The experience of savouring a vino – beyond the swirl-sniff-sip routine – is often elevated when you know exactly what’s in your glass. And although embarking on the quest to tell the difference between a lush cabernet sauvignon and lean shiraz might seem daunting, a few quick facts can help you get there in a breeze. Before you pop the corkscrew, take a peek at our guide to types of wines. By Eshita Srinivas
Peruse the wine selection at a fine-dining establishment and you’re bound to spot a dizzyingly large array of sips – often differentiated by the grape, region of origin, or even ageing processes. And the key to picking the ideal one to savour through the evening often involves a bit of know-how of flavour notes, textural nuances, and exactly which cheese pairs well with a spicy Syrah. That said, with over 8,000 years of history into vino production – this can involve quite the educational deep dive. Anyone who’s fumbled over terms like tannins and terroir can attest to this challenge. A fool-proof way to skirt around the predicament is to have a few basic facts and wine types up your sleeve – perfect way to impress a date or pick the right bottle for your home bar.
Types of wine: Basic vinos to add to your grape repertoire
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We’re starting this list out with perhaps the most recognisable forms of vinos – red wine. Underlined by grape varietals that span across red, purple, deep blue hues – these are often described as garnet, black, ruby, or violet, amongst other things. The skin, in these vinos, are intact with the grape juice during the production and fermentation period, allowing the dispersion of tannins – more prominent in these wines than others. Tannins are natural compounds that give vinos a distinctive texture and lead to the drying sensation that comes with each sip. Red wines are also typically full-bodied, which is roughly understood as being complex, rich, and robust with a higher alcohol content. Popular options include:
- Cabernet Sauvignon: Characterised by black grapes from the Bordeaux region of France, this red wine has a dry mouthfeel and complex, rounded flavour – often with notes of plum, cherry, leather, and vanilla. The grape varietal grows in most wine regions across the world as well, making it quite popular. It’s high in tannins and pairs well with red meat.
- Merlot: These grapes grow throughout Europe, South America, Africa, Australia, and the US and have medium levels of tannins. Their flavour involves notes of cherry, plum, raspberry and every sip has a soft finish. When compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, these are a bit more juicy and pair well with charcuterie boards and cheeseburgers.
- Pinot Noir: Widely appreciated in connoisseur circles for being light-bodied – with lower tannins – while packing in the flavour – this type of wine is smooth and more acidic when compared to other reds. Popularly from Burgundy, this varietal is grown across Germany, New Zealand, and Oregon as well. With earthy, herbal berry and mushroom notes, these red grapes have delicate skin and are finicky, leading to high production costs. This puts the wine itself on the more expensive end of the spectrum, with some being the most expensive in the market. Pinot Noirs pair well with fatty fish, curries, pasta, and roasted chicken.
- Sangiovese: This earthy red vine comes with notes of red cherry, liquorice, truffle, strawberry, plum, and raspberry and has a high alcohol content. This grape varietal is known to be the biggest in Italy and traces right back to Tuscany, especially Chianti. This one pairs well with pizza and pasta, making it a popular feature at Italian restaurants.
- Shiraz/Syrah: In France, these wines are called Syrah and in Australia, Shiraz. Deep ruby when poured, they come with hints of spice and sweet red fruit and are known to have an intense, complex flavour with layers of chocolate, leather, and liquorice. Hints of pepper in it make it the perfect pair for spicy Indian and Thai delicacies and these age quite well.
- Zinfandel: Like Shiraz, these come packed with flavour, offering notes of dark fruit, tobacco, and leather. It’s also quite juicy and high in alcohol content, varying slightly based on where it’s grown. It pairs well with pork ribs, pizza, and pasta.
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Made with white grapes, the process of producing white wines involves removing the skin of grapes prior to fermentation. This reduces the levels of tannins in every sip and the intensity of colour in every pour. These wines are often said to have characteristics of lemon or lime juice, with terms like light-bodied, crisp, and airy used in descriptions. Popular options include:
- Chardonnay: Believed to be one of the world’s most popular white wines, these are made with green-skinned grape varietals that can easily adapt to a range of climates. As versatile as they come – they can range from expensive to affordable. Medium-bodied it often traces back to the Burgundy region of France. Each sip is dry, offering notes of apple, lemon, papaya, and pineapple. It works well on its own but can be paired with pastries or meaty fish.
- Sauvignon Blanc: Clean and fruity, this wine is a light-weight, breezy sip. Often packed with citrus aromas and acidic flavours, this is an ideal go-to in a pinch. Underlined by green-skinned grapes, it could hail from France, New Zealand, or Chile. Pair it with chicken, seafood, or anything lightly seasoned.
