Beginners Guide to White Wine

The color of red wine comes from the skin contact with the fermenting grapes. Hence, all wines are white, right? Wrong.

Wine is made from the alcoholic fermentation of the pulp of grapes. Wines made from a green or yellow hued grape typically have a straw-yellow, yellow-green or yellow-gold color soon after bottling. The color is affected most by the grape varietal and the color of the grapes used. The more contact that the fermenting grapes have with the skin of the grapes, the closer the wine will be in color to the grapes used. For example, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are all produced from so-called white grapes, but each has a slightly different coloration. When you have an opportunity to compare the wines, place clear wine glasses side by side, each with the same amount of wine and each from a different “white” wine, and you will be able to see the difference in coloration.

When red wines are made the skin of the grape is allowed to remain in contact with the fermenting non-colored pulp of grapes for a longer period of time than white wines. An example of the use of red wine grapes for the production of white wine is Champagne or sparkling wine, where Pinot Noir grapes are used. Pinot Noir is a red wine. However, when the skins are quickly removed the color of the wine produced will be white. Another grape that is used in Champagne production that is black in appearance is Pinot Meunier. It, like Pinot Noir, is used in the production of white or rosé Champagne.

Rosé wines are typically made from a red grape where some skin contact with the fermenting grape pulp exists during fermentation. The result is a wine that bears a rose color. When the weather warms a bit, buy some rosé wines and try them.

Some other grape varietals from which white wines are produced include Ariem, Catarratto, Chenin Blanc, Maccabeu, Semillon (used for both dry and sauternes wines), Trebbiano Bianco, Ugni Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Petite Arvine, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. Since there are more than a thousand grape varietals, space does not allow for all to be listed.

Most white wines are “dry.” However, the dosage of sugar added to a Champagne or the natural sugar level of the grapes can produce wines with a sweetness to them. In Germany, there is  a gradation of the wines made from a Riesling grape (as they do in the Alsace region of France). Different names are assigned relating to the sweetness. For example, an Auslese style will be sweeter than the typical white Riesling, a Beerenauslese (as with an Auslese style, from selected harvest) is sweeter still, and the sweetest is the Trochenbeerenauslese (from dried grapes) or ice wine (from frozen grapes).  

Sweet white wines may also be made from grapes used to make still dry wines, but in the regions where they are allowed to remain on the vine longer, their Brix scale (sugar level) is allowed to rise, and this can also happen in some cases where there occurs what is referred to as “noble rot.” The Tokay, sherry and sauternes wines are typically more golden in color and they all have a higher sugar level than table wines.

Although most white wines are intended to be consumed not long after purchase, some can mature and improve with age and, typically, the color of white wine will start to take on a more yellow or golden hue. If you have never tasted sauternes wines, purchase a bottle and pair it with most kinds of cheeses with a blue vein; it also marries perfectly with foie gras. For a delicious way to end a meal, try sauternes with crème brûlée or a fruit dessert.

Check out these articles and reviews of San Diego Vineyards & Wineries | Beginners Guide to French Wine (Ports)