There are a great many different types of wine available either for sale or for those special people who like something unique through auction. This article will look at the different types of wine and make recommendations on the best bottles and food pairings for each.
A Brief History of Wine
Wine is a drink that dates back many centuries. In fact, the earliest archeological signs of wine in society date back to 5,000 years BC! They say that wine was an accidental discovery after stored grapes began to ferment.
Over the millennia, the winemaking process has undoubtedly changed. A glass of whatever they were serving way back when will probably bear close to no resemblance to the lovely bottle of red you crack open with your Christmas roast. Wine is now one of the most consumed beverages globally, with over 700 million gallons consumed per year in the US alone.
Deciphering the Different Types of Wine
Anyone else who’s ever stared at the wide range of wines, with their odd European names that probably aren’t even in English, it can be difficult to determine what any given wine tastes like. There are dry wines, sweet wines, and then even sweeter dessert wines, and then even fortified wines. Telling the difference to the layperson is like identifying a Pilsner vs. an IPA if you’re not serious about beer.
There are far too many wines to list here. So instead, we’ve sought out the most popular wine types that you’re likely to encounter. The goal is to start you down the wine appreciation path and help you pair your food and wine a little more adroitly.
The following list of wines is not definitive but rather an eye-opener inthe faascinating world of wines. There is an artistry not only in the production but also the comsumption. Pairing vintages with meals to create a flavor rich ballet to titilate and tantalize the tastebuds.
The 12 Most Popular Types of Wine
The following list of different types of wine will look at the history of each grape and offer advice on which bottle and vintage you should consider buying and what is best to serve with each.
Sparkling wine first appeared on the menu during the early 16th century. Since then, it has grown into a big-money industry. There are many different sparkling wines on the market, but arguably the most famous and well-respected is Champagne. A beverage that was once only associated with royalty and the social elite. It is a fancy drink most often reserved for special occasions.
There are many sparkling wines out there that flirt with the champagne name. However, only a select few are genuine champagnes. As the name suggests, true Champagne needs to be made in or at least using grapes from the Champagne region of France. On top of that, the grapes (traditionally) need to be either Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier, or Chardonnay. However, different grape varieties have been used in their production with good success in recent years.
Contrary to what many people may think, there is not just one style of Champagne. As a result, each type makes the perfect pair with different foods.
For example, a nice bottle of Brut (dry) goes well with a steak dinner. While if you have a bottle of Extra Brut (very dry), you should look to pair it with Lobster.
If you are looking for top-quality Champagne for your next special occasion, then look no further than the Moët & Chandon brand. Good Champagne is not cheap, but you can get a decent bottle of Moët & Chandon Champagne for around $50. However, some of their bottles will set you back a few hundred.
That said if you were to shop around for their vintage bottles, expect to part with a good few thousand dollars. For example, the Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Charles & Diana 1961 is worth over $4,000.
However, that pales in comparison to the most expensive bottle of Champagne in the world. The 2013 Taste of Diamonds champagne sold at auction for a (quite frankly) ridiculous $2.07 million. It’s worth noting that this is not so much because of the quality of the drink but rather the fancy frills that come with it. A white gold label and a bottle embellished with a genuine 19-carat diamond. If you ask me, life becomes an utter farce when things get to that level.
When is a wine not a wine? When it’s a sherry. No, it’s not funny; it’s just a fact. Sherry is a fortified wine. This means that it has been fortified to increase the alcohol content. To put that into perspective, most everyday wines will have an ABV (alcohol by volume) measure of between 11 and 14%. On the other hand, Sherry has an average ABV of 15-22%. For those trying to keep their diet under control, it is also interesting that the higher the ABV content in Sherry, the higher the sugar content will be.
Sherry is predominantly made from Palomino grapes grown in and around Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. As with Champagne above, there is not just one style of Sherry. In fact, there are seven different styles of Sherry, and within that, there are various producers, each with its own subtleties and flavor nuances.
Sherry is cask-aged, and unlike regular wine, goes through a fascinating and specific process called Solera.
