It’s a light-bodied white with lots of acidity and fruit flavors. Depending on where it’s from, it can also take on uniquely herbaceous flavors, and sometimes even a hint of minerality.
Pinot grigio has many notable producers in the northern regions of Italy, as well as in wine-making areas of Germany, Australia, and the United States. Like sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio is light in body, but its acidity and fruit notes are toned down a little. Its most prominent fruit flavors include yellow apple, lemon, and other citrus varieties. Pinot grigios also often have a salty element that’s reminiscent of the ocean.
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