Complete Beginners Guide to Different Types of Wine
There are types of wine to please every palate on the planet, ranging from syrupy sweet to satisfyingly dry and everything in between. Anyone hoping to join in on the joys of wine appreciation will find a whole world of textures, flavors, colors and aromas just waiting to be explored.
The fun in developing your wine appreciation skills lies in working your way through different types of wine, discovering new favorites along the way. With so many types of wine to try, it can be difficult to know what to choose first.
Where do you begin if you’ve never tried wine before? Which varietals will be appealing if you like sweet flavors, and which should you try if you favor something a little drier?
Our guide to popular types of wine and their various qualities is a great place to start!
Jump to Section
- The Basics of Wine Production
- Red Wine
- Popular Types of Red Wine
- White Wine
- Popular Types of White Wine
- Rosé Wine
- Popular Types of Rosé Wine
- Sparkling Wine
- Popular Types of Sparkling Wine
- Dessert Wine
- Popular Types of Dessert Wine
- A Wine for Every Palate
The Basics of Wine Production
If you’re completely unacquainted with wine culture, there are a few general facts to know. Though the processes vary, all types of wine are created through the fermentation of grapes, including the skin, seeds and sometimes stems. This creates tannins, a chemical that determines how a wine ages, as well as providing it with texture and structure.
The flavors in wine depend on the terroir, the soil and climate of the region in which the grapes are grown. Alcohol content varies greatly, and depending on your sensibilities, you can enjoy types of wine that range from dry with very low sugar content to sweet wines known for their sugary delivery. Understanding the nuances of each type is something you can always learn more about in a virtual wine tasting.
The flavors and colors of red wine come from pigments in the skin of the grapes used rather than the juice. Different types of red wine create an exciting spectrum of flavor profiles ranging from earthy, flowery and even coffee-like to more fruit-flavored notes of berries, cherries and plums. These types of wine are best paired with red meat dishes, whether it’s steak, burgers or filet.
Red wines have been celebrated for their high antioxidant content and heart-healthy properties, according to the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research. The rich tannins, however, are also known to cause headaches in sensitive wine drinkers, as headache specialist Abouch V. Krymchantowski confirmed to WebMD.
Popular Types of Red Wine
As the most widely recognized wine grapes around the world, cabernet sauvignon is one of the most popular red wines and appears on every wine-making continent. It is the most popular wine among American wine drinkers.
With flavor notes ranging from currant and grassy green bell pepper to black cherry and jam, the high tannin content in these types of wine engages pleasing flavor development even after years of aging, though 7-10 years is the average aging period.
Lamb, pork and gamier meats such as rabbit all play nicely when paired with these types of wine; it can even get along with portobello mushrooms for a hearty vegetarian meal.
Named using a version of the French word for “blackbird,” merlot is made using dark-blue grapes that originated in the Bordeaux region of France. Tannin contents in merlot can range from very low in fruit-flavored versions of this type of wine to very high in the more complex flavor profiles of drier versions.
Floral aromas and flavor notes can be detected as well, everything from tobacco to vanilla, and longer exposure to oak in the aging barrel can even bring about caramel and molasses flavors.
Pair a merlot with fruit, filet mignon and chicken recipes for maximum enjoyment.
With its sophisticated flavor notes of spices, fruits and mushroom — and even the earthy taste of “forest floor” — pinot noir is a low-tannin wine made from delicate grapes originally grown in the Burgundy region of France.
These types of wine are described as having a bright acidity and a silken body. There’s even a pinot noir rosé, a lighter, low-sugar type of wine imbued with flavor notes of floral and strawberry.
Pair a fruit-forward pinot pour with chicken, pasta or fish, or choose a more full-bodied version to try with your favorite beef dishes.
These types of wine are created using syrah grapes, which originated in the Rhône region southeast of France. Australia is known for producing this type of wine, with the grapes thriving in its warm climates.
Shiraz carries dry, full-bodied flavor notes that can bring to mind blackberry, licorice and even pepper, depending on the climate in which the grapes have been grown. Enjoy this popular red wine with grilled meats, game cuts and barbeque dishes.
Malbec, the hallmark red wine of Argentina, is notable for its deep purple hue, moderate levels of tannins and relatively high antioxidant content, which makes it one of the healthiest red wines available. You’ll taste hints of pomegranate, raisin and plum in the younger versions of these types of wine, while oak aging lends smoky vanilla tones. Pair your malbec with burgers, lean red meat cuts and robust cheeses for a festival of gourmet flavors.
White wine is created using only the inner pulp of the grape after the skins have been removed, a process that gives these types of wine their distinctive golden juice-like hue and translucent body.
With a range of flavor profiles that can be described as green, buttery or fruity, white wines are perfect for serving before meals as an aperitif, paired with poultry or seafood entrées, or as a palate refresher with dessert. The acidity in this type of wine also makes it wonderful in creamy sauces and as a flavorful meat tenderizer.
Popular Types of White Wine
The pinot gris grapes used to create these types of wine are found in wine-growing regions all around the world, occurring in colors ranging from pink to gold to purplish black.
