For years, the most popular white wine grape on the planet has been Chardonnay. Winemakers love this French grape because of its ability to grow anywhere, as well as its malleability in the winery. We have become used to a certain style of Chardonnay in the U.S: deep, golden-hued wine with dollops of vanilla and butter and often a smack of sweetness from its high alcohol content. But we have evolved. We still dig deep and big Chardonnay, but winemakers across the major wine regions in the U.S. and abroad are showing that there’s more to this grape than wood and butter.
All of this is to say that, in my fourth year as VinePair’s tastings director, I have seen how diverse wines from this grape can be. It’s a grape consumers and wine pros alike should be paying attention to in 2021, which is why I’ve included a lot of Chardonnays on this list.
That said, there is so much awesome white wine that I want to share with you — some made with grapes you know and love, and others you may never have heard of. The bottles on this list are wines that I sip and immediately want to share, teach about, and watch wine lovers get excited over. I’m hoping this list will do that work.
These are the wines I feel we should celebrate this year. White wines from Austria and Oregon made from the same grape with different expressions. Blends from the Rhône that shine, and aromatic Italian island varieties thriving in the Central Coast. For me, wine is all about exploration. I want to try it all, at any and every price point. As I stated in my red wines roundup, wine is for everyone. Whether the white wine is $14 or $84, there is always a new white wine to experience, or a new style of something you love.
Enjoy this list, and know that this is just the beginning. These wines will start you off, but if you like what you see and taste, explore more in the region and style of that wine to see how diverse white wine can be.
South African wine is so innovative. The region is full of exciting blends and unique styles of varietal wines. From the most affordable to the most age-worthy, there is so much to explore. This wine is a great start. The blend is wild, but it works. For the price, it’s a nice, earthy wine and smells like almond granola, pears, and honey, with calm acidity. Keep an eye out for more awesome things from this country.
This is a great option if you like the steely angles of wines from Sancerre. You get wafts of white pepper and pears, with bracing acidity. The fruit is ripe, the mouthfeel is bone dry, and it’s affordable enough to buy a few bottles for a picnic. Make sure you bring some goat cheese.
Wines from this region all have very similar aroma profiles: bell pepper and sweet cut grass aromas, with gassy acidity. The style is pretty consistent. This bottle has all of that, but in the right places. The bell pepper is muted a bit by a nice saline quality. Instead of being overly sweet, it’s fruit-forward, allowing the lively acidity to hold everything in place. It’s a kiwi Savvy B to seek out.
Party time! This wine smells like mangoes and pineapples, and the acidity winds through the wine like a good time. It’s under screw cap and ready to get down. What I’m saying is that there are a lot of cheap bottles of Cali Chard out there. This one is a solid grab and go.
This is the best deal on the shelf if you’re staring at a bunch of Pinot Grigio. You may know this wine already. It’s everywhere. But I feel I just need to reinforce the workhorse nature of this bottle. It’s crisp and refreshing. The fruit is balanced with the acidity. It’s a straight-up legit, solid, everyday white wine that will please all the palates.
Citrusy and thirst quenching, round and juicy, this is a great wine for well under $10. This winemaker has a knack for making balanced wines at a very low price, and this is one of them. It’s solid, and a great grab and go. Feels like a case buy.
There are some places in Bordeaux that make wine white fetching well-deserved high prices. But there are a lot of exciting options from this region that are well below $20 and are delicious for everyday drinking. Bordeaux is often blended with Semillon for a smack of sweetness and Sauvignon Blanc for a shot of acidity. The result is something like this great bottle. Salty and bright with grippy fruit, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.
This is another great cheap bottle of Chardonnay. It’s tart and smells like bananas and vanilla. It’s not very oaky, but it does have wooded vibes and good depth for the price.
Some of the most solid, affordable, and balanced white wines on our market are from Portugal. So when you see one, grab it. This wine is bright and balanced, with fun, fizzy acidity. The palate is round, refreshing, and will raise an eyebrow or two.
In the town of Pinet, locals nosh on piles of sea urchins and bivalves fresh out of the salty Mediterranean — washing it all down with their local, cleansing and refreshing Picpoul de Pinet. This bottle — crisp and vibrant with mildly tart fruit — will take you there.
Last year, VinePair had the chance to taste a lot of wines from Oregon and discovered that the state has so much more to offer than just Pinot Noir. White wine grapes like Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and Pinot Gris are also thriving there. If the latter varietal interests you, this bottle is a great starting point. It has nice, broad depth with good acidity to hold up the slight weight.
New York, stand up! The Finger Lakes has become a national focus for wines made from Riesling. And man, are they great. But Riesling’s lean balance shows in other white wines from this ancient glacial land, such as this Chardonnay. This style is soft and creamy, with moderate acidity balancing a slight grip on the palate.
If you have never tried wine from this grape, then this is a great start. Gewürztraminer is a very expressive wine and can overwhelm the senses if even slightly out of balance. This bottle is harmonized in every layer. It smells like honey flecked with white pepper and has deep fruit balanced by frothy, vibrant acidity. You could sip this with some pad Thai or spicy wings, or you could just sit and enjoy it alone. It’s that balanced.
