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Common Types of Wine Varieties to Know

Wine is one of the most delicious and prestigious beverages, with many traditions and a long history.

It is also well known that there are many varieties and styles of wine, some of which are very different from each other, and others that can only be distinguished by a trained and experienced wine taster.

Common Types of Wine (the top varieties)

However, you don’t need to be a sommelier to understand the main types of wine and what separates them. It can actually be fun to be able to distinguish different wines and is a great way to impress or surprise people, and you may well just find you have a passion for it!

The Grapes

Grape Cluster Hanging on a Grapevine

It’s important to mention that the type of grape used to make wine is very different from the grapes you’ll enjoy as a light snack.

They are very different and there are many hundreds, if not thousands of different varieties that add different flavors and textures to a wine, which is why there are so many different varieties of wine. 

The main species of grape used is known as Vitis Vinifera or the common grapevine, and it’s grown worldwide in many different countries and in many different subspecies.

The Main Types of Wine

Wine with various types of cheese on wooden background

Just as there are many different types of grapes, there are many different types of wine.

Wines can be very different based on many different factors, from the grapes that are fermented to make the wine to the process of fermentation to the country the grapes are grown in and even the soil they’re grown in.

There are almost too many different factors to count, so there are a few overarching categories to help group wines that are similar to each other. These wines are mainly distinguished by the processes used to make them and their colors.

In terms of flavor, there are some similarities within each overarching type of wine, however, there are also some stark differences within these categories.

This means that simply saying you like red wine, or dislike white wine, is a bit of an overstatement as there are probably wines you’ll enjoy from each, depending on your preferred taste and texture.

With all of that said, let’s break down the main types of wine and their defining characteristics.

Red Wine

Pouring Red Wine in a Glass

Red wines are some of the most popular in the world and are made all over the world, from various parts of France to California in the US and even Australia as well as various countries in South America.

While there are many differences between different wines from these regions, there is one guaranteed constant that they all share and that is their deep red coloration.

This happens because the grape skins are left in during the fermentation process, making the color of the wine a very deep red color.

While there are different shades of red wine, some being far deeper than others, red wine will always be easily distinguishable by its intense flavor and complex scents.

Shiraz (Syrah)

Shiraz is a bold and rich red wine that is very popular in France and Australia. This wine is medium-bodied and very flavorful thanks to very fruity notes and fairly high tannin content.

This is a wine that is often paired with rich meats such as lamb, beef, and hard cheeses such as parmesan or manchego.

It is said to have flavors that are similar to plums, blueberries as well as meaty notes which make it such a suitable complement to meat dishes.

Pinotage

This wine is made in South Africa and it’s very similar to Shiraz, with notes of cherry, blackberry, figs, and roasted meat.

It also has a smoky flavor that makes it slightly different from Shiraz, however, it is a full-bodied wine with medium to high tannins and a slightly dry texture. It’s best paired with meats, plum sauce, and barbeque. 

Malbec

Malbec is a wine that hails from Argentina and has notes of plum, blackberry, vanilla, and cocoa, with very similar tannins and body to both Pinotage and Shiraz.

It’s used in oak barrels and a little less meaty than Shiraz, making it better when paired with sweeter dishes, leaner meat, and soft cheeses.

Cabernet Sauvignon

This is another popular red wine from France with many flavors such as cherry, blackcurrant, spices, and slightly woody notes from the Cedar barrels it’s made in.

It’s a full-bodied wine and is actually one of the most popular wines in the world, among all the different varieties. This may be due to its strong tannin content and drawn-out flavor that lingers in the mouth. Or it could be due to the higher alcohol levels, who knows!

Either way, this is a wine that works well with meats and hard cheeses from Italy or Spain.

Merlot

Merlot is a lot like Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s a little more forgiving thanks to its lower tannin content which makes it much smoother and less harsh. As a middle-weight wine Merlot has a fruity flavor.

Pinot Noir

This is a very fruity wine that also has floral notes such as rose and rhubarb. As a lighter wine this is very smooth and quite easy to drink, however, it is quite dry and has a low-tannin count meaning the finish doesn’t last quite as long as some other wines. 

The lightness of this wine makes it a good pairing for chicken, duck, creamy dishes, and sauces as well as soft or nutty cheeses.

