Are you looking for a white wine to serve as a long refreshing drink, or as a special treat a glass full of intense flavours? Price may be a rough guide, but the cost and availability of any wine will depend on where you are in the world: what may be a treat in New York may be almost everyday in Italy.
White wine may be bone dry, lusciously sweet, or anywhere in between individual wines are discussed in the main section of the encyclopedia but can be divided into six main styles.
Light, dry wines are intended for drinking young, are not aged in oak, are bottled with no residual sugar and are low in extract (the components that give a wine substance, or body). These may be served well chilled, and are delightful for everyday drinking, with or without food.
Medium-bodied and full, dry white wines have increasingly more extract, and although technically dry they have the almost sweet richness of ripe fruit. Either may have been matured in oak vats and/or bottles, and the fullest style may be capable of further ageing in bottle.
Certain grape varieties make particularly aromatic wines; these may be dry or medium-dry
Medium-sweet wines are usually bottled before all the grape sugar has been converted into alcohol. Light and low in alcohol, their soft sweetness makes them less suitable with food. Sweetest of all are the powerfully Favoured wines, usually served in small glasses
Some wines are made in more than one style: Orvieto, for example, may be dry (seao) or medium-sweet (abboccato).
A wine may also vary according to the way it is made. Such differences are most apparent when comparing wines that have been fermented or matured in wood with those that have not. Traditionally Rioja, both white and red, is aged in oak barrels, leading to a full wine with a vanilla aroma. Modern Rioja winemakers allow minimum contact with the wood, giving wine that is lighter and fresher-tasting.
When winemakers choose to name their wines by grape variety, much depends on the climate of the producing region. A Chardonnay from the Alto Adige in northern Italy will taste crisp and fresh, with the acidity of grapes ripened in a cool region, while an Australian Chardonnay will display the tropical fruit character of fully ripe grapes.
Much also depends on the intention of the winemaker. Thus a Riesling from Alsace will always be made dry, while German Rieslings (unless marked trocken/dry) tend to have more than a hint of sweetness.