If you’re just starting out with wine, then this post is for you! White wines can be made from many different types of wine grapes, called varieties.
White wine is made of grapes. Most often, these grapes are green or yellow in color, but some white wines can be made from red grapes. Champagne, the famous celebratory sparkling wine, often includes red Pinot Noir grapes but is still a classic white wine. The color of wine comes from grape skins and the winemaker decides how much (or how little) color they want in the final wine.
Here’s what you need to know about what white wine is made of.
- Is white wine made from green grapes?
- Is White Wine Made from Red Grapes?
- What’s the Difference Between White and Red Wine?
- What Kind of Alcohol Is White Wine?
- Is There a White Wine Made from Red Grapes?
- What Grapes Are in White Wine? 13 Noteworthy Varieties
- Thirsty for More?
Is white wine made from green grapes?
Almost all white wine is made from what most people think of as green grapes. These are special wine grapes, not table grapes, and they come in many different hues. Some white wine grapes are more yellow in color, and others are decidedly green.
Your wine’s color comes from the color compounds in the grapes’ skins.
Once the winemaker harvests the white wine grapes, they crush (squish) and press the grapes to release all of the sugary juice.
The winemaker limits the amount of time the grapes’ skins are in contact with the grapes’ juice to make sure your white wine comes out bright and clear. The more time grape juice is in contact with grape skins, the more color gets extracted.
Helpful Tip: Here’s a geeky post on how wine fermentation works. It’s not for everyone, but maybe it’s for you!
Is White Wine Made from Red Grapes?
White wine can be made from red grapes, but this isn’t very common. If the winemaker wants to make a white wine out of red grapes, they can do this by crushing and pressing the grapes immediately just like they do for white wine. By pressing right away, none of the dye from the red grape skins has time to stain the grape juice red.
Technically, winemakers can use any red grape to make white wine, but most will use their red grapes to make red wine or rose wine.
Helpful Tip: Here’s a great post that goes over how winemakers make rose wines pink.
What’s the Difference Between White and Red Wine?
White and red wines have many differences, the most obvious is the wines’ color. White wines will always be pale lemon or gold. Red wines will be ruby or garnet.
White wines often have citrus, melon, stone fruit, pear, and apple flavors. Red wines have plum and red and black fruits, like cherry and strawberry.
White wines are often higher in acid than red wines (but not always), and red wines have tannin (that drying sensation in your mouth). Both red and white wines can have low, medium, or high alcohol.
Helpful Tip: Here’s a 30-second tasting tip on how to taste wine tannin.
What Kind of Alcohol Is White Wine?
White wine can have low, medium, or high alcohol. The style of the white wine determines the wine’s alcohol level. Low alcohol white wines are under 11% ABV.
Moscato d’Asti is a classic low-alcohol white wine (5.5% ABV). Most white wines are medium alcohol, between 11%-14% AVB.
High alcohol white wines (over 14% ABV), often come from hot growing regions where very ripe grapes grow and have more sugar to ferment into alcohol.
You can also find fortified white wines, like White Port, which will have a minimum of 19.5% ABV. Sherry is another fortified white wine that is over 15% ABV.
Helpful Post: Here’s a list of how much alcohol is in different wine styles.
Is There a White Wine Made from Red Grapes?
A famous white wine made from red grapes is the style of Champagne called Blanc de Noir (pronounce blahnk de no-are) – or White from Black. Meaning white wine from red wine grapes.
This white sparkling wine style uses red Pinot Noir grapes but presses the grape juice immediately during the winemaking process so that none of the skin color dyes the wines red.
Et voila! Champagne isn’t red!
What Grapes Are in White Wine? 13 Noteworthy Varieties
Winemakers can use any number of different grape varieties to make white wine. You’ve probably heard of popular white wine grapes, like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling, but there are literally hundreds of different white wine grapes grown around the world (some more famous than others). Here’s a list of 20 popular white wine grapes.
Chardonnay is a classic white wine grape that’s considered an international variety – meaning it’s grown around the world. Originally from Burgundy, France, you can find delicious, well made Chardonnays at all price points. If your Chardonnay is from a cool region, expect green apples and pears. If your Chardonnay is from a warmer growing region, you’ll discover stone fruit, and maybe even tropical pineapple. It’s worth experimenting with several different styles of Chardonnay to find one that you enjoy.
Here’s a full post on Chardonnay wines.
Pinot Grigio is a famous white wine grape widely grown in Italy and exported around the world. You’ve probably seen plenty of affordable Pinot Grigio at your local bottle shop. This is a lovely white wine that’s lighter in style than most Chardonnays and delivers crisp, crunchy green fruit and citrus. Inexpensive Pinot Grigios shouldn’t be aged, so make sure you enjoy these white wines soon after you purchase them!
Here’s a full post on Pinot Grigio wines.
