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White grape varieties of white wine in France

Date: July 7, 2011

Philippines Wine Shop Clark Wine Center is pleased to share with you articles, news and information about wine, wine events, wine tasting and other topics related to wine and the appreciation of wine.

Vines of white varieties produce slightly green, or sometimes golden or pale pink grapes. These are not used for red wine, but produce the whole range of French white wines.


Cultivated in Burgundy, Aligoté nearly disappeared altogether when Chardonnay took the region by storm, but managed to stand its ground and win back support. It is a hardy, early-ripening variety that thrives on steep lands and is planted on a total of 1,700 hectares. Outside of Burgundy, it can be found in Jura and Savoie as well as in Romania. Yields must be limited for Aligoté in order to maintain quality. It produces light, fresh white wines with more lively acidity than Chardonnay. It is particularly well suited for use in kir cocktails. In the Hautes Côtes de Beaune it is quite lively, while in Saint Bris it offers more subtle nuances with notes of elder flower, almost like Sauvignon Blanc. An interesting fact is that in 1997, it was added to the authorized grape varieties for the Bouzeron communal appellation.


Chardonnay no longer needs much of an introduction, as is has become one of the world’s top grape varieties. It is highly adaptable, but its aromatic power and its acidity, an indication of its balance and aging potential, are most pronounced in northern vineyards. It is no accident that the best Chardonnays are produced in Burgundy, and especially in Montrachet. However, they can also be found in Champagne and Languedoc in Vins de Pays, where they are meant to be enjoyed young, or even further south in the Loire Valley, in the Limoux AOC or in the New World. Chardonnay is highly susceptible to spring frosts but always yields fine, elegant wines with a large, complex array of aromas. Notes of lime-blossom, peach, pear, acacia honey, fern and citrus combine to thrill the senses.


First introduced in the Angers region in the 11th century, it then spread to Touraines and eventually throughout the central valley of the Loire. This delicate grape variety is susceptible to molds and is often cultivated on the warmest hillside lands where it can produce excellent sweet wines with the assistance of noble rot. It is cultivated on a total of approximately 10,000 hectares, and can also be found in the Crémant de Limoux sparkling wines produced in Languedoc. However, it has truly proved its merit in the Loire Valley, producing a large range of white wines, from dry to sweet to sparkling. Coteaux du Layon, Vouvray and. Savennières are all produced from Chenin Blanc. Often blended with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, it contributes to the aromatic complexity of Loire Valley wines. It is characteristically delicate and fruity with citrus, pear and quince aromas in the dry whites and honey and fruit preserves in the sweet wines.


This white grape variety is actually pink. Related to the renowned Savagnin of the Jura region, Gewürztraminer is Alsace’s star variety. It is highly aromatic and hardy, but early ripening and subject to spring frosts. Only 2,600 hectares are planted in France for the production of dry wines, but these offer powerful aromas of litchi, rosewood, gingerbread and citrus zest. They also have a characteristic golden color, imparted the tinted skin of the grapes, that is slightly darker than that of most white wines. On the palate, these wines are full, rich and very powerful. When noble rot takes hold, exuberant aromas of honey, dried apricots and rose petal jam emerge.


France is the birthplace of Marsanne, cultivating a total of 2,000 hectares, which accounts for 60% of production worldwide. Most of this is grown in the Rhone Valley and used to make Saint Joseph and Hermitage AOC wines. Marsanne ripens slowly and is susceptible to disease, but has good yields. Its best aromas emerge when it is planted in nutrient-poor granite soils. Wines made from Marsanne are low in acid and have richer aromas than Grenache Blanc. It offers hawthorn aromas in the nose and essences of stone fruit and honey on the palate. Often blended with Roussanne and other local varieties, Marsanne contributes to the aromatic richness of Rhone Valley whites.


