Wine 101 - Part 2A - White Wine Basics

So now we have an idea how it's made (if you have already read Part 1 that is) but let's talk style; and ohhhh yah, wine has style! Or at least it has...styles? 


Wine Styles

So what is a wine style exactly? A wine style is essentially the category that a wine falls under, and I don't mean light or heavy, but more of a broad category that encompasses many sub-styles within it. Wine styles are a common misunderstanding with the general wine crowd as many wine regions have become synonymous with certain wine styles, and therefore become sort of like Kleenex, and taken over the whole world of that style of wine; think Champagne. So let's get to it and start defining the categories, and don't worry, there really is only a few and I'm not even getting into bubbles this week. 


Still Wine, or...Just Wine

Still Wine is of course wines that are still (without bubbles) and can be broken up into a few other categories to make it a bit easier; I say "Just Wine" because, realistically, that is what they will always be called as they need no further description. I should also mention that you may hear this called "Light Wine" as well, but I have always thought that was a bit confusing as there are some very heavy wines that fall into that category, and that just doesn't make any sense to me. Let's break this one down a bit further: 

Pouring white wine.jpg


White Wine

White wine. Pretty easy. I will expand a bit. Of course we all know what white wine is but I should give a bit of extra description at the very least. White wine can be made with many different grapes or any combination of many different grapes, and thus it can appear in a variety of colours from pale straw to deep amber and everything in between. It is not uncommon for white wines to have some residual sugar left after fermentation, and have an obvious sweetness without being a sweet or a dessert wine. Here are some common white grape varietals that are good to be familiar with and you are bound to find at any wine shop or on any restaurant list. 

Chardonnay - Always jockeying for the most widely planted grape varietal in the world, Chardonnay is a name almost everyone has heard, wine drinker or not. Chardonnay is perhaps the most versatile grape variety on the planet, thriving in the coolest climates of the world and then making beautiful examples in some of the warmest just the same. Because of this it is difficult to give a general description of what to expect from a Chardonnay. It is important to note that Chardonnay is a white grape that responds well to oak contact and therefore many regions around the world use oak ageing to offer complexity and body to their wines. Pro Tip: For fresh, crisp, and citrus driven Chardonnay look for Chablis, and for a heavier style likely spending time in oak and driven by pitted and tropical fruits, head for a Californian example.

Sauvignon Blanc - A grape that has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years, Sauvignon Blanc is a powerful aromatic variety that is full of aroma complexity right out of the gate. High in herbal aromas and often tropical fruit, Sauvignon Blanc is more likely to age in neutral vessels like stainless steel to retain its varietal character. Pro Tip: If your having trouble finding the right wine to pair with your salad, pick up a Sauvignon Blanc and let its high acidity compliment your vinaigrette and herbal aromas bridge with your greens. 

Riesling - A sommelier's best friend! Riesling is a grape that is made in almost every single style imaginable. High in acidity and aromatics, Riesling is almost never aged in oak. An extremely food friendly grape, Riesling has the ability to partner with almost any dish conceivable because of its many styles. With a bit of a reputation for being sweet, Riesling is a grape that everyone should give a second chance, as almost every sommelier will tell you, it's one of the greatest grapes out there when done right. Pro Tip: Riesling has the ability to age for a loooooong time, so find yourself a handsome bottle and set it aside for a will thank me if you remember reading this.

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio - Perhaps more well known as Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris is a relatively neutral grape varietal that tends to be mid-to-high acidity and driven by apples and citrus. There are some outstanding examples made in many parts of the world, however both Alsace [North Eastern France] and the [North Eastern Italy] regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli make some of the worlds best. Pro Tip: The next time you have a pasta with a creamy white sauce, give a Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige a try. It is wonderful how the sauce and the wine seem to boost each other's flavour while the acidity in the wine helps cut through the heavy sauce.  

Gewürztraminer - Don't be afraid of this grape because of its ridiculously long (and seemingly impossible to pronounce) name, Gewürztraminer makes as pretty a wine as could be conceived. Described as anything from "my grandmother's closet" to "walking through a greenhouse", a wine does not get much more floral than Gewürz. Extremely aromatic and often holding some residual sugar, Gewürz is a grape everyone should try. High in tropical aromatics and almost synonymous with lychee fruit, Gewürz is usually deep in colour and textured on the palate. Pro Tip: The next time you sit down in front of some spicy and flavour packed Indian cuisine, you absolutely have to give an off-dry Gewürztraminer a try. With more than enough aroma and flavour, and that bit of residual sugar, Gewürz will be a match made in heaven!


But There's More!!!

Of course there are so many wonderful white grapes that I could highlight and it kills me to not mention a few more but I want to keep this basic for now and I think this is a pretty good start. So stay tuned for my Red Wine Basics coming next week and let me know in the comments section what other white wines you want me to discuss. I will be releasing a much more extensive list of grapes you should know, and some of my favourites, but I would love to hear some of yours too.


As always, get out there and taste some more wine!


TJ Harstine