Chardonnay is the world’s most famous white wine grape. Its home is Burgundy as the white partner to Pinot Noir, although it is grown practically anywhere where white wine is made. Legendary wines such as Chablis, Meursault and the great Grand Crus of Le Montrachet and Corton Charlemagne are made from Chardonnay, as are many of the Champagne region’s leading lights such as Krug Clos du Mesnil and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne. Chardonnay is known as the winemaker’s grape as it can be formed in a huge variety of styles; it can benefit greatly from fermentation and ageing in oak, but can also deliver steely, linear wines when only stainless steel is used in their production. Famous examples can be
found the world over: California’s Napa, Sonoma, Russian River and Santa Maria Valleys, cooler regions of Australia, Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, Hemel-en-Aarde in South Africa, and the incredible altitudes of the Argentine Andes all produce world-class Chardonnay.
Sauvignon Blanc has its heartland in France’s Loire Valley and is the mainstay of white Bordeaux; however it has become synonymous with New Zealand and specifically the Marlborough region where names like Cloudy Bay have gained global fame. It produces distinctively dry, crisp and zesty wines which can veer from flint and grapefruit characters through to herbal, cut-grass qualities right up to tropical, passion fruit and guava notes.
Riesling is often thought of as the wine-lovers white grape, being capable of producing a vast array of styles from dry to sweet (with every stage in between) and expressing the mineral and soil complexities of specific vineyard sites like no other wine. It is also perhaps the most ageable of white wines with its naturally high acidity and concentration protecting it against the negative effects of ageing. The most famous examples come from the Rhine and Mosel Valleys of Germany, but some of the finest Rieslings in the world are produced in Alsace’s Grand Cru vineyards. Cooler parts of Australia such as the Eden and Clare Valleys also produce famously dry, age-worthy examples.
Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne are the key grapes of the Rhone Valley and these famously aromatic varietals with their distinctive waxy textures are also grown throughout the New World.
Spain’s primary contribution to the fine white wine canon is Albarino, a fabulously aromatic grape grown in the north-western area of Galicia. The best examples can be farmed from pre-phylloxera vines over a hundred years old, sometimes sprawling over clifftops or farmed in neat pergolas further inland. They express their specificity of site like few other white wines made anywhere in the world; the best producers include Zarate and Pazo Senorans.
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