Wine is made with grapes, but not typical table grapes you’ll find at the grocery. Wine grapes (latin name: Vitis vinifera) have thick skins, are small, sweet, and contain seeds. There are many different kinds of wine grapes–over a thousand,–but here are a few of the most-commonly planted varieties around the world.
A wine made with one type of grape is a single-variety wine or, varietal wine. A wine made with several different grapes is a blend. Even single-variety wines are not always varietally labeled though. In Europe, wines are traditionally named after the place they originated. For example, a Bordeaux Blend is a blend of several grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and comes from Bordeaux, France. Another familiar example is Chianti (“key-aunt-tee”), a Sangiovese-based blend from Tuscany, Italy.
The 8 wines included in this article represent 6 of the 9 styles of wine. Trying all 8 wines will give you a good example of the potential range of flavors found in all wine. Each wine listed below also includes alternative varieties that taste similar. So, if you prefer a particular wine, you might also like its alternatives. Try them side-by-side to learn your preferences!
Cherry, Black Currant, Baking Spices and
Cedar (from oak)
Style: Full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red grape first heavily planted in the Bordeaux region. Today, it’s the most popular wine variety in the world. Wines are full-bodied with bold tannins and a long persistent finish driven mostly by the higher levels of alcohol and tannin that often accompany these wines.
Food Pairing: lamb, beef, smoked meats, French, American, firm cheeses like aged cheddar and hard cheeses like Pecorino
“Sear-ah” (aka Shiraz)
plum, tobacco, meat, black pepper, violet
Style: Full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz) is a full-bodied red wine that’s heavily planted in the Rhône Valley in France and Australia. The wines have intense fruit flavors and middleweight tannins. Syrah is commonly blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre to create the red Rhône blend. The wine often has an aggressively meaty (beef broth, jerky) quality.
Food Pairing: lamb, beef, smoked meats; Mediterranean, French, and American firm cheeses like white cheddar, and hard cheeses like Manchego
Taste: A broad,
exotic array of fruits from stone (overripe
nectarine), to red (raspberry, sour cherry),
to blue (plum, blueberry), to black
(blackberry, boysenberry), Asian 5 Spice
Powder, Sweet Tobacco
Style: Medium-bodied to full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Zinfandel (aka Primitivo) is a medium-bodied red wine that originated in Croatia. Wines are fruit-forward and spicy with a medium length finish. Zinfandel is a red grape that may be better known as the rosé wine White Zinfandel.
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, cured meat, lamb, beef, barbecue, Italian, American, Chinese, Thai, Indian, full-flavored like cheddar and firm cheeses such as Manchego
Taste: Very red
fruited (cherry, cranberry) and red-floral
(rose), often with appealing vegetal notes
of beet, rhubarb, or mushroom
Style: Lighter-bodied Red Wine with higher acid and soft tannin
Description: Pinot Noir is a dry light-bodied first widely planted in France. The wines always lead with higher acid and soft tannins.
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, veal, duck, cured meat, French, German, cream sauces, soft cheeses, nutty medium-firm cheeses like Gruyère
citrus (Meyer lemon), yellow pomaceous fruits
(yellow pear and apple), and tropical fruits
(banana, pineapple), often cinnamon,
butterscotch, and toasted caramel notes
Style: Medium to full-bodied white wine
Description: Chardonnay is a dry full-bodied white wine that was planted in large quantities for the first time in France. When oak-aged, Chardonnay will have spicy, bourbon-y notes. Unoaked wines are lighter and zesty with apple and citrus flavors. Chardonnay is the white grape of Burgundy.
Food Pairing: lobster, crab, shrimp, chicken, pork, mushroom, French, cream sauces, soft cheeses such as triple cream brie, medium-firm cheeses like Gruyère
(grapefruit pith), with some exotic fruits
(honeydew melon, passion fruit, kiwi) and
always an herbaceous quality (grass, mint,
Style: Light-bodied to medium-bodied white wine
Description: Sauvignon Blanc is a dry white grape first widely planted in France. Wines are tart, typically with herbal green fruit flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Food Pairing: fish, chicken, pork, veal, Mexican, Vietnamese, French, herb-crusted goat cheese, nutty cheeses such as Gruyère
“Pee-no Gree” (aka Pinot Grigio)
citrus (lime water, orange zest) and
pomaceous fruits (apple skin, pear sauce),
white floral notes, and cheese rind (from lees
Style: Light-bodied White Wine
Description: Pinot Gris is a dry light-bodied white grape that is planted heavily in Italy, but also in France and Germany. Wines are light to middle-weight and easy drinking, often with some bitter flavor on the palate (bitter almond, quinine)
Food Pairing: Salad, delicate poached fish, light and mild cheeses
(kefir lime, lemon juice) and stone-fruit
(white peach, nectarine) always feature
prominently, although there are also usually
floral and sweet herbal elements as well
Style: Floral and fruit-driven aromatic white that comes in variable sweetness. Some producers choose not to ferment all the grape sugar and therefore make the wine in an “off-dry” style.
Description: Always very high in acid, when made as a table wine Rieslings can be harmoniously sweet (sweet and sour) or dry (very acidic). The wine is polarizing because some people find dry styles too acidic and sweet styles too cloying, but sweetness is always a wine making decision and not inherent to the grape.
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, duck, turkey, cured meat, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Moroccan, German, washed-rind cheeses and fondue