When people first begin ordering wine it is easy to be confused with the type of red wine available. Shall I have the “Red Bordeaux” or the “Cabernet Sauvignon”? For all you know, you could be having the same wine! The problem is that some wine producer’s name their wine after the region where the grape is grown and others based on the variety of the grapes used. A simple rule is that wine from France and most of Europe is named after the region. Wine from the United States, Australia and other non-European countries are named after the grape. I have included only the most popular types of grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon (Ka-ber-nay soh-vin-yoh)
Where it is produced: Bordeaux, California, Washington, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.
Characteristics: Known as the “King of Red Wine”, it is the most popular red wine grape to date. Its color is medium to dark red with usually strong tannins. When grape is young, it has a vegetal aroma – mint and green bell pepper. With greater maturity, it develops softer tannins with strong flavor of blackcurrant. The good wines aged longer and may develop chocolate, leather, tobacco, lead pencil or cedar aromas.
Where it is produced: Bordeaux, California, Washington, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.
Characteristics: Often used as a grape to blend with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, Merlot is increasingly gaining popularity on its own. Its color is medium to dark ruby with usually soft tannins. It has rich and ripe plumy fruit flavor with a fruity lingering aftertaste with a hint of vanilla. It is best drunk young.
Pinot Noir (Pee-no Nwahr)
Where it is produced: Burgundy, Alsace, Germany, California, Oregon, Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand.
Characteristics: It is the grape that is used to make great Burgundy wines. Its color is light to medium red with soft tannins, usually dry with a suggestion of sweetness. Aroma and flavor varies from region to region. In France, it is earthy with hints of roasting coffee, prunes or plums. In California, it may have a berry-like aroma of cherries or vanilla. Drink it when it’s young.
Syrah (Sir-ah) or Shiraz (Sear-az)
Where it is produced: France, Switzerland, California, Italy, Israel, Australia and South Africa
Characteristics: Known as either Syrah or Shiraz, this grape allows wine-makers to vary in style from light to full-bodied and in taste from mediocre to great. Its color is usually dark red with high tannins. The aroma and flavors can vary from fruit flavors (strawberry, cherry or raspberry) to vegetal flavors (roasted green peppers), meaty flavors (smoky bacon) to spicy flavor (black pepper). The best wines can age well.
Where it is produced: Beaujolais and Loire Valley in France.
Characteristics: A light-hearted and friendly wine, which has helped, drawn many drinkers into red wines. It is more popularly known as “Beaujolais” than by the name of the grape. Its color is light to medium red with soft tannins. It is surprising fruity and fragrant with grapey or strawberries flavors. Most wine makers try to maintain the youthful, light-bodied, low alcohol style which followers have grown to like. Definitely drink it young.
Where it is produced: California
Characteristics: An increasingly popular wine in the US that has a pink version called the “White” berry bouquet, sometimes peppery or earthy. Moderate tannin and acidity. Good, full-bodied Zinfandel can keep.
Where it is produced: California, Central Italy, and Argentina.
Characteristics: The grape that is used primarily for the popular Italian wine called “Chianti” (Key-ahn-tee). Its color is medium ruby red with low to medium tannins. It has an earthy and smoky aroma though some may exhibit an aroma of cherry fruit . Has a slightly harsh and bitter aftertaste. The good ones can keep up to six years.
Where it is produced: California, Italy (Piedmont).
Characteristics: The grape that is used for Italy’s finest wine – Barbaresco (Bar-bear-esk-o), Barolo and Gattinara (Ghatt-een-ah-rah). Its color is dark red and is tannic and acidic when young. With age, it becomes rich and dry and is usually full bodied. It has an earthy and pungent aroma with suggestion of leather or licorice. Often with a bitter aftertaste. Can age well.
Where it is produced: Spain, Portugal, and Argentina.
Characteristics: Used to make great Spanish wines such as the Rioja (Ree-o-ha), Pesquera (Pess-care-ah) and Vega Silica (Veg-ah Si-sil-yah). Its color is deep red with moderate tannins. It has a pepper and vanilla flavor although its aroma is often masked by the blending with other grapes.
Popular White Wines
Although red wines are probably more popular for wine lovers, most us begin drinking white wine first. The major difference between red and white wine is the absence of tannin, which gives you that harsh or astringent taste when you have too much of it. That is the reason why white wine is enjoyed chilled. Like red wine, there are many different types of grapes used for white wines. We review the most popular.
Chardonnay (Shar doe nay)
Where it is produced: France, US, Australia, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand and many other places.
Characteristics: Known as the “King of White Wine”, it is currently the most popular white wine grape. Its color is pale to straw yellow and its aroma can vary from region to region. In cooler climates, there are hints of apple, citrus, butter and vanilla whereas in the warmer climate, the aroma swings toward melon and tropical fruits. It is usually oaked and is full bodied and toasty with moderate acidity.
