From a distance, the unsuspecting wine drinker might make the mistake that people who drink only red wine have all the fun. But red wine just can’t compete with the “fun” factor that comes with enjoying a fabulous white. What do you think they’re drinking on those multi-million dollar yachts or poolside at every Relais & Châteaux resort?
From ever-popular chardonnay to zesty pinot gris and evergreen sauvignon blanc, the predominant flavors of great white wines are bolstered less by summer’s red fruits and more by the yellow fruits of autumn. Citrus pervades the palate, and even herbs make regular cameos. And of course, white wines are best served chilled, making them ideal for warmer months. When the temperature starts to rise, our top choice is Tyler Winery Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2020.
Exquisite white wines are produced worldwide, and to make the task of picking the right one easier, here are some of the best white wines to drink now.
Best Overall: Tyler Winery Santa Barbara County 2020
ABV: 12.8% | Region: Santa Barbara County, California | Tasting notes: Stone fruit, Citrus rind, Green apple
Produced at the hands of renowned winemaker Justin Willett, Tyler Santa Barbara County Chardonnay presents a gorgeous “survey” to what the region is all about. Fruit for this wine comes from four different vineyard sites: Bien Nacido, Dierberg, La Rinconada, and Sanford & Benedict. In the cellar, Willett lets the wine ferment with native yeasts prior to aging it for 11 months sur-lie in a combination of barrels and puncheons (no more than 10% new oak is used). The resulting wine is ripe yet bright, marked by flavors of ripe stone fruit, citrus rind, green apple, lemon cream, and flint. At just 12.8% ABV, this restrained wine shows just how acid-focused and balanced California Chardonnay can be.
Price at time of publish: $34
Best California: Liquid Farm Golden Slope Chardonnay 2017
ABV: 14% | Region: Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County), California | Tasting notes: Honey, Apples, Vanilla
James Sparks, Liquid Farm’s award-winning winemaker, got his start making wine for Dragonette Cellars and has made a name for himself striving for purity, typicity, and minimalist expression of his vineyards. (Incidentally, Brandon Spark-Gillis made the first Liquid Farm wines, and James is his brother-in-law). The 2016 Golden Slope Chardonnay is an excellent example of Sparks’ finest achievements in winemaking and you’ll want to dive in to see what all the fuss is about.
Notes of honey-drenched apples, vanilla, and salted French butter are underscored by marzipan-like nuttiness. Bold and zippy, this wine has a full-bodied minerality and nominal staying power.
Price at time of publish: $60
Runner-Up, Best California: Benovia La Pommeraie Chardonnay 2018
ABV: 14.1% | Region: Russian River Valley (Sonoma County), California | Tasting notes: Lemon, Pineapple, Pear
Mike Sullivan, winemaker and co-owner of Benovia, has lived a life devoted to working hard and making quality wines since he was a teenager. This 2017 La Pommeraie Chardonnay is what happens when professional expertise meets high quality—a proud representation of Sonoma County at its best.
Find heady aromas of lemon, lime, and pineapple in the forefront, with pear, oak, and lemon curd to follow, and flavors of orange peel enrobed with caramel. This wine is bold with a sturdy structure and mild acidity, and it settles over the tongue like a sweet, heavy blanket.
Price at time of publish: $42
Best Oregon: Brick House Ribbon Ridge Chardonnay 2019
ABV: 13.8% | Region: Ribbon Ridge (Willamette Valley), Oregon| Tasting notes: Honeyed tree fruits, Candied Orange, Oak
Brick House Vineyards was founded back in 1990 by Doug Tunnell. The estate’s vineyards have been certified organic for over 25 years, and since then, have also received their biodynamic certification through Demeter. Their Chardonnay grows just a few yards away from the estate’s wine press, ensuring that fruit comes in fresh. Post-native yeast fermentation, the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation and ages for 20 months in a combination of barrel and tank (12 months and 8 months, respectively). The wine is rich and round yet unbelievably refreshing, noted with flavors of honeyed tree fruits, candied orange, pear, tangerine skin, and a touch of toasty oak.
Price at time of publish: $32
Best Washington: Seven Hills Winery Sauvignon Blanc
ABV: 13.5% | Region: Columbia Valley, Washington | Tasting notes: Tangerine, Grapefruit, Honeysuckle
Casey McClellan at Seven Hills showcases his decades-long expertise as an esteemed winemaker in this flashy sauvignon blanc. Walla Walla Valley is known for its sundry microclimates and soil types, producing distinct wines that pop right out of the glass.
