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White grapes

White varieties of grape have skin that is green or golden or even pale pink. When they take advantage of the noble rot they offer a considerable variety of wines that are savoured around the globe in many different forms - sweet or dry, fresh or syrupy. Behind the bill-toppers Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Riesling we find a host of other varieties, some more common than others, with wide-ranging aromatic potential. They are incorporated into many appellations.

The catalogue of vine varieties grown in France is available on line from the Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin (ITV) website: www.vignevin.com

Aligoté

The Aligoté grape used only to be grown in Burgundy and almost disappeared from the winegrowing landscape when a wave of enthusiasm for Chardonnay unfurled across the vineyards. Happily, it won back the hearts and the soil of Burgundy. This vigorous, early variety now covers 1,700 hectares. It is also to be found in Savoy and in the Jura, as well as in Rumania. Restricting yield is essential for the quality of this variety. It produces white wines that are light and fresh with a livelier acidity than Chardonnay. It is the perfect ingredient for a blackcurrant kir, and the perfect partner for the cuisine of Burgundy. True recognition came in 1997, when it was incorporated into the Village Bouzeron appellation.

Where does this grape grow?
Burgundy

Baco

 Recognised for its robustness, Baco is one of Gascony’s best grapes, used specifically to produce Armagnac. It is the only hybrid variety authorised in an AOC – it was created by crossing a local grape, the Folle Blanche, with an American grape, the Noah. Very fertile and capable of resisting late spring frosts and violent summer storms, and more importantly all the diseases that often affect other vines, Baco breathed a new lease of life into winegrowing in Gascony. It is currently the most common variety grown in Bas-Armagnac thanks to its excellent synergy with the area’s tawny sands, its siliceous clay soil. All of the richness and body of this variety transpire after ageing.

Where does this grape grow?

South-West (Armagnac)

 

Chardonnay

What is there left to say about the Chardonnay grape? Although a very adaptable variety, northern terroirs are where it reveals all of its aromatic power and great acidity, guaranteeing balance and potential for keeping. It is therefore no surprise that the best Chardonnays come from Burgundy, from Montrachet in particular. But it is also to be found in Champagne and Languedoc, in the Beaujolais region and, even further away, in the Loire Valley in the Limoux AOC and, of course, in the New World. Chardonnay always produces noble and very elegant wines with a wide and complex palette of aromas. Lime tree, peach, pear, acacia honey, fern, white flowers, brioche on a citrus base... in short, a festival for the senses.

Where does this grape grow?

Alsace, Beaujolais, Burgundy, Champagne, Jura, Languedoc, Loire Valley

Chenin Blanc (aka Chenin)

Chenin grape acreage totals approximately 10,000 ha. The vines appeared in the region of Angers back in the 10th century, before moving on to Tours and the central Loire Valley. A late and fragile variety that is susceptible to mould, it is often to be found on the warmest hillside plots, where it can give wonderful syrupy wines when the noble rot gets its hands on it. It is also in Languedoc’s Crémant de Limoux but it earned its stripes in the Loire Valley with a wide range of white wines - from dry to sparkling to syrupy. Coteaux du Layon: Chenin. Vouvray: Chenin, too. Savennières: and again! Often combined with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, it enriches the aromatic complexity of wines from the Loire Valley. Its signature on the palate is delicate and fruity with aromas of citrus fruit, pear, quince, and even honey and candied fruit in syrupy wines.

Where does this grape grow?

Languedoc, South-West 

Colombard

This typically Gascon variety produces extremely lively wines with intense aromas of tropical fruit. Nowadays, Colombard grapes are mainly used to produce Côtes de Gasgogne (and Armagnac). Thanks to the recognised quality of the wines it produces, this grape has become popular around the globe. In France, production practically doubled in 20 years, totalling 8,700 ha in 2011.

Where does this grape grow?
South-West

Folle Blanche

This rustic variety originated in the South-West, introduced into the region in the Middle Ages. For a very long time, Folle Blanche was the benchmark variety for distillation, particularly Armagnac, but the ravages of phylloxera weakened it. Today it is mainly used to produce Gros Plant in the Nantes region. It can adapt to a wide variety of climates and soils. In 2011, Folle Blanche acreage totalled 1,468 ha in France.

