Wine Basics: The Different Types of Wine

Red wines, white wines, dry, sweet, fruity, fortified, sparkling wines, rose wines, champagne, dessert wines. Phew! The list goes on. If you are a beginner to the wine scene you can be forgiven for being confused.

The crazy amount of wine varieties available is mind boggling. How are you supposed to decide what means what? And from there, more importantly, which wine choice is best for you as a beginner?

In this quick article, I will bring things back down to the basics. From there, you should be well equipped to choose a bottle next time you are in a liquor store or shopping online.

It’s then time to wine down… and enjoy your bottle of wine.

Different types of wine lined up in glasses on a white background

Wine Basics

Really briefly, in case you are unfamiliar, wine is an alcoholic drink that is produced from fermented grapes. There are also non-grape wines, but they are a lot more rare.

How does wine taste? That’s like asking how long a piece of string is.

There are a number of factors that influence the taste, smell, aroma, body, sweetness, dryness, flavors, etc of a wine.

These include, but are not limited to:

What makes this lovely beverage are light grapes (white/green grapes) and dark grapes (red/purple/blue grapes).

From there, wine can be produced using a single grape, a blend of grapes and many other methods in the fermentation process that leads to the large array of wine choices available.

Red Wines

Cheers red wine in glasses in a vineyard at sunset
Red wines are produced using dark colored grapes.

Red wines are produced using dark colored grapes that are fermented with the grapes skin. The amount of time the skin has contact with the grape juice determines, in large part, the color of the wine.

Tannins are a natural substance in grapes that include the grape skin, stem and seeds. Red wines tend to be higher in tannins than white wines, which is why they tend (not always) to be dryer and have a ‘rough’ texture.

For a beginner: Light-bodied red wines are ideal for beginners. They are more delicate on the tongue, smooth and not as dry or bitter as other reds.

Try Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Malbec.

Serving and pairing: Drink red wine at around 60 to 70 degrees. Pair red wine with heavier meals such as red meats, pizza, pasta, burgers, pork and beef stroganoff.

White Wines

Cheers white wine in glasses on a vineyard
White wines are produced using light colored grapes.

The major difference between red wines and white wines are… you guessed it, the color.

White wines can be made from light grapes and dark grapes. However, the grape juice has no contact with the grape skin. This is how we get the color difference.

There are five main types of white wines: light and sweet, light and zesty, herbaceous, bold and dry, bold and sweet. White wines tend to be lighter, crisper and more refreshing than their red counterparts.

For a beginner: Light and sweet or light and zesty are great for beginners.

Try Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Torrontés, Albariño or Pinot Blanc.

Serving and pairing: Drink white wine at around 49 to 55 degrees. Pair white wine with light meals such as seafood, tuna, salads, chicken, cheese, curry and desserts.

Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wine poured into a glass by waiter closeup
Sparkling wines are produced from either dark or light colored grapes but are carbonated.

Otherwise known as bubbly wine, sparkling wines are made from either dark or light grapes that are carbonated. This simply means that carbon dioxide gas is injected into the wine.

Champagne is a sparkling wine you might have heard of. People commonly mix it with juice to make mimosas. Other popular sparkling wines are Prosecco and Cava.

For a beginner: Champagne, Cava or Prosecco.

Serving and pairing: Drink sparkling wine at around 45 to 50 degrees. Pair sparkling wine with light meals such as seafood, salads, fried chicken, cheese, fruits, caviar and creamy soups.

Rosé Wines

Rose wine poured into a glass closeup
Rosé wines are produced with dark grapes, where the skin is in contact with the juice for a shorter time during fermentation.

A personal favorite, rosé wines are hard to miss because of their bright pink colors!

The pink or blush color is achieved by fermenting dark grapes with the grape skin for a shorter amount of time. Some rosé wines achieve this within a shorter time than others; the time can vary greatly.

These wines tend to be on the drier side but there are certainly plenty of sweet varieties available. Like white wines, they tend to have a lower tannin content which gives them a less bitter taste.

Rosé wine is popular for dinner parties, celebrations and summer parties as it is pleasing to the eye as well as being light, refreshing, and tasty.

For a beginner: Stick to sweeter varieties. Try Pink Moscato, White Zinfandel, White Merlot or French Rosé wine.

Serving and pairing: Drink rosé wine at around 50 to 60 degrees. Pair dry rosé wine with light meals such as chicken, vegetables, fish and salads. Pair sweet rosé wine with meat, barbecue flavors and rich sauces.

Blush Wines

Cheers blush wine in glasses closeup
Blush wines can be produced by mixing red and white wine.

Commonly confused as a rosé wine, blush wine deserves a category of its own.

The main thing to note here is that blush wines can be made from combining red and white wine.

Or it can be made from red grape skins coming into contact with the grape juice for about one hour during fermentation.

Whereas rosé is not made by combining red and white wine; it consists of clear juice that makes contact with the grape skin for a certain amount of time. In this way, a rosé may be a blush wine but not every blush wine is a rosé.

Blush wines suggest that they are just pink, but they can come in a variety of shades. They also tend to be light and refreshing.

For a beginner: Try White Zinfandel, White Grenache or White Merlot.

Serving and pairing: Drink blush wine at around 50 to 60 degrees. Pair blush wine with salmon, pizza, pasta, salads, vegetables and goat cheese.

Dessert Wines

Dessert wine sherry in glasses on wododen table
Dessert wines like Sherry are traditionally consumed with dessert.

You guessed it… These wines are served with dessert. They tend to be quite sweet (to go with desserts like cake, ice cream, etc).

For a beginner: Try Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Ice Wine, Sauternes or Sherry.

Serving and pairing: Drink dessert wines at around 45 to 50 degrees. Pair dessert wines with your favorite desserts or on its own.

Fortified Wines

Different types of fortified wines in glasses on a drink coaster
Fortified wines are wines that have a spirit added to them to increase the alcohol content.

Fortified wines have distilled spirits added to them during fermentation, increasing the alcohol level. The most common spirit added is brandy.

Sometimes fortified wines are classified as dessert wines due to the particular wines lower alcohol content.

For a beginner: Try Marsala, Sherry or Port wines.

Serving and pairing: Drink fortified wines at around 50 to 65 degrees. Pair fortified wines with your favorite desserts.

In Summary

Now that you are a little more informed on the types of wines available out there, your selection choices should be a little easier.

This list is no substitute for getting out there and popping off some corks! Everyone’s palate is different and you won’t know what you like until you experience a few of the options available.

I hope this article has been helpful and a step in the right direction for your wine tasting choices.

Emma Miller