Born in the Burgundy region of France as the result of a natural crossing between Pinot and Gouais Blanc, the easy to grow Chardonnay grape has spread around the world and the wine it produces has an interesting quality, in that it is affected greatly by the land and climate of the area in which it’s grown (“terroir” expressive), which means essentially, no two Chardonnays are alike. It’s responsiveness to oak, is another reason any two Chardonnays may be distinctly dissimilar – and also why many people have come to dislike Chardonnay. In the 80’s & 90’s, over-oaking became a “thing” in some areas and the resulting “butter bomb” wine eventually lost many fans and turned off potential new ones. These days, most estates have stopped this practise and have reverted back to the traditional ways of light oaking and indeed, many estates no longer oak Chardonnay at all. If you have found in the past you did not enjoy Chardonnay and it was oaked, it would be well worth investigating further, looking for an un-oaked Chardonnay (aged in stainless steel for a clean taste). Chardonnay is one of the few white wines that benefits from aging, so take that into consideration as well and try tasting not only a younger Chardonnay but also something more mature. Happy hunting! Best served at 9 – 11° C / 48 – 52°F
From the Rhine wine region of Germany, a Riesling is a rarely-oaked, low-alcohol, high-acidity light wine, widely known for it’s exceptional “terroir,” similar to Chardonnay. Ranging from sweet, to quite dry, depending on it’s growing region, the Riesling’s high acidity allows for it to age extraordinarily well in the bottle. German Rieslings tend to be sweeter (unless labeled “Dry”), whereas Rieslings from the Alsace region or Austria, tend to be drier. Due to the natural sweetness of the wine, many sommeliers say it pairs exceptionally well with something spicy. Try it with some Indian cuisine, or something with a nice chilie kick. Best served at 10 – 12° C / 43 – 46°F (for a New World, sweeter Riesling), 6 – 8°C / 43 – 46°F (for an Alsace region Riesling)
3.) Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris
Pron. “pea-know gree-jhee-oh” and “pea-know gree”
A French grape from the region of Burgundy, Pinot Grigio is a mutation of the red grape, Pinot Noir. It found it’s way to Italy, where it became so widely popular and grown, some people to mistakenly believe Italy to be the origin of the grape and indeed, the majority of the Pinot Grigio produced today comes from Italy. The difference in Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is not simply in the name. While the process of making the wine is virtually the same, the growing conditions for the grapes in the two regions is not and makes it’s mark on the wine. Pinot Gris wines are generally made from grapes in the Alsace region, which are exposed to more sun than their Italian counterparts (which are also harvested earlier), resulting in a fuller-bodied, drier wine. Try a Pinot Gris for a richer, fuller tasting wine, or a Pinot Grigio for something lighter and crisp. Best served at 45-50°F / 7 – 10°C
4.) Pinot Blanc
Pron. “pea-know blahnk”
Another Pinot mutation from the Burgundy region of France, the green-skinned Pinot Blanc produces an overall high-alcohol, light-bodied wine. The wine can also be oaked to produce a fuller-bodied wine, higher in tannins which give the mouth a drier feel. While not as popular as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc wines are still widely available. For a higher acidity, crisp wine, you might want to consider a Pinot Bianco – made from the same grape but produced in Italy. Best served at 45-50°F / 7 – 10°C
5.) Sauvignon Blanc / Sancerre
Pron. “sah-vihn-yohn blahnk” / “sahn-sair”
Originating in the Bordeaux region of France as a vine that grew wild, it was originally only added into wine blends by the local wine-makers. Once the grape travelled, it eventually arrived in Sancerre, in the Loire Valley region of France, where they renamed it “Sancerre” and the winemakers there began growing it to be used in it’s own, single-grape wine (not blended.) A crisp, dry wine with a high acidity and distinctive “grassy” or herbal fresh flavour, it is rarely oaked, preserving it’s natural fruitiness. Today, Sauvignon Blanc is still used in wine blends, particularly ones made in Bordeaux and those blends may also be oak aged. Best served at 6 – 8°C / 43 – 46°F
A pink-skinned mutation of the Savagnin Rose grape, believed to have originated in Germany, Gewürztraminer produces a light-bodied, often strongly coloured and intensely lychee-floral scented wine. The vine made it’s way to the French Alsace region where the grapes “terroir” and the regions rich clay allows it to produce some of the finest Gewürztraminers. The biggest complaint of Gewürztraminer detractors, is of the lack of balance the wine can have, being low in acidity and sometimes, overt in it’s sweetness. It’s terroir may be the answer for some in these instances and if you’re one of those people Gewürztraminer has yet to win over, consider searching out one of the Alsatian grand cru Gewürztraminer wines before deciding it’s fate in your rack (“Grand Cru” is the appellation for the finest still white wines from the Alsace region), for here you will likely find more full-bodied, higher acidity, more complex wine. Best served at 6 – 8°C / 43 – 46°F
7.) Moscato / Muscat
Pron. “moe-ska-toe” / “muh-skot”
One of the oldest grape varieties in the world, today, it is found growing in regions throughout the world and with colours ranging from white to almost black, it also produces several varieties of Moscato wine. Although variety can be found in the amount of fizziness, colour and dryness of wines, the grape produces a relatively constant flavour profile. You’ll find Muscat wines in still, bubbly, pink, black and dessert varieties. For a great description of Moscato varieties, read more here.
A somewhat difficult to grow, late harvest grape, the French Viognier variety almost went extinct but has endured to see somewhat of a modern revival and spread to several world regions. Producing a low-acid, full-bodied wine and known for it’s peach aroma, Viognier wine is versatile enough to be either oaked or un-oaked, producing flavours ranging from light and crisp, to full and creamy. Fans of oaked Chardonnay might well find themselves fans of an oaked Viognier, with it’s similar flavours and feel, although more perfumed and with less acidity. Best served at 9 – 11° C / 48 – 52°F
An interesting note:
“DNA profiling shows that Viognier has a parent-sibling relationship with the ancient Mondeuse variety, which means that it is either a grandparent or half-sibling of Syrah.”
wine-searcher.com Some producers are adding Viognier to their Syrah wines, which would give them some of the characteristic scent and flavour of the Viognier and produce an interesting blend for Syrah fans to try.
10.) Chenin Blanc
Pron. “sheh-nin blahnk“
Originally from the Loire Valley of France, these days Chenin Blanc is most widely known as a South African variety, where the majority of the vines worldwide, are grown. Versatile in it’s ability to be un-oaked and oaked with equally impressive results, Chenin Blanc is able to produce a wide variety of flavours, from mineral and tart fruits, to pear, almond, honey and floral. It’s also used to produce both still wines in the range of dry, off-dry and sweet. It’s natural acidity also make it ideal for producing sparkling wine in both dry (Brut) and sweet (Demi Sec). In the Loire Valley, late harvest Chenin Blanc grapes are used to produce the famous sweet wines blends of the region. While Chardonnay fans may find an oaked version this wine appealing, those that find Chardonnay too “oaky” or Sauvignon Blanc too herbaceous, this may be the wine for you. Best served at 6 – 8°C / 43 – 46°F
To decant, or not decant?
Have you ever decanted a white wine? Would you? Should you? Read here for some interesting points on decanting white wines (No, it’s not a Dr. Suess article).