To a non wine drinker it all sounds the same, but taste a couple different types of the stuff and anyone will realize that the differences between them are enormous. Here is a quick guide to some of the different types of wine so that you will know what you’re getting into when it comes time to order. Having a basic understanding of the differences between types of wine is going to help immensely when it comes to any decision making.
To start, there are reds, whites, and an other category, which includes rose and champagne. Here is an abbreviated list with super quick descriptions, but there are some pairing options included to make choosing a little easier.
The most common reds you’ll probably hear about are cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot, Chianti, zinfandel, and barolo. Red wine gets it’s color from the grape skins.
Cab is the most recognized wine, which is deep with a lot of tannins. It’s great with cheddar cheese, olives, walnuts, swordfish, and beef.
Pinot Noir is grown all over the world but it often comes from Burgandy France. Noir is great with shellfish, mushrooms, chicken, and cheese, but not so much dessert as sweet foods can overwhelm this light to medium bodied wine.
Many people prefer a little less tannins than the cab provides, and the merlot is a little lighter in that sense. It also has less depth however, which is why it often finds itself in wine blends. It’s good with grilled meats, chocolate, Parmesan cheese, and tomato sauces.
In the case of Chianti, the name comes from the region, not from the type of grape. Chianti is a dry red wine that goes great with traditional pasta with a marinara sauce, chicken dishes, and is a perfect choice for pizza.
Zinfandel is commonly grown in California and is medium to full bodied. It works well with sausages, aged cheeses, peppers, spicy food and hot sauces, as it can have a bit of a kick itself.
Barolo is a traditional Italian wine that is generally quite delicious and more expensive then your general wine types, so it can be a good choice for a special occasion. Pair with strong flavored dishes like a beef stew, as it will over power the lighter ingredients.
Popular white wines include sauvignon blanc, Riesling, white zinfandel, chardonnay, and pinot grigio. (Note that there are both pinot noir and pinot grigio, so ordering “the pinot” at a restaurant isn’t going to get you very far.)
Sauv Blanc as it’s commonly referred to, is of French origin and tends to be more grassy or citrus flavored. It has a high acid content that makes it a great match for fried foods, green veggies, rice, and salty foods.
Riesling is often very sweet but it can also come in pretty dry versions. It’s one white wine that ages well, more similarly to how red wines do. It has a good balance between sugar and acid that make it a standup choice for bold and heavier foods like Chinese or Thai.
Some people would argue that white zinfandel isn’t actually a wine, since it is created from the red zinfandel grape and has a high sugar content and low alcohol content. This is less common on a restaurant wine list and more common with people who don’t like the taste of alcohol.
Chardonnay comes in oaked or un-oaked versions, which has to do with flavor profile. Oaked is a little more smoky, and both are velvety full bodied whites that can go places like buttery, nutty, fruity, or vanilla. They pair well with most food, try it with crab, avocado, mozzarella, potatoes, crackers, and ice cream.
Pinot grigio is a lighter wine that is popularly grown in Italy and on the US west coast. It’s generally crisp and dry with fruity flavors that pair well with seafood, chicken, risotto, pasta with white sauce, or something else on the lighter side.
A rose wine is not the same as a sweet white zin, even though they’re both usually pink in color. The color of rose comes from leaving some of the grape skins in but not enough to classify it as red wine. It can be sweet but it is often quite crisp and dry and really well made. Don’t underestimate a rose based on its hue! The light and fruity qualities of it pair well with rich cheeses, salads and grilled vegetables, cold cuts, fish, and even spicy foods.
Everyone knows about champagne, but not about all it’s history. Traditional champagne actually comes from Champagne Italy, and if it doesn’t it can only be called “sparkling wine”. The bubbles come from the wine being fermented a second time by adding yeast and sugar, and the result is not just for toasting special occasions. Try it with oysters, any fried food, macaroni and cheese, or BBQ chicken.