What is white wine?
White wine is made from the fermented pulp of the uncoloured flesh of black or white grapes (for example, Pinot Noir is used to make Champagne). The resulting white wine’s colour can be straw-yellow, yellow-green or yellow-gold.
The earliest evidence of white wine is traced back some 7,500 years ago to what is present-day Iran. In Ancient Greece, the physician Hippocrates is said to have prescribed white wine to patients.
The world’s most popular white wine varietals are Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Riesling. But let’s not forget the recent rapid rise of Pinot Gris. White wines are typically considered as lighter bodied and more refreshing than their red counterparts. Generally, white wines don’t cellar as long as reds. The exception is Riesling, with some standout examples crossing the 100-year mark.
There are many white varietals and styles. However, dry white is the most common. To make dry whites, the winemaker lets all the sugars turn into alcohol during the ferment. However to achieve the desired level of sweetness, the winemaker can stop fermentation when they decide it is time.
Chardonnay’s neutrality and ability to take on flavours means descriptors include apple, pear, stonefruit, lemon, lime, tangerine, pineapple, mango and floral notes. Light oak adds vanilla and coconut. Heavier oak use shows smoke and toasty notes. Malolactic fermentation brings buttery, creamy, yeasty and nutty flavours.
Sauvignon Blanc displays green apple, asparagus, capsicum and gooseberry. Wines are usually lean and well-structured with tropical fruits and citrus notes.
Riesling is an aromatic typically displaying pungent aromas of jasmine, lime, honey and green apple. Young Riesling shows apple, citrus, lemon, tropical fruit and mineral notes. Steely, flinty characteristics are common. One interesting feature of Riesling is its ability to display kerosene, diesel and petroleum notes. Age brings out smoky notes, honey and toast.
Pinot Gris is a medium to full-bodied wine that is fruit-forward. Melon and apricot are the primary flavours with some spice and floral notes.
Pairing with food
White wine is traditionally served with white meat (when it comes to red meats, white wines tend to struggle). As there is far more to wine than colour, better food matching can be achieved by focusing on the body, intensity, acidity and flavours of the wine.
The variety of Chardonnay styles means you’ll find it a go-to wine with almost anything. Sauvignon Blanc has a relatively neutral flavour profile and pairs well with summer salads, chicken, fish, crayfish and shellfish. Its sharp acidity can cut through the spice in many Asian dishes.
Riesling goes well with duck, pork, chicken, white fish, shrimp and crayfish. Because of its sweetness and acidity, Riesling pairs perfectly with spicy food; it is one of the few wines that can handle strong Asian and Indian dishes.
Pinot Gris tends to be more full-bodied, so it pairs well with lighter meat dishes, such as chicken and fish as well as salads and antipasti.
Notable regions for white wines
New Zealand - New Zealand’s cool and mostly maritime climate is ideal for growing white grapes. On the international stage, New Zealand’s most famous white is Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. Typical notes include bright citrus, green apples, passion fruit, nectarines, gooseberries, capsicum and asparagus. With a warmer climate, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay produce some of New Zealand’s standout Chardonnays. They are typically medium to full-bodied with round, rich complex flavours of citrus and stonefruit.
Australia - Riesling is King in the Clare Valley, with the region considered its Australian home. Typical flavours include crisp lime, white flowers, tropical notes, earthy minerality and notes of kerosene. Owning to its unique style, Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the rare jewels of Australian wine. The high acidity makes younger Hunter Valley Semillon wines an austere, crisp, clear, citrus-driven style. With age, they develop rich, honeyed flavours as well as buttered toast characters. Acidity means Hunter Valley Semillons can cellar for decades to develop even further. Western Australia’s Margaret River produces internationally-recognised classic dry Sauvignon Blanc styles. These wines are renowned for their early drinking, and are full of tropical fruit and grassy characters.
France - Bordeaux is world famous for its prestigious red wines but the region is also the home of Sauternes wines and Château d'Yquem. Among the best sweet white producers in the region, Château d'Yquem is the only Château to be awarded the unique accolade ‘Premier Cru Supérieur’ or ‘Superior First Growth.’