Between Toulouse and Albi lies a beautiful region at the heart of the Southwest that is home to the Mauzac variety. This aromatic, late-ripening grape is resistant to spring frosts, but vulnerable to some diseases, as well as dust mites and grape worms. However if it is carefully cultivated and yields are kept low, it produces very delicate white wines, especially in the Gaillac and Limoux AOCs where it has been blended with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay to make the Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wine since 1530. It remains a minor variety in France with only 3,500 hectares in production, but in the Southwest, it provides delicious wines with aromas of baked apple, white peach and pear and a spicy finish.


From Burgundy to the mouth of the Loire, this variety is quite widespread. Although it has been largely replaced by Chardonnay in Burgundy, it has been cultivated in the Loire Valley since the Middle Ages. Today, its is the only variety used in the Muscadet AOC, where the mild spring nights keep it out of danger from frosts. Of the 14,000 hectares in production worldwide, 90% are located in the area around Nantes. Melon produces very clear white wines with glints of green and notes of iodine that pair perfectly with oysters and seafood. Its white flower and citrus aromas are supported by a nice balance of liveliness and roundness, especially when the wine is aged on its lees for several months, as is often the case in the Muscadet sur Lie AOC.

Muscat blanc

Out of the many types of Muscats, Muscat Blanc is the most widespread, with 45,000 hectares planted worldwide, only 6,500 of which are in France. From Alsace to Banyuls or Cape Corsica, this mythical Mediterranean variety produces both dry white wines and Vins Doux Naturels (Natural Sweet Wines). Early-ripening and hardy, it can be harvested early as well. However, its susceptibility to disease and to sugar wasps actually make it quite fragile. Muscat Blanc thrives in stony, nutrient-poor soils in areas where the summer heat is tamed by the geography, producing delicious wines like the Saint Jean de Minervois Vin Doux Naturel, which is both fresh and sweet. Easily recognizable, Muscat offers powerful aromas of rose, lemon balm and white flowers. In dry wines, it can also be identified by its slightly bitter finish, which makes it quite thirst-quenching.

Petit Manseng

In southern Aquitaine near the Pyrenees, Petit Manseng is the grape variety of choice for producing quality white wines. It is sometimes harvested at the first snows in the Jurançon appellation, where noble rot facilitates the production of sweet wines that are highly aromatic and concentrated, but also very delicate. They are sensitive to spring frosts and disease and require careful tending, but in return they offer complexity and excellent balance, as their acidity is tempered by their fullness. Their wide range of aromas include honey, cinnamon, white flowers peaches and citrus, and they play an important role in the region’s blended white wines. Exported by the Basques as far away as Uruguay, Ugni Blanc is gaining popularity in France, yet still covers only around 600 hectares.

Pinot gris

A blue gray color when ripe, this renowned grape variety is present only in Alsace. It is also widely cultivated in Italy (Pinot Grigio). It receives excellent sun exposure on the mountainside vineyards of the Vosges, allowing it to over ripen and develop noble rot (Botrytis cinerea). Wine made from Pinot Gris is both powerful and distinguished, due to its compatibility with the region’s soils. With its complex aromas and occasional smoky notes, it has enough acidity to age gracefully. Its power allows it to take the place of a red and accompany a wild game dinner, and it is one of the few varieties authorized for Alsace’s Grand Crus.


Riesling has long had close ties with the Rhine River. And though Riesling can now be found in California and Australia, the two still remain inseparably linked. Imported during Roman times, Riesling has been cultivated in Alsace since the 9th century and now covers about 3,400 acres. A late-ripener, it requires good sun exposure and nutrient-poor pebbly soils in order to ripen properly. It resists winter frosts and is thus well suited for Alsace. Wines made from Riesling grapes have a complex array of intense aromas, especially when the vineyards are located on schistous soils. Their strong acidity allows them to age well, but it is also balanced by intense fruit aromas and roundness on the palate. Their characteristic aromas include flowers, fruit preserves, peach and lime-blossom, and these are magnified by the acidity, making the wines particularly elegant. Some years, the presence of noble rot allows fine sweet wines to be produced.