Where does this grape grow?
Loire Valley, South-West

Gewurztraminer

This white variety is... pink. It is a most worthy representative of Alsace, and cousin to the famous Savagnin in the Jura. Gewurztraminer is vigorous and a major aromatic variety. As an early variety, however, it is susceptible to spring frosts. In France, there are only 3,238 ha of this variety. It produces wines with powerful aromas of litchi or rose, or sometimes gingerbread or citrus zest, and a colour that is also easily recognisable – slightly darker than a classic white wine. Indeed, the pigmentation in the grape skin gives it a golden shimmer. On the palate, the wines are generous, almost unctuous, and above all very powerful. When the noble rot lends a hand, aromas become exuberant, combining honey, dried apricot and rose-petal jam.

Where does this grape grow?
Alsace

Grenache Blanc

Originally from Spain or Malta, Grenache set off from Aragon during the 18th century and spread throughout the entire Mediterranean Basin. It is mainly used in Roussillon to produce white Vins Doux Naturels, principally the Rivesaltes appellation, and to this end is harvested very ripe - a high degree of alcohol is required. It gives good, standard, dry wines when harvested earlier. They are rich, unctuous, generous and solid. Assembled with other varieties such as Roussanne, Marsanne and Vermentino, it makes up for their relative aromatic weakness and their frequent lack of acidity. 

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon, South-East

Grenache Gris

Just like the Grenache Blanc, the Grenache Gris is used to make Vins Doux Naturels or dry whites and rosés. It gives volume, a mineral dimension, aniseed freshness and a subtle structure.

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon

Gros Manseng

A white variety that originated in the Pre-Pyrenees and is now grown on approximately 3,000 ha in the South-West of France. It is mainly used for dry Jurançon wines, Pacherenc-du-Vic-Bihl and Tursan. It is also used in Saint Mont and in Gascony, contributing its aromas and freshness to dry white wines.

Where does this grape grow?
South-West

Jacquère

This is the most common variety in Savoy, accounting for approximately 50% of the vines. It reigns over six wines, the most important of which are in Chambéry’s transverse valley (Apremont, Abymes, Chignin, St-Jeoire-Prieuré), in Combe de Savoy (Cruet) and west of Lake Bourget (Jongieux). It gives wines that are pale in colour, fresh and slightly beading. Its aromatic range features mineral notes and white flowers. There are approximately 1,000 ha of Jacquère vines growing in France.  

Where does this grape grow?
Savoy

Macabeu

Planted in Roussillon a long, long time ago, the Macabeu, or Maccabeo, is of Catalonian origin (although some claim it originated in Asia Minor). A vigorous plant, but its branches break in the wind, it is sensitive to drought (it does not like land that is too arid) and it also fears humid, fertile plains, where its big compact clusters tend to rot easily. The perfect spot is semi-sloping or sloping, not too stony, hot, well-drained and not too rich. It matures late and is quite fertile. The Macabeu is susceptible to powdery mildew and mildew. The grapes are average in size with resistant skin and a very pale in colour. They are sweet with a marked, sophisticated taste. For dry wines they are harvested at the beginning of September. Vinified with care, they give an original dry white wine with good colour that is reasonably unctuous and delicate, with subtle aromas and a nose of ripe fruit. When mature, its unctuousness and high alcohol content give body to certain red wine blends. It is a secondary variety in red Vins Doux Naturels whereas in white Vins Doux Naturels it is a mainstay. Once it has aged - most usually combined with grey and white Grenaches - its qualities blossom, turning it, almost miraculously, into a source of complex and delicate aromas that are nothing short of phenomenal.

