White Wine Basics

An Introduction to White Wines

White wine being poured in a cellar with an oak barrel in background
Mark Swallow/E+/Getty Images

White wines tend to be anything but a true "white" in the glass, instead they put forth a spectrum of color ranging from light straw often with green tints to a deep golden yellow. The color components of white wines are derived from the distinct grape varietals or blends used to make the wine. White wines are made from the grape juice and grape skin of green, gold or yellowish colored grapes. In the case of Champagne and sparkling wine wine, they can be made from white wine grapes or just the juice (not the skin) of select red grapes (often Pinot Noir).

White Wine Varieties

“The Big Eight” when it comes to white wine varietals are:  Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc (also called Fumé Blanc), Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, Semillon, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc.

Sometimes you will hear a white wine referred to by its regional or Old World name.  For example, a white Burgundy or Chablis is simply Burgundy's white wine made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes or Bordeaux's Sauternes is a sweet, full-bodied white wine made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.

When to Drink White Wines

White wines can be light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied depending on the grapes used and the alcohol content of the specific wine. Rieslings are typically lighter bodied, with Sauvignon Blancs being a popular medium-bodied white wine and Chardonnay representing a classic full-bodied white wine. Alcohol levels will range from 8% to around 14% for most white wines with German Rieslings being at the lighter end of the alcohol scale.

Consumers often corral white wines to lighter meals like lunch, appetizers or as an apéritif themselves. Yet most fuller-bodied white wines can more than handle their fair share of hefty meals laden with butter and cream sauce and Bordeaux's white Sauternes are the wine of choice to handle the palate heft of ultra-rich foie gras.

It's the acidity in white wines that make them particularly food-friendly and they tend to be more refreshing, in both style and taste than the majority of their red wine counterparts, justifying an increase in sales during the spring and summer months. The old guideline of “white wine with white meat” still holds true in many instances, but there are plenty of exceptions and palate preferences that dictate which wines to pair with what foods.

White Wine Glass Choice

White wines prefer a different glass style altogether from red wines. They are best presented in narrower glasses with a tapered top to allow for greater aromatic concentration. Keep the Goldilocks theme in mind when serving white wines: a white wine served too warm will allow alcohol to dominate the aromas and a wine served too cold will veil the wine's nose. Optimum white wine serving temperaturesare between 45-50 °F. Looking for a quick and easy way to chill your white wines? All you need is a bucket of ice and a splash of water - check it out here.

Sweet White Wines

Sauternes and Sweet Bordeaux Wine

Dry White Wines

Common White Wine Questions:

How many ounces are in a "standard" white wine glass?

How do I store my white wine?

Beyond Chardonnay, what are some other white wines to try?

What are some Chardonnay wine recommendations?

What's the impact of oak on white wine?

What sets Riesling apart from other white wines?

Are most sparkling wines and Champagne made from white grapes?

Why is Alto Adige one of Italy's white wine hotspots?

What is Moscato?

What is Prosecco?

Do white wines have sulfites?

How many calories are in a glass of white wine?

What temperatures are optimal for serving white wine?

White Wine Recipes

White Wine Sangria Recipes

Sparkling Wine Mimosa Recipes

Colonial White Wine Dessert Recipe: James Monroe's Syllabub

Common White Wine Aroma and Flavor Descriptions

apple, pear, apricot, peach, banana, citrus, grapefruit, lemon, lime, lychee, fresh cut grass, chamomile, pineapple, melon, mango, butter, honey, caramel, floral, herbal, earthy, nutmeg, vanilla