A Guide to White Wine

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If you think your options stop at Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, my white wine guide will expand your horizons. Learn about different white wine styles, the best white wine food pairings, and more.

A bottle of white wine next to two glasses of the same.


 

Even if you’re firmly on Team Red, I bet you’ll find a few tempting vinos to try after checking out my white wine guide! Discover the common qualities all white wines share, the white wine flavors that make certain styles stand out, and some of my best recipes to pair with white wine.

What is White Wine—And How Is It Made?

White wine is fermented grape juice made using grapes that are fermented separate from their skins and seeds. As a refresher, red wine involves fermenting grapes with the skins and seeds, which offer tannins (the astringent quality you might recall from drinking tea or cider), a quality that makes red wines seem robust and that also helps them age well. Some white wines get better with age, but that’s often more of the exception than the rule. Translation: No need to cellar and save; dive in!

To make white wine, winemakers grow, harvest, crush, then separate the seeds and the stems from the flesh. They then ferment the grape flesh in a tank or vat with yeast, which eats the grape’s natural sugars to create alcohol. The wine is then aged in either oak, concrete, or stainless steel. After that, white wine may be treated with a preservative, sulfur dioxide. It’s then filtered, bottled, corked, and labeled.

Someone pouring a glass of white wine from a bottle.

The Qualities of White Wine

Regardless of the grape(s) used to make white wine, all share a few common features.

First, the color. White wines span from pale straw to deep gold. 

Next, acidity, the tart, crisp quality that spurs salivation that can help an already wonderful wine be even more food-friendly. White wine grapes grown in warmer weather are able to stay on the vine longer throughout the growing season, and during that time, develop more sugars which lowers their acidity. White wine grapes grown in cooler climates have shorter growing seasons, and since the grapes don’t ripen as much, they have lower sugar levels and higher acidity.

Finally, flavor notes. Unlike red wines that often err on the fruity, spicy, and/or earthy side, white wines naturally feature floral, fruity, and citrusy tastes.

A collection of different types of white wine.

White Wine Categories

Regardless of the color, traditional wines fall under one of three “body” umbrellas:

  • Light-bodied wines: 12 ½ percent alcohol by volume (ABV)
  • Medium-bodied wines: 12 ½ to 13 ½ percent ABV 
  • Full-bodied wines: 13 ½  ABV or more

You may see wines classified by body, by flavor and structure, or all of the above. I find it most helpful in terms of white wine food pairings to focus on flavor and structure. Learn more about the white wine categories below, plus a sampling of styes that fit each theme.

Bold and dry whites are the richest of the bunch. Reach for these when you’re not quite ready in the mood for a red, but still want some weight and body with your wine.

  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
2 bottles of white wine next to a glass of the same.

Light and dry whites are like the little black dress of whites. They’re a bit lighter on the palate than the stronger options above, and tend to be crowd-pleasing and ideal to gift or tote along to a potluck.

  • Chablis
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Grenache Blanc
  • Albariño
2 bottles of white wine next to a glass of the same.

Herbaceous whites present as mineral-forward, and perhaps grassy or vegetal. They’re crisp and refreshing, and in the case of Vinho Verde, even offer a tiny splash of effervescence.

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Grüner Veltliner
  • Vinho Verde
2 bottles of white wine next to a glass of the same.

Sweet and semi-sweet whites are remarkably adaptable as a food wine. I promise these aren’t all sugary-sweet! In fact, many offer complex, slightly petrol qualities or a hint of salinity.

  • Riesling
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Moscato (Muscat Blanc)
2 bottles of white wine next to a glass of the same.

In addition to these white wine groups, winemakers also create white wine blends that feature more than one of these. The finished product is a recipe the producer crafts to yield a flavor experience that’s different from what any of the individual grapes can offer solo.

How to Serve White Wine 

All wines, regardless of the style, should be served chilled. Yes, even reds! The primer below shows your sweet spot for the best temperature to serve white wines: ideally, between 45 and 55 degrees F. 

  • Sparkling: 40-50 degrees F
  • Lighter whites: 45-50 degrees F
  • Fuller whites and rosés: 50-55 degrees F
  • Lighter reds: 55-60 degrees F
  • Fuller reds: 60-65 degrees F

Don’t own a specialized wine fridge? Simply transfer a bottle of white wine from storage to the refrigerator about 3 hours before you plan to serve; it should be chilled just about right. Once you open and pour the wine, keep the wine cool in a bottle chiller to keep it cool, or wrap it in a dish towel to insulate the wine. 

A universal or classic white wine glass should work for any of your favorite white wines. 

Someone pouring a glass of white wine from a bottle.

Recipes to Pair With White Wine

Bold and dry white wines are sturdy enough to hold their own against fish in a richer sauce, such as Seafood Pasta Salad, risotto, and even pork tenderloin. Definitely stock these for holiday dinners to pour along with Roast Turkey, Baked Ham, and all of the fixings.

Seafood salad on a black and white platter.