- Riesling: This vino typically hails from Germany, underlined by grapes that grow well in cooler climates. As versatile as they come – Rieslings can be sweet, dry, still, or sparkling. They often present notes of lemon, apricot, pineapple, and lime. They also have a high alcohol content and a sweet finish. They work well in fruit and vanilla-based desserts but are best paired with fish.
- Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris: A refreshing white wine that’s light on the palate, this one comes with notes of lemon, pear, and peach – subtle tropical flavours that work well for picnics and brunches. Highly approachable and affordable, this one pairs well with fresh seafood, sandwiches, and cheese platters.
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Contrary to popular notion, these wines aren’t made by combining white and red grape juice. Roses come from black grapes that are pressed directly or where the juice has been left in contact with the skin for a few hours. Like with red wines, the skin is left on during fermentation to incorporate colours, flavours, and tannins – however at a much lower temperature, like with white wines. This preserves delicate aromas and gives rose its distinctive, light flavour. Popular types of wine include:
- Zinfandel Rosé: The most popular of all roses, this vino’s sweet and refreshing. It’s also quite affordable, making it popular across the globe. Every sip offers notes of lemon, melon, strawberry, and cherry. It’s got a dry, rounded flavour and a persistent finish. Pair it with fish or pan-Asian delicacies.
- Provençal Rosé: Another popular option, this one comes from a blend of grapes – Cinsault, Syrah, Grenche, and Mourvèdre – from Provence, France. It’s clean, fruity, light, with notes of berries and melon. They pair well with shellfish and white meats.
- Sangiovese Rosé: Native to Italy and now grown across the world, this rose comes with notes of fresh strawberries, melon, roses, peach, and spice. The finish is mildly bitter, with a pleasantly dry mouthfeel. It pairs best with Asian-inspired creations, pizza, and salads.
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The bottles that are whipped out during a celebration, sparkling wines are a must-try. These come packed with carbon dioxide, which gives them a signature fizzy characteristic. That aside, they can be made with most any grape varietal. Popular options include:
- Champagne: Any wine list would be incomplete without this popular sparkling vino which truly hails from the Champagne region of France. Both white and red grapes can be used to produce this one – either leading to a sip that comes with notes of citrus, peach, almond, cream, and (or) toast. Pair with cheese platters, scrambled eggs (mimosas anyone?), pasta, or pizza.
- Prosecco: Native to Venito in Italy, these sparkling wines have increasingly populated the shelves of wine stores across the world. Light-bodied, they come with flavour notes of green apple, pear, cinnamon, and melon. Some also have a floral, creamy quality. Best part? It’s quite affordable. Bring it to a breezy summer party with a charcuterie board and other lightly-seasoned quick bites.
- Lambrusco: The perfect example of a sparkling red, these vinos come from Italy and are made with grapes of the same name. The flavour can range from sweet to dry but they’re all consistently light on the palate, making them crowd pleasers. In fact, Italians bring it to most parties and celebrations. They’ve a low alcohol content, which puts them smack dab in the centre of tables across restaurants in Italy. Flavour notes include cherries, strawberries, blackberries, citrus, and violets. Pair it with pizzas or pasta.
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Rounding out this quick list is a popular type of wine that’s often paired with or served post, or in place of dessert. Dessert wines are meant to be savoured, like Scotch. These come from sweet grapes, with the fermentation process being halted before the yeast converts grape sugars into alcohol. This involves quick cooling the wine or the addition of brandy. And while there’s numerous types in the market – popular types span the sparkling, light, rich, sweet red, and fortified categories. Of these, the more common are:
- Port: Perhaps one of the most popular on the market, this wine derives its name from Portugal, its home country. It’s a fortified wine – with a distilled spirit added to it – which results in a higher alcohol content. Typically red, it also comes in white and rose variants. Flavour notes can range from raspberry, black berry, and bitter chocolate to dried fruit, butter, and caramel. Pair these with bold cheeses, barbeques, and desserts.
- Sherry: Also a type of fortified wine, these hail from the Andalusia region of Spain and are quite dry with a distinctive nutty flavour. Every bottle goes through the distinctive solera system (barrel ageing then blending) and can turn out dry, sweet, light, or intense depending on the production style. When compared to Port, this is more savoury. Perfect with potato chips as well as white meats and mushroom sauces.
- Moscato: This sweet Italian wine is made from muscat grapes and comes with notes of peaches and orange blossom. Low in alcohol when compared to most others on this list, it can be still or sparkling based on where it’s produced. It pairs well with savoury cheeses, spicy delicacies, and fruity desserts.
There you have it, a quick guide to the basic types of wines. While there’s several worth exploring within each category, these layered, delicious wines are some of the most popular across the globe – perfect for those just starting out on their wine adventure. We can’t think of a more exciting way to indulge in grapes.
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This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India