In this ultimate wine guide we cover everything you need to know about the many types of wine out there.
You will be amazed at just how much information there is about a simple glass of your favorite wine.
Wine is classified in five groups and all the common names you may have heard of such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, fall into one of these categories. Every wine you taste will be in one of those categories.
Don’t you just love a glass of wine at the end of a busy day – what would a meal be without a glass of your favorite wine alongside?
Did you know that the reds are prepared by soaking the grapes and the skins, while the whites use only the fruit? And you also knew that your choice of wine glass serves as a major part in the taste of your wine? Try serving a really good wine out of a plastic cup and see how awful it tastes! On the other hand, decant a cheaper wine into a crystal glass and savor the taste!
We’ve included descriptions of the wine groups, along with some tips you may never have heard of before, and a selection of ‘toys’ for the wine connoisseur in all of us! Enjoy!
Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words. – Plautus
What is Wine?
It is just the most amazing thing that one single fruit can give us so many different types of liquid! With tastes ranging from tingly and tangy, to rich and mellow – and everything in between – it’s no wonder it’s such a popular sight on every table and in every restaurant!
Wine is the fermented juice of any fruit. Typically, we think of wine as being made from grapes, and this is mostly true. However, wine can be made from many other fruits such as raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. The reason grapes are used so abundantly is because of the acid which is found in them, and which is not found in other fruits. It is this acid which preserves the wine for years and sometimes decades. Many wine enthusiasts are also interested in similar vices like tobacco, liquors, and craft beers, you may find this interactive pairing guide an interesting tool to try out.
Grapes also contain more sugar than most other fruits, which makes then the best fruit to use. It is the sugar which makes the wine more or less alcoholic as it ferments. This is the reason why, when you make your own wine in your kitchen, you will find that you have to add a lot of sugar to your pear or apple wine to get a good taste. Grapes have that sugar all built in. In fact, wine making with grapes is very easy as there are less ingredients to use. There are also really only four steps to make wine:
- Pick your grapes
- Crush your grapes
- Collect the juice
- Ferment the juice
The skill comes from correct fermentation times and the aging process, the blending of certain grapes and the bottling, which is what every winemaker strives to achieve. So, while getting started in wine making may sound easy, the whole process is extremely involved and timing is crucial to producing a great wine. Even factors such as soil, weather conditions and farming techniques will play a part in the end result.
Fermented grapes make wine. However, wine can also be made by using other things such as apples, pears, strawberries and even some veggies like potatoes! Most wines that you are served in restaurants and buy in shops are made from grapes. On the whole wines are made from fruit and beer is made from grains, thus the saying to ‘never mix the grape and the grain’ because this gives a nasty headache!
Every wine producer tries to produce ripe, healthy grapes, full of sugar, that can be fermented with the addition of yeast. When all the grape sugar is fermented, you will have a dry wine. The more sugar that is fermented, the more potent the wine. The alcohol content on wines may vary from 8% right up to 15%. Most wines, however, fall into the 13.5% range.
About the Grapes
Wine grapes differ from the types that we would buy at the supermarket in that wine grapes have thicker skins, are usually small and sweet, and contain seeds. The Latin name for these grapes is Vitis vinifera. There are approximately 1000 different types of wine grapes all over the world!
Single variety and blends are made with just one type of grape while a wine made with several different types is called a blend.
If you are buying wines originating from Europe, you will often find that the wines are often named after the place where they originated from. This is a tradition there.
The Red Collection
As you might expect red wine is made from dark grapes, although the end-product can vary from deep violet – typical of young wines – to deep reds and almost browns for older wines. While the juice from most dark colored grapes is actually a pale green, it is the skin color that gives the wine it’s color and characteristics. The skin will produce a red extract. The production of wine
focuses on extracting the color, and also, the intense flavors of the skins. Sometimes a new drinker may add a splash of water to red wine. Some older reds also benefit from this. There are
actually some red wines which taste very good when served at a slightly cooler temperature. Some older red wines may benefit from adding a splash of water, and this is also something that new drinkers may do as some red wines are quite full bodied.
Here are red wines by name and flavors. (some of them you will no doubt be familiar with)
- Cabernet Sauvignon: tastes of bell pepper, green olives, black cherry and cassis. This wine is mainly found in the Bordeaux region but also is becoming very well established in California, USA, in Napa Valley. It is also found in Chile. When it is used in Bordeaux it is mostly blended to soften the tannins. Any Cabernet from Napa Valley will be deep purple and taste of black cherries and, currants. The undertones will be oaky. You may also detect hints of olives and herbs. Cabernet Sauvignon is an extremely popular wine and goes well with most foods that it is paired with.
