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A Complete Guide to White Wine

Everything you need to know about the different types of white wine.

White wine is a staple for many at the dinner table. There are so many different varieties to choose from, depending on the regions they were made, the type of grapes used, and the conditions that these were grown in. But if you’re new to the world of wine, it can be tricky knowing which wine is which. 

two glasses of white wine

There are as many as 20 different grape varieties in the world, but only a handful of these are used to make the most popular varieties. Today we’re going to cover the 8 most popular types of white wine and tell you a little more about each variety. So you’ll be able to order with confidence the next time you peruse the wine menu at your favorite restaurant!

So what are the most popular types of white wine?

Most Popular White Wines

  1. Albariño
  2. Chardonnay
  3. Chenin Blanc
  4. Moscato
  5. Pinot Grigio
  6. Riesling
  7. Sauvignon Blanc
  8. Viognier

Albariño

Albariño is a fruity, refreshing wine that originates from Spain and Portugal. It is typically grown on the Iberian Peninsula and is widely known for its zippy acidic notes of grapefruit and lime, honeysuckle, as well as fruity flavors such as nectarine. There is also a hint of salinity to Albariño.

The Albariño grapes are typically harder to harvest because they are smaller, with thick skins. This also helps to give the grapes a natural citrusy bitterness because of the grape skin’s phenol content. These grapes are typically grown on pergolas so that the grapes can stay rot-free as well as dry easily.

Albariño wine pairs best with flaky fish, cheese, salads, seafood, and lighter meats.


Chardonnay

Chardonnay has become the world’s most popular type of wine, and for several great reasons. This is typically known as the winemaker’s grape, as it is incredibly versatile and can grow in a variety of climates. Chardonnay wines are typically made using green-skinned grapes, giving the wine either a rich and oaky flavor profile, or a crisp and clean flavor profile. The taste of Chardonnay can differ depending on how it’s made, as well as where the grapes were grown.

This is a medium to full-bodied dry white wine which was originally crafted in Burgundy, France. Its flavors range widely from lemon and apple to pineapple and papaya. This wide variety of flavors comes entirely down to the climates where the grapes are grown, as well as when they are harvested. 

The earlier the grapes are harvested and the cooler the climate, the more citrus notes come through in the wine. This is because the later the grapes are harvested, and the warmer the climate they are grown in, the more acidity they lose and the more sugar they develop.

Chardonnay will pair best with shellfish such as crab, lobster, and prawns, as well as meaty fish such as cod and halibut.


Chenin Blanc

One of the more versatile white wines on the market, Chenin Blanc comes in both sparkling and dry varieties. This is one of the more popular varieties grown in South Africa, where it will often be blended with additional varieties such as Viognier, Marsanne, and Semillon to create a richer wine. The grape variety originates from the Loire Valley, France.

This is a versatile white wine that features a variety of flavor profiles depending on the style of wine. Dry Chenin Blanc features notes of chamomile, ginger, quince, and tart pear. An off-dry Chenin Blanc features notes of ginger, honeycomb, jasmine, passion fruit, as well as ripe pear, as some of the natural sugars remain from the grape. Sweet Chenin Blanc features notes of mango, ginger, dried persimmon, mandarin orange, and toasted almond. Sparkling Chenin Blanc features notes of plum, yellow apple, quince, and ginger.

Chenin Blanc will pair best with sweet and sour dishes because of its natural acidity and sweet flavor. It also pairs well with turkey, chicken, pork, smoked salmon, halibut, trout, veal, and guinea fowl.


Moscato

If you prefer your wine to be on the sweeter side, then Moscato is the way to go. This wine is typically known to be a dessert wine because of its trademark sweet flavor profile. Moscato wine is made using the Muscat grape, which is also a table grape that is often used for raisins. The primary flavors of this grape tend to feature nectarine, orange blossom, and peach.

There are three different types of Moscato wines: sparkling, still, and dessert. Moscato wine is also available in both white and rosé. One of the most famous Moscato wines is Moscato d’Asti, a sparkling wine that originates from Asti, Italy. This bubbly wine is highly aromatic and features a lower alcohol content.

