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Less Common White Grape Varieties Used in Wine

Some less common white grape varieties used in many wine regions today include Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Sémillon, and Viognier. Although these white grape varieties may not be as popular as Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, you may already have some favorites among these types.

The following table describes some other white grapes whose names you see on wine labels, or whose wine you could drink in place-name wines without realizing it.

Some Less Common White Grapes and Their Characteristics
Grape Type Characteristics
Albariño An aromatic grape from the northwestern corner of Spain — the region called Rias Baixas — and Portugal’s northerly Vinho Verde region, where it’s called Alvarinho. It makes medium-bodied, crisp, appley-tasting, usually unoaked white wines whose high glycerin gives them silky texture.
Chenin Blanc A noble grape in the Loire Valley of France, for Vouvray and other wines. The best wines have high acidity and a fascinating oily texture (they feel rather viscous in your mouth). Some good dry Chenin Blanc comes from California, but so does a ton of ordinary off-dry wine. In South Africa, Chenin Blanc is often called Steen.
Gewürztraminer
(geh-VAIRTZ-trah-mee-ner)
A wonderfully exotic grape that makes fairly deep-colored, full-bodied, soft white wines with aromas and flavors of roses and lychee fruit. France’s Alsace region is the classic domain of this variety; the wines have pronounced floral and fruity aromas and flavors, but are actually dry — as fascinating as they are delicious. A commercial style of U.S. Gewürztraminer is light, sweetish, and fairly insipid, but a few wineries in California, Oregon, and New York do make good, dry Gewürztraminer.
Grüner Veltliner A native Austrian variety that boasts complex aromas and flavors (vegetal, spicy, mineral), rich texture, and usually substantial weight.
Muscat An aromatic grape that makes Italy’s sparkling Asti (which, incidentally, tastes exactly like ripe Muscat grapes). Extremely pretty floral aromas. In Alsace and Austria, makes a dry wine, and in lots of places (southern France, southern Italy, Australia) makes a delicious, sweet dessert wine through the addition of alcohol.
Pinot Blanc Fairly neutral in aroma and flavors, yet can make characterful wines. High acidity and low sugar levels translate into dry, crisp, medium-bodied wines. Alsace, Austria, northern Italy, and Germany are the main production zones.
Sémillon
(seh-mee-yohn)
Sauvignon Blanc’s classic blending partner and a good grape in its own right. Sémillon wine is low in acid relative to Sauvignon Blanc and has attractive but subtle aromas — lanolin sometimes, although it can be slightly herbaceous when young. A major grape in Australia, and southwestern France, including Bordeaux (where it is the key player in the dessert wine, Sauternes).
Viognier
(vee-ohn-yay)
A grape from France’s Rhône Valley that’s becoming popular in California, the south of France and elsewhere. Floral aroma, delicately apricot-like, medium- to full-bodied with low acidity.
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