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Exploring White Wine (Plus How to Use It in Cooking and Baking)

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

White wine has been enjoyed for more than 3,000 years

White wine has been enjoyed for more than 3,000 years

The Ancient Story of Wine

Both France and Italy are renowned for their wine production; some of the finest wines come from the Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont, Sicily, and Emilia-Romagna regions. But these are not where the earth first brought forth wine grapes. Archeological evidence points to an area between the Caucasus and Zagros Mountains in Europe, an area that spans the countries we know today as Azerbaijan, Georgia, northern Iran, and Turkey.

Some food historians have quibbled over which came first, wine or beer? When you consider the process, wine must have been the first. Wine production (I’m not specifying good wine) requires no human intervention. (Even apes in the wild seek out past-their-prime fruits.) Grape juice encounters wild yeast and fermentation happens. Beer production is much more complicated. However, the deliberate domestication of wine-producing vines would not have been possible within a nomadic society. The care and production of wine-making grapes and the vinification process require an organized society.

Archeologists have found the ruins of a winery site in Armenia, estimating that it was created more than 6,000 years ago. The village, Areni, is still recognized for its wine production.

White Wine Was a Happy Accident

There are thousands of varieties of wine, but only one species of grape vine is the parent of them all, Vitis vinifera. Six-thousand years ago they were red; how did we end up with white wine grapes?

Dr. Mandy Walker works for the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia’s national science research agency). She found the answer to this question and published her findings in a 2007 journal article. She and her colleagues mapped the DNA of white wine-producing vines and discovered that the red color of grapes is controlled by two separate genes, VvMYBA1 and VvMYBA2. In white wine grapes, both genes are mutated so that the ability to produce the color red is switched off.

Dr. Walker cannot confirm when this mutation occurred but noted that remnants of white wine have been found in flasks in the tomb of Tutankhamen. That means that the change occurred more than 3,000 years ago. Walker and her team examined 55 different white wine grapes and all of them contain the dual mutation; it appears that they all have the same single ancestor.

Riesling grapes

Riesling grapes

The Most Popular White Wine Grapes

  • Chardonnay: This is one of the most popular, from the Burgundy region of France.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: Another French wine from the Bordeaux and Loire Valley. This grape is heavily influenced by local terroir (soil and climate).
  • Riesling: One of the top three in terms of production (Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the other two). Riesling makes its home in the Rhine region of Germany.
  • Pinot Gris (aka Pinot Grigio): The grapes of this variety have a rosy-colored skin that color the resulting wine deep yellow. There are two Pinots—the one from France is full-bodied and spicy; the one from Italy tends to be more acidic and light-bodied.
  • Semillon: This variety can be found in the Bordeaux region of France, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, and Argentina.
  • Gewurztraminer: This highly aromatic grape is spicy and rich with the aroma of lychee and passion fruits. It is named for a German-speaking area in Italy.
  • Viognier: The wine from this variety is full-bodied, lush, and buttery soft. It originated in the Rhone region of France but the Central Valley of California is fast becoming a major producer.
  • Chenin Blanc: This grape originated in France but South Africa is now the top producer.
  • Sylvaner: This might be a new name to you, but I’m introducing it because of the next wine on our list. This variety grows in western Germany and the French wine Alsace. It’s used to make Liebfraumilch.
  • Muller-Thurgau: Dr. Hermann Müller crossed the Riesling and the Sylvaner to create this varietal. He had hoped to take advantage of the quality of Riesling and the productivity of the Sylvaner, but unfortunately, the end result was a rather unremarkable German wine. The Muller-Thurgau is capable of being grown in a relatively wide range of climates and soil types; the grapes produced in northern Italy and New Zealand produce a pleasing, fruity, low-acid wine.
  • Pinot Blanc: Grown in the Alsace region, this grape is commonly used in the production of sparkling and sweet dessert wines. It is medium- to full-bodied with good acidity with flavors of apple.
  • Muscat: This is one of the oldest domesticated grape varieties; there are over 200 different muscats but only four of them are used to make wine.
Mussels and linguine with garlic butter and white wine pasta sauce

Mussels and linguine with garlic butter and white wine pasta sauce

Mussels and Linguine With Garlic Butter and White Wine Pasta Sauce

If you are a seafood lover (insert swoon-emoji here), steamed mussels in garlic butter sauce is probably near the top of your list of favorite things. Pasta with fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese (essentially pesto without the pine nuts) is also one of my favorite things.

