Enjoying wine with dinner, with friends, or even with your favorite book is a time-honored tradition that never gets old. But with thousands of wines in the world to choose from, how do you make sense of them? Find out what makes different wines unique and how best to enjoy the six most popular wine types in the world.
Here's an easy way to understand any wine list: learn the most popular, key varieties. Since a handful of grapes are universal (and planted in most wine-producing countries), their basic characteristics remain the same, no matter where or how the wine is made. Understanding the top six wine types you're bound to encounter, which includes three reds and three whites, will make any wine list instantly manageable. Check them out below.
Top 6 Wine Types
Berries, cherries and plums are common fruit aromas and flavors
Tannins, chemical components from skins, seeds, stems and oak barrels give red wines structure and complexity
Best served slightly below room temperature (65°F)
Photo provided by Dudley Market in Los Angeles.
Here are 3 of the most popular types of red wine:
Cabernet Sauvignon Widely known as a “cab,” this wine is a powerhouse, known for its full body, big tannins and notes of cherry, cedar and tobacco. Pair it with grilled steak or lamb. Fun fact: Cab is the most widely planted wine grape in the world.
Photo provided by Herb Albert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz in Los Angeles.
Merlot Less tannic than a cab, merlot has a plush, velvety mouthfeel and berry fruit flavors. This is a great match with BBQ or hearty stews. Fun fact: Merlot sales suffered for years after Paul Giamatti ridiculedit in the movie Sideways.
Pinot Noir Pinot noir’s thin skin accounts for its light color and body. Fans of this elegant red value its complexity: berry, floral and earthy qualities all in one glass. Don’t hesitate to pair this versatile red with fish! Fun Fact: “Pinot” comes from the French word for “pine cone.” The grape was given its name due to the grape cluster’s cone shape.
Apple, pear, peaches and other tree fruits, along with citrus, are common characteristics
White wines will never have tannins
Best served chilled, around 45-50°F
Below are 3 of the most well-known white wine varieties:
Chardonnay A chameleon, chardonnays come in a variety of styles. Aged in oak, a chardonnay takes on a buttered, movie-popcorn quality. Unoaked, its orchard and citrus fruit notes get to shine. Lobster, poultry and butter sauces are perfect mates with this medium-bodied white. Fun fact: Chardonnay is the most popular wine in the U.S.
Riesling Often mistakenly assumed to always be “sweet,” riesling runs the gamut from bone-dry to dessert-worthy. Luscious apricot and tree fruit aromas balance the minerality in these high-acid wines, delectable with curries and similarly spicy dishes. Fun fact: Riesling’s signature slim bottle was invented for easy transportation down the Rhine River.
Sauvignon Blanc Sauvignon Blanc lovers revere it for its tart citrus, bell pepper and herbaceous qualities. Shellfish and pork pair especially well with this fresh and lively wine. Fun fact: Some describe Sauv Blanc as having a “cat pee” aroma (in a good way!)
Bonus wine: Champagne Although not a grape variety, Champagne and bubblies are not just for special occasions. The best show aromas of pear and apple, along with toasty and nutty notes. The dream pairing? Fried food! Fun fact: To be labeled “Champagne,” the wine must not only come from the Champagne region of France, it has to meet strict production regulations.