Some people consider white wine to be inferior to red wine in quality, character, and taste. While white wines differ greatly from red wines, to say that one is better than the other would be naive. Everyone has their preferences, so it�s important for budding chefs to learn as much about each as possible. Here�s a crash course on white wine!
How White Wine is Made
White wine comes from either white or red grapes. Most white wines are made from grapes that range in color from deep gold to yellow to green. There are some white wines, however, that are made from the juice of red grapes and simply never come in contact with the red hued skins, which is where the color in red wine comes from. White wine is made by crushing the grapes in two separate pressings. The first pressing is done delicately and yields a pure, clean juice. The second is done with more pressure intended to get any juice that is left with the skins. The juices from the two pressings are usually fermented separately and then may be combined at a later time.
Yeast is added to the freshly pressed grape juice, which initiates the process of fermentation. The yeast consumes the sugar in the juice and, through a naturally occurring process, the sugars are converted into alcohol. The juice is fermented in oak barrels, which add tannins and rich, full bodied flavors to the wine, or in stainless steel tanks, which produce crisp, clean wine. White wines ferment for 4 to 6 weeks and then they can go through a second fermentation, known as malolactic fermentation, which mellows the acid and makes the wine sweeter and richer. Once fermentation is finished, white wine usually sits in a vat or barrel for 3-12 months before it is bottled. Most white wines are ready to be consumed as soon as they are bottled.
Defining the Flavor of White Wine
Grape varietal, fermentation process, and age all have an affect on the appearance and flavor of white wines. Some wines are consumed so young that they are referred to as "green" and tend to be very crisp and acidic in flavor without a lot of depth. These wines are good to sip alone or when paired with very light, simple fare like steamed seafood. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the straw hued, full-bodied white wines full of vanilla and smoke flavors. These are almost too complex to be consumed on their own and are best when paired with rich, flavorful foods. A wide range of wines, each with unique characteristics, falls in between these two extremes.
Common Varietals, Recipes for Success
Some common white wine varietals are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Riesling, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. Check out the recipes to the right for some great white wine pairings!