Classic White Wine Styles and Producers

Start with the classics.

In the modern world of wine exists a bountiful variety of grapes, styles and producers, worth a lifetime of exploration. From the common to obscure, this bouquet of options offers a rich palette of flavors, colors and textures. Although lesser known native varieties in the ilk of Umbria’s Sagrantino or Galicia’s Godello offer these vivid qualities in spades, they remain relegated to niche interest, and are not typically produced elsewhere. Others like Chenin Blanc of the Loire Valley or Semillon of Bordeaux maintain solid native strongholds that have inspired significant New World iterations. These are the “classic” varieties and styles, which have enough historical precedent to define the identity of their local region, to the extent resulting in broad recognition and hopeful imitators. Old World classics like German Riesling may have half a millennium on the books, whereas relative newcomers like Willamette Valley Pinot Noir have shaped their home turf enough to justify being called classics in their own right.

The term “classic” is clearly subjective, worthy of hot debate. Hopefully the term can be used with levity, inspiring ongoing conversations held during aperitivo on a sunny veranda. Sounds like a vivid afternoon, no? Why is Alsatian Muscat often called classic, and Italian Verdicchio not? Perhaps Verdicchio should be, less we choose draw arbitrary lines in the calcareous limestone for reasons of simplicity. Established classics like Burgundy Chardonnay are clear; emerging ones like Santorini Assyrtiko less so. Nevertheless, shrinking the enormous world of wine down to reliable all-stars can offer enough context to make such a debate worthwhile.

The area of white wines can be seen with particular interest, as white grapes often behave with striking transparency compared to reds. Showcasing unique varietal character, climate and the hand of the winemaker, whites are like delicate soft clay, fastidiously molded or smeared by these influences. Acquired at a lower price threshold than many noble reds, an exploration of white wines can provide a student of tasting with rich educational opportunity at a good value.

Listed below are white wine styles from around the world that can be considered classic. In countries where a particular variety is widely planted, in the case of German Riesling, select regions of high regard are included. For reasons of producer variation, Vouvray has been included in the case of Chenin Blanc, but Savennières and Western Cape have been omitted. Should a strong case be offered for a missing region, amendments will be sincerely considered.

Listed first are tenured Old World examples, followed by New World expressions. High-quality producers who epitomize their style have been included, many found in wide distribution for under $50. Quality Burgundy, Rhône and Bordeaux are found at this price on a rare day, typically affordable when a tasting group’s power of numbers is a play. Producers are included voluntarily, solely based on qualitative merit. Comments, conjectures and opposing suggestions are welcome, should a hearty debate be thus sparked.

To be clear, this list is curated with the purpose of deductive tasting study in mind. By limiting the world of options to a concise list of variables, a baseline calibration of structure and aromas can be efficiently achieved. That calibration then relates to the concepts of viticulture, winemaking, and food pairing, beneficial for personal enjoyment or in the service of a guest. More on those ideas another time.

Incidentally, the noble whites of Alsace outnumber any other region listed below. A region with grapes as varied as soils, Alsace is a stronghold of vinous diversity. Many of the Alsace producers featured here offer fine examples of each variety, with Trimbach and Domaine Zind Humbrecht widely acclaimed and available.

Vintage choice is another broad topic, deserving of special mention here. Unlike some hearty reds which are brash in youth, most whites are pleasing or even ideal when enjoyed at one to three years old. Pinot Grigio, Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc often peak in youth. Then again, the benefits of elevated acid, residual sugar, lees-contact, vintage favor and/or exceptional winemaking in combination can result in wines that demand age, some unequivocally. Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay can reach heights that justify enjoyment after ten years or more. For the purposes of study, save epic vintage juice for date night, and bring youthful bottles to tasting group. To learn about specific vintage prowess, check out the writing of Jancis Robinson or Berry Bros. & Rudd. Be sure to note that selective producers can often make beautiful wine even in challenging years.

