White wine may be made from either white or red grapes, which are destemmed, crushed, and, usually, pressed when the crop arrives at the winery. The must (unfermented grape juice) is put in vat where any solids left are allowed to settle, then the clear juice is drawn off and put in vats or barrels for fermentation.
Alcoholic fermentation may last anywhere from two to six weeks for a dry white wine. For sweet wines it may take up to several months.
After fermentation is the élevage, a period of maturation (except for primeur or nouveau wines). Before bottling the wine undergoes a series of qualitative tests, and most whites are filtered for greater clarity.
Blending is another key moment in birth of a wine; this is the process of mixing the wine of different grape varieties, in appellations where that is allowed. Once the wine is in bottle it is up to the consumers to continue aging it in their cellars.
2. Sweet wines
In addition to a longer fermentation, sweet wines may undergo various treatments designed to concentrate sugar and flavors. For late harvest wines, grapes are left on the vine longer to allow their sugars to concentrate. In some regions grape bunches are left to dry after the harvest, usually on straw mats, letting water evaporate from the fruit. Some climates favor the development of noble rot, as in Sauternes, Monbazillac, and Coteaux du Layon Chaume. Grapes that are pressed while frozen retain much of their water content as ice, so the resulting juice is sweeter and more concentrated; this technique is used in regions where the climate is not favorable for sweet wine production.
3. Grape varieties for white wine
Many different grape varieties are used to make white wine. Given that only the juice is used to make white wine—the maceration that is key to red wine vinification is not used in white wine production–the grapes may be white or red (because most red grapes have white juice). The most common white grapes used to make white wine include Chardonnay (from Burgundy) and Sauvignon Blanc (found in many wine regions in France, the United States, and South Africa). Grapes like Riesling can stand up to the rigorous climate of Alsace. Other popular white grapes include Chenin Blanc (Loire Valley), Viognier (Rhône Valley), Grenache Blanc, Sémillon (Bordeaux), Maccabeu (Spain, Languedoc-Roussillon), Ugni Blanc (Italy), and many others. Pinkish or grayish grapes like Gewürztraminer and red grapes like Pinot Noir are also used to make white wine.
4. White wine regions
The areas producing white wine are partly a function of the consumer. For instance, in South Africa, Australia, and the United States, white wine consumption is higher than red or rosé consumption, so wine production in those countries is focused more on white wine. One exception is France, where white wine consumption is much smaller but great quantities of white are produced and, therefore, exported. Champagne, the Loire Valley, Alsace, and the Jura produce excellent white wines, but the most famous ones are from Bordeaux (ex: Sauternes, Barsac) and Burgundy (ex: Chablis, Meursault).
5. A few legendary white wines
Château d'Yquem's Sauternes, a dessert wine, is unquestionably among the world's most famous wines. This superlative producer has such strict standards of quality that entire harvests have been rejected as sub-par, leading the château to skip vintages like 1974 and 1992. Among dry whites no single wine dominates, but there are a few that are undeniably in the top tier: Château Laville Haut Brion in Pessac-Léognan, Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches and Montrachet Marquis Laguiche from Domaine Joseph Drouhin, Château Grillet in the Rhône Valley, and La Coulée de Serrant in the Loire Valley.
6. Pairing food with white wine
Pairing food with white wine (or red) is above all a question of experience and taste, but a few fundamental rules can help. First, sweet wines and dry wines will not pair well with the same dishes. The former may be served as an aperitif, possibly with foie gras, lobster, or blue cheese, or with certain desserts. Dry whites marry well with grilled or marinated fish and white meat. Some white wines are also excellent with dishes that can be hard to match, such as vegetable soups, salads, and eggs. It is important to consider how acidic and how full-bodied a wine is when making a selection, as those elements can strongly affect the perception of certain foods.