Wine 101: 10 Styles of Wine

This probably seems a little weird, but I wrote this article about wine for a client, and thought, “maybe some of you pookiefriends like wine, too.” So, even though I don’t really drink anymore, and even though this isn’t really the normal kind of content you’d expect from me, I figured I’d post it. Maybe, somewhere out there, someone will find solace in my profound words about the ten basic styles of wine you can, and should, enjoy.

Cheers to Friend-People!

Do you remember the first time you truly tasted something special in a glass of wine? The moment when your college days of 2-buck Chuck slowly began to fade into the past and make way for finer bottles, and flavors that tickled the periphery of your tastebuds with the subtle ghosts of aromatic herbs, fruits, woods, leather?
My true love of wine had its dubious beginnings in a bottle of fine Moscato d’Asti.
If you like wine, but don’t know a lot about what makes one type different than another, don’t worry — wine is tough to classify. Everything from the climate or specific geographic region in which it was grown, the grapes used, to the type of vinification, production, alcohol content, informs us as to which is which. To anyone but a world-class sommelier, many of these traits are invisible to the eye and all but impossible to determine by taste alone.
Let’s begin with the most common basic styles of wine – the ten types of wine you’ll see at foodie events, restaurants, and bars. They are the basis for all sub-categories of wine.

Ten Styles of Wine

  1. Sparkling White
  2. Light-Bodied White
  3. Full-Bodied White
  4. Sweet or Aromatic White
  5. Rosé or Blush
  6. Light-Bodied Red
  7. Medium-Bodied Red
  8. Full-Bodied Red
  9. Dessert Wine
  10. Fortified Wine

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling Wine is basically…wait for it…champagne. The reason we don’t call it “champagne” is because champagne grapes are exclusively grown, processed and turned into the sparkling brunch and celebratory beverage we love only in Champagne, France. While many other wineries in regions around the world produce sparkling whites of excellent caliber, only that from Champagne can be labeled as such. Some grocery store varieties (a la Cook’s or Barefoot’s Sparkling Pink) can be sweet and cloying, but there are many high-quality sparkling wines available.

Examples of Sparkling White Wine:  La Marca Prosecco, Cupcake Prosecco, 89 Le Colture NV Fagher Brut, Brut Rose Cremant de Bourgogne (look for Cremants if you love champagne; they are grown and produced in a neighboring region)

Light-Bodied White Wine

Light-bodied whites are popular because they’re easy to drink and don’t require a refined palate to appreciate. Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Pinot Gris are examples of light whites. They’re appropriate for everything from brunch to dinner, and pair well with a variety of light meats and fish, vegetables, fruits, and cheeses. For practical purposes, I would consider Vinho Verde, a young, “green,” lightly effervescent Portuguese wine, to fit nicely into this category, as well. 

Examples of Light-Bodied White Wines: Pascal Jolivet 2015 Le Roc (Sancerre), Terlan 2015 Quartz Sauvignon (Alto Adige), Serge Dagueneau et Filles 2016 (Pouilly-Fumé)

Full-Bodied White Wine

Full-bodied whites are perfect for those who enjoy more complex aroma profiles. They’re usually aged in barrels – from various types and preparations of oak, to old whisky and bourbon barrels — and from these containers are imparted tannins and flavors that range from buttery, to woody or smoky, and can have the same intensity of character as a complex, dry red wine. Chardonnays make up the bulk of this this category. Look for your more complex Chardonnays to come from hotter areas, like California’s wine country or Australia. Pair these wines with rich seafood and other buttery, high fat flavor profiles.

Examples of Full Bodied White: Maddalena 2016 Chardonnay, Napa Valley Grgich Hills 2015 Estate Grown Chardonnay, Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay

Sweet, or Aromatic White Wine

Muscat or Moscato d’Asti, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling are all examples of aromatic white wines. Bad aromatic white wines can be a sugary turn-off even those of us with a dedicated sweet tooth, but there is virtually no other alcohol that is more delicately ephemeral and beautifully transcendent as the lightly floral and herbal aromatic whites. By nature, these wines are usually sweet, but can also be dry and crisp. The bulk of aromatic whites are produced in California’s Central Coast and Washington State, France’s Alsace, Moldova, and Northern Italy. The Hungarian Tokaji (also know as “tokay”) is a nectar-like white or golden aromatic wine.