Where does this grape grow?
Roussillon

Marsanne

Photo Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin. France was the cradle of the Marsanne grape but now harbours only 20% of the total acreage on which this variety grows. Australia has adopted this variety on a massive scale; it is used in many of their local wines. Nevertheless, Marsanne still makes its presence felt in France, particularly in the Rhône Valley, where it is used for Saint Joseph and Hermitage AOC wines. It is a late variety and susceptible to disease but very productive. It requires a hot, dry climate with plenty of sunshine, preferring poor granitic soil that brings out the best of its aromatic potential. Its nose evokes hawthorn, stoned fruit and honey. It has greater aromatic potential than Grenache Blanc. Often assembled with Roussanne and other local varieties, Marsanne contributes to the aromatic richness of white wines from the Rhône Valley. Wines that contain Marsanne grapes are not very acidic.

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon, Rhône Valley

 

Mauzac

A very fine region at the heart of the South-West, between Toulouse and Albi, is home to the Mauzac grape. This late, aromatic variety does not fear spring frosts but is susceptible to certain diseases, to acarids and to grape caterpillars. But when it is well managed, with low yields, it produces very fine white wines, particularly in the Gaillac and Limoux AOCs, where has been assembled with Chenin and Chardonnay since 1530 to produce the sparkling Blanquette de Limoux AOC. With approximately 1,800 hectares, Mauzac is a marginal variety in France, but in the South-West it gives rise to delicate wines with aromas of baked apple, white peach or pear with a spicy finish.

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc, South-West

Melon (aka Muscadelle)

Melon is a variety that migrated from Burgundy to the mouth of the Loire River, settling on its banks back in the Middle Ages. Replaced by Chardonnay in Burgundy, it is now the only variety used in Muscadet wines, enjoying the mild spring nights there that spare it from frosts. 90% of the 16,000 hectares grown around the world are located in the Nantes area. Melon produces very pale white wines with tints of green and aromas reminiscent of sea air - which make it a perfect match for oysters and seafood. It also boasts notes of white flowers and citrus fruit. Vivacity and roundness are nicely balanced, particularly when the Melon grapes have matured for a few months on the lees, as is the case with the Muscadet sur Lie AOC.

Where does this grape grow?
Loire Valley

Muscat from Alexandria

Most ampelographers agree that it originates from somewhere in Egypt. Sailing from Alexandria, it is believed gradually to have reached the countries of the Mediterranean Basin before being widely disseminated by the Romans. But others believe it arrived in France in around the 17th century via Africa and Spain. Its generous bunches of big, sweet, crunchy grapes mean that it is valued as a table variety. Very resistant to drought, it requires hot, dry and sunny climates to reach perfect maturity. It then offers a rare cornucopia of aromas. Its aromatic palette is different to that of Muscat à Petit Grain; they complement each other perfectly in Vins Doux Naturels from Roussillon: powerful, elegant and floral all at once. There are in the vicinity of 3,000 hectares of this variety growing in France, mainly in Roussillon. The big, firm, tasty grapes are particularly fragrant if harvested when mature, typically smelling of flowers and fruit with white or yellow flesh. 

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon

Muscat à Petits Grains

The Muscat family, and in particular the "small berry" variety, dates back to earliest Antiquity. It was without doubt the Anathelicon moschaton of the Greeks and the Apiane of the Romans. The Greeks and then the Romans planted it very early on in Gallia Narbonensis, today’s Languedoc-Roussillon, a region with which it has since enjoyed a loyal and intense relationship. It releases the very best of its aromatic potential on very poor, mainly clay, stony slopes. Although it revels in its privileged climate, it is particularly fragile and susceptible to disease and pests (particularly bees). It therefore requires close attention. It is grown on approximately 7,700 hectares in France, mainly in Roussillon and Hérault, but also in Corsica and Alsace, used in Muscats from Alsace and Cap Corse. This variety offers fresh and complex aromas. Notes of citrus fruit, tropical fruit, rose and spices with a delicate touch of musk, bring vivacity, richness and unctuousness.

