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White Wine Cheat Sheet

In my last post I talked about some of the differences between some of the best-known red-grape varieties. This time, I’m covering popular white grapes. Think of this as a cheat sheet for what you can typically expect when buying your next few bottles.

Chardonnay

Few grapes can touch Chardonnay in terms of popularity, but as an incredibly versatile grape, it comes in a range of styles. Chardonnay is sometimes crisp, with aromas and flavors of green apples and citrus fruits, and sometimes full-bodied with ripe flavors of golden apples and honey. It has a strong affinity for oak, so it is often aged in small oak barrels, which impart notes of toast, spice, vanilla and butter. Chardonnay is sometimes called a “Winemaker’s Grape” because it adapts well to so many different climates, winemaking methods and styles. Depending on how it is made, Chardonnay makes a good match for chicken dishes, poached salmon or even lobster.

Riesling

If Chardonnay is the Winemaker’s Grape, then Riesling could be called the Vineyard’s Grape. A fan of cool climates, Riesling is known for having a distinctive taste that wine tasters describe as “minerally” – this grape often reflects the taste of the vineyard site where it was grown. With aromas and flavors from citrusy to peachy to tropical, wines made from Riesling grapes typically have high levels of acidity and can range in style from dry to sweet. Due to the purity of fruit flavors that are almost never influenced by oak, the mouthwatering acidity and the stylistic range, Riesling is a food-friendly grape that pairs with a huge variety of dishes.

Sauvignon Blanc

Though I find it funny, some wine critic must have been having a bad day when he came up with one of the classic descriptors for Sauvignon Blanc. Known for sometimes making wines that have a citrusy, herbaceous note with a slight hint of ammonia, Sauvignon Blanc has been described as smelling like “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush.” In reality though, good examples of Sauvignon Blanc won’t remind you of a litter box by any stretch. Fresh and zesty with aromas and flavors like grapefruit, passion fruit, lime, pineapple, fresh-cut grass and flint, Sauvignon Blanc is a good match for a variety of fresh cheeses, seafoods and salads.

Viognier

If I were going to make a perfume from a wine, the intensely honeyed and floral Viognier would be one of my top choices. It almost seems too pretty to drink. Viognier wines tend to be very aromatic with aromas of nuts, white flowers and stone fruits. Although the wines might smell deceptively sweet, they are typically dry. A fairly full body, with noticeable alcohol and a long finish, does give Viognier a feeling of softness and roundness. Generous and easy to drink, Viognier is a good match for some spicier cuisines, such as Thai, Moroccan and Indian.

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio

You could easily call this grape two-faced – but in a good way. When called Pinot Grigio, the wine is typically light and crisp with citrusy and apply notes. When it is called Pinot Gris, you will find that the wine is richer, with more weight on the palate, more alcohol and notes of ripe peaches, melon, almonds and white flowers. While climate plays a big role in determining how this grape will taste, decisions made by the winemaker in the winery also play a part. Either way, both styles can be delicious. Pinot Grigio makes a terrific match with lighter fish dishes, salads and warm weather, which Pinot Gris is a perfect partner for foods such as grilled salmon, risotto and pork.