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 just a few of these varieties (listed below) are grown commonly all over the world.
A wine made with one type of grape is a single-variety wine or, varietal wine, and a wine made with several different grapes is a blend. Some wine blends are 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.
Taste: Black Cherry, Black Currant, Baking Spices, Cedar
Style: Full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red wine that originated in France. Today, it’s the most popular wine variety in the world. Wines taste full-bodied with bold tannins and a long persistent black peppery finish.
Food Pairing: lamb, beef, smoked meats, French, American, firm cheeses like aged cheddar and hard cheeses like Pecorino
Cabernet Sauvignon Alternatives
- Merlot: lighter and smoother with more cherry flavors
- Cabernet Franc: lighter with more red pepper and herb flavors
- Carménère: (Chile) lighter with more red pepper and cherry flavors
- Bordeaux Blend: a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot from Bordeaux, France
- Sangiovese: (Italy) spicier with more herbal and tart cherry flavors
Taste: Blueberry, Plum, Pepper, Chocolate, Tobacco
Style: Full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Syrah (aka Shiraz) is a full-bodied red wine that originated in France. Wines are full-bodied with bold fruit flavors and subtle tannin that drops off into a smooth finish. Syrah is commonly blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre to create the red Rhône blend.
Food Pairing: lamb, beef, smoked meats, Mediterranean, French, American, salty cheeses such as feta, firm cheeses like white cheddar, and hard cheeses like Manchego
- Malbec: (Argentina) lighter and smoother on the finish with more plum flavors
- Petit Sirah: (United States) bolder and more tannic with blackberry flavors
- Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre): (Spain) bolder and smokier
- Pinotage: (South Africa) bolder and smokier
Taste: Strawberry, Blackberry, 5 Spice Powder, Sweet Tobacco
Style: Medium-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
- Grenache (aka Garnacha): Lighter and less spicy with more raspberry flavors
- Tempranillo: (Spain) Less fruity and more tannic with red cherry flavors.
- Rhône Blend: a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre originally from Rhône Valley of France
- Carignan: Lighter with more juicy red fruit flavors
Taste: Cherry, Cranberry, Clove, Mushroom
Style: Light-bodied Red Wine
Description: Pinot Noir is a dry light-bodied red wine that originated in France. Wines are somewhat tart with a burst of fruit that leads into a long soft finish.
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, veal, duck, cured meat, French, German, cream sauces, soft cheeses, nutty medium-firm cheeses like Gruyère
Pinot Noir Alternatives
- Gamay (aka Beaujolais): (France) Lighter, juicier and more bitter on the finish
Taste: Starfruit, Yellow Apple, Butter, Chalk
Style: Full-bodied White Wine
Description: Chardonnay is a dry full-bodied white wine that originated in France. When oak-aged, Chardonnay will taste creamy and buttery. Unoaked wines are lighter and zesty with apple and citrus flavors. Chardonnay is the white wine 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
- Sémillon: Lighter with more lemon flavors
- Viognier: More perfume and vanilla flavors
Taste: Gooseberry, Honeydew Melon, Passion Fruit, Grass
Style: Light-bodied White Wine
Description: Sauvignon Blanc is a dry light-bodied white wine that originated in France. Wines are zesty, typically with herbal green fruit flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is an older heritage grape, a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Food Pairing: fish, chicken, pork, veal, Mexican, Vietnamese, French, herb-crusted goat cheese, nutty cheeses such as Gruyère
Sauvignon Blanc Alternatives
- Vermentino: from Italy
- Verdejo: from Spain
- Grüner Veltliner: from Austria
- Colombard: from Southern France
Taste: Lemon Pith, Honeydew Melon, Nectarine, White Peach
Style: Light-bodied White Wine
Description: Pinot Gris is a dry light-bodied white wine that originated from Northern Italy and France. Wines are zesty, thirst-quenching and often lighter in alcohol (12% ABV) making them ideal for outdoor dining.
Pinot Gris Alternatives
- Albariño: from Spain
- Soave: The grape is Garganega, and the wine is from Italy
- Muscadet: The grape is Melon de Bourgogne, and the wine is from France
Taste: Lime, Apple, Beeswax, Honey
Style: Aromatic (sweet) White Wine
Description: Riesling is an off-dry aromatic white wine (dry styles also exist) that originated from Germany where it is the most important wine. Wines are mouth-watering and tart with a lemon-honey-like sweetness. Riesling is considered a low alcohol wine when it is sweet at around 9%–10% ABV.
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, duck, turkey, cured meat, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Moroccan, German, washed-rind cheeses and fondue
- Muscat Blanc (aka Moscato): sweeter with more candied pear flavors
- Gewürztraminer: richer with more rose flavors
- Torrontés: less sweet with more peach and flower flavors
- Chenin Blanc: less sweet with more apple flavors
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