Where does this grape grow?
Alsace, Corsica, Languedoc-Roussillon

Petit Manseng

Photo Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin. In southern Aquitaine, near the Pyrenees, Petit Manseng is the key variety for quality white wines. In the Jurançon appellation it is sometimes harvested when the first snows fall and noble rot fosters syrupy, concentrated whites with plenty of flavour but great delicacy. Susceptible to spring frosts and to disease, it needs a lot of attention. But in return, it adds complexity and above all great balance, with acidity tempered by roundness. Its aromatic register is vast - honey, cinnamon, white flowers, peach, citrus fruit – hence its importance in the region’s white wines. Exported by the Basques as far away as to Uruguay, Petit Manseng is gaining ground in France, although acreage currently only totals 1,100 hectares.

Where does this grape grow?
South-West

 

Pinot Gris

In France, this famous grape is grown exclusively in Alsace. It is also popular in Italy (Pinot Griggio). When well exposed on the slopes of Les Vosges, it reaches outstanding maturity – the berries are greyish-blue in colour when mature - and can develop the noble rot (botrytis cinerea). Wine made from Pinot Gris grown in Alsace is powerful and distinguished because the soil in the region suits the vines so well. With complex perfumes that occasionally include smoky notes, it has sufficient acidity to age. Its power makes it an alternative to serve with game. This is one of the grape varieties accepted in Grands Crus d’Alsace.

Where does this grape grow?
Alsace

Riesling

Riesling has an ongoing love affair with the Rhine. The river and the grape go hand in hand, even though the grape is occasionally to be found in California and New Zealand. It dates back to Roman times and has been in Alsace since the 9th century. It is a late variety and there are 3,500 hectares being grown today. It needs good exposure to the sun and poor or even stony ground to give it the time it needs to ripen properly. It has no fear of strong winter frosts; it simply needs to mature slowly and protractedly to allow all of the finesse of its aromas to unfurl. This is why it does so well in Alsace. Wines containing Riesling grapes have a complex and intense range of aromas, especially when the grapes were grown on shaley ground. High acidity in the wine means it can age for a long time, but the acidity is counter-balanced by a delicate and intense fruity touch. Typical notes range from touches of lemon to floral aromas, candied fruit, peach and lime tree. Big terroirs give it elegant and sophisticated mineral notes. Some years, noble rot fosters wonderful wines that are sweet or syrupy (qualified as "Vendanges tardives" or "Sélection de grains nobles").


Where does this grape grow?
Alsace

Roussanne

A difficult and unpredictable variety, Roussanne knows how to reward winegrowers who adopt it. It is susceptible to disease, not very productive, and sometimes matures late. But in well-exposed vineyards in Savoy or the Rhône Valley, it really does itself proud. Hence its recent popularity among winegrowers, who now recognise its qualities. France has the biggest acreage of this variety: over 35% of the world total of 3,000 hectares. Aromas focus on honey, hawthorn and apricot. Roussanne fits in wonderfully with Rhône Valley blends, adding acidity and aromatic intensity to Marsanne grapes, the majority stakeholder in the region’s whites. It is also to be found in Tuscany.

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon, Rhône Valley

Sauvignon Blanc

Before "going global", Sauvignon Blanc first saw service in the Loire. In association with the Sémillon variety, it rocketed Graves wines to fame and more recently breathed a second lease of life into wines in the Entre Deux Mers AOC. It is also to be found in the superb calcareous clay of Sancerre and Touraine, and as it adapts easily, it has also migrated to Languedoc, where it guarantees success for the region’s Vins de Pays. The acreage devoted to Sauvignon Blanc is constantly increasing, with approximately 29,000 hectares in France out of a total 50,000 around the globe. Recent oenological research has shed light on its mechanisms for releasing its aromas. Wines that incorporate this variety of grape have outstanding balance between aromatic power (blackcurrant leaf, grapefruit, citrus fruit), full body on the palate, and vivacity, making it a "best seller" among white wines in many AOCs and among Vins de Pays. In Burgundy, it is used in only one AOC: Saint-Bris.

Where does this grape grow?
Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, South-West, Loire Valley

Savagnin

The Savagnin variety could originate from Franche-Comté or Rhineland-Palatinate. It is a demanding variety, traditionally grown in Germanic lands, and the source of Vin Jaune (yellow wine). For whites, it is often distilled with a little ullage to give it the walnut tones so typical of traditional whites. In 2011, there were 492 ha of Savagnin vines in France.

