Are You Confused about Wine or Wine Tasting? Part I: Types of Wines

Mixed wine bottles wallPart I: Types of Wines

Are you confused about wine or wine tasting? So were we, and if truth be told, some things remain a mystery. There are three aspects of wine we want to talk about: 1) types of wines; 2) tasting wines; and 3) wine rating scales. In this post, we’ll talk about types of wines. We hope you have some comments and ideas, so please post them and contribute to the discussion.

There are so many types of wines, so many regions, so many names, so many… You probably get the point.

One issue is the inconsistency of names.

Whereas New World wines, typically produced in Canada, the United States, Australia, Chile, South Africa, and Argentina, include varietals (types of grapes) on their labels, which many people find useful because it makes the wine more approachable and less of a mystery, Old World wines are usually labeled by geographic area, such as Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône, and Saint-Émilion in France, Rioja and Priorat in Spain, or Chianti in Italy, to name a few.

To a certain point, it’s a memory game, and once you know what a Bordeaux blend is, versus a Burgundian wine, for example, it starts getting easier to navigate the wine rack.

A Bordeaux blend is primarily a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, with Cabernet Franc and Merlot (and sometimes a few others) added in, whereas a Saint-Émilion, which is situated on the other side of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers from Bordeaux, is made from Merlot blended with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (and, again, sometimes a few others).

In contrast, Burgundian-like wines are produced from Pinot Noir (red wine) or Chardonnay (white wine), as these are the varietals grown in the Burgundy region of France.

Some other common wines include Chianti, which is produced in Tuscany (Italy) and composed mainly of the Sangiovese grape, and Sauternes, a sweet French wine made from a blend of white grapes, Sémillon and Sauvignon blanc, and sometimes Muscadelle.

Other dry (i.e., not sweet) white wines include names like Chablis (both a town in the Burgundy region of France and a wine), which is made from Chardonnay as you may have guessed, as is Pouilly-Fuissé (also produced in Burgundy, France).

Now, rosés are made from red-skinned grapes left for a very short time with their skins when the grapes are initially crushed (that’s what gives wine its red colour, not the inside of the grapes). Rosés can have a salmon or pinkish hue.

Some whites are actually made from red grapes, like Champagne, which is usually made from Pinot Noir, although some Chardonnay can be used.

Often, you’ll find New World wines more approachable, so to speak, as they are usually more fruit forward, meaning the fruit (e.g., sour cherries or raspberries) is more obvious. In contrast, Old World wines are often more about the terroir (the dirt or soil), so you get tastes, such as earth, leather, and slate.

As if this isn’t enough information, wines taste differently, or more precisely, different notes or tastes from the wines emerge, depending on what you eat (or pair) with them.

So, what do you do if you’re at the liquor store or a restaurant? You can always ask for help. Let people know what you plan to eat and/or whether you like more fruit-forward or more terroir-like wines. They should be trained (e.g., have sommelier training) and be able to guide you with your selection.

If you like a particular wine, make a note of it, so the next time you’re buying wine or having a meal at a restaurant, you can look for wines from the same winery or same geographical location.

One note of caution, though. Don’t be seduced by the world ‘reserve’ (or réserve, riserva, etc.). Although the word means something specific in Europe, denoting either the use of the best grapes, a particular concentration/composition of varietals, and/or a particular length of time the wine matured in barrel, there are no specific restrictions placed on the word in ‘New World’ countries.

Some wineries and winemakers in New World countries use the word ‘reserve’ to denote a wine of higher quality than their regular offerings, sometimes simply because the winemaker chose the grapes him or herself.

But, other wineries are more liberal with the use of the term. It can simply be a marketing ploy (more on this in the next section) to charge a higher price. So, the take-home message is to ask questions of the store or restaurant staff.

Anyway, we know that’s a lot to absorb, and it’s actually only a sampling of different types of wines. But, we hope this has been useful, especially if you’re new to wine.

We’ll get into specific varietals and wines in subsequent posts. In the meantime, if you have any questions about wine, send them to us (using the comments form below or email us at emilieryan.author@gmail.com) and we’ll answer it in a future post.

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