White Wine

2 glasses of white wine with cork screw, grapes and a bottle of wine on a wooden table

White wine is another popular wine that is popularly drunk with certain types of food such as fish and creamier pasta dishes.

Unlike red wine it isn’t often paired with meat dishes, however, there are some white wines that can be consumed this way, and ultimately you may prefer to drink your wine in a way that doesn’t align with common recommendations.

White whites are distinguished by their relatively pale, translucent appearance and dry flavoring. There is a spectrum with white wine much like other wines, however, and there are sweeter options available for those who don’t like a dry, intense taste to their wine.

Sauvignon Blanc

This a wine with a citrusy flavor which is brought out by the grapefruit used in its creation.

There are also notes of other more exotic fruits such as kiwi and passionfruit and some minty flavors too. This wine is best paired with fish, chicken, or veal as well as goat’s cheese or other nutty cheeses.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a very common white wine that is fairly full-bodied and is grown all over the world. Many of the best varieties are aged in oak barrels, however, not all are aged this way. You can distinguish this by the more buttery, smoother texture of oak-aged Chardonnay.

It is quite a crisp wine with hints of spice and citrus as well as hints of apple and pear.

Riesling

Riesling is a German wine grown in the Rhine region and is the most famous of all the German wines. It’s quite a sweet wine and a little acidic with hints of honey. This wine is best paired with spicy foods or rich meat dishes.

Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio

A light-bodied wine and quite delicate, this is one that is easy to drink thanks to its citrusy flavors and floral notes. It is produced in several places including France and Germany and is best paired with fish, mild cheese, and salad dishes.

Rose

2 glasses of rose wine on a wooden picnic table

Rose is a sort of compromise between white wine and red wine and is made using a similar process to red wine, except that the grape skins are removed before the fermentation takes place but their color is allowed to gently tinge the wine.

This gives rose its light pink coloring that is far less dramatic than red wine. It’s often translucent and can be very sweet or dry depending on the variant. Rose can come still or sparkling and is made all over the world, particularly in France.

A little known fact is that Rose is thought to be the oldest type of wine, and was likely very similar to the wine consumed by ancient peoples such as the Ancient Greeks, Romans, and other cultures from antiquity.

Tavel

Tavel is a special wine that is only produced in the southern Rhone area of France, in the commune of Tavel.

To be considered legitimate this wine must have an alcohol content of 11%, and it was a favorite of many French nobles and kings as well as other famous people such as Ernest Hemingway.

Its flavor is quite dry, with complex flavors, unlike most other rose wines. 

Zinfandel

Zinfandel is a wine grown only in California, using grapes that are indigenous to the Americas. It has a very sweet flavor and is quite tart.

Don’t make the mistake of confusing the rose Zinfandel with the red wine variant, as the grapes used to make this rose are also used to produce a popular red wine also known as Zinfandel.

Sparkling Wine

sparkling wine in a flute glass

Sparkling wines are those wines that are heavily carbonated making them very fizzy with an unmistakable taste that carbonation brings to all beverages.

This type of wine is mostly known as Champagne, however, this is technically a specific type of sparkling wine named after the region of France in which it is produced.

No other wine is allowed to be called Champagne due to EU regulations, so the term sparkling wine is used to refer to various carbonated wines.

Other popular carbonated wines are Prosecco as well as Cava and all are easily recognized by their fizziness and pale yellow color. 

There are other colors of sparkling wine however and even some grey areas such as the Italian Brachetto and Lambrusco which are technically red wines that are carbonated.

Champagne

This wine needs no introduction and is enjoyed as one of the premium beverages worldwide. It’s very fizzy and effervescent, with notes of citrus and almond, not too dissimilar to other white wines.

Champagne actually uses similar grapes to white wine, however, the carbonation adds a different dynamic that led to its popularity soaring and giving it the prestige it enjoys today.

Prosecco

Another white sparkling wine, this variant is made in Italy. It is light-bodied, fresh, and very aromatic, with relatively high acidity and a fruity flavor with notes of apple, melon, and peach.

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Written by Brian N

Brian has been an influencer in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. He not only loves to eat and drink at restaurants on a regular basis, he also knows the business inside and out.