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The Vine

White Grapes

  • Chardonnay is among the world’s most popular white wine grapes. One reason is that it is very easy to grow, although it buds early, so it can be susceptible to frost damage. It is also relatively susceptible to viral infection, a particular problem in Burgundy. Chardonnay can be fairly vigorous, a tendency that can work against ripeness. Proper rootstock choice and canopy management techniques can help keep this in check.

    Since extract is typically high, Chardonnay gives medium- to full-bodied wines, and since sugar levels can be high, Chardonnay can give potentially high alcohol. It also loses its acidity quickly at the end of the growing cycle. In regions such as Chablis, the acid balance is perfect, but in many warmer climates, acidity needs to be added to the wine to preserve balance.

    Chardonnay is a grape with a fairly thick skin that gives wine of a fairly deep lemon yellow color in many cases. It is a variety that will often reflect a smoky minerality from the terroir on the nose, but generally shows a white fruit character, ranging from Granny Smith apples in Chablis to honeydew melon in slightly warmer climates and tropical fruits like pineapple in regions such as Napa Valley and South East Australia.

    Barrel fermentation and maturation can be used, and wood tannins are sometimes present. Malolactic fermentation (MLF) is often employed, which causes the development of diacetyl, an ester that gives the wine a buttery character. Battonage and aging "sur lie," or on the fine lees, can also be used to give wines a leesy, raw green grape skin aroma and flavor. Most Chardonnays are dry white wines in still or sparkling styles, although one or two dessert styles are produced.

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  • Sauvignon Blanc is another well-known white grape. While not as widespread as Chardonnay it's found across the globe, from New Zealand to California to the Loire Valley. It produces wine that is fresh and aromatic, showing aromas of fresh-mown hay and citrus notes, particularly grapefruit, on the nose. Other common descriptors include gooseberry and cat’s pee, in particular used to describe a typical character of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate, Sauvignon Blanc typically has crisp acidity, light to medium body and moderate alcohol.

    It is a vigorous vine, which can produce too much foliage, leading to unripe green aromas. Fully reductive (oxygen-free) handling is common, with SO2 and absorbic acid used to preserve the fruit. Some California and New Zealand winemakers use oak, although MLF is usually avoided.

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  • Sémillon is a grape like Chardonnay that gives wine fairly high in alcohol and extract, but can appear initially neutral in aromas. This wine is rich and has an almost waxy, lanolin texture but sometimes it is without pronounced aromas. The wine can oxidize easily and shows an affinity to oak aging and blending.

    In Bordeaux, Sémillon is used both for Sauternes and white Graves. It is as Sauternes that Sémillon reaches its high point. It is usually blended with Sauvignon Blanc. The Sémillon takes botrytis well, giving the honeyed character so typical of this wine. It also brings length and breadth to the wine, while Sauvignon Blanc gives the acidity and the herbal, citrus notes on the nose. The best Sauternes are deep golden in color, with pronounced aromas of ripe tropical fruit, honey, butterscotch, biscuits and a certain leafy note, almost bitter, that is a result of the botrytis.

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  • Riesling is another of the classic white varieties. It buds late, ripens late and crops well. Yields are higher than for many other types, in Germany, the average yields are 70–110 hl/ha. This represents a fourfold increase over the last 80 years, according to Jancis Robinson. Riesling can also ripen to high sugar levels and still retain very crisp balancing acidity. The acidity can often remain between 10–15 grams per liter. Jancis Robinson has expressed her opinion that Riesling is the world's premier white grape variety and over the past decade, Riesling has gained a position of special prominence among wine makers, wine writers and sommeliers alike.

    The grape produces a wide variety of styles that are almost always light in color in their youth. It is an aromatic variety, showing floral and peach fruit with hints of petrol with age. On the palate, it is often light-bodied, with high acidity, low alcohol, and a long finish. The best examples of Riesling can, similar to the world's great Chardonnay wines, age well and gain complexity for many decades.

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  • Chenin Blanc is characterized by high acidity, high extract and good ageability. Typical Chenin aromas include melon, honey, flowers, apple, peach and apricot with a floral edge. Wines develop “wet wool” and lanolin aromas in maturity. The best producers in the Loire Valley make wines from Chenin Blanc that age well for well over 20-30 years.

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  • Pinot Gris or Grigio is a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape that has relatively deeply colored berries that can vary from pink to blue. It is commonly vinified as a white wine, but pink versions are not uncommon. The best Pinot Grigio is high in extract & alcohol, with balanced acidity. The fruit character is often quite neutral, although some show a ripe, spicy floral fruit character. Alsatian versions can be very full bodied; this is the wine that Alsatians have with roast goose and other full-bodied dishes.

    Pinot Bianco (like Pinot Grigio) is a relative of Pinot Noir. It is relatively high in alcohol, extract and body. It has better acidity than Pinot Grigio, and shares its neutral fruit character, with vague appley, floral notes. Arneis produces medium bodied wine, with moderately high alcohol and low acidity. It can give ripe pear aromas with a floral edge. In Gavi, Cortese gives wine that is light-bodied, with crisp acidity, moderate alcohol and a steely lime fruit character. Some producers are experimenting with oak.

