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How to Pick a White Wine

Updated on July 23, 2009

It’s a hot day and you’re in the mood for a cold glass of white wine—but what is the difference between a Pinot Blanc, a Chardonnay, and a Riesling? Are you unsure where to begin when daunted by an aisle of white wines from around the world? When you don’t have an expert to point you in a direction, try these tips to select the perfect glass of vino.

The Dry White

Where I work, many drinkers request a dry white, but what does that mean? Essentially, all white wines that aren’t a Riesling or a Gewurtztraminer are dry whites. As the sugar in the grapes is converted to alcohol, the wine becomes more and more dry. There are regulations about grams of residual sugar put out by the European Union regarding dry, extra dry, and sweet, but for the average drinker, a dry white wine means a wine with little aftertaste and no sweetness.

Good bets for dry white wines:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Grigio

Region should also be taken into account when selecting your white wine. Of course, the best way to determine your favorite regions for these wines is to taste them! For example, three popular regions for sauvignon blancs are France, California, or New Zealand—all three are delicious but very different. The French version is often flinty and floral, California tends to be fruity (melon and passion fruit), and New Zealand tends to have crisp, tropical flavors. A good rule of thumb is that old world wines are more complex, earthy, with slate, floral, or flint hints, while new world wines will be more fruity.

The Sweet White

If you’re in the mood for a sweet wine, often with a taste of fruit—apples and pears—try a Riesling or a Gewurtztraminer. These German wines are delicious, and can be very fruity—some also have strong tastes of honey and the heavier body that goes with it. They can get very sticky sugary sweet as well, depending on the vintage. Alsatian Riesling (the grapes are grown in the Alsace region of France instead of Germany) tends to be drier than its German counterpart, and Gewurtztraminer is generally drier than Riesling.

If you want a REALLY sweet wine, try a dessert wine or ice wine. Ice wine (or Eiswein as it is called in Germany) is made from grapes that are allowed to freeze on the vine. This concentrates the sugars and when they are pressed, results in a sweet wine. Muscat is a good bet if you don’t want a super sweet wine, but don’t want a completely dry one either.

Best Bets for a sweet white wine:

  • Riesling (Alsatian for drier, German for sweeter)
  • Gewurtztraminer
  • Dessert wine
  • Eiswein

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is fizzy from the presence of carbon dioxide, which enters the wine from natural fermentation or through injection. The most famous sparkling wine is Champagne, but most wine producing countries have their own sparkling version, which results from the same grape grown in a region outside Champagne and fermented along the same lines—the title of champagne can only be given if the grapes were grown in the Champagne region of France, hence the costliness of real champagne. Don’t fear, however, there is plenty of delicious sparkling available at lower costs.

Types of sparkling wine:

  • Champagne: the original and generally most expensive sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France
  • Cremant: sparkling wine made in France outside the region of Champagne
  • Cava: sparkling wine from Spain
  • Asti and prosecco: sparkling wine from Italy



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    • profile image

      funky23 6 years ago from Deutschland

      is that complicated !

    • jonaitis profile image

      jonaitis 8 years ago from San Francisco

      Hi Princessa,

      Yes, and I LOVE sparkling rose as well! Thanks for stopping by!

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 8 years ago from France

      Nice hub, the Cremant and cava are very good options to Champagne and only a fraction of the price.