A Comprehensive Guide to White Wine

Wines come in so many flavors, with thousands of subtle differences, accents, and notes in taste, that no two wines are exactly the same. Even yearly vintages taste different (have you ever heard someone say “oh, that was a really good year for that wine”?). But there are two categories that everyone knows: red and white.

Red wines often represent stronger, bolder tastes, with strong, rich flavors, while white wines often represent the more acidic, floral, and fruity aspect of wine, that narrows in on lighter flavors and subtle overtones.

Most casual wine drinkers do not realize the number of differences between red and white wines, simply assuming the differences all boil down to the fact that different grapes are used. Now, it is true that the two types of wine generally use different types of grapes, however, they also utilize different parts of the grape, different processes, and feature different chemical compounds (which corresponds directly to a wine’s nutrition component), all of which combine to give white wines their unique taste.

In this guide, we’ll cover these differences in greater depth, exploring what makes red and white wines different. Then, we’ll explore the different types of white wine and how winemakers are able to create bold, unique, and flavorful tastes.

Different Grapes

While it is commonly known that, for the most part, red wine is made with red grapes and white wine is made with white grapes, what many people don’t realize is that winemakers actually utilize different parts of the grape for the different wines.

When red wine is made, the wine is fermented (this is essentially the part of the process in which grape juice, combined with yeast, undergoes a transformation that creates the alcoholic beverage that is wine), with the skin and seeds of the grapes. This is because the color of the grapes, and thus the wine, is actually held within the skin and the seed.

White wine, on the other hand, is made without the grape skin and seeds (except in special situations). In fact, there are types of white wines, such as White Pinot Noir, that are made with red grapes. Winemakers remove the skins and seeds from the grapes, allowing them to craft a white wine taste that is richer and bolder than many other white wines.

Different Production Methods

The production methods used to make white wine feature a number of key differences from those used to produce red wine.

By far the biggest difference between the two production methods has to do with the type of taste winemakers are trying to achieve. As noted above, red wines typically follow a different set of taste guidelines than that of white wine. The rich, bold, and strong flavors of red wine are achieved by increasing oxygen exposure, which rids the wine of the fruity, florally overtones that are intrinsic to the grapes. In order to attain this increased oxygen exposure, red wine is typically aged in oak barrels, since the pores of the wood allow oxygen to circulate through the wine.

The taste guidelines of white wine, on the other hand, typically revolves around the same floral, fruity, and citrusy tastes that winemakers seek to rid red wine of. As a result, white wine is often aged in stainless steel containers, or vats, which allow winemakers to control oxygen exposure, an essential component of the white wine production process.

Again, this difference is NOT true of all red and white wines, but it is a very common one.

White Wine Making Process

The basic outline for white wine making is as follows:

  1. Grow grapes: This seems self-explanatory enough, but the quality of grapes will have, for the most part, a greater impact on the quality of the wine than any of the other steps.
  2. Harvest the grapes: Wineries harvest grapes during different times of the year depending on their location; those north of the equator (such as our popular California-made 2017 OM Lodi Chardonnay) typically harvest during August, September, and October, while those south of the equator (such as our award-winning 2017 Starlight Ridge Chardonnay) typically harvest during any of the months from February to April.
  3. Pressing: In this step, the wine grapes are pressed to extract the juice from the seeds and the skins. This is an essential part of the white wine process, because, if you recall from above, white wine has to be fermented without the grape skins and seeds, unlike red wine.
  4. Settling: Settling is an important part of the winemaking process because it allows the sediments from the grapes to settle out of the juice. This is important because clear juice makes for better wine.
  5. Fermentation: Up until this point in the winemaking process the wine has simply been grape juice. The fermentation process is where the juice actually becomes what we know as wine. Here, yeast and grape juice combine to create alcohol and CO2, an important chemical reaction for wine production. This process typically takes longer for white wines than red wines because they must be kept at cooler temperatures. White wines lack the natural preservatives held within the grape skins, and as such are prone to browning.
  6. Aging: After the fermentation process is complete, white wines will typically undergo further aging. This aging can be done through a number of methods. Aging can be continued in a stainless steel vat, which is often used to limit oxygen exposure, or in oak barrels, which increases oxygen exposure and allows winemakers to instill a number of different tasting notes in the wines.
  7. Preservatives: Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is often added as a preservative to wine in order to prevent spoilage. Recently, some winemakers have begun practicing natural winemaking where no preservative is added.
  8. Filtration: The filtration process removes the wine of any remaining sediment from the production process. Without this step, white wines would look cloudy, rather than having the clear, transparent, yellowish color they are known for.
  9. Bottling: This is the final step in the process. Here the wine is finally placed in its iconic bottle. Then, it can finally be transported and shipped directly to you!

Interesting Fact: For red wines, as a rule, typically steps #3 and $5 above are reversed. Winemakers will ferment first and then press.

