WINE SAVVY: Three styles of white
Sometimes, people crinkle their nose at the words "dry white wine," but they also roll their eyes at the thought of "sweet white wine." On the other hand, some just say, "I only like red wine." To me, this is a huge mistake. The world of wine is vast and the flavors are nuanced and complex. If you're truly interested in experiencing the panoply of wines offered, you simply must drink both red and white wine. And you must learn to appreciate both dry and sweet styles. Well-made examples of every type of wine have the ability to enhance any experience.
An easy thing to remember is that 95 percent of red and white wine are made in a dry style. Dry means that the grape juice was fermented until all the sugars were consumed by the yeast. The opposite of dry is sweet.
Dry, white wines fall into three major categories: light-bodied, herbaceous and full-bodied. Understanding these terms and their related grape varietals will help you choose the right wine to cook with or pair with your meal.
Light-bodied white wines rely on high acidity to deliver their zesty, lip-smacking taste. Often these wines are packed with citrus flavors such as grapefruit, lemon and lime. They are intended to be consumed within one to two years of vintage and will not benefit from aging. Most are fermented in stainless steel tanks and bottled soon after harvest. These wines are often sealed with screw caps.
The grape varieties that make the best light-bodied whites are California and New Zealand sauvignon blanc, unoaked chardonnay, known as Chablis in France, and almost any white wine from Italy such as Soave, Gavi or any pinot grigio. These wines are perfect for deglazing a pan and are natural pairing partners with shellfish, fish, pesto and salad.
Herbaceous white wines are full of aromas of fresh cut grass or thyme and often combine aromas of apricot, peach and pear. A few good examples of herbaceous whites are French sauvignon blanc, known as Sancerre, Portuguese Vinho Verde, Austrian grüner veltliner and Argentinian torrontés. These wines are sealed with a screw cap or a cork. Either way, they won't benefit from aging, so drink them soon after purchase.
Pair herbaceous white wines with dishes that have fresh herbs as a featured ingredient. These wines would go great with herbed chicken, grilled fish, noncream based pasta dishes, feta or goat cheese, and almost any form of zucchini.
Fully-bodied whites are made by aging the wine in oak barrels. This gives the wine a creamy, full-bodied texture. The aromas of peach, apple, almond, butter, toast, butterscotch and vanilla are most prevalent in oaked chardonnay. This category of wine also extends to the grape varieties of viognier, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc-semillion blends. These wines are mostly sealed with a cork and in very fine examples of chardonnay from Burgundy, they can age decades. Aged white Burgundy changes from apples, lemons and fresh butter when young, to vanilla, toast, and butterscotch when old.
Pairing choices for full-bodied white wines are anything with a cream- or butter-based sauce. These are great wines to pair with creamy soup on a chilly day, buttery dipped shellfish such as crab or lobster or anything with mushrooms or truffles. These wines also make great cocktails and pair perfectly with many hard cheeses such as gouda and cheddar.
These three styles cover almost all of the types of white wine you are likely find in an average liquor store. I encourage you to pick your wine based on the food you intend to eat rather than your preferred color.