This process involves slowly moving the Sherry through a series of different barrels. This process typically involves between three and nine barrels. Interestingly, the Sherry is not transferred in bulk from one barrel to another. Rather anywhere between 5-30% is moved from one barrel to the next. Even when dealing with the final barrel, only a portion of the contents will be bottled and sold.
According to the Sherry Council, a general rule of thumb that will ensure you always get your Sherry/food pairings perfect.
If it swims – Fino. If it flies – Amontillado. But, if it runs – Oloroso.
When looking for a great sherry to serve on your next special occasion, consider investing in a bottle of Apóstoles from Gonzalez Byass. You can pick up a bottle of this 30 year aged Sherry for around $55.
There are a lot of outstanding sherry wines that you can buy for a range of prices. However, some extra special examples of Sherry break the bank entirely. Massandra’s Sherry de la Frontera 1775 is the most expensive bottle of Sherry in the world. At 246 years old, it is one of the oldest bottled wines around. A single bottle sold in 2001 for over $43,000.
Even if you had that sort of money lying around, I highly doubt anybody would consider or survive cracking the bottle open and taking a drink.
While Sherry is a fortified wine produced in Spain, Port is a fortified wine produced in Portugal. While other locations around the world offer a port ‘style’ wine, you do need to look for Portugal on the label to know it’s a genuine bottle of Port you are drinking. It is helpful that a bottle can only call itself a Port if it is indeed from Portugal.
Traditionally, Port is a fortified red wine with sweeter notes. However, it is also possible to find semi-dry and even white ports nowadays. Maybe it’s just me being a traditionalist, but I don’t think you can beat a proper red port.
There are seven different types of true Port. Each one is made with a combination of particular Portuguese grapes. There are rumored to be 52 different varieties of grape, which means there is no end to the different port-yielding combinations. There are three key areas, all based in the Duoro River Valley, that produce authentic Port. Among these, the most desirable grape grown is the Touriga Nacional.
Port is often a drink served with desserts, as it has a rather sweet taste. A great tip for successfully adding Port to your next dinner party menu is to work on your combinations.
For example, a good ruby port is best served with a crumbly blue cheese or possibly a decadent chocolate dessert. However, if you prefer a paler, tawny port, then look to serve it with nutty desserts like Pecan Pie or anything with almonds. For cheeses, steer clear of blue and look instead at smoked cheddar or even some Manchego.
Best Port Wine
If you are looking for a cracking port wine to serve at the end of your Christmas dinner, then look no further than Dow’s Vintage 2016 Port Wine. Admittedly, it is a pricey affair, coming in at between $55 and $100 depending on retailers and stock levels. However, your guests will go home with their tastebuds dancing a delightful jig.
That price is pretty reasonable when you compare it to the most expensive port wine ever sold. Purchased at auction in 2019, a decanter of Niepoort in Lalique 1863 port wine sold for a staggering $134,269.
Riesling wine takes its name from the very specific type of grape used for its creation. The Riesling grape originated in the Rhine region of Germany and is known for its sweet and aromatic presence. The history of the wine can be traced back to the 15th century, where it is referenced in several texts.
Riesling grapes are pretty special in that they are known to have very different tastes depending on where they are grown. This makes authentic Riesling wines quite an experience for genuine wine enthusiasts because the subtle change in flavors challenges them to identify the region based on the taste. In total, there are five different types of wine made using the Riesling grape. These are:
- Kabinett (bone dry to off-dry)
- Spätlese (sweet)
- Auslese (sweeter)
- Beerenauslese (very sweet)
- Trockenbeerenauslese (sweetest)
Many bottles of Riesling wine are drunk when they are young, which means the traditional aging process is skipped. As a result, these wines have a very sweet and sugary taste. They are also somewhat acidic. We mean they reach the same levels as orange juice when we say that! However, older Riesling wines are known for their heavy petroleum-style aroma. A smell that sounds the quality bell for connoisseurs but is often off-putting for your everyday wine drinker.
Best Riesling Wine
While originally a German wine, Riesling grapes are now grown in several places worldwide, including America, Australia, and New Zealand. However, the best Riesling wines remain those with Germanic roots. So, for example, grab a bottle of Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Kabinett 2017 and serve it up with either some shellfish or pork chops. Perhaps even a classic German wiener schnitzel. You won’t regret it.