1

Seafood Pasta Salad

This creamy, delicious Seafood Pasta Salad has chewy pasta, lots of colorful vegetables, and a mix of your favorite seafood like shrimp, crab, and lobster. It's perfect for parties, picnics, and barbecues.
Read More
Risotto in a white bowl with a gold spoon.

2

Risotto Recipe

This classic Risotto Recipe is simple yet delicious. Made with chicken broth, white wine, and Parmesan cheese, you can easily stir up a batch, whenever you're in the mood, in 30 minutes or less.
Read More
Grilled pork tenderloin slices on a white platter.

3

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

A lightning fast recipe that’s perfect for busy weeknights, this easy, breezy grilled pork tenderloin is marinated in honey, lime, and smoky chipotle pepper. The sweet and spicy marinade does most of the work for you; when you get home, it cooks up in less time than it takes to pre-heat the grill. 
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A platter of roast turkey garnished with grapes.

4

Perfect Roast Turkey

The most Perfect Roast Turkey recipe relies on dry-brining and butter-basting for the juiciest, most delicious turkey you've ever had. Save your pan drippings too for an easy classic gravy recipe.
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A platter of baked ham with roasted potatoes.

5

Baked Ham With Crumb Topping

This succulent Baked Ham stands out from the crowd with a spiced brown sugar glaze and a crunchy crumb topping, the perfect antidote to salty smoked ham.
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Light and dry white wines dance well with appetizers like Bruschetta and vegetable-forward pasta dishes including Pasta Primavera, as well as a wide variety of seafood entrees (Pan-Fried Tilapia is a fave) and chicken dinners including Sheet Pan Greek Chicken and Potatoes

Bruschetta on a white platter.

6

Bruschetta

Bruschetta, the classic Italian appetizer featuring fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic crostini, is a cinch to make at home in just 20 minutes.
Read More
Pasta primavera on a plate.

7

Pasta Primavera

Rather than being a "kitchen sink" vegetable pasta, this Pasta Primavera recipe dials in on just a few spring vegetables, making sure their colors, flavors, and textures truly shine.
Read More
One plate of pan fried tilapia.

8

Pan-Fried Tilapia

Simple pan-fried Tilapia with lots of colorful bell peppers makes a quick and easy, delicious and healthy meal! A great recipe if you want to eat more fish.
Read More
Sheet pan Greek chicken being set on a countertop.

9

Sheet Pan Greek Chicken and Potatoes

This Sheet Pan Greek Chicken and Potatoes is a great one-pan meal with protein, starch, and veggies that delivers on convenience and flavor. You'll want to add this one to your regular menu rotation!
Read More

Herbaceous white wines are delightful with salads, vegetarian meals, and anything featuring a tangy element, like yogurt or goat cheese (shout-out to this Asparagus Frittata!). 

Italian chopped salad in a bowl .

10

Italian Chopped Salad

This Italian Chopped Salad, based on the CPK version, is loaded with turkey, salami, chickpeas, and vegetables tossed in a delicious mustard vinaigrette.
Read More
A Mediterranean Buddha bowl on a gray counter.

11

Mediterranean Buddha Bowl

This vegan Mediterranean Buddha Bowl is full of colorful veggies and plant-based protein like quinoa, roasted chickpeas, and hummus.
Read More
Asparagus frittata on a white plate with a salad.

12

Asparagus Frittata

In less than 20 minutes, this spring Asparagus Frittata recipe can be ready to slice and serve. This easy frittata recipe is destined to steal the spotlight at your next brunch party, and also makes a delightful family dinner idea.
Read More

Sweet and semi-sweet white wines are perfect to contrast spicy takeout favorites. Or try them as a complementary pairing with fruit, cakes, pies, and cookies.

A platter of fresh fruit with fruit dip.

13

Fruit Platter

Build a Fruit Platter for a fresh appetizer recipe or easy, healthy dessert. Like a sweet cousin of a charcuterie board, this simple fruit snack showcases my best fruit dip recipe.
Read More
A slice of carrot cake on a blue plate with a candied carrot peel.

14

Carrot Cake

When it's made right, Carrot Cake is one of the best desserts in the world. This easy, two-bowl recipe relies on toasted pecans and the perfect amount of spice in an amazingly moist cake that's even more magnificent the next day. And for a festive finishing touch, the whole thing is topped with bouncy candied carrot curls.
Read More
A slice of apple pie on a light blue plate.

15

The Best Apple Pie Recipe

The best Apple Pie Recipe can be on your table in just one hour. No one will guess this classic apple pie starts with store-bought pie crust; the filling is just like your favorite bakery's desserts!
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A stack of soft chocolate chip cookies.

16

Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies

Your new favorite chewy, soft chocolate chip cookies. Under-bake them slightly so they come out with crispy edges and soft centers. Plus all the info you need to freeze cookie dough for later.
Read More

If you’re just starting out in the wine world, check out my guides for the basics and beyond:

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Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.

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