Moscato will typically pair well with creamy desserts as well as fruit tarts, or flavors that feature butterscotch, caramel, coconut, or vanilla. It won’t pair well with chocolate flavors because of how rich chocolate desserts are. If you want to pair Moscato with a full meal, it will pair best with fish, chicken, or Chinese food. It can also pair well with crudités such as carrot, cucumber, and celery.


Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is a light-bodied white wine that features an array of floral, fresh aromas. This is another popular white wine that was popularised in Italy, with the grape originating from Burgundy, France. This then traveled to Switzerland, and then to northern Italy where the Pinot Grigio wine gained notoriety.

The flavor of Pinot Grigio will vary depending on where exactly the grape was grown. Flavors will typically feature notes of white peach, citrus, pear, as well as additional flavors such as green apple, honeysuckle, and grapefruit.

This is a wine that has a poor reputation among wine snobs because of the cheaper variations that have flooded the market. Others deem it as a more simple wine, however, it is a highly underrated wine that has become popular for a reason.

Pinot Grigio will pair best with seafood, vegetarian dishes, and pasta dishes.


Riesling

Whereas most grape varieties originate from France, the Riesling is a white grape originating from the Rhine region of Germany, just across the border. This is an aromatic grape that is used to create a white wine that is notorious for its sweet flavor profile. This is a wine that typically has a lower alcohol content and usually is used as a dessert wine.

You’ll notice a variety of aromas from your Riesling wine, even when the wine is served ice cold. Primary flavors include apricot, nectarine, crisp apple, and pear. You can also find notes of lime peel, honeycomb, as well as jasmine. This is a highly acidic wine, which is often balanced with a sweetness which makes this a favorite wine to have on the table.

Riesling wines can vary from dry to sweet, however, the sweet varieties are the more popular variant. Riesling wines pair well with spicy dishes because of their sweetness. This wine also pairs well with shellfish, delicate fish, chicken, duck, and pork.


Sauvignon Blanc

Another popular favorite across the world, Sauvignon Blanc is made using a green-skinned grape that grows in a variety of climates. This wine typically has a trademark acidity that makes it easy to identify and incredibly refreshing. 

It has a chemical compound known as pyrazine, which gives Sauvignon Blanc notes of bell pepper, grass, and herbaceous flavors. The flavor can vary depending on the climate it was grown in, and how long the grapes have been allowed to mature on the vine. Cooler climates make for a greener, herbaceous flavor profile. 

In warmer climates or with grapes that have stayed on the vine for longer, the greener character of the wine will fade to be replaced with fruity flavors, such as grapefruit, guava, and passionfruit.

The Sauvignon Blanc grape variety originates from Bordeaux, France. However, this variety of grape is now widely cultivated in several different countries around the world, including Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Canada, New Zealand, Romania, South Africa, as well as in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Sauvignon Blanc will pair best with seafood, white meat such as chicken, and vegetarian dishes that have been lightly seasoned.


Viognier

Viognier is a full-bodied white wine that has a reputation for being aromatic. This is a grape variety that originated in the Northern Rhöne region of Southern France. If you enjoy bolder wines such as Chardonnay, then chances are that you will enjoy a crisp glass of Viognier.

This is a white wine that has flavors of honeysuckle, mango, and tangerine, as well as creamier notes of vanilla, clove, and nutmeg. This wine is softer on its acidity than Chardonnay but comes with a range of bold flavors. You will note an oily sensation on the tongue with Viognier.

Viognier wines will vary in intensity depending on how it’s been made as well as the individual producer of the wine. It can be bold and creamy or spritzy and light with a hint of bitterness on the palate. Some of the drier varieties will be less fruity and deliver notes of fresh rose petals.

Viognier will pair best with seafood, roasted, and grilled meats. It will be best to avoid foods that are too bold in flavor or too acidic. 


Final Thoughts

So there you have it! You now know that there are as many as 8 different types of wine consumed around the world. There are more varieties of grapes, of course, however, the wines that we have covered in more detail above are the varieties that you’re most likely to spot on the menu in your favorite restaurants.

Each wine has a complex flavor profile that will pair well with a variety of dishes. Now that you know a little more about each of them, you can order with confidence the next time you visit your local wine bar.

Which white wine do you prefer? Let us know in a comment down below!

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Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is from Sanibel Island, Florida, and a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.