Most California white wines are made from a majority (75% or more by law) of a specific white wine grape variety. The resulting wine is called a Varietal. Occasionally wineries will blend several grapes together without having a 75%+ majority of any one grape, which results in a wine blend.
Common California White Wines
Albarino – A white grape variety originally from northwestern Spain with an aroma of apricot and peach. The wine is light, clean, crisp, lively with a citrusy flavor the resembles a Riesling. Flavors: Melon, grapefruit, apricot, and peach in warmer climates. Good with Spanish, Thai, and Indian foods.
Chardonnay – The number one white wine grape in the world, it was originally from the Burgundy region of France. The grape has not overtly strong varietal characteristics, which makes the wines characteristics greatly influenced by the wine making techniques. It is usually made in a dry style with varying degrees of butter and oak characteristics. Flavors: Apple, lemon, pear, butter, vanilla, and minerals. Good with rich cream sauces, fruit, and fish.
Chenin Blanc – This classic grape from the Loire region of France was widely planted in California and it is often blended into other wines. Most tend to be slightly sweet, which enhances their fruity character. This wine can be made in a Chardonnay style with stronger oak. Flavors: Lime, apple, pear, peach, and honey. Good with Chinese and Polynesian food.
Gewurztraminer – This is a white varietal from Germany which has a pink skin when ripe. The wines are aromatic, spicy, reminiscent of carnations. It is produced in a dry, light to medium sweet, or a late-harvest dessert style. Flavors: Lychee, rose, grapefruit, tangerine, and ginger. Pairs well with salmon, pork, poultry, sausages, and spicy foods.
Meritage (White) – Meritage is an American work that is a combination of the words “Merit” and “Heritage” (and rhymes with Heritage). This term refers to a wine blend made from the traditional grapes of Bordeaux. White Meritage grapes include Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Sauvignon Vert. No one grape may account for more than 90% of the blend. Pairs well with seafood and poultry.
Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris – An Italian grape known by its Italian or French name, this grape produces a wine that has a soft gentle perfume and more color than most whites. Flavors: Lemon, melon, nectarine, and peach. Goes well with salads, seafood, and light pasta dishes.
Proprietary White Wine – This term refers to wines that are often blended and do not meet the required 75% or more of a single type of grape that would allow the wine to have a varietal name (such as Chardonnay, Riesling, etc.). Reflects a winemaker’s attempt to produce an excellent wine through blending different varietals. These blends can vary greatly in style and so can the food pairings.
Rhone Style Blend (White) – A blend of wine from two or more grapes that are traditionally grown in the Rhone Valley of Southern France. In California, the most common whites include: Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne. Pairs well with cheese, creamed spinach or cream soups.
Riesling / White Riesling – A famous German grape sometimes referred to as Johannisberg Reisling. Styles range from dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and extremely sweet. Flavors: Lime, apple, jasmine, petrol, and orange. Good with cheeses and desserts.
Roussanne – A white Rhone varietal known for its haunting aroma similar to a refreshing herb tea. Pairs well with buttery seafood like lobster and crab dishes.
Sauvignon Blanc / Fume Blanc – A white grape from Graves region of France with a very distinct, herbaceous, grassy aroma and flavor. Styles can vary from no oak to heavy oak, and from dry to very sweet. Fume Blanc is a form of Sauvignon Blanc that tends to be a smokier style. Flavors: Peach, melon, grapefruit, gooseberry, and passion fruit. It pairs with seafood, poultry, and fresh fruit.
Semillon – A white grape from the Graves region of France with a fig-like aroma and taste. It can have a wide range of styles, including late-harvest dessert style. It is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc or used in White Meritage wines. Flavors: Lemon, peach, chamomile, saline, papaya, and fig. Pairs well with chicken, pork or duck dishes.
Viognier – A white grape from the Rhone region of France. The wines can be rich and complete. Flavors: Peach, mango, tangerine, melon, apricot, and pineapple. Goes with roasted or grilled chicken, vegetables, and Asian cuisines.