Virginia is one of America’s most exciting up-and-coming wine regions. Thomas Jefferson would be proud. Speaking of TJ, this wine comes from land he once owned. The Viongier grape is quickly finding its spiritual home here and showing some true balance. This one smells like orange blossoms and honey. It has good depth and moderate acidity and a nice medium weight on the palate.
This is a great Riesling for people who are not sure they like Riesling. It’s lush and alive with bracing acidity and a subtly sweet vibe. It’s very balanced and easy-drinking. Instead of the normal spicy food pairing recommendation, I’m going to say the subtlety here is real, so a legit cheese selection or a berry tart is the way to go.
The wines of the Soave are so satisfying. If you like Pinot Grigio but need just a little more weight, these wines — plus a Caprese salad — are a whole afternoon. This bottle is one of the best on the market and will show how this region rolls; a shy depth on the fruit with a welcoming broad palate.
Here’s another reason to focus on South African wine. This is such a classic yet unique representation of Chenin Blanc. It’s deep, filling your brain with salted honey. Vibrant acidity comes in fast like a sun beam livening things up. It’s that brightness that makes this usually weighty white stand out. If you like Chardonnay, give this wine a try.
It takes a minute to sound out Mah-la-goo-zee-ah, but you’ll fall in love with the wine before you learn how to pronounce it. There is a whole world to explore in Greek white wine, as they have unique aromas and structures not seen in other wine regions. This wine smells like honey with a whiff of aloe. It has a wispy refreshment kind of mouthfeel, and you’ll find yourself grabbing a bunch of bottles of this for a summer day.
Beyond the many styles of Chardonnay, there and so many white wines to explore in California. Vines from all over the world are thriving in the Golden State’s soils, thanks to winemakers’ skilled hands. This very Italian grape is making itself home in Paso Robles. This wine is like walking past a honeysuckle bush while eating a juicy pear. It has a crack of crispness on the palate and will make you forget your love for Pinot Grigio — if only for a second.
I’m telling you: Oregon is coming for you with great white wines. The state is almost becoming Grüner Veltliner’s new home. This wine is all creamy lemons and apples. It has a nice slight depth with a bit of a grip. What a great addition to the already impressive diversity of American wine.
The Russian River alone produces a wide variety of Chardonnay styles, but what I find interesting about this one is that it has direct connections to the grape’s home in Burgundy while being uniquely American. This wine is laser-sharp, yet grippy and deep. There is a subtle hint of oak, and enough acidity to balance everything out. It represents the elegance that only California sun can give Chardonnay.
Carneros, one of the cooler subregions of Napa, has the right moderate macroclimate for stunning Chardonnay. Please be sitting down when you first sip this golden wonder. It’s so balanced, it’s maddening — with whiffs of fancy French butter and hints of caramel that are harmonized by wiry acidity winding through the wine like a whisper. Sharing this bottle will be an exercise in patience.
If you listen to VinePair’s “Wine 101” podcast, you know how much I love Friulian wine. While there are many absolutely wonderful white wines from grapes like Ribolla Gialla and Friulano, this region is also known for excellent wines made from French varieties (some of the best Merlot in the world, in my humble opinion). If a Chardonnay could be soulful, this is what it would feel like. It smells deep and nutty, like almonds and honey. There is a lean channel of acidity running through the wine and letting the depth sink into your palate. What a great wine.
With all the Chardonnay being made around the world, we can never forget its true home, Burgundy. And specifically, the chaotic soils of the Côte de Beaune, where this grape emanates it’s inherent characteristics like nowhere else. This wine is bone dry, with a layered creamy depth on the palate. The acidity is nervy and keeps depth and brightness in their corners, holding everything in place. The mouthfeel of this wine will make you stop for a second and think.
Godello deserves your attention. It was once almost extinct. Then, it was brought back to life as a focused, low-yielding Spanish grape, making refreshing and concentrated white wines that sing with cured meats and fancy cheeses. This bottle has a slight grip that contrasts the rich, deep fruit. But that depth is lifted by just enough acidity that brings in aromas of caramelized pears and honey.
South Africa is killing it with Chenin Blanc, but like Burgundy, we can’t forget this grape’s original home in the Loire Valley of France. I feel that sometimes, wines from Vouvray can be a bit confusing. This bottle is a good starting point. It has good depth and grip, with moderate acidity balancing the sweet weight and wafting up aromas of honeyed fruit. Pairing this wine with goat cheese is a dream.
Gruner Veltliner is not only doing well in Oregon. It’s also pumping out liters and liters of delicious, everyday wine from its home, Austria. You may miss them, as they come in the form of Alsatian bottles — tall Riesling-like bottles with screw caps. But they are here, and they are awesome — sometimes aging up to 15 years and drinking well all the way through. Tart fruit balanced by fizzy acidity with a depth of fruit, this wine will lift in the palate like a spritz.
The grapes Roussanne (Rue-san) and Marsanne (Mar-san) from the Rhône region of France are a match made in heaven. Roussanne’s deeply aromatic, sometimes oxidized nature is naturally complemented by Marsanne’s lean verve. These wines are so deep, wide, expressive, and satisfying that you’ve got to give them a chance if you haven’t already. This bottle shows all of this — smelling like flowers and honey, with moderate acidity allowing just enough weight to rest on the palate.