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  • Ugni Blanc (known in Italy as Trebbiano) often gives neutral, characterless wine with high acidity, medium alcohol and body and a short finish. It is used throughout the Rhone and Midi to stretch the blend. It is also the main grape of the Cognac region of Charente and is very widespread throughout the southwest of France. Trebbiano is used for better or worse throughout Italy, and it comes into its own blended with Malvasia and air dried to produce Vin Santo. This wine is aged without topping up, or on its ullage, to produce a typical Italian dessert specialty.

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  • There are many different type of the Muscat grape. The finest wines come from the Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, known as Moscato d’Asti. This is the most widely planted grape in Piedmont, and is used for both Asti and Moscato d’Asti, which is lower pressure and higher quality. The grape has small berries, thick skin and low yields. It produces wine low in alcohol, often sweet and shows pronounced grapey aromas.


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  • Gewürztraminer is very aromatic, with a spicy bouquet of rose water and litchee. The wine has good body, fairly low alcohol, low acidity and the capacity to age well. The wine can have good acidity if picked early, but often is broad and flat on the palate with moderately high alcohol and fullish body.



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  • Wines produced from Viognier typically show deep color, full body, low acidity and pronounced aromas of honeysuckle blossoms, apricot, peach and pear. These wines are structurally and texturally similar to Chardonnay, or medium to full in body, with a silky mouthfeel. Oak is often used for aging. The wines from this grape's traditional home of Condrieu show considerably more depth and nuance than those of other regions, even those like the Southern Rhone where the climate is fairly similar.

    Though they seldom equal the best from Condrieu, the best examples from Greece and California's Central Coast indicate that winemakers are paying special attention to this vareity and how best to implement viticulture and winemaking to allow the grape to express itself fully through their given terroir.

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  • Marsanne and Rousanne are both grown throughout the Rhone, but above all in the North. Rousanne is the finer of the two, but is more difficult to grow and the vines naturally yield fewer grapes. The wine produced from the blend of these is fairly neutral on the nose, with an aroma of glue & almonds in youth, deepening with mineral and lanolin notes. The wine is deeply coloured, high in extract and alcohol, with a long, elegant finish. California's Central Coast is proving to be an exceptional area to grow these grapes and the wines have shown great progress in recent years.

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  • Alvarinho is a top quality grape grown in Portugal which gives wine high in alcohol, extract and acidity that has a fresh, citrus and mineral fruit character. Arinto is used in the south because it retains acidity well and gives wine that is aromatic and characterful. Bical is used in Bairrada. It is also valued for its good acidity. Fernao Pires (AKA Maria Gomes) is very widely planted, giving wine with a peppery aroma. This grape is called Albarińo in Spain's region of Rias Baixas, located on Portugal's northern border.

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  • Grüner Veltliner gives a wine that is medium bodied, with moderate to high alcohol and acidity. On the nose, it shows a characteristic spicy aroma with notes of white pepper. The best examples from the best vineyard sites are capable of long aging and are sometimes made with residual sugar.

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  • There are few white grapes in Argentina called Torrontés and a different indigenous variety in Galicia in northwest Spain used to make white wines in the Ribeiro DO region. In Spain, the variety is sometimes found around Cordoba. In the Canary Islands, the name Torrontés refers to a different grape variety, Madeira's Terrantez.

    The best known examples of this grape are the three varieties of Torrontés in Argentina: Torrontés Riojano, Torrontés Sanjuanino and Torrontés Mendocino. With 8,100 hectares, or 20,000 acres, planted, Torrontés Riojano is Argentina's most-planted white wine variety. Despite much emigration from Galicia to Argentina, no definitive connection between Spanish and Argentine Torrontés had been established before DNA profiling at UC Davis suggested that Torrontés Riojano and Torrontés Sanjuanino are each a hybrid of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica, called Mission in California. As a result of this profiling, Torrontés Mendocino is also thought to be an offshoot of Muscat of Alexandria; the other parent remains unknown.

    Torrontés is the white grape with the greatest potential in Argentina, able to produce, fresh, fragrant, expressive wines, although it can also show too much alcohol, be quite short on the palate and show bitterness when not carefully grown. Torrontés can produce wines that are high in acidity, and with aromas similar to Muscat, and it is also used for blending. The variety seems particularly well adapted to Argentina’s dry growing conditions, especially the high, sandy vineyards in the Cafayate region where altitudes of over 1,600 meters, or 5,250 feet, underline the naturally high acidity of Torrontés and its expressive flavors are prominent.

    Torrontés Riojano, known as Torontel in Chile, is the most common Argentine subvariety and takes its name from Argentina’s northern province of La Rioja, where it is the most widely planted variety. Torrontés Sanjuanino, called Moscatel de Austria in Chile, is common in Argentina’s province of San Juan. Less aromatic, with bigger berries and more compact clusters, this grape is less widely planted. There is also the rare Torrontés Mendocino, also known as Torontés Mendozino, most common in Río Negro province near Patagonia in the south. This grape lacks the Muscat aromas.

    A grape thought to have no genetic connection to Torrontés found in Galicia, the Canary Islands and Argentina is Turruntés de Rioja, a variety nearly lost in Rioja, but some growers have worked hard to recuperate it. This grape has been in Rioja since 1847, mainly in the towns of Labastida, Abalos and San Vicente de la Sonsierra. The wines have high-pitched stone fruit aromas, and firm fruited volume, spice and depth on the palate, not unlike great wines from the northern Rhone.

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