The body and flavor profiles of these wines vary wildly from region to region, with American varieties tending mostly toward medium- and light-bodied, with white fruit and melon flavor notes, and even some lingering spice tones. Seafood, bruschetta and pasta make great culinary companions for this highly popular wine.
Another wine that originated in the Burgundy region of France, chardonnay is known for its moderate body and acidity and its crisp, fruity flavor profiles, known to impart the taste of tropical and citrus fruits.
These types of wine can also carry the aroma of vanilla and smoke, as well as a buttery flavor resulting from a chemical change that turns malic acid in the wine into lactic acid — the same acid that occurs in milk and butter. Try it with pork, chicken and dishes featuring rich cream sauces.
Sauv blanc, as it’s affectionately called by wine aficionados, is a light, dry white wine that wears its grassy herb and grapefruit flavors on its sleeve. The green-skinned grapes used in this type of wine were first found growing rampantly in the Bourdeaux region of France, which explains its name being derived from sauvage, the French word for “wild.”
The forward acidity of sauvignon blanc makes these types of wine brilliant partners for vegetable dishes and grilled seafood selections.
Though traditionally sweet and tender, the popular riesling wines have wide-ranging personalities and can be found in bolder, drier varieties. Their floral bouquet gives way to a flavor profile that includes lemon, lime, apple and stone fruit like apricot or peach — even some ginger notes.
These types of wine do well in their lighter versions when paired with tuna, sashimi and chicken; bolder versions, with their high acidity, are perfect partners for spicier dishes.
This fun-named white wine originated in the Alsace region of France near the German border as pink-skinned grapes with a delicate rose gold color palette.
Its low-acid, high-sugar combination makes these types of wine similar to dessert wines. You’ll detect rose, apricot and citrus notes within the flavor profile, and may taste a hint of spice with a sweet finish. Gewürztraminer gets along famously with shrimp, soft cheeses and all types of Asian dishes.
Though it’s been around since the times of ancient Greece, rosé has become very popular in the last several years, loved for its light sipping qualities and its refreshing red fruit and floral flavor profiles.
The characteristic rosy hue arises when the skins of the grapes come into contact briefly with the flesh during processing. These types of wine can be described as dry white with a bit of a blush and brighter notes throughout their flavor profiles, leaning toward juicy red fruits like cherry and raspberry.
Popular Types of Rosé Wine
Though they’re now grown in California and the Pacific Northwest, grenache grapes originated in the southern Rhône region of France. These types of wine are generally dry with moderately high acidity, bringing forward distinct notes of strawberries, cucumbers and watermelon within its fresh flavor profile.
Middle Eastern dishes make cozy companions for grenache, as do Moroccan and Indian recipes.
These types of wine are the mellower, drier cousins of shiraz, made from the same grapes but wildly different in body and spirit.
You’ll detect the exciting flavors of red and white pepper hovering among other spices and floral notes. And it can be served without chilling, which sets it apart from other rosés. Enjoy a glass or two with your paella, pasta and other Mediterranean dishes for a harmonious pairing experience.
The name is deceptive, but these affordable types of wine are actually sweet rosés! White zinfandel originated when California winemakers attempting to create a bolder zinfandel accidentally produced a sweeter pink byproduct and decided to bottle it for an affordable pour. The rest is history!
Welcomed at the table no matter what you’re serving, you can pair a bottle with Indian dishes, pasta recipes, pork and fish entrées, cheeses and desserts.
In the Tavel region of France, all wine is rosé, and though it’s notable as being among Ernest Hemingway’s favorite types of wine, it’s fallen into something of a specialty niche in the United States.
The rich color in your glass when you pour these types of wine will remind you of coral or salmon rather than the lighter pink hue common in other rosés. It makes a lovely warm weather pour and gets along well with grilled salmon, fresh fruit and pasta topped with seasonal vegetables.
The slightly acidic and medium-bodied sangiovese is a rosé that celebrates flavor in layers of bold fruit notes such as cherries and peaches. The roots of these types of wine are planted firmly in Italy, though the grapes are now found in many wine-growing regions throughout the world.
It makes a perfect sipping beverage all on its own, though it also pairs nicely with an eclectic array of foods, such as Chinese dishes, traditional Italian entrées and warming Thai curries.
Crisp and refreshing, sparkling wines are carbonated wine beverages that add a fun, fizzy kick to any wine-drinking experience. They vary from dry to sweet and are popular types of wine for special occasions such as brunches, celebrations or romantic occasions, though they can be served any time you’re in the mood for a bright, bubbly beverage.
Add a splash of juice or a few pieces of fresh fruit to your glass and these bubbly beverages become the perfect types of wine for mixing up mimosas and Bellinis for breakfast or brunch.
Popular Types of Sparkling Wine
Essentially a Spanish version of Champagne, this bright sparkler is produced primarily in the Catalonia region of Spain and is available in white and rosé variations. Its name derives from the caves historically used to store the barrels for temperature control during fermentation.
These types of wine are drier than prosecco, though they’re not as dry as Champagne, and their lighter flavor profile imparts more fruit acidity than their French counterpart. Fried food, dishes with creamy sauces and salads of all sorts make clever dining companions for a glass or two.
