White Wines 101

From chardonnay to pinot grigio, what you need to know about popular white wines and how to pair them with food

Karen MacNeil

Understanding the flavor personalities of different wines is fundamental for any wine lover. In our last issue we surveyed red varietals. This month, with spring on the way, we look at different types of white wine grapes. Armed with this information, you'll find it easy to purchase white wine and pair it with your favorite dishes.

Chardonnay
Personality: Rich, round, full-bodied, and dramatic. Most chardonnays are aged in charred oak barrels, which lends them pronounced toasty flavor that can make chardonnay tricky to pair with some foods.
Origin: The Burgundy region of France. Today chardonnay is made all over the world.
Aroma, flavor, and texture: Butter, vanilla, cream, custard, and toast; opulent and smooth texture
Cost: Australian chardonnays cost as little as $10 a bottle. Decent California and Washington State chardonnays cost $15 to $30 or more. The rarest ones-top white Burgundies-can cost $50 to more than $150.
Try it with: Rich seafood such as crab and lobster, corn, or baked root vegetables

Sauvignon Blanc
Personality: Taut, lean, and herbal, with refreshing acidity. "Fumé blanc" (smoked white) is a synonym for sauvignon blanc.
Origin: Bordeaux, France. White Bordeaux wines are usually a sauvignon blanc-sémillon blend. Notable sauvignon blancs are produced in the Loire Valley of France, California, South Africa, and New Zealand.
Aroma, flavor, and texture: Grass, green tea, fresh herbs, spearmint, limes, green bell peppers, and snow peas; light to medium bodied and crisp
Cost: Possibly the best white wine value. Good examples are $10 to $30.
Try it with: Salad, or any dish with lots of herbs. In France, goat cheese and a glass of sauvignon blanc is a classic pairing.

Riesling
Personality: Elegant and light. Riesling is considered by many experts to be the -noblest white variety.
Origin: Germany, which is still the source of the world's greatest rieslings. Many delicious examples also come from Austria, Washington State, New York State, Australia, and Alsace, France.
Aroma, flavor, and texture: Peaches, apricots, and nectarines, with a mineral quality. Riesling's ethereal lightness comes in part from the fact that most examples are low in alcohol. Riesling is sweet-naturally fruity, but not sugary.
Cost: $15 to about $30
Try it with: Roast pork, (like Fennel-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Shallot-Onion Agrodolce), fruit, creamy cheeses, and spicy Asian fare

Pinot grigio
Personality: Basic, utilitarian, neutral, and comfortable. It's one of Italy's most popular everyday wines.
Origin: France, where pinot grigio is known as pinot gris. Terrific, easy-drinking examples also now come from California and Oregon. But the Italian version still wins the popularity contest.
Aroma, flavor, and texture: Utterly simple, with slight hints of citrus and almonds. Pinot grigio is usually light-bodied and refreshing.
Cost: Moderate-some of the best pinot grigios cost less than $15.
Try it with: Pizza. The crispness of pinot grigio is just the ticket with tomato sauce (like our Classic Marinara and Pizza Sauce) and cheese. It's also great served with salads and simple vegetarian pastas.

Gewürztraminer
Personality: Dramatic, bold, and spicy, this is one of the most outrageously fruity wines you'll find.
Origin: Alsace, France, which still produces the best examples
Aroma, flavor, and texture: Gingerbread, rosewater, litchi, jasmine, and honeysuckle with full-bodied, mouth-filling texture
Cost: $18 to $35 or more for the top Alsatian gewürztraminers
Try it with: Any Asian cuisine (like our Mixed Vegetable Curry). Like riesling, gewürztraminer is also superb paired with roast pork.