Get To Know Wines From the Grapes
White wines add joy to any wine fan’s palate. They are crisp, fruity and refreshing and can be enjoyed by themselves or paired with a wide variety of foods. They are dry or sweet. Anyone can find a white wine they will thoroughly enjoy. The challenge for any new wine lover is how to become acquainted with the different types of white wine. There are so many different labels on the market it makes heads spin. The secret is to start with the grapes.
There are about twelve popular types of grapes used to make white wine throughout the word, and of those, four are the top choices for production and consumption in the United States. New wine enthusiasts should start by acquainting themselves with these four grapes.
Chardonnay is by far the most used grape in the United States and, most likely, in the world. More Chardonnay wine is consumed in the United States than any other type. That is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that there are some outstanding Chardonnays on the market. The curse is that many techniques have been used to produce Chardonnays for the inexpensive and cheap mass markets. That yields some barely palatable wines.
Chardonnay grapes originated in the Burgundy region of France. Today, good grapes are grown in countries like Argentina, Australia, South Africa and Chile. In the United States, they are grown in California, New York, Virginia, Oregon, Texas and other states. The grapes produce different results depending on the specific climate and soil conditions they are grown in. French grapes are used to produce what are referred to as White Burgundies, and wine critics generally regard these wines as the best produced from the Chardonnay grape. In fact, they are often called the original Chardonnays. In addition, there are outstanding Chardonnay wines produced in California, Oregon, Australia, Chile and Argentina.
The grape itself produces wines with fruity aromas and flavors. There are tastes of apples, tropical fruits, mushrooms and minerals in different Chardonnays. The wines tend to be medium to high in acidity which contributes to a crisp, tart taste. Some Chardonnay, particularly inexpensive ones, can be on the sweet side.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes produce wines that are high in acidity with very noticeable flavors of hay, grass and herbs. There are often hints of fruit and melons. The grapes are traditionally associated with France, but today New Zealand and Australia also have excellent vineyards. Generally, Sauvignon Blanc is not oak aged.
Riesling grapes are most closely associated with Germany, but they are also grown in the Alsace region of France, Austria and Australia. They are not widely grown in the United States, and Riesling wine is far less popular in the United States than Chardonnay. Even so, many wine authorities regard it as the best of the white wine grapes because it produces wines with delicate fruity flavors and lightness.
Many people think of Riesling as a very sweet wine, but, in fact, Riesling can take varying levels of sweetness from dry to very sweet. It is not aged in oak and is typically low in alcohol content and high in acidity. It is very fruity and flowery and is light and refreshing. Start discovering Riesling with Mosel or Rhein Kabinetts from Germany.
Pinot Gris is also called Pinot Grigio. Unlike the other grapes, this one is actually purplish in color. Even so, they produce one of the best white wines. The grapes are associated with France, but are grown in Argentia, Chile and Oregon. Each area produces a distinct grape. An underlying honey taste is common to all. Then, depending on the growing region, pear, floral, peach, spicy and even orange flavors stand out.
How To Get Started
Local wine shops, not a grocery store, are a great resource for discovering white wines. Start with Chardonnay. Select two wines made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, not blends. One should be aged in oak barrels and one in stainless steel. Many people confuse oak tastes with the characteristic Chardonnay taste. It isn’t. Sample both types of aging to discover the difference. Start with French or California Chardonnays in the mid price range ($15-$25 per bottle). Next, move to Riesling. Start with a wine from Germany and Alsace. Wine shop merchants can assist in finding wines with the right sweetness. Try both a sweet and dry Riesling. Next, discover Sauvignon Blanc. Try a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc first. Finally, explore Pinot Gris.
This approach makes it easy to discover personal tastes in white wines. Explore the four most popular grapes first, then discover the other 8 popular types of grapes and the blends. Discover how oak barrel aging adds its own characteristic tastes to white wine. Experiment with the differences in sweetness and in acidity. All the while, use wine tasting sheets to record impressions of each wine.