Where does this grape grow?
Jura

Sémillon

This important variety from Bordeaux is very productive and vigorous and relatively resistant to the most common vine diseases. But towards the end of the maturation process, it becomes susceptible to mould if the weather is damp. In the microclimate of Sauternes, on the other hand, where the days are dry and sunny, it hosts the noble rot that is needed to produce syrupy wines. In France, there were 11,500 hectares of this variety in 2011, mainly in Bordeaux and Aquitaine, as this is where it finds the climate and warm autumns it needs to flourish. Sémillon is assembled with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle in the region’s white wines, the Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes AOCs to the fore. More discreet than its colleague Sauvignon Blanc, this variety is less acid and brings roundness as well as notes of dried fruits, almond, pear and honey. It is widely used in New World wines, particularly in Chile and Australia.

 

Where does this grape grow?
Bordeaux, Charentes, South-West

Sylvaner

Traditionally grown in Alsace, the Sylvaner variety is said to have originated in Austria before spreading throughout Central Europe as far as Russia, and on to Australia and California. Transylvania is considered by some to be the homeland of this grape for etymological reasons. Sylvaner does particularly well in light, sandy and stony ground. In some terroirs it can produce wines of exquisite finesse. Sylvaner generates regular yield although it is quite fragile when faced with spring and winter frosts. Approximately 1,300 ha of Sylvaner vines were being grown in France in 2011.  

Where does this grape grow?
Alsace

Ugni Blanc

Originally from Italy, the Ugni Blanc is a common French white variety in terms of acreage (approximately 83,000 ha), because it produces excellent wines destined for the distillation of Armagnac and Cognac AOCs. For the past few decades it has also been planted to produce aromatic, dry white wines under the French IGP banner (PGI in English). It is to be found on a much smaller scale in some AOCs such as Cassis, Bordeaux and Coteaux d’Aix. Very susceptible to winter frosts, Ugni Blanc is at ease in mild regions. Ideally distilled in its northern quarters (Cognac, Armagnac, Côtes de Gasgogne), it produces an acidic wine with low alcohol content. In hotter areas, on the other hand, the wines are fresh, scented and thirst-quenching. In Provence, the Ugni Blanc grape even adds unctuousness as well as more complex notes of pine resin, quince and lemon.

Where does this grape grow?
Charentes, Provence, South-West, Rhône Valley

Vermentino (aka Rolle, Garbesso, Vermentinu…)

Photo Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin. Vermentino, or Vermentinu in Corsica, is enjoying the popularity of generous and very fragrant white wines that go well with grilled fish and Mediterranean cuisine. Initially planted in Provence and Corsica, it has now also spread into Languedoc. Almost 4,300 hectares have been planted in France out of a total of 10,000 on a worldwide scale. It is to be found most of all in Italy. Corsican Vermentinu is pale in colour and generous - and even unctuous - on the palate, releasing fruity and flowery fragrances with touches of white flowers, melon and aniseed in particular, and occasionally a hint of mimosa. In Provence it has a citrus and lime tree feel. The grapes have high sugar content and can also be eaten as fruit.

Where does this grape grow?
Corsica, Provence, Rhône Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon

 

Viognier

The Viognier variety has been established on the unassailable terraces of Condrieu and Château Grillet in the northern part of the Rhône Valley for a very long time. Working this vine is no pleasure trip: it is difficult to grow and not very productive. But its outstanding aromatic qualities have won over winegrowers around the world. It remains a minor variety but is very fashionable in many winegrowing countries. In France, it abandoned its original base in favour of Languedoc and the lower Rhône Valley. Round on the palate, not acidic, Viognier stands out for the finesse of its aromas: apricot, white peach, spices, honey, white flowers. It has taken off spectacularly in France since the ’80s, with the arrival of Vins de Pays, either on its own or assembled with Chardonnay or Sauvignon.

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc–Roussillon, Rhône Valley

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