The Many Different Types of Wine

No time for a wine vacation? Maybe you want to broaden your wine horizons or just stop getting confused every time you stare at the store shelf trying to pick the perfect bottle of wine. Take a quick trip around the world with this handy guide to vino.

Divide and Conquer

Every country has unique labeling requirements for wine. Forget about trying to learn them all. Just divide up the world into two categories – Old World and New World. The Old World is Europe. The New World is pretty much everywhere else. In most Old World countries, wines are named after very specific places. In the New World, wines are named according to the type of grapes the wine is made from. It’s just that simple.

Old World Wines

The trick to learning about the wines of Europe is to simply try a few and find out what you like. A good way to do this is one country at a time. Buy two or three wines from a particular area, invite friends over and compare them. Serve some food and you have a wine tasting party. Here is an overview of some famous wine place names in Europe:

French Wine

  • Bordeaux
  • Burgundy
  • Champagne
  • Rhone

Italian Wine

  • Barbera
  • Barolo
  • Barbaresco
  • Chianti

Spanish Wine

  • Rioja
  • Ribera del Duero
  • Sherry
  • Priorat

German Wine

  • Mosel
  • Saar
  • Ruwer
  • Rheingau
  • Pfalz

Portuguese Wine

  • Douro

Keep in mind when you are looking at wine labels, the name of the producer, bottler, sub-region, vineyard and type of grape might be included depending on the country. Other words that indicate things like level of sweetness, the year it was made and quality control classifications like AOC or DOC also appear.

The single most important factor in predicting what a wine will taste like is knowing the type of grape it is made from. This basic idea is the driving force behind labeling wines in the New World. Once you know a thing or two about grape varietals, you can match up many of the Old World wine place names with the grape varietals they are made from. Once you understand a white wine from Burgundy is made from Chardonnay grapes it all starts to make sense.

Wine Grape Varietals

Ninety-nine percent of all the wine made in the world comes from one species, vitis vinifera. Within the vitis vinifera family there are literally thousands of varieties, but only a couple hundred are important to winemaking. For most wine drinkers, only a dozen or so make up most of what is routinely consumed.

  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Chardonnay
  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Sangiovese
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Zinfandel

Famous Wines of the World

Anyone who has seen the movie Sideways knows the main character named Miles hates Merlot and belittles Cabernet Franc. One of the inside jokes in the movie has to do with a bottle of wine that Miles prizes, a 1961 Cheval Blanc. Cheval Blanc is the name of a famous chateau in Bordeaux. In Bordeaux, red wines are typically blends made from five specific grape varietals. In the case of Cheval Blanc, the blend is Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the two wines Miles likes least. While only true wine geeks appreciate this kind of trivia, it is helpful to know a thing or two about well-known wines, common varietals and popular wine regions.