- Gamay: Tastes of cherry, raspberry and strawberry. This wine is meant to be drunk when young, not kept and matured. It is a very fruity wine, bright and tangy, and you might often catch a hint of bananas. You have more than likely come across this and seen it called Beaujolais Nouveau, as the name indicates, it is a new wine and when you see it for sale, it is perfectly ready to be drunk and enjoyed!
- Grenache: tastes of cherries and spice. Some of the best type of this wine comes from Australia and Spain. It is also used in the blend of Cotes de Rhone in France. Because the grape ripens early, it tends to be lower in acidity, and is also lower in alcohol. A really good Grenache will be fruity and spicy at the same time, with bold flavors.
- Malbec: tastes of spices and sour cherries. This wine has recently become very popular in Argentina where the wine turns out to be spicy and somewhat on the tart side because of the aging in new oak barrels. You may also find these wines that have been made in California. Occasionally they will come from Washington. It is not the most well-known wine, often people prefer a smoother wine rather than the tart taste from the Malbec.
- Merlot: tastes of plum, strawberry, cherry and watermelon. Possibly one of the most well-known wines and maybe even one of the most drinkable! Merlot that is produced in Bordeaux is the finest in the world. That being said, the next best merlot comes from Washington State, where the grapes ripen in ideal conditions to produce plump fruit and delicious wines which can be aged for ten or more years, if you want to.
The White Collection
White wine is produced from green grapes, although sometimes also from black ones. You will find a wide range of flavors in this category ranging from creamy to light and fruity. White wines are perfect for hot summer days, long evenings and get togethers. They are mostly good fun wines which are easy to drink. Some of them are better served icy cold, others slightly warmer than that, but all of them will enhance your meal and outing.
- Chardonnay: tastes of green apples, pineapple and sometimes papaya. The chardonnay grape grows all over the world and therefore is very popular and versatile. It is produced manly in Burgundy, California and Australia and can also be aged in oak very well where it takes on the buttery aromas or vanilla perfume. New chardonnays will smell strongly of fresh green apples and will also have a flavor of apples. Where the vineyard is located will also dictate whether it is buttery or crisp, and just how much of the apple flavor it has.
- Chenin Blanc: tastes of apples, lemon, pear and melon. This grape is mostly grown in the Loire Valley, France, but also in areas of South Africa. It’s a very versatile wine and can be dry, off-dry, sparkling or even sweet when it is used as a dessert wine. Typically, from this grape you will find floral aromas along with the fruit smells of apples and pears.
- Gewürztraminer: tastes of grapefruit, lychee and flowers. It is grown mainly in Alsace but you will also find it grown in Oregon and Northern Italy. The grapes produce a wine which is crisp and grapefruit flavored. It very seldom has any oaky flavor as it is not ages in oak. This wine seems to go well with spicy dishes.
- Marsanne: tastes vaguely of almonds, peaches and pears. This grape is mostly grown in the Rhone area, and sometimes in the US. You will also find it grown in Auatralia where it has been grown for the longest time. In both places you may find that it is blended with either Roussanne or Grenache Blanc. This grape makes a full-bodied wine with undertones of almonds (some people smell marzipan), white peaches and pears.
- Muscat: tastes of tangerines and oranges. Fruit! That is what you will find with this wine. It is sometimes also made into light sparkling wines or rich dessert wines as there is normally a hint of sweetness here. It produces a decidedly luscious wine.
- Pinot Blanc: tastes of citrus and green apples. This is a lighter and more elegant wine than Chardonnay, although it is not as well-known as Pinot Grigio. Made in Alsace, northeast Italy, Oregon and parts of California you will find these wines to be lightly herby to spicy and citrusy.
- Pinot Grigio: Tastes of citrus, melon and pears. This is also called Pinot Gris and you will find it is a light, fresh wine which is not overwhelmingly oaky. Pinot Gris is produced in Oregon where the wine is pear flavored with a hint of sweetness. Pinot Grigio from California tends to be slightly heavier while those which come from Washington produce intense, tart wines. These wines go well with seafood dishes.
The Rosé Collection
This group of wines is produced by removing the skins so that the wine is not colored. They are made by blending white and red wine. They come is sweet or dry types. Rose wines are just perfect for when the temperatures outside are rising! This wine is perfect for drinking outdoors! It should really be served chilled so you may need to take ice on your outing, but it will be worth the effort when you take a sip of this delicious wine! Rosé wine never stains your teeth and very seldom gives you a headache! Good reasons to take a few bottles with you on your next picnic! Another interesting fact is that if you are in a restaurant and ask for a rose wine, you will be able to get a chilled one without a lecture from the sommelier on how best to drink your wine, which food to pair it with and so on. Rosé wines tend to be left out of these conversations, unlike red and white, which will bring a lengthy discussion before you manage to get a taste!