Rolle ou Vermentinu

Rolle, or Vermentino as it is called in Corsica, is riding the current wave of demand for full-bodied, fragrant white wines to accompany grilled fish and Mediterranean cuisine. Cultivated mostly in Provence and Corsica, it also can be found in Languedoc. Of the 7,000 hectares planted worldwide, nearly 3,000 are in France, but it is most common in Italy. Often pale in color, Corsican Vermentino is full bodied and viscous on the palate with fruit and floral aromas of white flowers, melon, anise and mimosa zest. In Provence, it offers notes of citrus and lime-blossom. Rich in sugar, the grapes can also be eaten chilled.


A difficult and unpredictable grape variety, Roussanne nevertheless is worth the trouble for winemakers. It is disease-prone, sometimes slow to ripen and offers low yields. However, it thrives in the excellent sun exposure of Savoie and the Rhone Valley and many winemakers are starting to cultivate it for its unique qualities. Grown on only 1,000 hectares worldwide, of which 60% are in France, it offers aromas of honey, hawthorn and apricot. It is often used in Rhone Valley blends to add acidity and intensity to Marsanne, the region’s top white variety. It is also grown in Tuscany.

Sauvignon blanc

Before spreading to the rest of the world, Sauvignon Blanc proved its merit in Bordeaux. Blended with Sémillon, it established the reputation of the wines of Graves, and more recently it was the variety that helped the Entre Deux Mers AOC make a comeback. It is also grown on the excellent limestone soils of Sancerre, and as it adapts easily to different lands, was introduced to Languedoc as well, putting that region’s Vins de Pays on the map. The surface area planted in Sauvignon Blanc is rapidly increasing with 20,000 hectares in France and 45,000 worldwide. Recent advances in winemaking technology have revealed techniques to help release its aromas, so today’s Sauvignon Blanc wines offer an exceptional balance between aromatic intensity (blackberry leaf, grapefruit, boxwood, citrus, and narcissus), roundness on the palate and liveliness, which makes them top sellers, whether in AOC wines or Vins de Pays.


This major Bordeaux variety is hardy, with high yields and is resistant to most diseases. However, at the end of the growing season, it easily becomes infected with molds in damp climates. In the microclimate of Sauternes, with its dry, sunny days, it is a perfect candidate for noble rot, which is necessary for the production of sweet wines. Of the 35,000 hectares planted worldwide, 40% are located in Bordeaux and in Aquitaine, where they thrive in the long sunny fall weather. Blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, Semillon is Bordeaux’s signature white wine, used in the famous Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes AOCs. More subtle than Sauvignon Blanc, it is less acidic and brings fullness as well as notes of dry fruit, almonds, pear and honey to the blends.


Originally from Italy, Ugni Blanc is a significant white grape variety in France, with approximately 100,000 hectares of vineyards. It produces excellent white wines that are made to be distilled into Armagnac and Cognac. For several decades now, it has also been used to create aromatic, dry whites that are classified under the Vin de Pays designation. It exists to a lesser extent in AOCs such as Cassis, Bordeaux and Côteaux d’Aix. Sensitive to winter frosts, Ugni Blanc thrives in mild climates. In more northern climates like that of Cognac, it produces an acidic wine that is low in alcohol and ideal for distillation. However, in warmer areas, Ugni Blancs are fresh, fragrant and highly thirst-quenching. In Provence, Ugni Blancs are silky smooth with complex notes of pine resin, quince and lemon.


Viognier has long been cultivated on the impassable terraces of Condrieu and Château Grillet in the Northern Rhone. It is not easy to grow, and its yields are low, but its exceptional aromas have nevertheless won over many winemakers around the globe. Though it remains a minor variety, it is quite in fashion in many wine-making countries. In France, it has spread from the Parisian Basin to Languedoc and the Southern Rhone. Full on the palate and low in acid, Viognier is characterized by its delicate aromas of apricot, white peach, spices, honey and white flowers. It has undergone a remarkable increase in popularity in France since the 1980s with the emergence of the Vin de Pays designation. It is produced as both a single varietal wine and as a blend with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.


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