Discover 14 of the World’s Favorite Wine Varietals

Discover 14 of the World’s Favorite Wine Varietals

Wine varietals may not be a phrase you’re familiar with. However, if you’ve ever asked a bartender for a glass of Merlot or Chardonnay, you’ve named two wine varietals without even knowing it.

Simply put, wine varietals refer to the specific wine grapes used to produce the wines we know and love. However, not all bottles of wine are wine varietals, as many are blends of several different grapes. For example, Merlot is a wine varietal due to it being produced just with Merlot grapes, however, Chianti is not a varietal since it’s produced with a mix of grapes.

In this article we aim to show you all you need to know about these specific wine grapes: where they grow, what style of wine they go on to produce, and how to pair these wine varietals with your meals.

There are many wine varietals grown throughout the world, but in this guide we will cover the most popular ones that you’ll encounter in the grocery store and at restaurants. From the fabulously French Cabernet Sauvignon to the infamously Italian Pinot Grigio, all the way to California’s pride and joy, Zinfandel, this is your beginner’s guide to wine varietals.

Red Wine Varietals

Let’s first take a look at some of the most popular red wine varietals.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Characteristics:

The Cabernet Sauvignon grape produces wines that are high in tannins and have a full body and high levels of alcohol. Cabernet Sauvignon is also known for its long-lasting finish, meaning the wine leaves a lasting impression in your mouth after every sip.

The wine is known for its peppery notes as well as its rich fruit flavors.

Wine Regions:

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are one of the most popular grapes — they are grown all over the world:

  • Bordeaux
  • California, United States
  • Northern Italy
  • Australia
  • Chile
  • Argentina
  • South Africa

Food Pairing:

  • Red meat, such as lamb and beef
  • Aged cheddar
  • Smoked deli meats

Merlot

Characteristics:

Merlot grapes produce wines that are high in body and alcohol. Merlot exhibits black fruit characteristics and common tasting notes include blackberry, black cherry, and other deep fruity flavors.

Wine Regions: 

  • Bordeaux
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Napa Valley, California
  • Chile
  • Argentina
  • Northern Italy

Food Pairing:

  • Roast beef
  • Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomato-based pasta dishes

Pinot Noir

Characteristics:

Unlike Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir grapes have thin skins and are hard to grow. They only grow in moderate to cool climates.

Pinot Noir is a famously light-bodied red wine. It’s low in tannins and highly acidic. Common tasting notes include red fruits like cranberry and red currants.

As a blending grape, Pinot Noir is one of the core ingredients of Champagne. That’s right, a red grape is partly responsible for the iconic bubbly we know and love.

Wine Regions: 

  • Burgundy
  • Germany
  • New Zealand
  • Yarra Valley, Australia
  • Santa Barbara, United States
  • Chille

Food Pairing:

  • Chicken
  • Soft cheeses
  • Duck

Gamay

Characteristics:

Gamay is a red grape that makes light- to medium-bodied wine with low levels of tannins. While it’s considered a very fruity wine, Gamay also features more complex flavors, such as floral and herbaceous notes.

Wine Regions: 

  • Burgundy
  • Loire Valley, France
  • Switzerland
  • Australia
  • Oregon, USA

Food Pairing:

  • Roast turkey
  • Pan-fried salmon
  • Creamy pasta dishes

Malbec

Characteristics:

Malbec grapes are one of the most commonly grown grapes in Mendoza, Argentina. The wines they produce are full bodied, with medium tannin levels and low acidity.

Flavors include dark fruit and spicy, savory notes such as blackberry, plum, cloves, and black pepper.

Wine Regions:

  • Argentina
  • France

Food Pairing:

  • A lean cut of beef
  • Blue cheese
  • Turkey burgers

Syrah/Shiraz

Characteristics:

Syrah, or Shiraz as it’s known in Australia, is a rich red wine with a very full body. Its primary flavors include dark fruits such as blueberry and black plums and herbaceous notes like green peppercorn.

Wine Regions:

  • Rhône Valley, France
  • Australia

Food Pairing:

  • Spicy Indian food
  • Thai green curry
  • Aromatic lamb dishes

Grenache/Garnacha

Characteristics:

Grenache (or Garnacha, depending on who you ask) is a highly boozy wine with a medium to full body and medium tannin levels.

Unlike some of its other full-bodied brothers and sisters, Grenache is a red grape that produces wines with lighter fruitier flavors. Common tasting notes include blood orange, strawberry, and dried herbs.

Grenache grapes also produce rosé wines that can be tropical with notes of spice.