Examples of Aromatic Whites: Try the Chateau Ste Michelle (Washington) Gewürztraminer for a very affordable and decent bottle of aromatic white, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling 2015, Quinta Nova Pomares Moscatel 2014

Rosé (Blush, White Zinfandel)

Rosé is a white wine that is colored using the skins of red grapes, and is named for its resulting pink color. Because of the cheap pink box wines and sweet supermarket brands that became fashionable in the 1980s, rosé may have gotten a bum rap. But a good rosé can be sweet, dry, and perfectly elegant. Rosé comes from all over the world.

Examples of good rosé wine:  2016 Château Minuty Côtes de Provence ‘M de Minuty’ Rosé, Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé, 2017 Diving Into Hampton Water

Light-Bodied Red Wine

Light-bodied red wines are more transparent and easy to see through a glass, lacking in the particulate and deep color of a Cabernet, for instance. They’ll be a true ruby or light garnet color, have insubstantial legs, and will have much less tannin content than a full-bodied red.

Examples of light-body red wine:

Medium-Bodied Red Wine

Medium-body red wines are popular because of their “drinkability.” They have bold flavors: tart, full, acidic, fruity, rich; light to medium tannins, and without the overwhelming intensity of a full-bodied red. A lot of great wines in a very affordable range exist within this category. They are easily for new wine drinkers to enjoy, and easy to pair with a variety of cuisines and dishes, from salad to steak to dessert. Medium reds are great for those who prefer just a good “glass of red.” Merlot, Sangiovese, and Red Zinfandel are some common wines that make up the bulk of this category.

Examples of medium-body red wine: Artezin Mendocino Zinfandel 2016, Duca Bortini Sangiovese Terre Siciliane, Truchard Merlot Carneros,

Full-Bodied Red Wine

Cabernet, Malbec, and Shiraz are the most familiar names among the family of full-bodied reds wines. These reds are dark, complex, and full of tannins, often nearly opaque when viewed through a glass. The high tannin content causes these wines cut the richness of high-fat dishes such as ribeye steak, bleu cheese or gorgonzola sauces with pasta or over red meat, braised lamb shank, aged fatty dry meats and cheeses, and moussaka. They also make an excellent stand-alone wine for red wine fans. These grapes are grown in hotter regions, like Argentina, France, Australia, Southern California, and South Africa.

Examples of full-bodied reds: Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Malbec 2015 Patagonia, 2014 Château du Raux Cabernet Sauvignon, Idyll Wine Company Arcadian Shiraz

Dessert Wine

Consider the dessert wine chalice: typically much smaller in the bowl, narrow, holding little more than one would serve of an after-dinner liqueur or spirit — this tells you a little bit about the intensity of these typically sweet, bold wines. Some are medium to heavy bodied, and some are nearly syrupy. Many of these wines are grown in cold regions (Canada, Nordic Countries), where the grapes are allowed to languish long after harvest. They become small, shriveled, and dense in sugar content. Some are exposed to a specific type of mold to encourage sweetening and fermenting on the vine. Icewine, Tokaji/Tokay, Moscato d’Asti are dessert wines.

Examples of dessert wine: Hunt County Vineyards Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint Tokaj-Hegyalja, Moscato d’Asti Vigna Vecchia 2014

Fortified Wine

Fortified wines are port, sherry, Madiera, and Marsala. They’re heavy, high in alcohol (17-22%), and contain added spirit, such as brandy. They can be dry or sweet, depending on when the alcohol (the fortification) is added to the juice. When added before, the wine is dry, but when added after fermentation, the wine is sweet. Dry fortified wines make excellent apertifs, and sweet fortified wines are perfect for digestifs.

Examples of fortified wines: Gonzalez Byass Fino Tres Palmas Sherry, Taylor Fladgate port selections, Vito Curatolo Arini Marsala Riserva Superiore

I hope you found this article about the ten basic wine categories informative and enjoyable. Now, get out there and do some taste-testing. Do it for posterity, for science, or just for Tuesday at happy hour. Happy wine drinking!

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