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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Madeline Puckette is a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and has worked in several restaurants as a sommelier or a server before creating Wine Folly. Her design work with Wine Folly has been contracted by Wines of France, Wines of Bordeaux, Wines of Beaujolais, the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Guild of Sommeliers, the Washington State Wine Commission, and Rhône Valley Wines. In 2013, Wine Folly was named Wine Blogger of the Year for the 2013–2014 year by International Wine & Spirits Competition.
Besides drinking wine, writing, and designing for the blog, Madeline loves working on cars, cycling, running, and open-water swimming. Before becoming a sommelier, Madeline was a music producer and singer.