Discovering Dry White Wine

Dry white wine is a favorite around the world for many reasons. Dry whites like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and dry Riesling have a unique ability to pair with many foods while delivering crisp and clean flavor. Some of the driest white wine also is known as a refreshing summer drink.

Collecting great wine doesn’t stop with the reds. There is amazing dry white wine for collectors if you know a few of the fundamentals. Incredible winemakers all around the world are creating amazing dry white wine, just waiting to be added to your cellar.

Dry White Wine

What is dry white wine? The short answer is a wine that isn’t sweet. The longer answer has to do much with how the wine is fermented. If a winemaker stops the fermentation process too early, residual sugar will remain in the wine. Hence, sweet wine.

The malolactic fermentation process is when sugar in the grapes is converted to alcohol. The residual sugar (RS) is what gives the wine its natural sweetness.

But if the winemaker allows the yeast to complete its mission during the fermentation process, sugar will be eaten away. Less residual sugar will be remaining, and what you have left is dry white wine.

Wine with less than 10 grams of residual sugar is labeled dry. Over 30 grams of sugar, and you will be in the dessert wines and sweet wine category.

White wine grapes are not fermented in their skin, but the juice is pressed away from the skin and fermented on its own. Some of the best dry white wine is fermented in oak barrels to give them added flavor and longevity. Over just 6 – 18 months, popular white wine such as Chardonnay is ready to release to market.

Dry White Wine Grapes

Technically, white wine can be produced from either black or white grapes. Black grapes are typically used for red wine, but if the skins are separated from the juice early enough in the winemaking process, they can make white wine.

The best-known white wine grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. But there are dozens of various grapes around the world, creating many of the most popular dry white wines.

White Winemaking in Burgundy Explained

1. Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc is traditionally grown in Northeast France near the Alsace wine region and the Burgundy wine region. Another common area for the Pinot Blanc grape is the Alto Adige region in Italy.

The Pinot Blanc grape is a mutation of the Pinot Noir. The exact birthplace of the grape is unknown, but the first records date to 1896. An official decision was made to list Pinot Blanc as a different grape than Chardonnay.

2. Albarino

The Albarino grape comes from the border of the Iberian peninsula in modern-day Portugal and Spain. The Albarino has been used in wine since the times of the ancient Romans, although it was mostly used in combination with other grapes.

Roughly ninety percent of the grapes grown in the Galicia, Spain winemaking region are Albarino grapes.

3. Viognier

The Viognier grape possibly originated in Dalmatia, near present-day Croatia. The ancient Romans brought Viognier grapes to the region around 300 AD. One legend supposes the Viognier grape was named for the Roman pronunciation of the “via Gehennae,” meaning “Road of the Valley of Hell.”

Viognier is a white grape typically grown in Frace, Australia, and California. Recently, California’s Central Coast has emerged as a major producer of Viognier grapes. The potential in the Viognier grape is highly dependent on the climate because of its demands for a long, warm growing season.

An overly hot climate might develop high levels of sugars before the full aromatic notes can develop. Viognier is known as a difficult grape to grow because it’s prone to powdery mildew.

4. Sauvignon Blanc

Originating from the Bordeaux region of France, Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape meaning “wild-white.” Also known as Sauv Blanc, the wine typically does not benefit from aging and has been known to develop aromas of peas and asparagus if extended aging occurs.

New Zealand is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc. The remote island near the southwest edge of the Pacific Ocean makes a great natural growing place for white wine. Long hours of sunshine, crisp cool nights, and long oceanfront hills expose Sauvignon Blanc vines to an excellent growing environment. Nearly 73% of the country’s wine production is from the Sauvignon Blanc grape.

5. Semillon

Another grape native to the Bordeaux region, the Semillon, is a golden-skinned grape used to create dry white wine, mostly in France and Australia. The grape is mostly blended with Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle in the Bordeaux region of France, where it’s referred to as ‘Bordeaux blanc’ when created dry.

Semillon is a relatively easy and vigorous grape to grow, producing anywhere from six to eight tons of grapes per acre.

6. Riesling

Riesling originated in the Rhine region of Germany and is used to make dry white wine, along with semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling wine. The grape is one of the top twenty most grown grape types in the world, encompassing over 120,000 acres worldwide.

Not only is Riesling one of the top twenty most popular wines by quantity around the world, but wine enthusiasts also regarded it as top-three in importance, right behind Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc.

The naturally high acidity from Riesling gives the grape exceptional aging potential. 

