We all started somewhere in our wine discovery journey. Even the legendary Jancis Robinson, an author of ever popular Oxford Companion to Wine (hundreds and hundreds of pages of encyclopaedic knowledge), said that she 'learns something new about the world of wine all the time'.
This guide to types of wines is to help anyone who wants to enhance their wine knowledge. You may use it as a checklist on wines. It suggests a very basic list to start your tasty learning experience on types of wine. Even if you are already a seasoned wine enthusiast, you can simply see where to go next to discover new styles, types or varieties even further.
Apart from this guide you can definitely check WSET resources and courses specification on our Wine School page - they have designed comprehensive wine courses that we are now offering in class and via distance learning; we’ve also created some tasting cases to include majority of the below types of wine (they are listed in the very bottom of the page).
As we all know wine is fermented grape juice, but there are many
If you would like your wine knowledge to have structure, bear this in mind and then compare & contrast with ease.
White wine is made of grape juice that is coming from white grape varieties with or without skin contact, but sometimes also from black grapes with no contact with the skins. Hence all types of white wines are lemon, gold or sometimes amber in colour. Never pink, purple or shade of red.
Tasting sample: Try simple Pinot Grigio from Italy: it will be your perfect budget example of straightforward white wine: fresh, floral, with citrus notes, acidity and light in body.
Rose wine made of black grape varieties with very short skin contact. It gives these wines a shade of red colour: orange, pink, very light red. With this short extraction only little tannin is getting into wine, so if it is something you do not like, opt for lighter but well balanced rose wines.
Tasting sample: Domaine Sainte Irenee Syrah Rose from Languedoc. This wine is coming from south of France and made of 100% Syrah. Very short extraction of colour makes this wine very light pink in colour and exciting fresh strawberries on the palate.
Red wine as you can imagine is made of black grapes that were fermented on skins and it is quite usual that winemakers will decide to extract as much colour, tannins and other flavonoids (including antioxidants and nutrients) as possible. They may opt for gentle way (more expensive but better for you) or mass market cheap and cheerful extraction to do it quickly and for the max amount of grapes as possible (no need to say that those wines contain much less goodness).
Tannins, especially in very young red wine types, can be quite harsh and astringent. Some varieties, i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, are especially potent and very high in tannins. Hence some types of red wines are better suited for oak treatment, whereas some are better off young and fresh. We encourage you to try both styles to make your own opinion.
Tasting samples: For unoaked red you can try a light Rioja Joven ‘Vina Illusion’. It is made strictly according to Rioja standards, but the fruit is pure and very straightforward. It has beautiful forest fruit, red fruit and strawberry flavours without any sweet vanilla flavours that we typical to oaked Rioja wines.
For oaked red you can opt for Cotes du Rhone Village ‘Plan du Dieu’. This red wine type of classic Rhone blend has seen oak ageing and it allowed the winemaker to make this wine so smooth, elegant and easy to drink, even though it is a blend of three very rich and potent grape varieties. You will definitely taste the difference and see how oak influences the wine. You can opt for the same Rioja but Crianza (6 months in oak or more) or Reserva (1 year or more) to have even better comparison, but this Cotes duRhone Village is so beautifully made, you should try this type of red wine!
It is the most versatile grapes in the world. You see it as steely, nervy, acidic Chablis and then in oaked styles of New World Chardonnay, and everything in between.
It is not very aromatic generally and its flavours range from citrus and green fruit in cooler climates, stone fruit and some tropical fruit in moderate and then more prominent tropical fruit in hot ones.
Oaked Chardonnay ill have additionally some buttery, brioche, biscuity flavours that are loved by some, but similarly hated by others. It is versatile but divisive. Which one are you?
Tasting samples: pick a bottle of Chablis or even Petit Chablis to save a bit of money and then a bottle of aged Chardonnay from Chile (i.e. Novas Chardonnay Gran Reserva). No words necessary - you will taste it very clearly.
Typically green fruit, citrus and loads of gooseberry in French elegant styles and addition of classic tropical passion fruit tartness in New Zealand Sauvignons make these flavours very recognisable. This is the reason many people opt for a glass of refreshing Sauvignon Blanc as they normally know what to expect and in many cases of good winemaking they are getting that. Expectations met - everyone’s happy!
Tasting samples: Sauvignon Blanc from Loire (i.e. Touraine) will be good quality and less expensive than its neighbouring Sancerre region from the same Loire. The latter will have similar qualities with greater precision, ripeness and complexity. Compare it with Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. It won’t be a very striking difference but a recognisable one. Try Ventopuro Sauvignon Blanc from Chile - very typically fresh wine with citrus and gooseberry flavours.
It has been fashionable, then gone to a steep decline and now back in fashion again. German Rieslings are classic examples of this variety but also very difficult to follow as there are dry styles, off-dry and then all way down to very sweet and luscious styles. Find a goof ‘Trocken’ (dry) German Riesling and see how it is different - it has some minerality apart from generous fruit and floral character.
Tasting sample: Riesling Sander from Germany is your typical one without any ageing factors or super complexity. If you like it you can expand your range by exploring French Rieslings that come from Alsace, they are similarly done by just tad more ripe usually, and then some Australian Clare Valley Riesling.
Germany also produces sweet styles, get in touch with your local independent wine merchant for an advice, this one just slightly complicated. Can you pronounce ‘trockenbeerenauslese’? See my point?!