Now, imagine combining those two marvelous dishes into one amazing meal. Mussels and linguine give you that perfectly creamy, garlicky white wine sauce, tender strands of pasta, and sweet, succulent mussels all in one.

Mixed mushroom risotto

Mixed mushroom risotto

Mixed Mushroom Risotto

The perfect rice for risotto is short, round, plump, and a little bit sassy (just like me). Arborio is the most common short-grain rice used but Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, Padano, Roma, and Vialone Nano are also good choices. What makes them “risotto rice”? They all have a high percentage of the starch amylopectin.

If you have ever cooked homemade jam or jelly, you will recognize the word "pectin." Pectin is the natural thickener in apple juice, and the "amylopectin" in short-grain rice serves as a thickener as well. It makes the cooked grain starchy and creamy, while still holding its shape.

Short-grain rice is not cooked like its long- or medium-grain cousins. First, it is gently sautéed in butter or olive oil so that each grain is coated. Next, a splash of wine is added to the pan; at this point, the rice is stirred constantly until the wine has all but evaporated. Then the fun begins. Hot broth is added to the pan, one ladle-full at a time, and allowed to simmer and be absorbed into the rice. This process is repeated until the rice is rich and creamy, but still holds its shape (test a grain with your teeth to see if it is done). You want al dente "Goldilocks rice"—not too hard, not too soft, but just right.

The rice simmers to a creamy richness, and as the dish is completed Parmesan cheese is deftly folded in, its nutty, salty flavor providing a perfect contrast to sweet, silky mascarpone.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (a combination of white, cremini, shiitake, or oyster)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3-4 cups chicken, vegetable, or mushroom broth, heated to a simmer
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

Instructions

  1. In a large sauté pan melt 1 tablespoon butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft about 2 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook until lightly browned (3 to 4 minutes). Stir in thyme. Add 1/4 cup of the wine and cook until wine is absorbed. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
  2. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add rice, pepper, and remaining 1/2 cup white wine. Stir to ensure that rice does not clump together and cook until wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup broth; reduce heat to low, and stir until broth is almost absorbed. Continue to add broth, 1/2 cup at a time and stirring until rice is creamy and tender but still firm in the center. This should take about 15 to 18 minutes.
  3. Stir in mushrooms. Remove from heat and stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano and mascarpone.
Chicken dijon in white wine sauce

Chicken dijon in white wine sauce

Chicken Dijon in White Wine Sauce

This chicken Dijon with white wine sauce is an easy one-pan meal. Served over pasta, rice, or with warm slices of rustic bread, it's an easy, flavorful dish that's quick enough for family but worthy of a dinner party.

Pan-seared cod in white wine tomato basil sauce

Pan-seared cod in white wine tomato basil sauce

Pan-Seared Cod in White Wine Tomato Basil Sauce

Cod (also known as Alaska pollack) is a mild-flavored, flaky white fish that many people like because it doesn't taste "fishy." This recipe for pan-seared cod is colorful (roasted cherry tomatoes), piquant (lemon juice, white wine), herby (basil), and even has a pop of heat from a dash of red pepper flakes. Wonderful clean flavors in less than 30 minutes. Serve it with a side of brown rice, crusty bread, or a refreshing green salad.

If you can't find cod you can substitute sea bass, striped bass, whiting, grouper, haddock, hake, monkfish, pollock, or mahi mahi.

Linguine with mushrooms and white wine butter sauce

Linguine with mushrooms and white wine butter sauce

Linguine With Mushrooms and White Wine Butter Sauce

Linguine with mushrooms in a light (yet decadent) white wine butter sauce is an easy vegetarian meal full of umami flavor with meaty shiitake mushrooms. If you can't find shiitake's baby portabellos or criminis can be substituted. The author of this recipe recommends using fresh pasta.

Chardonnay cake with almond sugar crust

Chardonnay cake with almond sugar crust

Chardonnay Cake With Almond Sugar Crust

Yes, you can even bake with white wine. Wine makes an incredibly moist cake; it's sophisticated and adult without tasting boozy. Most recipes that you'll find on the internet rely on a boxed cake mix. This chardonnay cake is made from scratch. Just before going into the oven, you top the batter with a generous sprinkle of turbinado sugar and sliced almonds. In the oven, the topping toasts and caramelizes into a crisp shell.

Sources

© 2020 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 16, 2020:

Denise, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that HP will be true to their word and restore the ability to comment next year. (BTW, I wonder if you looked at it, and then went to your feed if you would be able to see it?)