Created in Northeast Italy, prosecco is a crisp, sparkling white wine made from glera grapes. The flavor profile includes melon, hazelnut and tropical fruit notes, which gives it a reputation as a sweet wine, though it’s also produced in dry and very dry versions.
Because production uses a less expensive technique called the tank method, these types of wine are more affordable than Champagne and make a great choice when crafting cocktails. Set a full glass next sushi, prosciutto or cheese and enjoy a more-than-friendly pairing.
The grand champion of bubbly! Though the name is generalized among many sparkling wines, the authentic version of Champagne is created using chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier varietals from the Champagne growing region of France.
These types of wine impart a buttery flavor reminiscent of almonds and can range from quite sweet to very dry. You can enjoy everything from the high luxury of caviar to the downhome comfort of fried chicken and potatoes paired with Champagne. It’s truly the life of the party.
Crémant is a sparkling beverage made in one of eight areas outside the Champagne region of France. The name indicates the process used to produce the hallmark creamy texture.
These types of wine are drier than prosecco and are produced in a broader range of flavor profiles; a crémant made with white grapes will provide a citrusy lemon flavor, while one made using red grapes tends toward a more berry-forward flavor. Breads of all sorts will make a satisfying pairing for these types of wine, as well as high-acid fruits like pears and green apples.
Crafted in Germany, the country with the most sparkling wine consumption in the world, this type of wine is created using the tank method, similar to prosecco.
Though generally reserved for German grapes, sekt can be made from grapes from other regions, and in any varietal. They’re generally sweetly flavored types of wine and make a great selection for pairing with desserts. Set your bottle next to soft, mild cheeses or savory entrées, and you’ll enjoy a food-and-wine pairing of rare wonder.
Dessert wine tends toward the sweeter end of the flavor spectrum, which makes it a wonderful sipping beverage or a bountiful pour for an occasion where sweet dishes will be served. They can be red or white, sparkling or still, and come in an array of flavor profiles.
Evening birthday parties and celebrations filled with indulgent treats are perfect events for these types of wine, though they’re special enough to be savored on their own at the end of a satisfying meal, with no other dessert present.
Popular Types of Dessert Wine
Also known as moscato d’asti, this sparkling Italian wine brings sweet fruit flavors and floral aromas to the dessert table. It also carries background notes of musk, which provide the muscat grapes from which it’s made their name.
The low alcohol content of moscato makes it a suitable starter wine for those just embarking on their wine tasting adventure. These types of wine pair nicely with an entrée of fish and vegetables as well as partnering up with cheeses or sweets at the end of a meal.
This type of wine is a native of Portugal and can be found in white, dry and semi-dry variations. Lighter versions carry softer flavors of apples and nuts, while the more robust darker versions of these types of wine offer richer flavors such as chocolate, cinnamon and berries.
It makes a perfect companion for meals featuring smoked meats and gooey, decadent desserts of all sorts, from chocolate torte to crème brûlée.
Another Portuguese dessert wine offering, Madeira originated on an Atlantic island near coastal Africa. Production for these types of wine includes a process that mimics barrel aging by heating the wine, making it super stable for a long life even after the bottle is opened.
The heat also brings about enchanting almond, caramel and burnt sugar flavors, which make it a versatile wine, to be served before a meal as an aperitif or as a sipping wine at the end of an evening. And of course, it can live playfully alongside sweet desserts of all types — even something as simple as a dish of ice cream.
Sherry’s heritage arises from Andalucia in western Spain. Though it has a reputation as a sweet cooking wine, these types of wine offer a range of colors and flavors prime for enjoyment as a beverage as well, from pristine amber of fino style to the rich umber of muscatel.
Dark chocolate, soft cheeses and berries all make wonderful choices for dessert pairings with sherry, as well as seafood main dishes like oysters and calamari.
Ice wine originated in Germany as eiswein, which translates to — yes – “ice wine!” The grapes used to make these types of wine are literally frozen on the vine, which suspends the sugar to give a more concentrated sweetness to the beverage produced.
There are red and white varieties, each with its own combination of sweet citrus, stone fruit and honey flavor profiles. All are low in tannins, and all make wonderful beverages alongside less sweet dessert foods such as crème brûlée, gelato and vanilla ice cream.
A Wine for Every Palate
With so many types of wine to choose from, you’re sure to find something to suit every occasion, from pouring a relaxing evening glass to serving the right bottle at your most auspicious celebrations. And knowing the difference between a shiraz and a malbec will give you an advantage when choosing the right types of wine gifts for the wine lovers in your circles, not to mention keeping the best type of wine for cooking on hand to spruce up your sauces and marinades.
Now that you know the ins and outs of the most common types of wine, it’s time to search out the most appealing bottles and stock up for your next special occasion. There’s no need to wait for a big celebration to uncork your favorite selection, however; when you have so many amazing types of wine to choose from, it’s always the right moment to let the good times pour!
For even more insight into different types of wine, check out other experiences happening on Cozymeal.