I start with this variety as it is a lighter one out of the following black ones. It is a demanding variety that is not easy to grow and then make wines from. Hence the general understanding is that this is where you need to splash out if you really want a quality Pinot Noir. Some people tried cheap examples and they never touch Pinot Noir again saying that it is like a vinegar. It is true - it is an unforgiving variety that you can’t mask with anything much. It offers elegant red fruit flavours, can age gracefully with or without oak and it is Pinot Noir that made Burgundy so special. It grows well in cooler (but not too cold) climates and needs some special care. Second are where we can get extremely expressive Pinot Noir is New Zealand. You can opt to explore even further afield in the USA if you want even riper styles.
Tasting sample: Petit Clos Pinot Noir 2015 by Clos Henri, Marlborough, New Zealand. This wine offers generous red fruit, complexity and can be enjoyed both chilled for added elegance or at room temperature for a fuller body effect. Crowd pleaser.
Left bank Bordeaux. This is a dominant grape variety in this type of wine. Think of right bank and it becomes a close second after Merlot. Typical flavour is of blackcurrant. Think of cassis - think of Cab Sav. It is quite punchy and astringent when very young, but ages really well and definitely loves oak. It is a true International variety now - planted all over the world, it is still very typical of blackcurrant. More elegant in the New World it becomes even bigger and bolder in the New World.
Tasting sample: Ventopuro Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile will sit somewhere in between of elegant and big styles and you will taste blackcurrant very well. Fresh winds and warm Chilean climate made it possible to ripen the fruit fully without reaching jammy flavours. From this wine you can then go to more elegant and earthy Bordeaux and to bigger North American or Australian examples. She European appellations also use Cabernet Sauvignon for their lesser appellation (IGT) wines.
Right Bank Bordeaux (as stated above), south of France, in or around Venice - this black variety that shows soft, red berry fruit and plums.
It is juicier and not too tannic as its blending partner Cab Sav, and that is why it is so popular in red blends. It is relatively easy to grow and ripen. On its own it can be a bit too simple sometimes, so many lesser appellations use for IGT wines and some experimental blends. Why not to try something new?
Tasting sample: After trying 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, opt for Merlot-Cabernet Blend from south of France made by Domaine la Colombette. It is softer, more easy going and less gripping. As with the above, it is just a matter of personal preference. What do you think?
This variety has many names, Garnacha in Spain and Cannonau in Sardinia and across Italy. It is a grape that gives wines higher in alcohol, with a bit sweeter spice, but juicy and soft with red berried fruit, plums and some damsons. Sweet spice is a signature flavour, so it is not surprising this one also a very ‘blendable’ variety. It is used in a classic Cotes du Rhone ‘Grenache Syrah Mourvedre’ blend or plays a prominent role in Catalan wines. Sardinia has been named as one of 4 areas in the world with the most living centenarians on the planet. Is it partly because of the wines that are so rich in antioxidants? Know knows! Jame Oliver seems to agree with it as in his recent Super Foods programme he has featured Cannonau Sartiu 2015 from Sardinia stating that it is not just nutrient rich wine, but also aids happiness. Who I am to argue?
Tasting sample: If you’ve purchased Plan de Dieu from Cotes du Rhone Village, you can re-sample that one as Grenache is the dominant grape in that blend. Also try Cannonau - not just for the celebrity appeal, but just to make up your own mind and get those extra antioxidants. Just also to make sure we are on the same page - all the types of wines and samples we recommend for them are organic of course!
The same family of Petit Sirah, Syrah and Shiraz is a bit different in terms of boldness and how robust the flavours are, but they are similar. Shiraz is the fullest and richest out of these three and showcases pronounced black fruit (blackberries) with spice (pepper, mint, blackcurrant leaf) and some chocolate and mocha in hotter climates. It ages and matures OK; not as great as Cab Sav, but still capable of picking up wonderful flavours from oak.
This grape loves the sun, so cannot ripen just anywhere. Expect hotter climates, loads of alcohol content and richness.
Tasting sample: Armador Syrah 2014, Chile is picked for relatively short period of oak ageing (5 month), so the wine has these lovely smooth and velvety sweet spice flavours, but with also very generous black fruit that has also touch of sweetness to it natural from the fruit. It is not going to break your bank, so after tasting this one you could go up the ladder so to speak and try a very good Barossa Shiraz. It is proven to be a classic style for this type of wine.
This selection is of course a very basic, you can call it a starter pack. Yet without having all these flavours in your mind, how can you really say which wine you like or not?
Now equipped with types of wine related to colour and also types of wine with regards to main grape varieties why not to explore most prominent regions? Take a note of grapes, how it is made and what do you think of it and let’s explore.
You can opt for:
Marlborough region in NewZealand for Sauvignon Blanc
Chianti DOCG in Italy for Sangiovese
Rioja Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva for Tempranillo
Alsace for Riesling, more delicate Pinot Blanc or sweeter Gewürztraminer
Argentinian (preferably from Mendoza) Malbec
Can an exercise be any more tasty and exciting?
Simply buy 3 oaked reds made of different grape varieties (say, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere) and try to describe the appearance, small and taste of the wines. Scribble your notes whilst tasting.
See what you all got in your notes and argue. Don’t forget to sample whilst you argue!
Just to also note that this guide describes basic types of still wines, other types of wines which are not included there are: sparkling wines (Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Lambrusco, Asti etc), sweet wines (Sauternes) and fortified wines (Port, Sherry).
Should you wish to go with some of our tasting suggestions, here are tasting cases that we use for our WSET wine courses: a very basic vcase of 6 or extended selection of 12. Enjoy your ‘strenuous’ and exciting wine education journey!