Chardonnay is a white grape that originated in the region of Burgundy in France and is now grown around the world in many different climates resulting in many different styles of wines.
In cool climates, such as Chablis and Champagne in France, Chardonnay wines are steely, with light-medium body, high acid, and notes of apple and pear. In moderate climates, the grape produces wines with more citrus, melon, and peach flavors. In hot climates, the riper fruit results in more exotic and tropical fruit notes, like mango and banana, and wines with fuller body, high alcohol, and lower acid (in very hot climates).
These fruit characteristics are often subtle, no matter the climate, and Chardonnay is often referred to as "non-aromatic." As a result of this, the wines are greatly affected by outside factors especially vineyard location (climate, ripeness) and winemaking techniques. Winemaking techniques are especially noticeable. The use of oak in ageing gives warm, toasty flavors ("unoaked" or "unwooded" Chardonnay will be fruitier and less oak-y); malolactic fermentation results in a less acidic creamy, buttery style; and incorporating yeast (lees) gives the wines more body.
Classic regions to look for on Chardonnay bottles include: Burgundy, France; Russian River Valley and Carneros, California; Adelaide Hills, Geelong, and Morningstar, Australia; and Gisbourne and Marlborough in New Zealand.
Sauvignon Blanc is another white grape that originated in France, it is the primary grape in many whites from the Bordeaux and Loire regions. In cool-moderate climates like those in France, Sauvignon Blanc shines, producing dry wines with high acid and passion fruit, elderflower, and a distinct "green"/grassy quality. These aromatics are stifled when the grape is grown in regions that are too warm.
Sauvignon Blanc has become one of the signature grapes of New Zealand and the Marlborough region in particular produces amazing, high quality, affordable wines from the grape. These wines highlight intense flavors and aromas of citrus, passion fruit, and gooseberry.
Oak aged Sauvignon Blanc made in California is often referred to as Fume Blanc, a name coined by Napa pioneer Robert Mondavi.
The best regions for Sauvignon Blanc include Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in France; Marlborough, New Zealand; and Chile.
The Riesling grape is intensely aromatic, fruity, and high acid, most famous for the famous German wines it produces. It is a late ripening, resilient grape that can survive fall weather in most regions, allowing it to be picked well after the growing season traditionally ends for beautiful, complex, and often sweet late harvest wines. This resilience also means Riesling can thrive in many different regions and make many different styles of wines that reflect the growing location.
In cool climates, Riesling shines, showing fresh grape, white peach, and apple notes with high natural acidity and some residual sugar. In warmer climates, Riesling has more intense citrus and fruit notes, including peach, apricot, and mango. Fruit notes are also more intense in late harvested grapes; the riper Riesling is allowed to get, the more intense the fruit notes in the resulting wine. High acid and intense fruit flavors give Riesling better potential for ageing than many white wines.
In Germany, Riesling wines are labeled according to when they are harvested, the youngest will say only "Riesling" or have "QbA" on the label. In order of youngest to oldest, other wines are labeled Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA), Trokenbeerenauslese (TBA), and Eiswein (Icewine). The wines tend to be sweeter the later the grapes are harvested, but Rieslings at each level can have some sweetness. Eiswein in particular is allowed to stay on the vine until the grapes raisin and freeze, decreasing the water content and concentrating the sugars and flavor notes even further.
Great regions for Riesling include the Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz, and Rheingau in Germany; Wachau, Austria; Alsace in France; and the Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia.
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are different names for the same white grape. They designate two different styles of wine that the grape produces in different regions.
In Alsace, France, Pinot Gris produces a full-bodied wine with distinct spice notes. This style is rich and high in alcohol, with moderate acidity. It has ripe, exotic fruit notes like melon, banana, and mango.
In Northeastern Italy, Pinot Grigio is a higher acid, less aromatically intense wine. It is light and relatively neutral, with less powerful fruit notes. This bright, refreshing style of wine is popular with New World wineries growing the grape.