7. Melon de Bourgogne

Melon de Bourgogne originated in Burgundy and is a cross between Pinot blanc and Gouais blanc. After a harsh winter in 1709 destroyed many of the vines, the Melon variety was introduced.

Now, Melon de Bourgogne is mostly used in the production of the light dry white wine Muscadet. The increased production of dry wine has kept the Melon de Bourgogne grape popular around the world.

8. Torrontes

The Torrontes white grape is mostly produced throughout Argentina and is steadily increasing in popularity. It’s grown to become the most widely planted white grape in the region, surpassing both Pedro Gimenez and Ugni blanc.

9. Chardonnay

Named near a village in the Macon region of Burgundy, the word Chardonnay means “place of thistles.” It’s the most widely distributed white wine grape in the world, growing in almost every wine region. The reputation of the Chardonnay grape is for ease of cultivation and adaptability. The green-skinned grape is used for producing several white wines, many of them in the dry category.

Recent DNA studies suggest Chardonnay results from a cross between the Pinot noir and Gouais blanc grape. Even when dry white wine is created, the taste can seem sweet. This is because everyone has a different palate for sensing flavors. It’s also because oaked Chardonnay often expresses notes of spice and vanilla combined with fruit flavors such as papaya, mango, and pineapple.

10. Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio also originates from the Burgundy wine region. In France, it’s known as Pinot Gris, but as the wine spread around the world over the last couple hundred years, it’s mostly referred to as Pinot Grigio.

Generally, wine producers create very dry, unblended, and unoaked Pino Grigio wine. The grapes mature quickly and are usually the first grapes harvested each year. Two of the main flavor profiles

11. Pinot Gris

The Pinot Gris or Grauburgunder grape comes from the Vitis vinifera species. It’s believed to be a clone of the pinot noir grape and usually has a grayish-blue color. Pinot Gris has been around since the Middle Ages in the Burgundy wine region, called Fromenteau. One unique characteristic of Pinot Gris is it’s easily brought to market only 4 – 12 weeks after fermentation.

Want to try your hand at making your own wine? There are amazing resources out there to become your own wine producer. This video covers the details on how to make white wine.

Collecting Dry White Wine

Many wine collectors are hesitant to collect white wine. Other than Champagne, many wine cellars will not hold white wine much longer than a few months, just for fear of losing the white wine to poor age-ability.

But there’s some good news out there; many white wines make excellent long-term additions to any collection. And figuring out which white wine will age properly is easier than it might sound.

In general, red wine lasts longer than white wine. That’s a well-understood fact. Many collectors obey the common rule of thumb by consuming bottles of white wine in the cellar within three years or less. The difference is most red wine is made with the grape skin still on, resulting in their deep color and tannins.

The tannins provide longevity in wine, making it possible to store a bottle of wine for decades in a cellar without it turning to vinegar. White wines contain much less tannin because they don’t come into as much contact with the skin when they are processed.

Determine Age-Worthy White Wine for Your Collection

The style and region wine is grown in will determine its age-worthiness. Some of the best aging white wines are from Sauternes, Alsace, and Germany. Many wines from these areas will last over twenty years in a cellar.

Other sweet white wine might have good aging potential if it’s fully ripened on the vine and harvested late in the season. Increased acidity will also help a white wine age better. Lots of sunshine and only small amounts of cool and rainy weather will keep acidity levels high.

Dry white wines tend to have a higher level of alcohol content. If the alcohol content gets above 12 or 13 percent, the wine could turn to vinegar after only a few years. Dry white wine with lower alcohol content, such as Semillon or Riesling, will generally age better over time.

Here’s a short list of a few other great dry white wines to consider adding to your wine cellar.

  • Sonoma Valley dry Gewurztraminer
  • Clare / Eden Valley Riesling
  • Hermitage
  • Savatiano
  • Roditis
  • Assyrtiko

Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc

The Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite white wine collector bottles. Only a tiny quantity is produced at the small vineyard in Napa Valley. There’s only a small two-acre plot of Sauvignon Blanc at the Screaming Eagle winery. Most of the vines are for the famous Cabernet, which sells for over $3,000 per bottle.

Introduced in 2010, the Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc is extremely rare. The estate only produced about 200 bottles of the Sauvignon Blanc in 2010, and one bottle is valued at over $6,000.

Chenin Blanc Dry White Wine

One of the world’s most versatile white grapes is Chenin Blanc. The Chenin blanc crosses many spectrums from very sweet dessert wines with superior aging ability to dry sparkling wines and dry white wine. For example, the aging ability of Loire Chenin blanc has the potential to last for at least 100 years.

Discover the white wines of Burgundy