Sauvignon Blanc (Saw Vee nyon blahnk)
Where it is produced: Bordeaux, Loire Valley, US, Australia, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, Italy and many other places.
Characteristics: Also known as Fumé Blanc, this grape is a popular blending grape for Bordeaux wines. Its color is light to medium yellow with a tinge of green. It has a grassy bouquet like the smell of a freshly cut lawn. May also display scents of lemons, asparagus and fig.
Chenin Blanc (shay nan blahnk)
Where it is produced: Vouvray, Anjou, Saveuniéres,Saumur, Steen, US.
Characteristics: Used to make many different types of wine – sparkling, dry and sweet wines. Its color is usually pale to medium yellow and may vary from dry to semi-sweet and sweet with moderate to high acidity. It has a honey aroma with scents of hay as well.
Sémillon (sem ee yon)
Where it is produced: Bordeaux, Australia, South Africa and Chile.
Characteristics: The grape is well known in France for making the sweet wines of Sauternes although in other parts of the world, it is made as a dry white wine. It is also a common blending partner with the Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux. Its color is light to medium yellow. Its aroma is slightly grassy with a hint of lemon. With maturity, it develops nutty, buttery and toasty scents. The wines from Sauternes have honey-like bouquet and are sweet.
Gewürztraminer (gah VERTZ trah mee ner)
Where it is produced: Alsace, Germany, US.
Characteristics: This very distinctive grape is found in limited regions but is gaining some popularity. Its color is medium yellow and it has a strong bouquet of fresh roses and lychee fruit. It is often a soft fat wine and can sometimes be spicy. The best Gewürztraminers are found in Alsace and Germany.
Muscat (moos caht)
Where it is produced: Alsace, Italy, Austria
Characteristics: Also known as Muskadel. Is also often confused with the Muscadet (Muss ka day) grape used in the Loire valley in France. Used to make types of dessert, sparkling and dry white wines. Its color is medium yellow and it has a strong flowery, perfumey, fruity flavor that is very distinct.
Riesling (Rees ling)
Where it is produced: Alsace, Germany, Austria, US, Australia and Canada.
Characteristics: Also known as Rhine Riesling or Johannisberging in some parts of the world. It is pale straw color. In Germany, it is often made a sweet dessert wine. Its aroma has suggestion of lemons, flowers and pineapples.
Pinot Blanc (pee noh blahnk)
Where it is produced: Alsace, Germany, Italy, Austria, US.
Characteristics: Also known as Pinot Blanco in Italy and Weissburgunder in Germany, Pinot Blanc belongs to the Pinot family of grapes. Its color is pale yellow with suggestion of honey, apples and rich tropical fruit. Tends to be dry crisp and full-bodied.
Pinot Gris (Pee noh gree)
Where it is produced: Alsace, Germany, Italy, Austria, US,
Characteristics: Also known as Tokay D’Alsace or Pinot Grigio. It is yellow in color and has a dry, rich, full-bodied, pear-like taste with creamy texture. It has a smoky or musky aroma though you may experience some buttery flavor with apricot overtones.
Trebbiano (treb bee Ah noh)
Where it is produced: France, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, and Argentina.
Characteristics: Also known as Frascati or Orvieto. It’s color is water pale-to-pale straw and is usually light bodied, dry, crisp and fruity. Often used as a blending grape as well. It has a rather neutral aroma or faint nutty bouquet.
The Right Temperature
Not all wine should be served at the same temperature. Depending on the body and flavor of the wine, one should vary the temperature as recommended in the chart below. Chill the wine in a bucket of ice and water for 5 to 10 mins. Many red wines might recommend being drunk at the “room temperature”. However, it is wise to know that our room temperature is often not the room temperature where the wine is produced or labeled. Hence, a little chilling is necessary.
- Full Bodied Red Wine – Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz.15-20°C (59 – 68° F)
- Light Bodied Red Wine – Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Red Burgundy.12-15°C (54 – 59° F)
- Dry White Wines – Chardonnay, Burgundy, Sauvignon.10-12°C (50 – 54° F)
- Light Sweet Wine – Dessert wines, Champagne and other sparkling wines.5-10°C (41 – 50° F)
Decanting and Breathing
Decanting is often necessary for the older wines or heavier reds to remove the deposits in the bottle. To decant, stand the wine for a day and slowly pour the wine into another bottle or decanter. Ideally, do it in front of a lamp and stop when you see the deposit. Decanting also allows the wine to “breathe”, which will help soften the harsh tannin of the wine. Most red wines don’t need to breathe before serving. Don’t bother uncorking the wine and let it stand to breathe. The amount of wine which comes in contact with the air is minimal. It is better to pour it into a wine glass to let it breathe.
The Right Glasses
Glasses for red wine tend to be larger than white wines glasses. Champagne should be served in a flute glass whenever possible.