An Introduction to French White Wines

Following on from my post of An Introduction to French Red Wines, here’s the introduction to French whites.

Again, here’s a French wine map. As a very general rule, wines that come from a more Northern, cooler climate will be lighter bodied, less alcoholic, and more acidic (think of lemon flavoured things for an idea of acidity), whereas wines that come from a more Southern, hotter climate will be fuller bodied, more alcoholic, and with more fruity flavours. If you want more detailed information, I highly recommend Michael Schuster’s book Essential Winestasting.


Alsace, a region close to Germany, produces mainly white wines. There is some Pinot Noir grown here, however. This can be very good value, if you like Pinot Noir, as it is less expensive than in Burgundy.

Wine Map

Prominent grapes: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat
Alcohol: Low
Acidity: Medium
Body: Low
Flavours: Nectarine, Peach, Floral in general. Gewurztraminer has spice, Muscat can be orange-y.
Good recent vintages: 2010, 2009, 2007, 2005
Price: ££-£££
Buying Advice: Good value at £10-£15 a bottle. Lots of sweet fruity flavours, so can be a female favourite. The supermarket Alsace wines have not been as good as ones I have got through The Wine Society.

Bordeaux White Bordeaux is a generally blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Sauvignon Blanc is herbacious and acidic, whereas Semillon is the sweeter grapes used in making the desert wine Sauternes. As such, the proportions in which they are blended can really change the characteristics of the wine. Sometimes oak is used as well, again, changing how the wine will taste.

Wine Map

Prominent grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon.
Alcohol: Medium
Acidity: Medium
Body: Medium
Flavours: Sauvignon Blanc is herbacious and acidic. Semillon can give honey notes and nuttiness.
Good recent vintages: 2010, 2009, 2005, 2000
Price: £-££
Buying Advice: Good value at £5-£10. There is quite a lot of variance though bottle to bottle in my experience. Nice food wine as well.

Burgundy White Burgundy can be some of the top wine in the world. Made exclusively from Chardonnay, there are the unoaked style from Chablis and oaked style from Beaune. With good citrus and mineral notes, the wines make good food wines.

Wine Map
Prominent grapes: Chardonnay
Alcohol: Medium
Acidity: Medium
Body: Medium
Flavours: Citrus, minerality and steeliness.
Good recent vintages: 2010, 2009, 2005, 2002
Price: £-£££+
Buying Advice: You can get white Burgundy for around £5-£7, but in my experience it has not been so good. Better at around £8-£12, a Macon-Villages is a good buy here. Otherwise, the sky is the limit.

Languedoc-Roussillon A rather recent region for producing quality wine, Languedoc-Roussillon made lesser reputable wine until around 20 years ago. A much warmer region in the south of France around Marseille, Languedoc-Roussillon is better known for red wines, but still produces a good selection of whites. Piqpoul de Pinet is particularly fashionable at the minute, replacing Pinot Grigio in many restaurant lists.

Wine Map

Prominent grapes: Piqpoul, Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache Blanc
Alcohol: High
Acidity: Low
Body: High
Flavours: Piqpoul gives green fruit like apple and melon, Marsanne can be a bit more acidic than is pleasant, Rousanne gives very ripe fruit, some stone fruit. Grenache Blanc can be floral.
Good recent vintages: 2010, 2009, 2007, 2005
Price: £-££
Buying Advice: Piqpoul de Pinet is a good buy at the minute around £7-£10 bottle. The rest seems to be a bit variable, at least with what I have had.

Loire The Loire produces low bodied, high acidity wines from Sauvignon Blanc, and higher bodies, high acidity wines from Chenin Blanc. The region’s top wines come from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.

Wine Map

Prominent grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc
Alcohol: Low
Acidity: High
Body: Low
Flavours: Sauvignon Blanc gives acidity and herbaciousness. Chenin Blanc is quite neutral.
Good recent vintages: 2010, 2005, 2002
Price: £-£££
Buying Advice: Loire whites can be good food wines, and good value in the £5-£10 range. Not always particularly accessible though.

Rhône The Rhône produces mainly Marsanne-Roussane blends. Coming from a warmer climate, the wines have less acidity and a warmer fruit palate.

Wine Map

Prominent grapes: Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier
Alcohol: High
Acidity: Low
Body: High
Flavours: Marsanne can be a bit more acidic than is pleasant, Rousanne gives very ripe fruit, some stone fruit. Viognier can be very floral on the nose, but neutral on the palate.
Good recent vintages: 2010, 2009, 2007, 2005
Price: £-££
Buying Advice: I don’t find these wines particularly good value, given that white Bordeaux and white Burgundy fill the void. But best value probably in £9-£13 sort of range.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: An Introduction to French Red Wines « oxfood
  2. Trackback: Introduction to Wine Structure « oxfood

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