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.
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.