How to find your way among the white grape varieties? Here are some points of reference to guide you.
Chardonnay: This is the cliché of white wine. It is planted all over the world because it adapts very well to the local climate and geography. Often matured in oak barrels, it is found in Burgundy in the form of the best examples of Chardonnay thanks to the grands crus of Mersault and Montrachet. It is also found unoaked (unoaked) and gives very lively wines that are much lighter than those aged in barrels which sometimes offer excessive notes of smoke, butter and caramel. In Champagne, it is the only white grape variety blended alongside Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Very varied aromas depending on the region, the terroir and the vinification methods: lemon, peach, pear, grapefruit, tropical fruits, lime blossom, butter, gunflint (Chablis), toast, citrus fruits, and brioche.
Chasselas: It is a wine generally consumed young. It can be dry and light, sometimes slightly sparkling or even fine, full-bodied, with a good length in the mouth, when marked by the terroir of French-speaking Switzerland. In the county of Valais in Switzerland, it takes the name of “fendant” because of its berry which split under the tooth. No wonder it is the favorite companion of typical Swiss cheeses, such as those for fondue or raclette. Weakly acidic and generally low in alcohol, it is also found in the production of wines with the “Pouilly sur Loire” appellation. Linden aromas with hints of pear and white peach.
Chenin: In its sweet type from the Côteaux du Layon or in the dry wine vinification like Vouvray, chenin blanc sometimes produces wonders. It is also found in Languedoc as Blanquette de Limoux alongside Mauzac and Chardonnay. South Africa (where it is called steen) produces large quantities as if chenin originated there. Yet he does indeed come from Touraine and Anjou in the Loire Valley. The best examples of Chenin are wines that have high acidity and an oily texture (very viscous on the palate). Fruity and with a pretty bouquet, it will have mineral notes, white plum, angelica, chamomile, citrus peel, apple and honey (as it ages).
Furmint: Italian grape variety of origin but especially known in Hungary which gave it its letters of nobility thanks to Tokay, sweet wine sometimes very sweet (sweet or syrupy) and which does not exceed six degrees of alcohol content. It is often accompanied by the Harslevelu and Muscat à Petits Grains grape varieties. As a sweet wine, it will display aromas of apricot, honey, marzipan, orange and barley sugar. As a dry wine, it gives a wine rich in alcohol, very fragrant and very fine with aromas of pear and lime.
Gewurztraminer: Present in Alsace, Germany, Austria, Spain, the United States and Canada, gewürz (for friends) produces an aromatic wine with low acidity. Vinified sometimes as a dry or sweet wine, it will smell good with aromas of apricot, rose, lychee, pineapple, candied fruit, gingerbread, citrus peel and spices. Perfect companion to Thai cuisine.
Grüner Veltliner: Austria’s most important grape variety is planted on 17,000 hectares, or a third of the wine-growing territory. In the Wachau region, it is able to produce complex wines, suitable for aging. Sometimes light like a thirst quencher, sometimes full of multiple aromas such as white pepper. Endowed with a good acidity promising a good capability for embellishment over time, aromas of citrus fruits and flowers and white fruits, the grüner veltliner will go very well with grilled fish, white meats and cheese from goat.
Macabeo: Sometimes called viura and originally from Catalonia, it is the grape variety of choice for making Spanish sparkling wines called Cava. It brings freshness to these sparkling wines. Vinified as the only grape variety, it produces dry white wines which are not suitable for long aging in the Rioja region. Up to a certain point, it is found in the fortified wines of Languedoc to produce, among other things, Maury or Rivesaltes.
Marsanne: Hello Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Châteauneuf-du-Pape! Marsanne is almost always associated with Roussanne and is definitely the white grape of the Rhône Valley. Vinified alone, Marsanne has a high alcohol level, low acidity and should be drunk young. Aromas of dried apricot, honeysuckle, dried fruit, white peach and citrus notes.
Melon de Bourgogne: Popular in Burgundy, in the Loire Valley and also present in California and Argentina, the Melon de Bourgogne is best known for Muscadet, a star of Nantes, in the Loire region. No real aging potential, Muscadets are best consumed young. The advantage is that they are also rather light on the alcohol side (often 12.5% max.) It sometimes also produces sweet wines from late harvests or from selection of noble grains in Alsace. Typical aromas of iodine (a salty side), flowers, lemon, hazelnut and apple.
Muscat: Very present in the South of France, it produces natural sweet wines (Rivesaltes, Beaumes de Venise, Banyuls, Maury, St-Jean de Minervois). It is also grown in Alsace, California, Argentina, Spain (Moscatel) and Italy. There is a whole family of Muscats: white with small grains, Ottonel, Alexandria, Hamburg etc. Aromas of grapes (yes, it’s true for once), hyacinth, rose, citrus fruits, exotic fruits, honey, musk.
Riesling: A classic grape from Germany, Riesling produces wines filled with lemon zest, very fragrant and capable of reaching a beautiful mineral complexity, worthy of prolonged aging in the bottle. Also produced in Australia, Riesling will often give there a fairly classic wine (too much) of citrus fruits with aromas of petroleum, whereas in the best regions (Germany, Alsace) the fragrance of kerosene (yes, yes) will be much more complex and less “cliché”. That being said, Australian Clare Valley Rieslings are worth a try. Due to the different terroirs and winemaking methods, Riesling will often be very different in terms of aromas. Notes of flowers, lemon, honey, minerals, spices, passion fruit, grapefruit and apple.
Roussane: Marsanne’s inseparable friend! Roussanne gives some volume to wines full of fruity aromas, with a little herb and which can age well. Notes of honey, apricot and hawthorn produces wine with good acidity and a pretty bouquet. In short, finer and more refined wines than its friend, Marsanne, which produces fat and less acidic wines.
Sauvignon blanc: Typically Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is found throughout wine regions such as the Loire, Italy, South Africa and California. New Zealand makes a version with tropical accents and notes of gooseberries, sometimes cat pee (yes). Accompanied by Sémillon in Bordeaux, it takes the form of white Bordeaux, while in the Loire Valley, it will be called Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Vinified like a sweet wine with Sémillon, it will give sweet and expensive Sauternes. Generally very acidic and dry, Sauvignon Blanc gives off strong vegetal notes which will not suit everyone but which will go well with asparagus, for example. Notes of lemon, almond, spices, fennel, pineapple, exotic fruits, fresh mint, smoked, grapefruit, gunflint (Sancerre), green pepper, fresh apple.
Sémillon: Very present in sweet wines such as Sauternes, Monbazillac, Barsac and Graves, Sémillon is also found in Australia (Hunter Valley) and South Africa. Predestined to noble rot (botrytis cinerea), it produces high quality white wines, fat, low in acid and very suitable for ageing. It is very often blended with Sauvignon Blanc which will give it a nice acidity and a freshness necessary for certain types of wine. Notes of apricot, honey, toast, peach, vanilla, candied fruit, white flowers and citrus.
Viognier: A masterpiece in the Rhône appellation, Condrieu, Viognier gives wines that are sometimes fat, unctuous, supple and very fragrant. Very often lacking in acidity, it can also have a slight hint of bitterness. Since the 1990s, its popularity has exploded in the vineyards of California and Languedoc-Roussillon. Also present in Portugal and Chile. Notes of peach, apricot, lime, wax, dried fruits, honey and white flowers.