You can pick up a good Riesling, such as the one mentioned above, for anywhere between $25 and $50. They make an excellent wine for a meal at any time of the year.
If you have expensive tastes, and a very deep wallet, you could always treat yourself to a bottle of the most expensive Riesling wine, Graf von Schönborn-Schloss Schönborn Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese for a measly $3,000.
5. Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is a white-skinned grape originally grown in the Bordeau region of France. It is now widely grown across the entire wine-producing world. In fact, it is the eighth-most commonly grown grape wine globally. Traditionally, Sauvignon Blanc is a dry white wine, but it can also be found in sweeter varieties. The flavor palate of the wine is influenced by several factors, including where it is grown and how it is prepared. The flavor profile can range from grassy to sweet and citrusy.
As we mentioned, there are two core ways the final flavor of a Sauvignon Blanc is influenced:
Must-Skin Contact – The must is the juice that comes when you first crush the fruit in the winemaking process. Different vineyards keep the crushed grape skin in contact with the must for different periods. The result shows that more prolonged exposure of the skin to the must result in a more intense and aromatic wine.
Fermentation Temperature – Traditional French-produced Sauvignon Blanc is fermented at a warmer temperature, typically around 16-18 degrees. In contrast, other parts of the world prefer a cooler fermentation, as this brings out the citrusy tones of the fruit.
Regardless of these processes, a good Sauvignon Blanc makes a fantastic drink for any meal. So the next time you have guests round for dinner, why not try pairing a nice bottle of Alphonse Mellot Edmond Sancerre ($71) with some shellfish or maybe a grilled seabass.
Best Sauvignon Blanc
Given its consistent popularity, there is no shortage of options when it comes to selecting a Sauvignon Blanc. They can range in price from cheap to wallet-stretching expensive. If you really enjoy your wine, one of the best bottles you could buy is the Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux. It’s pricey at around $300 a bottle, but it is oh so worth it.
Then again, that price pales compared to the most expensive Sauvignon Blanc, the American grown Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc. A bottle of this will set you back a cool $5,850
Another white wine that first saw life in France but is now widely grown across the globe, from the UK all the way over to New Zealand. It is a common grape with a relatively neutral base flavor. This means that the resulting wine is more heavily influenced by the regional conditions and the winemaking process. This makes it quite an ‘easy’ wine to make. In many winemaking circles, a Chardonnay is seen as a great entry-level wine, almost a rite of passage into the world of fine winemaking.
Chardonnay grapes are the fifth most commonly planted of all grapes worldwide and are the second most common white grape. Depending on where the grapes originate, a good Chardonnay wine can have a range of flavors, from the slightly acidic traditional French Chardonnay to the fruity flavors found in the Australian variety. Those grapes grown in very hot regions, such as Calfornia, have largely tropical flavors.
This makes Chardonnay a highly versatile wine that underlines why it was popular throughout the 1980s. Its popularity has waned slightly since those heady days. However, it is more because the rapid spread away from French soil caused true wine enthusiasts to turn their back on the grape rather than the quality of the wine dropping.
A good Chardonnay goes great with fish and white meat dishes, as with most white wines. So why not grab a nice bottle of Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (2018) and serve it up with the main course of either poached salmon or sage grilled chicken breast. Of course, it will set you back around $45, but your dinner will be most memorable as a result.
If you are looking to push the boat out a little further, you could not go wrong by buying a bottle of Mail Road Mr. Carmel Vineyard Chardonnay (2015). It will set you back around $90, but it is a great glass of wine.
Chardonnay might be a commonly found wine on supermarket shelves. Still, some extra special bottles are out there, such as the Judgment of Paris” 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, which sold at auction for a remarkable $11,325.
Now there is a glass of white you don’t want to ask made into a spritzer.
When talking about the different types of wine, not many people will be familiar with the Gewurztraminer. However, this Geman-Italian wine can be traced back to the 16th century, and it is actually a mutation of the French Savagnin grape.
A white wine, Gewurztraminer is now grown around the world. Spreading across Europe, America, South America, Australia, and even the middle east. Yet, despite its widespread cultivation, the Gewurztraminer is not an easy grape to grow. In fact, it is one of the more picky grapes when it comes to growing and harvesting conditions.