- Grenache Rosé: taste here is fruity, strawberry, orange and a hint of hibiscus. Occasionally you may smell a hint of allspice. These wines are typically a little on the acidic side so they work best served slightly chilled. Pairing them with herby foods works nicely so Greek foods would work well here.
- Sangiovese Rosé: taste is fruity, strawberry, melon, yellow peaches with a hint of rose petals. This wine typically has a lovely red color, and is also normally a little on the dry side. You would do well to serve it cold in a white wine glass and pair it with spicy food.
- Tempranillo Rosé: tastes of peppercorn, watermelon and strawberry. This wine normally comes from the Rioja region, and also from other parts of Spain. It has a pretty pale pink color and is becoming very popular. Sometimes it is blended with Grenache which adds a floral taste to it.
- Syrah Rosé: tastes of white pepper, green olives, strawberry and peaches. This is a north American wine which is becoming very popular among the younger business class. It is typically on the bold side and does well served slightly on the warm side instead of being well chilled. It is a deep ruby color and looks good in red wine glasses. So, keep it just above fridge temperatures to serve it at its best.
- Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé: tastes of green pepper, cherry and blackcurrant juice with a hint of black pepper. It has a beautiful color of deep ruby red and is not normally aged on oak so will not have that slight tart taste.
- Zinfandel Rosé: tastes of strawberry, lemon, cotton candy and melon. Sometimes also known as White Zin. This is possibly the most popular of all the Rose wines sold in the US. It is an incredibly drinkable wine. It has a slightly dry taste which follows after the initial sweetness. Best served ice cold and compliments spicy foods.
- Tavel Rosé: taste has been described as rich and savory. This wine was in fact the favorite wine of writer Ernest Hemmingway. It is a dry rosé with more body than most rose wines. This wine is salmon pink and is one of the few rosé wines that ages well. The taste of summer fruits will then turn slightly rich and nutty over time. It has all the characteristics of red wine, but less color.
- Provence Rosé: tastes of strawberry, watermelon and rose petals. This wine is fresh, crisp and slightly on the dry side, which makes it the perfect partner for most dishes. Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah are combined to make this delicious rose.
- Mourvèdre Rosé: tastes of red plums, cherries, herbs and has a slightly smoky finish. It is often quite a pale color and you may also smell violets and rose petals. These are very rounded wines and somewhat more full bodied than other rosé wines.
- Pinot Noir Rosé: Tastes of crab apple, watermelon, raspberries and strawberry. It has soft and subtle flavors while being cool and crisp and a little on the dry side. The grapes are not tolerant of adverse weather conditions but a good crop will produce a magnificent rosé.
The Sparkling Collection
Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy. Benjamin Franklin
Everyone knows that this is the wine for seeing in the new year, or even popping at christenings, birthdays anniversaries, in fact at any ‘occasion’. A bottle of bubbly will normally be present at anything which is called an event. It’s the way we celebrate! While the genuine champagne can sometimes be out of your price range, you will be pleased to know that you can still easily celebrate with a bottle of sparkling wine. It will cost a whole lot less and you will be just as happy to serve it to your guests. Asti, Cava and Prosecco will all easily grace your festive table. If you absolutely must have champagne, then be sure to get it from a reputable dealer.
A good guide to telling the difference between this and sparkling wine: 2013 MIT study
The bubble effect is caused by a second fermentation, which is the trade mark of a sparkling wine. This wine can be either red, white or rosé and can range from super sweet to extra dry.
Grapes used for this are non-aromatic such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This wine is typically from cooler regions. To be classed as dry the wine must have the least amount of sugar added to it. These are normally labelled as Brut. Wines that fall into this category are:
Brut and Extra Brut
Light, Dry, Fruity & Floral
These are normally very light in taste and often quite fruity. In Italy, you sometimes find that Pinot Grigio has been blended and the end result is of fruity white peaches. This type of grape can grow in warmer climates such as Sonoma and California.
Some wines in this category:
Prosecco, brut and extra brut
Most sparkling roses
Most sparkling wines from America and South Africa
Extra dry sparkling wines
Sweet & Perfumed
These wines are either sweetened by using aromatic grapes like Muscat or they are sweetened during the process. Some wines in this category:
Demi sec sparkling wines
Italian sparkling wine
The Fortified Collection
This is an area of wines that is less well known, with many new drinkers being of the wrong
opinion that this is a ‘cheap booze’ category. Wrong! You probably got that idea from your gran or aunts drinking their glass of Sherry before lunch on Sunday! This was the tradition, and still is, in many households.
