Demystifing types of reds, whites and specialty wines
If you are new to wine and wine tasting, the many types and characteristics of wine may seem overwhelming. But there are really only 5 wine types to know, and only a handful of traits that will help you appreciate how they are different. Below are some of the most common varietals within each type.
The Most Common Types of Wine
Sparkling wine is fermented twice to produce the carbon dioxide that gives it bubbles. It's difficult to make, and can be costly, but good varieties can be found at reasonable prices.
Champagne is the most famous sparkling wine, but by law it can only be produced in the Champagne region in France using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes.
» Region: Champagne, France
» Tasting Notes: Toast, lemon, yeast
Champagne-Style Sparkling Wines
Wines made following the traditional French method of fermentation outside of Champagne may only be referred to as "sparkling wine," but their quality may be just as good as their French relatives.
» Regions: California, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa
» Tasting Notes: Apple, toast, lemon
Prosecco is sparkling wine made in Italy with prosecco grapes. Trento, on the other hand, is made from Chardonnay grapes.
» Regions: Veneto and Northern Italy
» Tasting Notes: Toast, mineral, pear
Cava is sparkling wine made in Spain, typically from native Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes.
» Region: Spain
» Tasting Notes: Lemon, hazelnut, toast
White wine is made when grapes are pressed and the resulting juice is immediately separated from the grape skins and seeds. Because of their high acidity, whites tend to be dry, crisp and light, often with pronounced fruit flavors.
Rieslings can range from very dry (acidic) to very sweet, and are frequently very aromatic. Germany is the world's most well-known producer.
» Region: Germany, France, California, Australia
» Tasting Notes: Peach, honey, lemon
A dry white, often with “green” notes of herbs and grasses.
» Regions: California, France, New Zealand, Chile, Australia, South Africa, Italy
» Tasting Notes: Herbs, grapefruit, lime
Chardonnay is one of the world's most popular whites. When aged in oak Chardonnay takes on a creamy, full-bodied character.
» Regions: France, California, Australia, Chile, South Africa
» Tasting Notes: Apple, toast, figs
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio
When produced in France, Pinot Gris is a sweet, rich white. When produced in Italy, Pinot Grigio is a lighter, zesty white with citrus notes.
» Region: France, Italy, California
» Tasting Notes: Lemon, apple, honey, almond
A rich white wine that is often aged in oak to produce the creaminess of a Chardonnay.
» Region: France, California, Austria
» Tasting Notes: Peach, cream, mango
Unlike white wines, reds are made when the juice from crushed grapes is left with the skins and seeds to produce deep colors and flavors.
Originally produced in Spain (Garancha), Grenache (as it is called when made in France) is a rich, deep red wine that can also be made as a rosé.
» Region: France, Spain, Australia
» Tasting Notes: Raspberry, strawberry, herbs
A hugely popular red known as much for its smoothness as for its fruit and spice flavors.
» Region: France, California, New Zealand, Australia, Chile
» Tasting Notes: Raspberry, lavender, vanilla
Originating in France, Syrah (sometimes spelled Sirah, and also known as Shiraz in Australia) is a rich and hearty red wine full of fruit flavor.
» Region: France, Australia, California
» Tasting Notes: Plum, blackberry, peppercorn
Like Pinot Noir, Zinfandel is loved for its fruit and spice flavors.
» Region: California
» Tasting Notes: Black pepper, blackberry, clove
The world's most popular red, Cabernet is a big, bold wine that ages well and pairs with hearty food.
» Region: France, Australia, California
» Tasting Notes: Plum, blackberry, cedar
Something of a hybrid, rosés are pink in color and produced by fermenting juice with their skins for a short period of time. They tend to be dry and crisp.
A fruity and zesty wine best served very cold.
» Region: France, Spain, California
» Tasting Notes: Raspberry, grapefruit, strawberry
A savory wine with a slighter deeper color.
» Region: France, California, Australia
» Tasting Notes: Strawberry, raspberry, cranberry
A crisp, light wine with plenty of fruit flavor.
» Region: France, California
» Tasting Notes: Quince, floral, strawberry
Considerably sweeter and heavier than other wines, dessert wines are produced from grapes allowed to ripen on vines long past the usual harvest time. These are best served after dinner.
Originally from Greece, muscat is an aromatic white wine known for its floral and fruit flavors.
» Region: France, Italy, California, Australia
» Tasting Notes: Apricot, floral, honey
A smooth, sweet wine from Portugal that can be either white, rosé, Ruby (which is not aged) or Tawny (which must be aged at least two years).
» Region: Portugal
» Tasting Notes: Apple, strawberry, caramel