This article is written in remembrance of my beloved friend, Paul Fletcher, who made learning about, working with, and especially drinking wine not just a simple pleasure, but an epic good time. Will love you forever, my friend.
It is well established by now that I love my wine. Of course, I love the warmth win brings when I drink it, but more than that I love the smell, texture and flavors of different wines. Each bottle is so very unique, even when made out of the same variety of grapes, it is always a bit of a surprise.
With most every other beverage, you know what to expect based on the brand, as the recipe is always the same. For example, from Coca Cola to Maker’s Mark Bourbon, you know what you are getting, the flavors, taste and weight. With wine, even if the same process is used to create vintage after vintage, it is the grapes that run the show and create the unique bouquet. Was it an extra rainy season? Did the grapes stay on the vine too long? Do the grapes grow near lemon trees or Rosemary bushes? Was it hotter, foggier, cooler than usual? All of these ultimately affect the flavor of the grapes. My friend once told me that the best Pinot Noir he ever had, and he was an expert who had tried a ton, was the vintage after a large wildfire had threatened the grapes. The vintner almost didn’t buy the grapes as he thought the smoky flavor would be too harsh. However, apparently it was the most sought-after Pinot Noir in the brands history, as the smoke brought such a depth to the wine.
All of that being said, there are certain similarities that can be found with each variety. These commonalities obviously stem from being created with the same grape. It is these similarities that keep people coming back to their favorite types of wine. But what are they? This guide to wine for beginners will walk you through what to generally expect from the most popular varieties. Once you know what to expect, you can use your pallet to really detect the differences with each bottle, and establish a better idea of what you love. I genuinely believe that finding your favorite variety of wine is like finding your favorite genre of books, you have to try a few different types to really figure out what you love.
Obviously, everyone has heard of Chardonnay, as it is the world’s most popular white wine. With its wide array of popularity and growth throughout the world, the characteristics of Chardonnay can vary. With light to high acidity, Chardonnay is typically known for its green apple, butter, pear, butterscotch or tropical fruit aromas.
This is my favorite white wine, because it is in my opinion the perfect cold wine for a hot day! With high acidity and a wide range of aromas, from grapefruit and melon to green pepper and grass, this wine is pretty versatile and can go with a wide array of foods.
The most popular dessert wine, this sweet grape variety has aromas such as honey, orange blossom, musk and apricot. It has medium acidity and is a great sipping wine if you are hoping to enjoy something sweet.
Originally from Germany, Riesling varies in its profile depending on where it is grown. It is known for its strong floral and fruity aromas, such as stone fruit, honeysuckle or jasmine. It has a high acidity level and covers a full spectrum of sweetness.
Created by using Zinfandel grapes, White Zinfandel is now a popular wine although it is sweeter, pink in color and generally less dry than regular Zinfandel. It ranges from sweet to dry and is mostly found in California, although it originated from Croatia.
For lovers of honeysuckle, peach, lemon and tangerine, this low acidic and medium body wine is a great alternative to Chardonnay. It’s dry, light and crisp and usually on the lighter to medium gold color in the glass.
Pinot Grigio/ Pinot Gris-
Both names Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris represent the same grape variety. However, Pinot Gris typically refers to the varieties grown in France or Oregon, whereas Pinot Grigio refers to those grapes grown in Italy, Australia and California. With aromas of apple, peach, minerals and even melon, this wine is a great substitute for Chardonnay.
Considered one of the most well-known and respected wines throughout the world, therefore being the most planted quality variety, “Cabs” are known for being full bodied and dry with medium to high tannins and acidity. Black cherry, cedar, coffee, tobacco and black currant are common flavors associated with this variety.
What’s the first type of wine that every 18 year-old (at least in Cali) knows? Merlot. I thought I was fancy when I first ordered a glass of Merlot. I didn’t like it very much and it took years to realize that there were OTHER types of red wine to try! Merlots are a good medium wine, when Cabs seem heavy but Pinot Noir seems too light, a Merlot is a good place to compromise. It is medium across the board in acidity, body, tannins and alcohol level. It’s flavor characteristics traditionally range from coffee and chocolate to black cherry, blueberry, and plum. Merlots pair well with a variety of dishes which makes it an easy decision when ordering a dinner bottle for the whole table to share.
This is hand’s down my favorite red wine, if anyone is curious! Probably because I have access to some of the best Pinot Noir’s in the world near my little neck of the woods in Salinas Valley. Known for being a pain to grow and work with, but man is it worth it, Pinot Noir is known for its crisp acidity and light tannins. It is usually a medium bodied wine, so not as full bodied or “heavy” on the mouthfeel as experienced with Cabernet or Merlot. While young it can have flavors of berries, such as cherry, raspberry or strawberry, but as it ages it can be described as earthy or woody. I’m craving a glass just writing this!
This variety is gaining in popularity from Australia. It’s high tannins, high alcohol but low acidity makes it sought after as an alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon’s. With characteristics such as leather, smoke, pepper, blackberry and rosemary, it makes since that it is a great option to serve with BBQ ribs or smoked brisket.
Primarily grown in Argentina, choose a bottle of this delicious wine from this region, when possible. With flavors of plum, cherry and blackberry, this variety typically has high acidity and ranges from low to high tannins.
One of the oldest grape varieties in California, this deep red hued beauty is known for its spicy pepper and dark berry aromas. With high tannins and full body, it is great with red sauce dishes to balance the acidity.
Finding Grenache bottled by itself is often difficult unless you go to a wine specialty store, as it usually is the wine used to make Rose’. It makes a great wine by itself, so I encourage you to try it the next time you come across a bottle. Low on acidity and tannins, the aromas of Grenache range from black pepper and cranberry to sour cherry and strawberry. If you read between the lines, you can see to expect a bit more concentrated tartness and flavor from this variety.
This high acidity, high tannin and lightly colored red is the most widely planted grape variety in Italy. Sangiovese is known for its medium body and fruity characteristics, such as orange peel, blackberry, sour cherry and plum.