Fortified wines have distilled spirit added to them which means that the alcohol content is higher. These wines are usually served in smaller glasses and are of the liquor type instead of full glasses of wine. Often served before meals, you will find them more concentrated than your glass of wine. This is also a lot stronger, which is why you will have a small glass. They are designed to be sipped and savored, not drunk as you would your wines. Occasionally an ice cube may be added but, on the whole, they are served on their own and at room temperature.
Fortified wines are wines which have had spirits added to them. They are often thought of as dessert wines although many of them are dry and sold as Sherry. Served in smaller glasses in small amounts as additional alcohol is added during the fermentation process. Typical alcohol content can be up to 17-20%. These wines can be anywhere from medium sweet to dry.
The most common types are:
Levels of Sweetness
There are levels of sweetness within the five groups of wine and these can range from very dry to extra sweet and anywhere in between.
Dry wines are produced when all the sugars of the grapes are fermented into alcohol. A dry wine is therefore a wine that has no residual sugar, which means that it is not sweet at all. Often a wine maker will stop the fermentation just before all the sugar is used to ensure that there is a small amount of sweetness left. To make a true dry wine the wine will be allowed to ferment until the sugar is completely used up. No more sugar means no sweetness and the wine will be dry.
The difference between a sweet wine and a dry wine is entirely due to the amount of sugar in the wine. Other factors which will contribute to this are regions, alcohol levels and tannins.
Most wines that you buy at your supermarket these days will have a sweetness indicator on the bottle, which will give you an idea of where the wine is in the sweetness range. Some of the Old World wines will not have these symbol because they were bottled before the regulations came into being.
A dry red wine will not have any sweetness because all the sugar Hs been allowed to ferment into alcohol. You may also have the sensation of feeling dryness when you taste a red wine. Reds are often described as being tannic. Some dry reds you most probably have come across are:
A dry white will typically have the aroma of sweetness along with full bodied fruity flavors. When you taste it, you will find that there is no actual sweetness in the wine. Astringent is the word which is used to describe dry white wines. Some wines in this category are:
You may have heard this being described as ‘off dry’, or medium dry. Semi sweet wines have a small amount of sugar left in them which are usually there to compliment the aromatic aromas in the wine. A semi sweet wine has some sweetness in the taste as well as the smell. Riesling is a good example of semi-sweet wine. This type of wine has a hint of sweetness and normally has a fruity taste, much more apparent than a dry wine.
Semi-sweet wines are typically thought of as summer wines as they are so refreshing. They often have soda or lemonade added to them to make a long drink which is extremely refreshing. One thing to watch with this is that because they are really very drinkable, it is very easy to drink more because one is thirsty and this type of drink goes down so well on a hot day!
Sweet wines have a lot of sugar which has not been fermented. Typically, these are lower in alcohol unless they are fortified. Moscato d’Asti is just 5.5% alcohol. A sweet wine is as the name says – sweet. Normally a person who is new to drinking wine will start with a sweet wine. These wines will have very fruity flavors and a high sugar content.
A fortified sweet wine is typically called a dessert wine and most of them are sweet. There are some that are dry such as Sherry. Often a sweet wine is served before a meal as an aperitif, to whet the appetite before the meal. There are no hard and fast rules about this, you may drink your glass of Sherry whenever you feel like it!
There is no doubt about it – and you will hear this from any wine lover – that a correct glass makes any wine taste better. If you have any doubt about this statement, then try tasting your wine from a polystyrene cup and see how awful it tastes! Also, there are some wine glass shapes which work well for specific types of wine. Everyone knows that champagne is drunk from a flute and red wine in a nice big bowl shaped glass.
There are many other options when it comes to how you serve your wine. There are also better temperatures for each wine, some are better served icy cold, while others are better at room temperature. There are certain similarities between tea and wine in that some tea tastes better hot, and others are actually made to be iced and served with a slice of lemon in a long thin glass.
There is no absolute ‘right’ way to serve either your tea or your wine. If you happen to fins a temperature that gives you a pleasant drink, and the right style of glass to make it an enjoyable experience for you, then that is the right way for you to drink your wine! It is a very individual thing. Really, everything you read about wine and what food to eat with it, what glass to use, and so on, are all only recommendations. The final judge is you!
Here are a few suggestions about how to serve wines:
Red wine: tastes better at a slightly below room temperature with wines in the Pinot Noir range at the cooler end.