Wine Regions:

  • Rhône Valley, France
  • Spain

Food Pairing:

  • Indian mushroom biryani
  • Morrocan lamb stews
  • Roast beef

Zinfandel

Characteristics:

The Zinfandel grape produces both red and rosé wines. As a red wine, Zinfandel is highly alcoholic with medium body and high levels of tannins.

Zinfandel grapes produce red wines with deep, fruity flavors. Black and red fruits such as strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry are common tasting notes.

White Zinfandel is a sweet rosé wine with intense fruity flavors. Raspberry, cherry, and other red fruits come up a lot in tasting notes.

Wine Regions:

  • California
  • Italy
  • Croatia

Food Pairing:

  • Seafood paella
  • Tomato-based pasta dishes
  • Creamy lasagna

White Wine Varietals

Now, let’s look at some of the world’s most popular white wine varietals.

Chardonnay

Characteristics:

Chardonnay grapes are grown all over the world. They produce wines that are fruity and full-bodied with medium levels of acidity.

What makes Chardonnay wine famous is the way it’s matured. Unlike most white wines, winemakers age Chardonnay in oak barrels, giving it an oaky, buttery quality.

Tasting notes include tropical fruits like pineapple or banana, but also creamy flavors like butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel.

Wine Regions:

  • Burgundy
  • Champagne
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • USA
  • South America
  • South Africa

Food Pairing:

  • Roast chicken
  • Creamy pasta dishes
  • Shellfish, like lobster or crab

Pinot Gris

Characteristics:

Pinot Gris grapes or Pinot Grigio, as they are known in Italy, are medium-bodied wines with high levels of acidity.

They are famous for producing fresh, zesty wines with sharp, fruity flavors. Tasting notes range from sweet white peach to lemon zest to more savory flavors such as raw almonds.

Pinot Gris grapes are also used to make rosé wines.

Because Pinot Gris is such a light, easy-drinking wine, it pairs well with a wide range of cuisines.

Wine Regions:

  • Italy
  • Oregon
  • Alsace, France
  • New Zealand

Food Pairing:

  • Seafood risotto
  • Vegetable pasta dishes
  • Fresh summer salads

Riesling

Characteristics:

Riesling grapes are famous for preferring cooler climates, such as Germany and Northern France.

Riesling produces wines that are highly acidic and low in alcohol. Riesling grapes are used to produce wines in many styles, from extra Brut dry wines to very sweet dessert wines.

Flavors depend on the style of the wine, but notes that come up a lot include green apple, citrus fruit, elderflower, and stone fruits like apricot.

Wine Regions:

  • Germany
  • Alsace
  • Eden Valley and Clare Valley in Australia
  • New Zealand

Food Pairing:

  • Vietnamese tofu pho
  • Spicy Thai prawn curry
  • Crispy duck and pancakes

Sauvignon Blanc

Characteristics:

Sauvignon Blanc grapes are highly aromatic, and produce wines that are very acidic with a medium body.

Sauvignon Blanc is a highly popular grape that has a range of sharp fruity flavors and herbaceous qualities. Tasting notes often include gooseberry, passionfruit, and elderflower.

Wine Regions:

  • Loire Valley, France
  • Bordeaux
  • Napa Valley, California
  • New Zealand
  • Chile
  • South Africa

Food Pairing:

  • Goat cheese salad
  • Light fish dishes
  • Ratatouille

Chenin Blanc

Characteristics:

Chenin Blanc is a white grape that produces wines in a range of styles. It’s used to make dry white wines as well as delicious sweet wines.

Chenin Blanc wine is highly acidic with a medium body. Common flavors include sharp “green” flavors, such as green apple and pear, but also rich honey notes in sweeter styles.

Wine Regions:

  • Loire Valley
  • South Africa
  • California

Food Pairing:

  • Cheese souffle
  • Mushroom risotto
  • Carbonara

Gewurztraminer

Characteristics:

Gewurztraminer grapes produce wines that are highly alcoholic, low in acid, and very fruity. The wines are very aromatic and give off the distinctly sweet smell of lychees.

Other flavor notes include rose petals and other tropical fruits like pineapple or apricot.

Wine Regions:

  • Alsace, France
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Northern Italy
  • Hungary
  • Czech Republic
  • New Zealand

Food Pairing:

  • Passion fruit parfait
  • Fresh light curries with hot chillies and ginger
  • Tropical fruit salad

Varietals Are the Spice of Life

Wine varietals: Different types of usual wines

As you can see, there are plenty of wine varietals just waiting for you to try them. But even though we’ve covered some of the most common, there are plenty more varietals out in the world, all with their own wonderful qualities.

So, whether you’re looking for the perfect food pairing for your weekend BBQ or just want to learn more about your favorite bottle, we hope this short guide helps you on your wine journey or inspires you to try something new.