Lighter than red wine and full of different flavours, white wine is considered less collectable than the great red wines. Often high in acidity, white wine differs from red wine due to the lack of tannins, the bitter part of the grape skin that gives red wine its colour and characteristic taste. In general, white wine is talked about in terms of richness. Also, white wine does not age well, with a few notable exceptions.
- Chenin Blanc
- Grüner Veltliner
- Pinot Blanc
While the grapes that produce red wine are purple and/or black, white wine is produced from either light yellow-green grapes like Chardonnay or light red grapes like Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. Although Champagne is considered the topmost luxury wine, almost all the world’s most expensive wines are red.
In order to keep the acidity and light fruit flavours crisp and refreshing, white wine should be refrigerated before drinking. Whites can be stored at 55-60 degrees, while sweet white wines should be kept at 50-53 degrees. This is cooler than the storage temperatures used for red wines. It is best to serve whites in a thinner glass than those used for red wine.
Although white wine is generally much lighter-bodied than red wine, some choices are full-bodied. Many French wines, such as aged white Burgundies, as well as certain California and Oregon Chardonnays, are famously full-bodied. White wine has acidity, which can be low, high, or anywhere in between. Riesling boasts the highest acidity of all white grapes, while in wines from Pinot Gris, acidity can often be fairly low. Wines that are too high in acidity are bitter and unapproachable, whereas low-acidity wines can be bland and uninteresting. Generally, producers try to reach a compromise with acidity levels.
The flavours of white wine are incredibly varied and span many different regions and tastes. The flavours of fruits, such as banana, apple, pear, peach, and citrus, may appear in Chardonnays, while the more oaked products are described as buttery. Rich, fruity wines reach their peak of expression–and cost–in luxurious Sauternes. Lusciously flavoured with apricot, banana, and peach, as well as a decadent honey overtone, the nickname “liquid gold” describes Sauternes perfectly.
Another flavour set in white wines is mineral: Flint, gunpowder, steel, and slate, and occasionally lime, may flavour white wines. Such earthy flavours can impart character that is unique and memorable. Chablis, made from the same Chardonnay as white Burgundy but in a different style, is legendary for its mineral flavours. German and Austrian Rieslings are similarly tasteful and austere.
The third common flavour set is floral. Rather than fruits or minerals, floral wines smell like flowers. Less common in general, floral flavours are most often found in Alsatian Gewürztraminer. The king of floral grapes is Viognier; the white wines from this grape, such as Condrieu, are highly coveted for their floral taste. Viognier may be blended with red wine to impart its heady aroma.
The versatility of white wine is part of its charm. Many Americans think of white wine as California Chardonnay. In reality, this is but one of many choices. There are other white grapes that offer an entirely different wine experience.
Some of the finest regions producing white wine include Alsace, Sauternes, Burgundy, Champagne, and the Loire in France; Alto Adige in Italy; Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, and the Central Coast in California; and the Mosel and Nahe in Germany.
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