There are many different types of white wine – some more common than others. You might confidently order a glass of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc at your local wine bar, but do you know why you order it?
The best way to learn about wine is to taste it, of course, but it’s also important to study the differences between different wine varieties. Understanding that Chardonnay can be oaked or unoaked and that Sauvignon Blanc is usually fresh with notes of grass or green pepper can help you better understand your wine order and drink more of what you like.
The 4 Most Common Types of White Wine
There are four principal white grape varieties – these are the most common wines you’ll see on grocery store shelves and wine lists.
Chardonnay - light-to-medium body, medium-to-high acid, dry
Chardonnay is the second most planted grape in the world (behind Cabernet Sauvignon), making it the most popular white grape.
Chardonnay can be grown all over the world, but it is most prominently grown in France (specifically Burgundy), Australia and California.
The wine’s appellation has a large influence on the profile of the wine. For example, cool-climate Chardonnay is high acid with notes of lemon and apple. In warmer areas, you’ll notice medium acidity and notes of pineapple, tropical or stone fruit.
Chardonnays is one of the few white wines that are aged in oak barrels, giving them rich, buttery tertiary aromas.
This grape variety is also used in the making of Champagne, where it can be combined with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
If you enjoy Chardonnay, you might also enjoy a glass of Viognier, Chenin Blanc, or Roussanne. If you’ve tried a Chardonnay in the past and it wasn’t totally your jam, try giving Chablis – Chardonnay’s leaner, unoaked counterpart – a try.
Sauvignon Blanc - medium body, high acid, dry
Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic, dry white wine with high acidity. It’s best known for its unique green streak, often manifesting itself in flavors of grass, bell pepper, or asparagus.
If you like Sauvignon Blanc, you might also enjoy a glass of the peppery Grüner Veltiner.
Riesling - light-to-medium body, high acid, range of sweetness
Riesling is a highly aromatic white wine variety with high acidity. People assume all Riesling wine is sweet, but that’s not the case. Riesling is a bit of a chameleon in the sense that it can be produced in a wide range of styles, from bone dry to lusciously sweet. .
For example, a Riesling from Germany may be on the sweeter side (off-dry to highly sweet), while a Riesling from Alsace, France, or Australia might be more dry.
If you enjoy Riesling, you might also enjoy a glass of the fragrant Gewurztraminer.
Pinot Grigio - light body, high acid, dry
Pinot Grigio, also known as Pinot Gris in France, is a high acid white wine that is typically dry with notes of pear and lemon. It’s known for being light bodied and highly versatile, so it pairs well with most meals. French Pinot Gris is famous for its sweeter styles.
Different Types of White Wine
In addition to the principal white wine grapes, expand your horizons with other kinds of white wine that you may not have tried before.
Moscato (Muscat Blanc)
Moscato is a genuinely sweet wine with a significant amount of residual sugar and therefore a low ABV of about 5-5.5%. Muscat blanc à Petits Grains is most common for this style of Muscat. Moscato comes from the Muscat family, which homes over 200 varieties and is actually one of the oldest grapes. Muscat wines are generally known for their fruity, floral aromas.
If you like Moscato, you might also enjoy a sweet German Riesling or a dessert wine like Sauternes or Vouvray.
Austria’s most planted grape variety, Grüner Veltiner is a dry white wine with a unique flavor profile of white pepper and celery.
If you like Grüner Veltiner, you might also enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Chenin Blanc can be produced in a range of styles from dry to sweet (even sparkling), and it’s known for flavors of honey, apple, and quince, plus zippy acidity to balance it out.
Chenin Blanc is most strongly associated with the Loire Valley in France, where wines take on flavor profile of baked apple, ripe peach and quince. When produced in other regions like South Africa, it can take on a more peachy profile. Chenin Blanc is actually South Africa’s most planted grape, but is also grown in other New World regions like California, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.
The dry or semi-dry Vouvray is also made with Chenin Blanc grapes and boast more honeyed, tropical flavors.
If you like Chenin Blanc, you’ll probably also enjoy Albariño. .
A great alternate variety to Chardonnay, Viognier is a rich, dry white wine with springy notes of blossom, jasmine, apricot and peach. Viognier is grown in northern Rhône, Languedoc in southern France, California, Argentina, and Australia.
If you like Viognier, you’ll likely enjoy Chardonnay and Torrontés.
An intriguing, fragrant wine, Gewürztraminer is a highly aromatic variety known for its tell-tale notes of lychee and rose petals. It’s grown across Europe in France, Germany, Italy, as well as in New World regions like Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Oregon and California. It does have a slighter lower acidity.
If you like Gewürztraminer, you’ll also enjoy more aromatic wines like Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
Roussanne is a full-bodied, rich white wine with complex floral notes of honey and apricot. These wines also have an oily sensation. The name Roussanne comes from the French word ‘roux,’ referring to the grape's russet color when ripe. You’ll often see Roussanne in northern Rhône blends, as its great blending grape.
If you enjoy Roussanne, you’ll probably enjoy a glass of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, or Viognier.
Chablis is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes in northern Burgundy, France, but is a bit leaner than what you might expect from a Chardonnay. Chablis is known for being light bodied, dry, and fresh with crispy acidity. Most winemakers choose to ferment Chablis in stainless steel tanks rather than oak barrels to maintain the crisp, fresh profile, but some higher end Chablis wines are oak-aged. In general, you can expect less oak aging from a Chablis than a Chardonnay.
Albariño is the white wine of the Iberian peninsula. It’s a dry white wine with notes of peach, apricot and citrus. You’ll often notice a hint of salinity due to the nearby Atlantic Ocean, and this makes it perfect for pairing with seafood and other Spanish-influenced tapas.
If you enjoy Albariño, you’ll also enjoy Vinho Verde.
Sancerre is made in central France using Sauvignon Blanc grapes, so it exhibits the same grassy notes you’d find in a Sauvignon Blanc. You may also notice flavors of gooseberry and a hint of minerality.
If you enjoy Sancerre, you’ll probably also enjoy Grüner Veltliner.
Vinho Verde / Vino Verdhe
Vinho Verde is Portugal’s signature white wine, made from several white grapes including Alvarinho. The wine is known for being fresh and light, as evidenced by its ‘green’ inspired name.
If you enjoy Vinho Verde, you’ll also enjoy Albariño.
Assyrtiko is Greece’s signature grape famously grown in Santorini. The volcanic soil combined with the salinity of the Aegean sea makes for a complex white wine. Assyrtiko is a very versatile wine that’s usually dry and known for its acidity.
If you enjoy Assyrtiko, you’ll also enjoy an Italian Pinot Gris.
Torrontés is traditionally Argentinian wine that is known for being highly fragrant. These grapes thrive in high-altitude vineyards.
Sauternes is a high-quality, sweet white wine made in Bordeaux, France. They are often made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grape and have notes of blossom, stonefruit and honeysuckle.