Summer is the perfect time to explore your relationship to white wine and develop a more nuanced flavor profile of the grapes you most enjoy. With long afternoons and evenings stretching out before you, and weather conducive to leisurely patio meals, you have all the time you need to sample the many options available from the popular adult beverage.
Although no one is saying you need to become a connoisseur in order to enjoy and buy white wine, but knowing a few basics can improve your experience and help you select a grape more suitable to your palate.
1. White wine 101
Distinguished from their red wine counterparts as being lighter in both style and taste, white wines are generally considered the more refreshing of the two options. They are higher in acidity and aroma, and in cooking, they are more effective at softening meat and deglazing pan juices. The extensive variety available is due to large number of grapes, methods of winemaking, and ratios of residual sugar.
Although there are types varieties available, Chardonnay is one of the most common white wine varieties that you are likely to encounter. It is a green-skinned grape variety that originated in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France, but is now grown all over the world. Initially the grape is fairly neutral, and for that reason it is influenced a great deal from the wine-making method and where the grapes come from.
From unoaked and fruit-forward with hints of minerality to rich and toasty with vanilla and butter, the spectrum of flavors and aromas is very diverse. Of all white wines, Chardonnay is most responsive to oak-barrel treatment, leading some aficionados to praise this grape for its oak-influenced aromas and flavors of toastiness and even smokiness.
Sauvignon blanc is another green-skinned grape variety that originated in France but is now grown in many of the world’s wine producing regions. The grape likely gets its name from the French word sauvage, meaning “wild.” Depending on the climate where this grape is being grown, the flavor can vary quite significantly, from aggressively grassy to tropically sweet.
When grown in cooler climates, this grape generally produces wines with notable acidity, green flavor of grass, or floral notes. Sauvignon blanc coming from warmer regions is generally characterized by more suggestions of tropical fruit. Regardless of where it is coming from though, “crisp,” “elegant,” and “fresh” are common words you’ll hear used to describe wine produced from sauvignon blanc grapes.
Riesling is a flowery, aromatic variety that originated in the Rhine region. Characterized by high acidity and an almost perfumed aroma, it is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling white wines. Due to the fact that this grape is “terroir-expressive,” the flavor is influenced greatly by the place of origin.
Often in cooler climates, the high levels of acidity are balanced with residual sugars, producing a sweeter wine. In warmer climates, citrus and peach notes are likely to develop. Both its naturally high acidity and pronounced fruit flavors give Riesling great aging potential.
5. You won’t know until you try
Due to the fact that we each have a unique palate which responds differently to wine, the only way to figure out which white wine is really your favorite is by doing a taste test. You can visit a local winery to try several different wines at once, or just enjoy doing some research online and selecting an intriguing bottle to try at home. Once you’ve determined if you prefer wine that is sweet, dry, crisp, or oaked, you’ll be able to get more specific when selecting more expensive bottles and refining your preferences.