Cardullos's Gourmet Shoppe Wine Basics

Wines can be grouped into the six primary categories: white wines, red wines, rosé wines, sparkling wines, dessert wines and fortified wines.

White Wines

White wines are generally consumed with lighter meals and flavors, particularly think lunch, small suppers or appetizers. They are more refreshing, lighter in both style and taste than the majority of their red wine counterparts. The most commonly known wine varietals are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc (also called Fumé Blanc), Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, Semillon, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc.

Varietal/Region Best Known Producers
Champagne Champagne, France
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris Alsace, France; Italy; Oregon; California
Sauvignon Blanc Loire, France; New Zealand; California; South Africa
Chenin Blanc Loire, France; South Africa
Riesling Germany; Alsace, France; Australia; New Zealand; Washington State; California
Chardonnay Burgundy, France; Australia; California; South America; South Africa; Oregon
Viognier Rhone, France; California

Red Wines

Red wines are often classified by “body-type”, for example, one might say that a certain red wine is “light-bodied” – referring to the “mouth feel” of the wine in your mouth and the structure of the tannins. A light-bodied wine will have fewer tannins present, meaning it will have less of a presence on your palate. These wines tend to be less demanding partners with big flavor foods, as they do not try to compete for flavor space in your mouth. An example of a light-bodied red wine would be one derived from the Gamay grape varietal, such as France’s famed young red wine: Beaujolais Nouveau. In general, light-bodied wines tend to “feel” more like water in the mouth.

A medium-bodied red wine will contain more tannins than the light-bodied wines, like the Beaujolais Nouveau, but will not have near the mouth hit of a high-octane Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, per se. Typical examples of medium-bodied red wines include: Merlot, Shiraz or a Chianti. They are immensely drinkable as they have enough flavor to entertain a palate without overwhelming it, great for meals or just sipping.

Full-bodied red wines have the highest tannin (and often alcohol) content, the best examples of which are France’s well-known Bordeaux wines, California’s key Cabernets, as mentioned above, and Italy’s sizzling Super Tuscans. “Full-bodied” wines feel heavier, more like milk, in the mouth.

The most common red wine varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Shiraz, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Grenache.

Varietal Best Known Producers
Gamay Beaujolais, France
Pinot Noir Burgundy, France; California; Oregon; Champagne, France
Tempranillo Spain
Sangiovese Tuscany, Italy
Grenache/Garnacha Rhone, France; Spain; Australia
Merlot Bordeaux, France; California; Washington State, Chile
Zinfandel California
Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux, France; California; South America
Nebbiolo Piedmont, Italy
Syrah/Shiraz Rhone, France; Australia; South Africa; California; Washington State

Rosé Wines

Rosés are pink in color, and can be referred to as rosé, pink or blush wines. Rosés are made from black grapes, but don’t fully turn red because the grape skins are removed from the juice mere hours after contact. This brief contact with the grape skins gives the wine a pink color from the slight transference of red pigments from the skins. Rosés can also made by blending together white and red wines. This brief skin contact also ensures that a minimal amount of tannins enters the wine. Many rosés are sweet, with White Merlot and White Zinfandel serving as great examples. However, the best and most traditional European rosés are bone dry.

Sparkling Wines and Champagnes

Sparkling wines, made from nearly any variety of grape, are wines that contain carbon dioxide bubbles. Carbon dioxide occurs naturally during fermentation, and winemakers around the world have developed special techniques to trap carbon dioxide in the wine. Sparkling wines are often referred to incorrectly as Champagne – Champagne is a type of sparkling wine, but there is a distinct difference between the two. Champagne is the name of a region in northeast France. By law, wines may only be called Champagne when they are made solely from grapes grown in the Champagne region and produced according to strict guidelines. Popular sparkling wines include Cava, Champagne, Crémant d’Alsace, Moscato d’Asti and Prosecco.

Dessert Wines

Dessert wines are wines which have a high sugar content, making them a popular choice with or as dessert. They can be made sweet from many different ways, such as harvesting the grapes very late when sugar levels are high or drying the grapes on straw mats to concentrate the sugars.

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