The word you’re looking for here is zesty: tangerine, grapefruit, pineapple, honeysuckle, and a sprinkling of jasmine and basil leaves. Dry and mildly sweet with a sturdy acidity, this bottle is best paired with baked salmon.
Price at time of publish: $20
Best Italian: Antinori Castello della Sala Cervaro Chardonnay 2018
ABV: 13% | Region: Umbria, Italy | Tasting notes: Green apple, Pear, Vanilla
Having been in the business since the late 1300s, you can always trust the Antinori family to deliver amazing wine. And like the Antinori family who grew grapes in their Tuscan vineyards for multiple generations, this knockout 2018 Chardonnay fully encapsulates their style of winemaking: innovative, genuine and timeless.
This is a textured wine with notes of green apple, pear, vanilla, oak, hazelnut, and peach, along with an even acidity and a buttery finish. It's delicious now, but the flavor will improve over the next few years. As excepted, this beautiful Italian wine pairs well with pasta dishes.
Price at time of publish: $66
Best French: Domaine de Montille Bourgogne Blanc Clos du Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet 2019
ABV: 12.5% | Region: Burgundy, France | Tasting notes: Yellow apple, Citrus, Lemon curd
Domaine de Montille was one of the early adopters of organic and biodynamic farming in Burgundy. Today, their beloved, site-specific wines are best known for their simultaneous approachability in their youth yet ability to withstand the test of time in the cellar.
This 100% chardonnay comes from a 5-hectare clos (walled-in) vineyard located just in front of the famed Château de Puligny. Fruit grows in silty clay soils and is fermented in demi-muids, followed by aging in a combination of steel and demi-muids. Despite its Bourgogne Blanc appellation, this wine undeniably shows the acid-driven, mineral-laden qualities of wines from Puligny; it is truly a steal for the price. (For a zesty, more budget-friendly French alternative, check out this saline-tinged pick from Domaine de l’Ecu Muscadet).
Price at time of publish: $52
Best New Zealand: Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna Road Vineyard
ABV: 13.3% | Region: Martinborough, New Zealand | Tasting notes: Citrus, Peach, Passionfruit
Off the Tukituki River banks in New Zealand’s North Island lies Craggy Range in Hawke’s Bay, one of the nation’s best climates for cultivating wine grapes. The terroir is key for this sauvignon blanc’s quality that proves Craggy Range is a winemaking force to be reckoned with.
This wine boasts a diverse cornucopia of crisp flavors and fruity aromas like citrus, peach, passionfruit, gooseberry, pear, lime zest and elderflower. It also has a long, dry finish with acidity so gripping, it’s almost as if the wine is tasting you.
Price at time of publish: $22
Best Value: Avalon Flint & Steel Sauvignon Blanc 2019
ABV: 13.5% | Region: Napa Valley, California | Tasting notes: Apple, Peach, Honeydew
As uplifting as it is delicious, this Napa Valley bargain gets its edge from the 2019 growing season’s moderate temperatures. As the name might suggest, this wine packs a sharp flavor that makes even a modest sip feel like a hearty bite.
Chartreuse-hued and ready to pounce, this wine has herbal aromas of lemongrass and citrus. Flavored with apple, peach and honeydew, it also pairs well with sushi and edamame.
Price at time of publish: $17
Best Under $25: Zocker Paragon Vineyard Grüner Veltliner
ABV: 13.5% | Region: Central Coast, California | Tasting notes: Fresh orange peel, Tangerine, White pepper
The grüner veltliner grape is most commonly grown in and attributed to Austria and other eastern European regions. Still, Zocker Winery in San Luis Obispo, Calif. offers excellent expressions of the grape. The Niven family, who runs Zocker, pioneered the planting of wine grapes in the Edna Valley generations ago, so if anyone knows how to work the land to make some pristine vino, they do.
Expect bright lemon-lime and citrus peel with flinty notes in this wine. Clean and crisp, it's refreshing with a bit of plush mid-palate texture and a remarkably fresh mineral finish.
Price at time of publish: $24
Best for Sangria: Flat Top Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2018
ABV: 13.5% | Region: California, USA | Tasting notes: Lemon-lime, Citrus peel, Flint
The usual suspects used for a white wine Sangria are often from dryer varietals like riesling or pinot grigio, but please turn your attention to this 2018 Sauvignon Blanc from Flat Top Hills. This wine makes for the perfect base for a Sangria concoction with its inertly tropical flavors and aroma. And yes, it’s tasty all on its own.
Find strong aromas of tropical melon, guava, key lime and sweet citrus here. If you don’t use it for Sangria, this wine also pairs stupendously with creamy cheeses. Or, go ahead and pair the cheeses with the Sangria. No one’s the boss of you.