It needs dry, warm summers and cannot be grown in chalky soil. Furthermore, it is susceptible to both disease and frost. As if that wasn’t enough, the grape ripens late in the year, and if picked too soon, are too acidic, but if picked too late, are not acidic enough. Commonly speaking, Gewurztraminer wine is a solid, middle-of-the-road wine. Medium-bodied and heavily influenced by the soil in which it is grown, it is a great wine to serve with spicy Indian or Asian cuisine. The fruity tones also mean it is a fantastic accompaniment to a fruity salad.
Your next dinner party will be well received if you open up a bottle of Mure 2017 Clos Saint Landelin Vendanges Tardives Grand Cru Gewurztraminer. Reasonably priced at just $47, it will complement a spicy menu and give your guests something to talk about.
Best Gewurztraminer Wine
Despite not being the most recognizable of the different types of wine, there are a number of excellent Gewurztraminer wines on the market. Such as the 2005 Domaine Marcel Deiss Gewurztraminer Selection de Grains Nobles, which will set you back a breezy $590 per bottle. However, that is nothing compared to a bottle of the ultra-rare Sine Qua Non Gewürztraminer (1999), which currently costs around $20,050 per bottle!
Zinfandel is a dark-skinned red wine grape that originated in Croatia but is not commonly grown across Californian vineyards. While traditionally a red wine, a modern rose ‘white’ zinfandel currently outsells its red counterpart six times over in the United States.
Zinfandel is the wine that many people love to hate. Especially wine gurus who take a mild offense at the exploding popularity of white Zinfandel. This is widely considered one of the entry-level types of wine for people. It is low in alcohol and calories and has a wickedly sweet taste. The kind of morish drink that gets people reaching for it every time to wander that aisle of the supermarket.
However, a true red Zinfandel is often a rich, bold wine, with a high ABV, often coming in at around 14-17%. It makes an excellent complement for some barbequed red meat or a nice spicy Japanese curry. So next time you have a few friends round, why not try a bottle of East Bench Vineyard Zinfandel (2017). It will set you back around $50 but is worth every cent.
Best Zinfandel Wine
There are lots of great options for a good Zinfandel wine, and the great thing is none of them really break the bank. Wines such as Turley’s Old Vine Zinfandel will cost you around $50, a price that seems to be around average for this type of wine. Even the more expensive zinfandel wines come in at an affordable price, with Martinelli Jackass Hill Zinfandel being the most expensive at a reasonable $119 per bottle.
9. Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a French red wine grape whose popularity now grows in vineyards worldwide. Despite being the 10th most commonly planted wine grape globally, Pinot Noir is not easy to grow. It is notoriously fussy about the conditions in which it will grow. That said, when it does grow, the grape has a beautiful, heady aroma and brings with it intense fruit berry flavors.
It is perhaps precisely its picky nature that makes Pinot Noir such a highly agreeable wine. In addition, the grapes have a particularly thin skin which impacts the final color of the wine, which is usually on the paler side of the red scale. They are also a medium-bodied wine, which may go some way to explain their universal appeal.
When looking for a spot to place a glass of Pinot Noir on your dinner menu, the pressure is essentially off. Very few wines offer the culinary versatility of Pinot Noir. A tremendous light wine to serve with fish, such as salmon, while some older vintages from true Burgandy-based vineyards provide the power and robust flavor to act as the perfect accompaniment to any game meat dish.
A wine such as the Domaine Au Pied du Mont Chauve 2015 Pitangerets Premier Cru costs a very reasonably $40 but makes your meal something to remember.
Best Pinot Noir Wines
If you are looking for an extra special bottle of Pinot Noir, you don’t need to break the bank. A bottle of Luminous Hills Estate Astra is a fantastic wine for a truly special occasion and will only cost you around $50-60. Not bad considering the most expensive bottle of Pinot Noir, a 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Contisold for $558,000!
Merlot is another classic French red wine that has spread across the globe. As is often the case, there are two main ways to use the Merlot grape to make wine. The traditional ‘French’ way or the way of the ‘New World.’ Both create an excellent bottle of wine, just with a very different flavor profile.