White Wine Varietals

White wine comes in a number of different varietals. A few commonly known and popular ones consist of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling, but there’s far more to it. In this next section, we’ll cover a number of different varietals, as well as their common origins, popular pairings, and some of our favorite selections!

Chardonnay

  • Notable Regions Grown: Burgundy, France, Central Valley, California, New Zealand
  • Origin: Burgundy, France
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Flavors: Apple, pineapple, vanilla, butter, crème brûlée

Chardonnay is the best known and most popular white wine. The grape used to produce Chardonnay is extremely versatile, both with the flavors it can be instilled with and the different production methods available, allowing for Chardonnay to be one of the most widely grown grapes.

Chardonnay grapes can capture a vast range of flavors depending on the climate in which they’re grown, as well as a number of other factors. Flavors include everything from apple and pineapple to vanilla, butter, and even crème brûlée.

Food Pairing with Chardonnay

Being a white wine, Chardonnay is often served before dinner or as the first wine of the meal. White wines are typically served before their heavier red-counterparts to mirror both the meal and balance taste. Some common Chardonnay pairings are as follows:

  • Meat: Roasted or grilled chicken and pork.
  • Seafood: Crab and Grilled Salmon
  • Cheese: Brie and Camembert
  • Pasta: Served best with pasta that uses a cream sauce.

Our Selection of Chardonnay

  • Italy: 2017 Belfiore Chardonnay Trevenezie I.G.T. - A customer favorite, this award-winning Chardonnay is a refreshing and delicious wine that offers notes of both apple and bread crust.
  • Spain: 2017 Finca Del Mar Chardonnay - This award-winning Spanish Chardonnay is also a customer favorite, and it offers a well-balanced pairing to salads, white meat, and most seafood.
  • France: 2017 Racine Chardonnay Pays d’Oc - A crisp and acidic Chardonnay, the 2017 Racine is an award-winning wine that offers notes of pear, melon, and apple, as it delivers a refreshing and flavorful taste.

Moscato

  • Notable Regions Grown: Asti, Italy, Australia
  • Origin: The origins of Moscato can be traced back to Greece
  • Sweetness: Semi-sweet
  • Flavors: Orange, pear, lemon, and honeysuckle

Moscato is a popular white wine made from the Muscat family of grapes, which consists of over 200 varieties. Moscato wines are known for their sweet, citrus aromas that feature notes and flavors of orange, pear, lemon and more, however, the grapes can also be used to make dessert wines, which are known for their sweet and rich caramel flavors. It is also one of the oldest wine grapes in the world.

Food Pairing with Moscato

Moscato is intended to be served chilled and pairs well with light, zesty salads, and a number of desserts, including apple and peach cobblers. Some common food pairings with Moscato include the following:

  • Meat: Flank steak, chicken, and pork
  • Seafood: Crab, fish
  • Cheese: Goat cheese, brie
  • Salad: Light, zesty salads that feature citrus and fruit flavors
  • Desserts: Peach cobbler, apple cobbler, apple pie, key lime pie, sorbet

Our Selection of Moscato

  • Italy: Villa Amoroso Moscato Vino Dolce I.G.T. - Our award-winning Villa Amoroso Moscato is a sweet, floral wine. It easily lends itself as a perfect complement for meals, whether it's served as an aperitif or with dessert.
  • California: 2017 Spencer Family Vineyard Moscato - As one of the features in the Martha Stewart Collection, this award-winning Moscato features bold notes of tangerine and peach, making it the perfect wine to serve as a bookend for a great meal.

Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris)

  • Notable Regions Grown: Burgundy, France, Trentino, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, California
  • Origin: The northwest Piedmont region of Italy
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Flavors: Lemon, lime, pear, apple, nectarine, honeysuckle

Next to Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio is one of the best known white wines. The wine grapes themselves are actually thought to be mutant clones of the red wine grapes used for Pinot Noir, thus the name. Around the world, Pinot Grigio is typically a full-bodied, dry wine, but there are a number of notable Pinot Grigio wines made in Italy that are recognized for their seemingly lighter-bodied and acidic tastes.

Food Pairing with Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio pairs well with salad, seafood, and dishes that feature neutral, tamer flavors. The following are a number of popular combinations and pairings for Pinot Grigio wines:

  • Meat: Grilled and roasted chicken, and pork
  • Seafood: Crab, Halibut, Trout, and scallops
  • Cheese: Mozzarella and goat cheese
  • Salad: Light, appetizer salads that are simple and traditional
  • Desserts: Less-sweet desserts such as crème brûlée

Our Selection of Pinot Grigio

  • California: 2017 Bayshore Vintners Pinot Grigio - This award-winning wine is made from grapes grown on one of the oldest vineyards in California and offers a refreshing, fruity, and zesty taste. It is a particularly great wine for pairing with meals on a hot summer day.
  • Italy: 2017 Arbos Pinot Grigio - One of our customers’ favorites, the 2017 Arbos Pinot Grigio is made from organic grapes. Best served chilled, the wine consists of a number of fruity notes that pop on the palate and pair well with a number of different dishes and cuisines.