Price at time of publish: $13
Best Dry: Château d’Yquem "Y" Ygrec Bordeaux Blanc
ABV: 14.5% | Region: Bordeaux, France | Tasting notes: Citrus peel, Oyster shell, Gooseberry, Kiwi
It’s almost unbelievable but believe it—the best dry wine is made by Château d'Yquem. This is about as rare as they come, so when the opportunity comes along, don’t look at the price, just dive in. It's pronounced "EE-GREK" and culled from the same grapes used to make Château d’Yquem's luscious sweet wine. However, these grapes are harvested early in the growing season when the berries retain remarkably fresh and crisp acidity.
Mostly sauvignon blanc with a bit of sémillon, this is as dry as they come, brimming with tart lemon-lime citrus peel, oyster shells, crushed stone minerality, and a chalky texture with gooseberry, kiwi, green apple, and quince. A stunner.
Price at time of publish: $178
Best Semi-Sweet: Argyle Nuthouse Riesling
ABV: 11% | Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon | Tasting notes: Orchard fruit, Sweet grass, Stones
This estate-grown riesling from Oregon’s Willamette Valley is one of the many love-children of Argyle winemaker Nate Klostermann, mentored by Argyle’s esteemed founder, Rollin Sales. To eke out some extra flavor out of their rieslings, Klostermann likes to spend extra time soaking the grape skins—one of the many experimental nuances that make this wine a prize to be cherished.
This wine has a great mouthfeel with a fine blend of orchard fruit and sweet grass. Subtly sweet but with sturdily balanced acidity, it's fresh and long with crushed stone and smoky mineral notes. An excellent bottle for anyone willing to become a riesling convert.
Price at time of publish: $31
Best Sweet: Domaine Huet Vouvray Moelleux Le Haut-Lieu 2018
ABV: 12.5% | Region: Vouvray, Loire Valley, France | Tasting notes: Ripe peaches, Apricot, Pear, Honey
Domaine Huet is one of the most prestigious estates in all of France’s Loire Valley. The winery’s rich history dates back to 1928; now with nearly 100 years of viticulture and vinification experience under their belt, the estate has become one of the benchmark producers for long-aged chenin blanc. Huet crafts varietal chenin across the entire flavor profile spectrum, from bone dry to syrupy sweet.
This unbelievably balanced bottle comes from the winery’s original vineyard plot, which, like all of their sites, is now dominated by biodynamically-farmed vines. Its 48 grams of residual sugar is balanced by truckloads of natural acidity, as well as fruit-driven flavors of ripe peaches, apricot, pear, salty pear, and honey. Sweet wine skeptics, this bottle promises to change your mind.
Price at time of publish: $45
Great white wines are made in every viticultural region (and in a variety of styles) worldwide. Certain grapes and styles are more synonymous with particular areas. Finding the best bottle for your palate is simply about understanding your likes and dislikes, as well as how certain vinification practices affect a wine’s final flavor profile. The best way to learn? Taste as much as possible!
What to Look For
When seeking out a bottle of white wine, there are a few things to consider. First and foremost, what does your palate tend to veer towards – richer, rounder styles of white wine or higher-acid, more zesty expressions? In addition to grape variety, think about how the wine was made. Did it see any oak? Was it entirely vinified in steel? This will tell you a bit about how the wine will taste. Additionally, consider the potential food to be consumed with the wine. For salty snacks, seafood, and fresh salads, look for high-acid wines. For richer, poultry-based dishes and hearty cream sauces, grab something with a bit more weight.
What are the most popular white wines?
Although a plethora of white grapes dominate global viticulture, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling are generally the most popular and well-recognized varieties.
What is the ideal temperature to store white wine?
White wine, like all wine, should be stored in optimal cellar conditions: around 50-55 degrees fahrenheit, in a dark place, and 50-70% humidity.
What is the ideal temperature to serve white wine?
Most white wines are best enjoyed between 45 and 50 degrees fahrenheit.
How long can I keep white wine opened / unopened?
This all depends on the specific wine, style, and grape variety. Generally speaking, white wines are best consumed within the first two to three days of being open. When unopened, consult the producer and vintage to determine a specific bottle’s cellar-worthy potential (though know that the majority of wines are generally best consumed in their youth, that is, within the first few years of their vintage date!)
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This roundup was updated by Vicki Denig, a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Her work regularly appears on Wine-Searcher, VinePair and more. Denig is also the Content Manager for Verve Wine, a bi-coastal retail operation (New York & San Francisco).
Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade. He regularly tastes wines from around the globe and was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.