The taste of a wine depends principally on
the grapes from which it is made. Different climates, soils, and
winemaking techniques also play a part. White wine is almost always made
from white grapes, although black grapes can be used if contact between
the skins (where color is obtained) and the juice is avoided.
All grape varieties have individual
characteristics and ripen at different times, the type of grape exerting
a heavy influence on the taste of a wine.
Different Categories of White Grapes
Broadly speaking, the styles of white wine
produced can be broken down into three categories: light-bodied white
wines such as German Riesling, aromatic white wines such as
Gewürztraminer, and full-bodied and wooded white wines such as
Chardonnay or Sémillon.
Gewurztraminer White Grapes
This distinctive grape variety is known by
its friends simply as Gewurtz but sometimes also as Traminer. It
provides intense aromas, reminiscent of lychee, rose petals and spice.
Gewurztraminer often smells sweet, but many produce an element of
surprise, by tasting dry. It tends to grow best in cooler climates where
there is a decent level of acidity in the soil. Alsace Gewurztraminers
are the most successful, with wines from other territories tending to be
bland in comparison. Gewurztraminer is found in Alsace, Germany,
Northern Italy, Eastern Europe, and the USA.
Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne) White Grapes
This grape makes the seafood wine par
excellence. Offering hints of apple and gooseberry, the wine becomes
dry, savory and tangy, particularly when aged in contact with the lees (sur
lie) - the yeast deposit left after fermentation. Attempts to age
Muscadet in oak are not guaranteed to meet with success as the grape's
structure and body tend to preclude assimilation with the wood. The
Muscadet grape thrives in the Loire Valley.
Muscat White Grapes
All members of the large Muscat family
share a floral, grapey, and aromatic character. Depending on when it is
picked, Muscat is capable of making dry to sweet wines, from the very
lightest to the biggest 'stickies', such as the Liqueur Muscats of
Australia. The taste of sweet Muscats is redolent of raisins and
oranges. These wines may be fortified with grape brandy during the
fermentation process in order to preserve sweetness. The Muscat is often
blended with other varieties of grape in order to increase complexity
and flavor. It is used in the well-known Italian wine Asti Spumante.
Muscat is grown throughout Europe and also in Australia.
Trebbiano (Ugni Blanc) Grapes
The most widely planted white grape in
Italy, the soil and warm climate help to create wines with highest
acidity. Indeed, because of its high acidity it is sometimes blended
with red wines. Trebbianos tend to be medium bodied and with zesty fruit
character. Trebbiano is usually fermented in stainless steel vats and
may be matured in oak in order to add some complexity to the flavor. It
is found in Italy and France, where the grape is used in the blend for
Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. It also makes excellent distilling
material for both Cognac and Armagnc.
Very aromatic, Voignier's hallmark notes
are of apricot. peach, and honey. Lush and fleshy, the dry wines
produced by the Viognier grape are so aromatic that they can seem sweet
on the palate. Voignier is a difficult grape to grow successfully.
Indeed, modern winemaking techniques are being developed to encourage a
consistency in the taste. In France it tends to do best on the small
hillsides outside Lyons. Viognier takes centre stage in Condrieu
(Northern Rhône) and is also doing well in Southern France, Australia,
Marsanne White Grapes
From the Rhône Valley, France's Marsanne
makes full-bodied, fat and weighty wines, with flavors of peach and
toast, and can even taste nutty when mature. Marsanne may be blended
Pinot Blanc (Pinot Bianco)
Pinot Blanc invariably makes dry,
apple-scented and flavored white wines, with a touch of honey and a
whiff of spice in Alsace. Very adaptable with food, Pinot Blanc is also
star material for sparkling wine. Pinot Blanc is another grape to
originate in the Alsace region of France although it is now grown
throughout Europe and also in North America.