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 16, 2020:

Thanks. That is good to know. I'll have to check that Exploring Sherry out. I know right up front that I won't be able to comment on it so I want you to know how much I appreciate your research and answers.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 16, 2020:

Hi Denise. Sorry it took so long to get back to you. HP doesn't make this easy, ya know? I love a GOOD sherry for cooking, but not the stuff they sell in the grocery store that is labeled "cooking sherry." That stuff is just plain nasty. Also, you have to be subtle with it--too much and you have a boozy mess, just enough will impart notes of caramel and nuts. I wrote an article a few months ago "Exploring Sherry: History and How to Use it In Your Cooking." That might help you.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 15, 2020:

I've never been one to cook much with wine. My husband loves a good cooking Sherry in his pasta sauce but I never really got the appeal. What am I missing? It doesn't seem to change the flavor much that I can tell. So what is it? Since wine is vegan I'd like to know the benefits.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 15, 2020:

Adrienne, it's nice to hear that you already enjoy cooking with wine. Perhaps you will be able to use a few of these recipes. Have a great day!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 15, 2020:

Flourish, I remodeled my kitchen about 10 years ago--it was out of commission for 2 weeks and that (to me) seemed an eternity. I sense once you get everything done (and gosh, I hope you send me some photos), you're going to have one heck of a celebration.

Thanks for your kind words.

Adrienne Farricelli on December 15, 2020:

We have white wine mostly on the days we eat fish. My hubby prefers red wine, while I appreciate more the more delicate flavors of white. I do use white whine a lot when cooking. It gives a wonderful flavor.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 15, 2020:

Oh, wow. You have really outdone yourself here. Add crusty bread and a salad and you have a meal! I sure wish my oven would come in. It's about to go from bad to worse, however. My cabinets get replaced this week but the countertops aren't being replaced until after the new year. Slow progress. Great article!

Ann Carr from SW England on December 14, 2020:

Yes, I read your article about wine pairings; I have a copy! Thanks.

I meant to say that if your book includes all the background history like this hub does, then it's going to be great!

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 14, 2020:

Bill, I knew this one wouldn't land in your bookmarks, but hoped you could at least enjoy the history. Have a great week my friend.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 14, 2020:

Ohmygoodness Manatita! Is there wine in Tuscany? You might as well ask if there is sand on the beach?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 14, 2020:

Hi Shauna, I'm glad you were able to pick up this one before it went to Discover whatever.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 14, 2020:

Thanks Ann, and good morning to you. A few months ago I wrote an article about wine pairings. If you don't have the link, let me know.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 14, 2020:

Pamela, good morning. I have written a small article on mushrooms, but nothing really in depth. Thanks for the suggestion. I'm always looking for new topics.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2020:

I've explored just about all the white wine one man should explore, thank you very much. lol It's funny to think that at one time I taught classes about food and wine pairings. A long time ago, a different lifetime. Now I'm happy to read about it but not partake. :)

Happy Monday my friend!

manatita44 from london on December 14, 2020:

A good vintage is like a sublime kiss, calligraphed on the heart of lovers. I tend to speak of Tuscany in my poetic lines, but I admit I don't even know if there's wine there. My creative juices goes there when I'm looking for taste and beauty.

So many types of wines! I once used them as a gentleman, sitting in romantic settings with my spouse or friends.

Mushrooms I like too, for omelletes, cooking and frying, etc. Merry Christmas!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on December 14, 2020:

Linda, I love protein in wine sauce. I'm definitely going to try the Chicken Dijon with White Wine sauce. The mussels dish is yummy, too. My grocery store sells mussels in white wine sauce at a reasonable price.

Thanks for the history on white wine grapes. I had no idea how white grapes came to be.

Glad I caught this before it went to Delishbly!

Ann Carr from SW England on December 14, 2020:

You always make me feel hungry with your lovely photos of food excellently presented!

I must admit that I prefer red wine but there's nothing to beat a good chilled white with fish or sometimes chicken. It's the old 'pairing' thing, isn't it? Some combinations just work so well.

Lovely history lesson too!

Ann

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 14, 2020:

I like your self description of "a little bit sassy". This is such an interesting article about the history of wine. It is amazing to me that they can pinpoint a mutation that is 3000 years ago.

As for your pictures, Linda, thanks. I am starving now! Each dish looks so delicous. I think you could probably write an article about muchrooms, if you have not already done one. This is a wonderful article.