The Merlot grape is a blue-skinned fruit that grows in loose bunches. It has thinner skin than many other red wines, and as a result, has a lower tannin content. Merlot is the second most widely planted wine grape globally and produces a wide range of wines due to its final flavor being influenced by its origins. However, despite its popularity, Merlot is not the easiest grape to grow well, and that is why there are a lot of sub-par merlot wines available.
While Merlot is grown worldwide, around 66% of the annual crop is still produced on French soil. A predominantly fruity wine, it can be found in three main varieties, each one bolder in its flavors yet never leaving behind its fruity roots.
Merlot is a fantastic wine to serve with meat. This is handy if you’re throwing a dinner party. You could crack open a bottle of $50 Rutherford Hill Merlot with your roast chicken or a nice grilled venison main course, possibly even a good thick ribeye steak.
Best Merlot Wines
If you are looking to get an exceptional Merlot to make a particularly memorable occasion, look no further than Peter Franus Napa Valley Merlot (2016). At around $60 a bottle, it offers an excellent wine for a relatively reasonable price, especially when compared to a bottle of Petrus, Pomerol, which currently auctions at around £3,000 a bottle for their 2018 vintage.
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Syrah is a unique wine in so far as it came into being as a result of a crossbreed between two relatively unknown wine grapes. It is a deep red grape grown worldwide and creates a medium to full-bodied wine. The body varies based on where the grapes are grown. Those Syrah grapes grown on French soil and in more moderate climates yield a medium body wine. In contrast, the Australian Syrah wine tends to be heavier with a fuller body and notes of spice.
Syrah wine is often labeled Shiraz on bottles from Australian or South African vineyards. This is just a linguistic change and should be considered the same type of wine.
When you plump for a bottle of genuinely full-bodied Syrah, you are getting on the most robust red wines in the world. You will be treated to flavors of everything from blueberry to black olive. This makes Syrah wine a real taste experience, and on that wine lovers will opt for time and time again.
If you are making a meal and have a good bottle of Syrah to hand, such as the 2017 Story of Soil Syrah, Duravita Vineyard ($50), you can’t go wrong serving it with barbeque ribs or beef. In the winter, it makes a great drink to accompany a hearty beef stew.
Best Syrah Wines
If you really want to push the boat out and celebrate in style, a bottle of the $100 Yangarra “Ironheart” Shiraz from the Australian McLaren Vale vineyard is a beautiful choice. That price may seem cheap compared to the record paid for a single bottle of ‘shiraz.’ A bottle of Penfolds 51 Bin 1 Grange recently sold for $103,000.
12. Cabernet Sauvignon
We may be close to the end of this list of the different types of wine. However, we have definitely saved the best for last. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular wine in the world. A French red wine that is now a staple vine grown around the globe. Traditionally a full-bodied and flavorsome wine with a high tannin count and a decent level of acidity.
When grown in moderate climates, the good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon has fruity notes of blackberry and cherry. At the same time, its Australian counterparts can offer a slightly more ‘jammy’ flavor with undertones of eucalyptus.
While it had been widely believed that the Cabernet Sauvignon grape dated back to ancient times, genetic research concluded that the red grape resulted from a chance crossing between two older grapes: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. This crossing most likely happened in or around the 17th century.
Given its full-bodied nature, Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine to serve with a good steak or a gourmet burger. Not that you would open a $60 bottle of 2017 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon for any old beefburger, but you get the point.
Best Cabernet Sauvignon
If you feel extra fancy, you could spend $90 on a bottle of Ehlers Estate J. Leducq (2018). It won’t entirely break the bank but should be served only when the time is right. It seems even better value when you a bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 sold for $500,000.
Final Thoughts on the Different Types of Wine
If you haven’t found something on that list that appeals to your tastes, then don’t despair. There are hundreds of different wines out there, and everybody wants or enjoys different tastes or bodies. Are you a wine drinker? Let us know your favorite type in the comments. Are you a connoisseur? We’d love to learn more about how you got into wine. Or, perhaps you have a particular wine and food combination you feel we need to know of. Whatever it is, let us know below.