White wine: best served between 44-57 degrees. Fruity ones like to be served on the cooler side, while the okay aged ones do well a little warmer.
Sparkling wine: great served between 38-45 degrees, although champagne is better at a slightly higher temperature.
On decanting your wine: this will dramatically improve the flavor of your red wine. Open the bottle, and pout is into a decanter of your choice. Failing a decanter, just leave it open to ‘breathe’. If possible you should let it breathe for 40 -60 minutes.
Other than a very old red wine, you will only improve the flavor of the wine by decanting it. Sparkling wine should never be decanted, and neither should white wine be left open. Decanting will also get rid of the smell that sometimes comes with a cheaper wine, almost a sulphur like smell. Decanting your wine will give the smell a chance to be released and dissipate.
The Benefits of drinking wine
Yes, there are in fact, quite a lot of benefits from drinking wine! Every year there are studies carried out that show these benefits. Of course, the studies are based on the fact that the drinking is in moderation and not excess. They are also done by the American Heart Association who recommends one to two 4oz glasses per day.
An interesting article by the American Heart Association about wine and heart health gives results of many surveys they have carried out to show the benefits of moderate drinking.
- Promotes Longevity: Regular wine drinkers have a lower mortality rate of 34% as opposed to those who regularly drink beer or spirits. This study was a Finnish survey of 2,400 men over a period of 29 years.
- Reduces Heart-Attack Risk: Moderate drinkers of wine are 30% less likely to have heart attack than non-drinkers. This was a study done over 16 years with 11,700 men.
- Lowers Risk of Heart Disease: The tannins in red wine protect against heart disease because they contain procyanidins. The best wines for this are those that come from southwest France and Sardinia.
- Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: There is a 30% less chance of a moderate drinker developing type 2 diabetes than a non-drinker. This was a study of 369.800 people over a period of 12 years in Amsterdam.
- Lowers Risk of Stroke: People who drink moderate amounts of wine have a 50% less likely chance of developing a blood clot than a non-drinker. This study was done using 3,100 people in a study over a period of 8 years by a Columbia University.
- Slows Brain Decline: In a study using 1,144 people over 4 years it was shown that average brain function declined at a much faster rate in non-drinkers as opposed to those who drank wine moderately.
- Cuts Risk of Cataracts: There is a 32% less chance of a moderate drinker developing cataracts than a non-drinker, or someone who regularly drinks beer. This study was done over 5 years using 1,300 people.
- Cuts Risk of Colon Cancer: The risk of colon cancer is reduced by 45% in a moderate wine drinker. This is especially true if the wine is red. This study was done using 2,290 people over a period of 4 years
Here are a few tips which you may not know:
A cheaper wine will be better decanted as some of the chemical smell will disappear and not affect the taste.
Storing and serving a wine above 70 degrees will make it smell more alcoholic because more ethanol evaporates as the temperature rises.
If you cheaper wine has a sulphur smell to it, you will get rid of it by stirring the wine with something silver like an old teaspoon. Even using a piece of pure silver jewellery will work here.
‘Vintage’ refers to the year that the grapes were grown. A non-vintage wine is a blend of wines from several vintages.
In a dry wine, you will still be able to smell the fruit. Being a dry wine does not mean that there is an absence of fruit. It may not taste of fruit but you will think more of fruit juice.
Some people are more sensitive to tannins than others. People who have more protein in their saliva will not experience the effect of tannin as much as their friends. Salty foods will also help to reduce the tannin taste.
Toys for wine buffs
Here’s a natty little sip caddy to make drinking your favorite wine in the bath a piece of cake!
We also have an elegant shoe wine bottle holder which will be a great conversation piece at your next party.
This is exactly the type of elegant wine decanter to serve your red wine in, next time you have a party.
Here’s a great set of coasters for your wine glasses to rest on.
Perfect for making sure that no one gets confused, this set of wine charms will make sure no one else will accidentally drink your wine.
Wine has been around for hundreds of years in many different styles. Whether you are new to drinking wine or an old hand at it, I am sure you have never tastes all the wines that are on your bucket list! That is the great thing about wine! Always a new one to try, another taste to savor, another food to pair your favorite wine with! The possibilities are endless! Wines are possibly the most versatile drinks you will ever come across. Any color, any glass, any temperature, any food pairing – and the list of possible drinks goes on! You should never be afraid to try another type of wine, neither should you become to set in the way that it is suggested to serve. Experiment with your wine, perhaps you prefer it slightly warmer. Maybe you like a slice of lime in your glass. Go ahead! One thing is certain – there are so many wines out there, you will never run out of tasting possibilities!
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.