Multi-Region Classics (established international expressions)

Riesling

  • Germany, Mosel, Kabinett or Spätlese
    • Egon Müller
    • Karthäuserhof
    • Maximin Grünhaus
  • Germany, Rheingau, Trocken or Großes Gewächs
    • Weingut Robert Weil
    • Weingut Josef Leitz
    • Schloss Schönborn
  • France, Alsace Grand Cru or Alsace AOC
    • Trimbach
    • Domaine Weinbach
    • Albert Boxler
  • Australia, Barossa Zone
    • Pikes (Clare Valley)
    • Pewsey Vale (Eden Valley)
    • Peter Lehmann (Eden Valley)
  • United States, Columbia Valley AVA
    • Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica
    • Long Shadows Poet’s Leap
    • Seven Hills

Sauvignon Blanc (* Semillon often included)

  • France, Sancerre AOC
    • Domaine Vacheron
    • Domaine Hippolyte Reverdy
    • Vincent Pinard
  • France, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Blanc Sec *
    • Château Carbonnieux
    • Domaine de Chevalier
    • Château Guiraud
  • New Zealand, Marlborough and Martinborough
    • Cloudy Bay (Marlborough)
    • Kim Crawford (Marlborough)
    • Craggy Range (Martinborough)
  • United States, Napa Valley AVA *
    • Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc
    • Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc
    • Duckhorn

Chardonnay      

  • France, Puligny-Montrachet AOC or P-M 1er Cru AOC
    • Domaine Leflaive
    • Domaine J.-F. Coche-Dury
    • Domaine J.M. Boillot
  • France, Chablis 1er Cru AOC
    • Domaine Louis Michel & Fils
    • Domaine William Fèvre
    • Laurent Tribut
  • United States, Napa Valley AVA
    • Chappellet
    • Franciscan Estate
    • Pride Mountain Vineyards

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio

  • France, Alsace Grand Cru AOC or Alsace AOC (Pinot Gris)
    • Domaine Zind Humbrecht
    • Domaines Schlumberger
    • Hugel et Fils
  • Italy, Alto Adige DOC (Pinot Grigio)
    • Abbazia di Novacella
    • Alois Lageder
    • St. Michael-Eppan
  • United States, Willamette Valley AVA (Pinot Gris)
    • Elk Cove
    • Adelsheim
    • The Four Graces

Viognier

  • France, Condrieu AOC
    • Domaine Georges Vernay
    • Saint-Cosme
    • Romain Duvernay
  • United States, Napa Valley AVA
    • Darioush
    • Stags’ Leap
    • Freemark Abbey

Muscat and Torrontés (closely related)

  • France, Alsace Grand Cru AOC or Alsace AOC (Muscat)
    • Dirler-Cadé
    • Domaine Marcel Deiss
    • Albert Mann
  • Argentina, Salta IG (Torrontés)
    • Dominio del Plata Crios
    • Bodega Colomé
    • Familia Zuccardi

Single-Region Classics (not yet produced internationally in consistent, high-quality expressions)

Albariño

  • Spain, Rías Baixas DO
    • Eidos de Padriñán
    • Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes
    • Bodegas As Laxas

Assyrtiko

  • Greece, Santorini PDO
    • Domaine Sigalas
    • Argyros
    • Gaia Estate

Chenin Blanc

  • France, Vouvray AOC, “sec”
    • Domaine Huet
    • Clos de Nouys
    • Champalou

Gewürztraminer

  • France, Alsace Grand Cru AOC or Alsace AOC
    • Gustave Lorentz
    • Paul Blanck
    • Pierre Sparr

Grüner Veltliner

  • Austria, Wachau, Federspiel or Smaragd
    • Weingut Knoll
    • Nikolaihof
    • Alzinger

Marsanne (often blended with Roussanne)

  • France, Hermitage AOC
    • Michel Chapoutier
    • Maison Nicolas Perrin
    • Tardieu-Laurent

Melon de Bourgogne

  • France, Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine AOC, “Sur Lie”
    • Domaine de la Pépière
    • Domaine Michel Bregeon
    • Domaine Pierre de la Grange

Each of the above regions boast a wealth of other quality producers, surely classic and worthy of note, but beyond the scope of this summary. Some omitted styles exist as well, such as the Grand Cru wines of Montrachet AOC. As profoundly delicious as those rare bottles are, they may not be the best fit for general study, save for showing off, balling hard or gilding the lily. At least get some Doritos first. Classic and delicious wines need not break the bank, with some above examples commonly found for under $20, albeit most in the $30-50 range. This list is meant to be a brief introduction, and a quick-reference guide. Feel free to comment with additions, thoughts or corrections.

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