It’s a fact that wine lists get confusing and intimidating. How are you supposed to feel confident ordering an affordable bottle that you’ll enjoy? One easy way is to familiarize yourself with grape varieties. Let me offer you a guide describing the “usual suspects” found in the white wine sections of wine lists. Your new knowledge will save you money and maximize your enjoyment.
From Sonoma to Chablis, Chardonnay assumes many faces. California Chard typically has all the toast and butter, whereas Chablis (and many White Burgundies) offers minerality and “food-friendliness." Great values can be found in both, plus in Chile, Australia, and Italy.
When ordering by the glass, expect something watered-down and often uninspiring. If PG is on a list by the bottle, notice where the wine is from; Italian ones can be dull, while Alsace Pinot Gris, and our own Oregonian examples can be substantial and underpriced.
New-world Sauvignon can be categorized as vibrant, aromatic, and reminiscent of grapefruit, jalapeño, and “pee de chat.” New Zealand, Chile, and South Africa offer the best value. Old-world SB (from Europe) is grassy and mineral. Both are versatile and distinctive, and make great no-brainer choices.
Sommeliers credited: Gruner has more character and structure per milliliter than any other white. While this Austrian grape’s entry-level wines are a tad more expensive, the overall experience will seem like a bargain. Embrace this delicacy.
An unsung hero of wine, Chenin Blanc can be the budgetary hidden-treasure on a wine list. The challenge is in recognizing it. Chenin is most notable from France’s Loire Valley, but is labeled according to region, not grape (Explore Vouvray, Anjou, and Saumur.) Similarily, Chenin is Steen in South Africa, where it is dryer and hearty.
Thin-skinned and temperamental, this French specialty usually comes at a price. The wines can be rich, the nose alone intoxicating. Tread cautiously if you see a reasonably-priced Viognier on a list. Many taste commercially-produced, but those from Argentina and the South of France can excel.
This gem of Tuscany holds the distinct honor of being the first Italian white wine to be awarded the most respected accolade of DOCG, the official honor for Italy's premier wines. It has excellent acidity, exquisite directness, and is usually reasonably-priced on a list. Challenge yourself by pronouncing its full name, Vernaccia di San Gimignano (hand motions are encouraged!).
Come again? Wines made from this “spicy” variety are highly-perfumed, rich on the palate, and unique. Although many are semi-dry, there are profound dry examples from Italy and Alsace. Regardless of sweetness, Gewurtz is an ideal pairing with spicy food.
The essential white wine of Argentina is aromatic, floral, and inexpensive. I think of Gewurtztraminer “lite” when I sip Torrontes. Elegant on the palate, Torrontes is charming, and a touch exotic. Great with light fish dishes and lightly-spiced foods.
This Spanish variety can be sinfully satisfying, but deceivingly expensive. The aromatics translate to floral elegance and high tones, yet with a weighty impression on the palate. Like with Viognier, beware of the bargains. Serious Albariño comes at a price. If it’s worth it to you to spend a bit more, get ready for a wild ride.
Tell us in the comments: Which is your favorite white wine?
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