Getting Started

It's impossible to figure out which kinds of wine you like unless you're familiar with the different types. First off, there are a few broad categories of wine: dessert, sparkling, rosé (which is a mix of red and white, think pink), white and red. This site will focus primarily on red and white wines.

In the U.S., wines are categorized as varieties depending on the type of grape used to produce the wine, but in Europe, the region where the grape is grown is more important. Don't worry about knowing every single varietal or region. To be frank, there are so many that I doubt most students would be able to remember all the different definitions and characteristics. Besides, a basic understanding of the following popular wines in will carry you a long way throughout this course. However, feel free to do some extra homework and learn more about different types of wine.

Tip: One of the quickest ways to show all those 'cork dorks' that you know your way through the world of wine is to pronounce the types correctly, so pay attention to the pronunciations in the definitions.


Chardonnay(shar-doh-nay): probably the world's most popular white wine. Chardonnay is a medium to full bodied wine and when from California, it usually has fruit and oak flavors, although it can take on a variety of flavors.

Riesling(reez-ling): a German wine that is usually light-bodied and has a sweet taste. It also has a high acidity but is considered to be crisp and refreshing with floral aromas and tastes.

Pinot Grigio(pee-noh gree-zhee-oh): produces a dry, full-bodied and citrusy taste. Because of its acidity, it can have a bite to it. It is also called Pinot Gris and is a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape.

Sauvignon Blanc(soh-vin-yon blahnk): originally from France but now grown in many regions. It makes a fairly light wine that is crisp and usually dry. It's highly versatile with food.


Pinot Noir(pee-noh nwar): originally from the Burgundy region of France, but now is grown in California and elsewhere. Pinot Noir has a light to medium body. It's low in acidity and very unlike Cabernet. Sometimes it has a fruity flavor and sometimes it's more earthy, but it's always described as smooth. It's a difficult grape to cultivate.

Merlot(merloh): the second in red wine popularity to Cabernet Sauvignon. It is actually very similar to Cabernet, but it's more mellow and has less tannins. It has a medium to heavy-bodied taste.

Zinfandel : considered California's special wine or the classic American wine. It's usually a heavy wine but lighter varieties exist, such as White Zinfandel. Different regions lead to differences in Zinfandel's aroma and flavor, but it is usually high in alcohol and tannins yet with a fruity flavor.

Syrah(sir-ah): called Shiraz if from Australia or South Africa. It's a heavy wine with a dark color. It can be made dry or sweet, and the flavor is affected by the temperature of where the grape was grown.

Caberent Sauvignon(ca-ber-nay soh-vin-yon): considered to be a high-quality, complex red wine and is known for its dark color and full-bodied taste. It's the strongest red wine.

Tip: Keep in mind that there are hundreds of different types of wines, and the only way to figure out whether you like dry or sweet, full-bodied or light, is to sample around. Also, the descriptions below are not set in stone. Each varietal of wine can have different characteristics if grown in different regions, or under different conditions.