Riesling

  • Notable Regions Grown: Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, and Alsace, France
  • Origin: The Rhine region of Germany
  • Sweetness: Sweet
  • Flavors: Apricot, lemon, lime, pear, and pineapple

Riesling wine grapes originate from the Rhine region of Germany. It is known for its flowery aromas and its acidic taste. Winemakers seldom oak such wines in order to focus in on the fruity and citrus flavors the grapes offer. The wine is grown throughout the world, however, it is the most common wine grape grown in both Germany and Alsace, France.

Food Pairing with Riesling

Riesling is known for its resounding sweetness, and thus pairs well with a number of desserts. Like most white wines, it can also be served before meals. Here are a number of different foods you can pair a good bottle of Riesling with:

  • Meat: Grilled and roasted chicken
  • Seafood: Crab, scallops
  • Cheese: Gouda
  • Salad: Light salads that are zesty and simple.
  • Desserts: Cherry pie, apple pie, apple strudel, cheesecake, crème brûlée

Sauvignon Blanc

  • Notable Regions Grown: Chile, South Africa, Bordeaux, and California
  • Origin: Bordeaux Region of France
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Flavors: White peach, lime, and green apple

Sauvignon Blanc originates from the renowned French wine region of Bordeaux. The grape variety is now grown throughout the world, and it produces a crisp, dry white wine. The taste of the wine varies greatly based on the climate in which it is grown, making Sauvignon Blanc slightly different in every region it is grown.

Food Pairing with Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a popular meal component, and pairs well with a variety of dishes.

  • Meat: Roasted and grilled chicken and pork
  • Seafood: Smoked salmon
  • Cheese: Gouda
  • Salad: Light salads that are zesty and simple
  • Vegetables: Asparagus, artichokes, brussels sprouts, zucchini

Our Selection of Sauvignon Blanc

  • Italy: 2017 Belfiore Sauvignon Blanc Trevenezie I.G.T. - This 2017 Sauvignon Blanc is both an award-winning wine and a customer favorite.
  • California: 2017 Fair Oaks Ranch Sauvignon Blanc - Our award-winning 2017 Fair Oaks Ranch Sauvignon Blanc is a light-bodied white wine, with a crisp, floral and citrus finish. Notes of lemon, pink grapefruit, and lime make this the perfect wine for serving on the patio or in the backyard on a hot summer day.

Sémillon

  • Notable Regions Grown: France, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand
  • Origin: West of France
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Flavors: Lemon, green apple, and pear

Made largely in France and Australia, Sémillon is yet another popular white wine varietal that is native to France’s Bordeaux region. Though today its popularity and prominence has fallen, Sémillon was at one point thought to be the most planted grape in the entire world, with notable makers in regions outside of France and Australia, such as in South Africa.

Food Pairing with Sémillon

Sémillon pairs well with a number of foods, notably spicy courses, which its mild-sweetness offsets. It also pairs well with a number of seafood dishes and makes for a strong aperitif wine.

  • Meat: Chicken, pork, veal
  • Seafood: Salmon, crab, shellfish
  • Cheese: Goat cheese, blue cheese
  • Salad: Salads with fruits and nuts, along with a zesty citrus dressing
  • Vegetables: Asparagus, artichokes, brussel sprouts, zucchini

White Wine Blends

White blends are winemaker’s way of ensuring quality and bringing their unique visions to life. Sometimes two, three, four or even five grapes allow a winemakers artistic expression to shine and truly bring the quality of the grapes out from one another. While the popular white blends consist of White Bordeaux (Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle) and White Bourgogne (Chardonnay, Aligote), there are hundreds of other white wine blends out there that allow winemakers to show off their expertise.

Our Selection of White Wine Blends

  • France: 2016 Arnozan Bordeaux Blanc - This layered and zesty white wine comes from Bordeaux, where Sauvignon Blanc originated, and is one of our customers’ favorites. Notes of gooseberry and honeysuckle characterize this wine’s subtle flavors.

White Wine in a Nutshell

That may seem like a lot of information, but it is only the beginning. It is also important to remember that while the above information provides a strong foundation and general guidelines, the way a wine tastes has a great deal to do with its maker, meaning a typically dry wine, such as Sémillon can be made into a sweet wine with the proper techniques. At the end of the day, we don’t expect everyone to be a wine connoisseur! After all, the only thing that really matters is your own taste and preference. If you are looking to learn more, try exploring some of our other educational pieces on our blog. There’s a whole world of wine to be explored.