Obviously the selection of a specific type, year, and brand of wine is a matter of individual taste, but differences aside, here are some broad guidelines to follow when buying some of the more popular varietals of wine.
TYPES OF RED WINE
Cabernet Sauvignon is a one of the world’s most sought after red wines. Cabs range from medium-bodied to full-bodied and are characterized by their high tannin content. The aromas and flavors range from blackcurrant, spice, oak (vanilla), herbs, and even cedar and/or leather in some cases. Although most of today’s readily available wines are meant to be consumed shortly after purchase, if you’re willing to wait for optimal flavor, Cabernet Sauvignon is an ideal wine for aging from 5-10 years. (French wines from the Bordeaux region are also excellent for aging from 10-20 years.)
Merlot is considered a medium-bodied wine and tends to be a softer (some would say less interesting) wine than Cabernet Sauvignon. Some Merlot wines will age, but not as well as the more complex Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Shiraz (Syrah) and Chianti wines are other medium-bodied red wines. The range of flavors include plums, cherries, blueberries, and blackberries.
Pinot Noir is a lighter colored and flavored red wine. Pinot Noir wine has stringent growing requirements so production is smaller, thus, it is more pricey. However, it is a very popular wine and goes well with a wide variety of foods. Flavors are reminiscent of sweet red berries, plums, tomatoes, and cherries.
Zinfandel wine is made from a dynamic red grape and is known for its rich, dark color, medium to high tannin levels, and higher alcohol content. The flavor tends to be spicy, reminiscent of pepper.
Beaujolais is an excellent ‘starter’ red wine for those who are thinking about moving away from white wine. It is a light wine with lots of fruity aromas and flavors. Around the third Thursday of November, a wine called Beaujolais Noveau is released. It is a real charmer with floral, fruity flavors of berries and rose petals and should be consumed right away.
TYPES OF WHITE WINE
Chardonnay is America’s number one selling white wine. One of the reasons it is so popular is that it can take on a wide variety of flavors. It can taste semi-sweet or sour, heady or light. Typical flavors are apple, tangerine, lemon, lime, melon, and oak. Most chardonnays are meant to be drunk immediately, but some can age for 5-10 years or more.
Pinot Blanc is a medium-dry to dry white wine. Flavors include citrus, melon, pear, and apricot.
Pinot Grigio (from Italy) is a light, crisp white wine that is intended to be consumed early on. It has a smooth, almost silk-like, texture. Flavors can range from melon to pear with occasional hints of tropical or citrus fruit. There may even be a taste of honey.
Sauvignon Blanc originated in France; however, New Zealand has been producing the wine with tropical fruit and gooseberry flavors. It is usually a dry wine with distinctive herbaceous qualities.
For a comprehensive listing of wines and their characteristics,
go to WineIntro.com.