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Summer white wines by popularity

White grapes are actually green in color. Grapes that don't have red or purple pigmentation are called white, whereas 'green' grapes in wine terminology actually refer to under-ripe grapes.

Among the white grapes and the wines made from them, the most popular varietal worldwide is still Chardonnay; though looking at American restaurant choices, Pinot Grigio must be coming in as a close second. Chardonnay is grown worldwide with more than 400,000 acres under vine, only red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache are planted more.

Chardonnay is indigenous to the Burgundy region of France, where it is the basis for almost all white wines (the other two grown in very small percentages are Sauvignon Blanc and Aligoté). It is also an important crop in Champagne, France and grown in large amounts in the US and Australia as well. In cooler climates it shows a crisp acidity with medium body resulting in green apple, melon and pear flavors; in the hotter regions it typically develops high alcohol with relatively low acidity and tropical fruit flavors. Often aged in new oak barrels, the oak aging will complement with vanilla, butterscotch, caramel and toast flavors.

Worldwide the second most grown 'white' varietal is Sauvignon Blanc with about half the acreage of Chardonnay. Most famously grown in the Loire Valley of France (Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé) and Bordeaux, it has found good homes in New Zealand, California, Chile and South Africa.

Sauvignon Blanc characteristics range from grass, hay, grapefruit, and green pepper in the cooler growing regions to melon and asparagus in warmer climates to minerals and flint in the Loire Valley and gooseberry in New Zealand, and sometimes toast and smoke when oak aged. It can produce many different styles and is very characteristic for certain soil types and locations.

In California it is often named 'Fumé Blanc', a term that is legally synonymous, it was created to differentiate Sauvignon Blanc that was oak-aged to soften some of the typically more aggressive aromas and acidity.

The third most grown grape worldwide is Riesling, best known from the Mosel and other regions of Germany, France (Alsace) and Austria, but also widely grown in the US and Australia. With a high to very high acidity and low alcohol it balances the often-dominant fruitiness nicely, is very food-friendly, and ranges in flavors from apple to peach, nectarine, honeysuckle, jasmine often paired with a nice minerality and wet stone flavors. It is rarely aged in oak, but it ages generally well in the bottle, due to its high acidity and takes on flavors of baking spices or nuts.

Next in line with popularity among grape growers is Chenin Blanc a variety that is capable of high yields, making it an ideal choice for those that want to grow low quality table wines, mostly in the US, Africa and Argentina. But when the yields are kept low it can produce very high quality and food-friendly wines, mostly again in the Loire Valley, but also in South Africa. It can be found in dry or sweet, still or sparkling versions and can make superb dessert wines. Characteristic aromas include apple, straw, melon, apricot, almond, and citrus blossoms; and generally it has high acidity and medium to high alcohol.

With only about 60,000 acres planted, Pinot Grigio is a far smaller player on the world market than it's popularity in American restaurants would suggest. Grown mostly in northern Italy and Alsace, where it's called Pinot Gris, as well as in Oregon. It is a mutation of Pinot Noir; hence the name, which means 'grey Pinot' for its lightly pink, colored skin. It usually is rather light with low acidity, medium alcohol, and aromas of apple, lemon, melon, peach, and sometimes minerals.

Tagged: Wine, Wine Experiments