What constitutes a white wine is a complex issue.
These days, more than ever, saying "I don't like red wine" is a far cry from saying "I don't like red grapes."
Even those who eschew dark-hued wines probably enjoy fermented juice made with dark-hued grapes. It might be rosé, it might be Champagne or other sparklers, and increasingly it might be a glass that looks for all the world like chardonnay.
Because almost all grape flesh is white, a wine's color depends mostly on how long the dark skins are retained in the winemaking process.
Most pink wines are made entirely from red grapes, usually through "skin contact" (leaving the skins in the mix for up to three days after crushing) or "saignée" (removing some of the pink juice from the must early on, which also helps make the red juice more concentrated).
The third method is, believe it or not, simply mixing red and white wines. Don't get cork dorks started on that practice -- or do, if they have a biting wit. The French have banned the practice for rosé producers.
Rosés continue to gain favor in these parts, and come in an unprecedented array of styles. David Anderson, wine buyer at France 44, has seen steady growth in rosé sales over the past five years.
"The American consumer has discovered how great these wines are for summer, and how well they go with food," Anderson said. "The water was muddied for a generation by white zin and blush wines."
Also garnering a larger following of late are sparkling wines. Many producers the world over follow the standards set in the Champagne region. There, with very rare exceptions, only three grapes may be used for bubbly wines, and two of them are red, pinot noir and pinot meunier; the other is chardonnay.
The most popular blend is about half each pinot noir and chardonnay, with perhaps a bit of pinot meunier. Unless a label reads "blanc de blancs" (white from white), it almost certainly contains red grapes, and if it reads "blanc de noirs" (white from dark), it is composed entirely of red grapes.
Among table wines, blending red and white grapes has been almost entirely a matter of mixing a little viognier in with syrah, largely for its aromatics. But as younger and less tradition-minded vintners emerge, wines such as the Oveja Negra sauvignon blanc/carmenere blend are showing up on retail shelves. Anderson calls this $10 mostly white "a delightful little summer wine. What carmenere does is probably give it a little more heft, but it's a crisp, dry wine."
We're also seeing more light-colored wines made entirely from red grapes. The Couer Blanc white pinot noir from Domaine Serene (owned by Minnesotans Ken and Grave Evenstad) is highly allocated and sells out quickly even at $85 a bottle. More within reach are Novy's Blanc de Pinot Noir, a fascinating, very tasty offering at $25, and a delightful new offering from Michigan, Chateau Grand Traverse's Pinot Noir Vin Gris ($15).
So these days, when you say "make mine a white," you might get more than you bargained for.
Bill Ward • firstname.lastname@example.org