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Types of Wine: Exploring the Spectrum of Wine Types
McKenzie Hagan |
There are thousands of different types of wine. While you may be used to seeing the same select few on menus and shopping shelves, there’s a smorgasbord of wine varieties for you to choose.
Wine comes from a wide range of grape varieties, and all of them taste quite different. What’s more, the region in which a grape grows will dramatically affect the taste of the bottle of wine it goes on to produce.
Some notable regions to look out for include Napa Valley in California, Bordeaux and Rhône in France, and Mendoza in Argentina.
To add even more complexity to your choice, specific winemaking techniques — such as adding sweeteners and additives into the wine as it ferments — can alter its overall quality.
People who like bold, pungent flavors will enjoy wines with lots of tannins, while beginner wine drinkers may find it beneficial to explore the world of subtle red wines with fewer tannins, as they are considered some of the best beginner wines available. Join us as we guide you through three of the most common types of wine, so you can make the best choice to suit your taste.
Wine Type 1: Red Wine
Here’s something that may surprise you: Not all white wines come from white grapes.
However, red wine always derives from red grapes.
Making Red Wine
With red wine, winemakers ferment the grapes with the skins left on. Grape skins are rich in flavor, color, and naturally occurring compounds called tannins. These tannins add body and texture to wine, giving red wine a notably different drinking experience than white wine.
Red wine is typically fermented in large open vessels. This gives winemakers another chance to further extract flavors from the skins. They do this by punching and pushing the wine as it ferments to release as much of the natural ingredients as possible.
When producing red wine, the wine is left in contact with the skins for as long as possible, which could be from five days up to two weeks.
Typically, red wines are then aged in oak barrels to soften the sharp, zingy flavors of the grapes. In contrast, white wines are usually matured in stainless steel vats, keeping the floral and citrus fruit notes intact.
Types of Red Wine
Red wines are diverse in flavor, mouthfeel, body, and alcohol level. It’s not surprising then that each variety tastes different from the other. Take merlot, for instance. People enjoy this popular red wine all over the world. Yet a glass of merlot from the Loire Valley in France will taste very different from a glass of merlot made in South Africa.
Some of the critical factors that distinguish one red wine from another are the grape variety, where in the world it was grown, and the specific winemaking techniques used.
While there’s a wide range of reds from Malbec to Grenache, let’s focus on some of the most popular types of wine you’re likely to come across on a wine menu:
Merlot is one of the world’s most popular wines, second only to Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of vineyard area. It’s a medium-bodied wine, with soft tannins and notes of black cherry and other red fruits.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted wine in the world. It’s a full-bodied dry red with bold flavors and deep notes of black currant and blackberry. Its rich wine flavor pairs perfectly with red meat.
Pinot Noir is a light-bodied red wine with soft tannins and high acidity. It's often on the pricier side, as it's temperamental and difficult to grow compared to other popular wine types.
Wine Type 2: White Wine
Sharper with fresher fruit flavors, such as notes of citrus, stone fruits, and even freshly cut grass, white wine is worlds apart from red wine.
Often paired with lighter fare like fish, pasta, and salads, you could be forgiven for thinking white wine is a simple, easy-drinking beverage. However, there are some incredibly complex white wines on the market.
Making White Wine
As we have already covered, white wine is made differently from red wine. Before white wine is fermented, the skins and seeds are removed, and the grapes are pressed into a clear juice. This juice is then fermented.
While the majority of white wines are aged in stainless steel vats, some wines, such as Chardonnay, are matured in oak barrels, the same way red wines are. This gives these wines a unique flavor profile with buttery textures and nutty notes.
Types of White Wine
White wines range widely in flavor. For example, white wines created in colder climates, such as wine regions in Germany or Austria, are often higher in acidity and lower in alcohol than white wines from warmer climates, such as Australia or Chile.
While we could go on and on about different white wines, here are some of the most popular types of white wines for you to consider:
Sauvignon Blanc is regarded as an easy-drinking wine because of its ability to pair with a wide range of food. It’s usually zesty with notes of citrus and tropical fruits.
Riesling is aromatic and versatile. It ranges from being a lusciously sweet wine to a mouth-wateringly dry wine. It’s highly acidic with a range of fruity flavors.
Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio hails from Italy and is another easy-drinking wine. It pairs with an array of dishes, including artisanal cheeses. It’s known for its acidity and notes of green apples and citrus.
Wine Type 3: Rosé Wine
Rosé has had a surge of popularity in the past few decades. And it’s not hard to see why — it’s a diverse and delicious wine. It will often have a similar tasting profile to red wine, yet with the crisper textures of white wine.
Rosé is typically a blended wine, meaning it’s made from several types of grape varietals, rather than a single variety.
Making Rosé Wine
Contrary to popular belief, rosé is not a mix of red wine grapes and white wine grapes. Rosé is made in the same way that white wine is made, fermented in large stainless steel vats.
However, what gives rosé it’s famous pink hue is the short amount of time rosé wines are left in contact with their skins — anywhere from two to 24 hours.
It’s important to mention here that the type of winemaking techniques we are discussing are traditional Old-World techniques, which are the same used in creating Usual Wines.
In regards to mass-produced wine, winemakers often add extra steps, usually in the form of adding preservatives and artificial sweeteners. While these ingredients are common, they can negatively affect flavor, making them taste too sweet and even metallic.
By contrast, small-batch winemaking forgoes artificial ingredients, deriving sweetness and flavor from the grapes themselves.
Types of Rosé Wine
People often assume that rosé is always sweet and fruity, but there are many different dry varieties that boast complex flavor profiles:
White Zinfandel often gets a bad rap, but it can be a gateway wine to becoming a rosé drinker. It’s sweet, versatile, and incredibly popular, especially in California. Expect notes of strawberry, raspberry, and melon.
Syrah (or Shiraz) Rosé (French and Australian naming conventions, respectively) is deeper in color than many other popular rosés. This Spanish beauty has notes of cherry, peach, and even savory flavors, such as green olive.
Tempranillo Rosé is herbaceous with notes of green pepper, watermelon, and strawberry.
So Many Different Types of Wine, So Little Time
As you can see, the world is bursting with different wines to try and we have merely scratched the surface. We haven’t even touched upon sparkling wines, such as cava, prosecco, and Champagne, not to mention the range of delicious dessert wines.
That said, understanding the basics of the three most popular types of wines — red, white, and rosé — is certainly a good start. Use this beginner’s guide as a quality jumping-off point to help inform your decision the next time you’re perusing a wine list or embarking on a wine tasting adventure.