Riesling makes steely acidic, vibrant, aromatic white wines that can shock your senses! Riesling brings powerful flavors, including white floral notes, green apple, zesty lime and lemon pith, stone fruits, honey, and, if you’re paying attention, maybe even petrol (I think it smells like tennis balls). Riesling comes in a range of styles, including dry and lusciously sweet, so experiment often with this special wine.
Tip: Here’s a full post on Riesling wine with everything you need to know about this little grape.
Sauvignon Blanc is another white wine grape that you probably know about. It’s grown in popularity over the past several years because of it’s friendly, aromtic, fruit-forward style that’s easy to sip and pair.
Sauvignon Blanc from warm growing regions with riper berries can taste tropical, like passion fruit and guava. Sauvignon Blanc from cool regions with less ripe grapes, is steely with wet stone, grass, and even asparagus, with a good dose of grapefruit added in. Sauvignon Blanc makes the perfect white wine for sipping solo or over a meal.
Here’s a full post on Sauvignon Blanc wine.
If you’ve never heard of Garganega white wine grapes, that’s okay. This is one of those wines where the grape used to make the wine is different from the name of the wine. In this case, the white wine is Italian and goes by the name Soave.
Soave is a lovely, easy-drinking white wine with peach, melon, white blossom, and an herbal note.
Chenin Blanc is another great white wine for beginners. It tends to have a little softer acid profile than Sauvignon Blanc, and delivers aromatic apple, citrus, melon, and pear notes. Look for Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, France, and also from South Africa, where it’s a signature white grape (meaning it’s important to their wine industry).
Fun wine fact: Chenin Blanc can be made into sparkling wines, not just still white table wines. Check out this full post on Chenin Blanc wines.
Albarino is perhaps Spain’s most famous white wine grape and grows along the northwestern coastline where it faces a powerful maritime climate. As a result, don’t be surprised if you can taste salt in your white Albarino wine.
Other flavors include grapefruit, lemon, green melon, and white nectarine. This is another white wine that you’ll want to enjoy young and fresh!
Tip: Here’s a full post on Albarino wine – from where it’s grown, to what to buy. Check it out!
You’ll need to go to a larger wine shop to find Argentina’s signature white wine, Torrontes, but this is another white wine grape that I always recommend for beginners. It’s like tutti fruity candy in your glass.
Floral rose, lemon, peach, pear, and pineapple leap out at you and make this an easy-drinking wine and a favorite at cocktail parties.
Here’s a full post on Torrontes wines.
Gewurztraminer, or just Gewurz for short, is a beautiful, aromatic white wine that isn’t as acidic as Riesling, making it perfect for wine drinkers looking for softer, but still perfumed, white wines. It’s signature aroma, lychee, is always detectable if you know to sniff for it!
Gewurztraminer is a famous white wine made in the Alsace region of France, but you can find it in most major wine growing regions around the world.
Tip: Gewurztraminer isn’t as widely known as some other white wine grapes, so I put together an overview of Gewurztraminer wine just for you!
Semillon is an interesting grape. It has more golden-colored berries instead of green berries. Semillon can be made into high-acid white wines (look for bottles from Hunter Valley, Australia) or even lusciously sweet dessert wines from France (look for Sauternes or Barzac on the label).
Both styles show the diverse range of Semillon, making it an exceptional white wine grape worth investing your time to learn more about.
Tip: Simple or sexy Semillon? Need I say more? Here’s an exhaustive post on all things Semillon wine.
Viognier makes a delicious white wine for beginners. It often has a powerful aromatic note that’s similar to fruit cocktail, inviting you into the glass. Viognier is made in France’s Northern Rhone, but grown around the world in other regions, too, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find.
Expect stone fruits, tangerine, mango, honeysuckle, and even rose petals in your glass.
Marsanne is a white wine grape found in southern France’s Rhone Valley, where it’s usually made into a white wine blend. Marsanne has a waxy texture to it with stone fruits like peach and apricot, mandarin notes, quince, and acacia. Look for labels that break down the different types of grapes and list different percentages in the white wine blend and you’ll often find Marassane.
This lovely white grape is planted widely in France’s Southern Rhone region. It’s often used as a blending partner with Marasanne, so look for labels that have percentage blends of each. You’ll find stone fruits, like peach and apricot, as well as pear, bright citrus, chamomile, and honey in white Roussane wines.
Thirsty for More?
If you’re just getting into wine, check out this page on Wine Basics which has a list of different topics that are just for beginners. We all start somewhere, but this is wine, so it’s gotta be fun!
Finding and buying great wines can be a little challenging at first. Go explore this post: How to Read a Wine Label.
If you’re just getting started with wine, the best way to get into wine is to taste more wines. It helps if you’re tasting with others. Here’s how to host your own DIY wine tasting for beginners.
And as you’re trying new wines, here’s a 6-step quick guide on how you can taste unfamiliar wines.
Go check out this post on how to find affordable wines for beginners with tips to save you money (I put this together just for you if you’re getting started.)