This is a list of common wine varietals complete with summaries of each wine type’s basic characteristics.
Click through to see a full detailed overview of each popular type of wine along with comparisons to other common varietals and notes on the typical varietals used with it in blends.
Common White Wines Sold Today
White wine is a wine that is fermented without skin contact. The color can be straw-yellow, yellow-green, or yellow-gold. It is produced by fermenting the non-colored pressed juice of grapes, which may have a skin of any color. Which means, you can make a white wine from a red grape. White wine has existed for at least 2500 years.
The wide variety of white wines comes from the large number of varieties, methods of winemaking, and ratios of residual sugar.
With hundreds of varieties of wine white grapes, there’s as much white wine information to learn about as there are white wine grapes planted in all corners of the globe. That being said, you’ll likely encounter only a handful of these wines most often. In this white wine section, we cover the flavor profiles and regions of the most common white wine grapes/wines you may come across.
You can certainly choose to discover more beyond this short list, which makes it a lot more fun.
In general, this wine is known to be a relatively dry, medium-bodied white wine emanating fresh, crisp notes of pear, guava, lemon-peel and apple. Now, if you were to add some oak to the aging process, the above flavors shift dramatically – giving off strong hints of butter, vanilla, English pudding and pineapple.
► Pinot Gris/Grigio
Although sometimes used as a blending component, Pinot Gris is usually produced as a varietal wine. Flavors and aromas vary greatly from region to region and from style to style. But common features include notes of pears, apples, stonefruit, tropical fruit, sweet spices and even a hint of smoke or wet wool. The Pinot Grigio wines, though made from the same grapes, are most commonly described as dry white wines with relatively high acidity. These characteristics are complemented by aromas of lemon, lime, green apple and blossoms. This “everyday” Grigio Italian style is achieved firstly by harvesting the grapes relatively early.
The wines have perfumed aromas of mandarin orange, ripe pear, sweet Meyer lemon, orange blossom, and honeysuckle. The wine’s unique floral aroma is from an aromatic compound called linalool which is also found in mint, citrus flowers, and cinnamon.
► Sauvignon Blanc
The primary fruit flavors of Sauvignon Blanc are lime, green apple, passion fruit and white peach. Depending on how ripe the grapes are when the wine is made, the flavor will range from zesty lime to flowery peach.
Common characteristics of Riesling wines include light body and aromas of citrus, stone fruit, white flowers, and petrol. Due to its naturally high acidity, Riesling is one of the most popular varieties used to produce late harvest wines.
Viognier is a white wine grape variety known to produce full-bodied white wines of depth and profound flavor. It’s a unique grape variety in that it’s surprisingly aromatic and perfumy despite being a traditionally dry wine. Many tropical fruit flavors are associated with this wine.
Semillon aromas are of green apple, blossoms, lemon and perhaps lanolin. Palates range from tart lime juice, green pear, crunchy green apples to tropical fruits, nuts, passionfruit and grass.
► White Zinfandel
White Zinfandel is made from the Zinfandel wine grape, which would otherwise produce a bold and spicy red wine. This wine was invented in by Sutter Home in 1948, during a fermentation of Zinfandel that didn’t go all the way to full red. Strawberry flavors dominate this wine. Sometimes sweet, sometimes dry, this wine is a stepping stone for beginner wine drinkers.
► Chenin Blanc
It’s hard not to love Chenin Blanc. It is versatile in style and sweetness and has the ability to adapt to a wide variety of tastes. Chenin Blanc makes lithe, dry summer whites and sparkling wines. It also offers oak-aged styles with similar flavors to Chardonnay. So, there really is a Chenin Blanc wine for every occasion.
This Spanish varietal is grown almost exclusively in the Rueda region of Spain. Similar to Sauvingnon Blanc, this fresh and fruity wine is a great alternative to Pinot Griogio/Gris at about the same price. Also, it is extremely food friendly!
This pink-skinned grape variety that produces some of the world’s most distinctive aromatic wines. Its perfumed style is somewhat polarizing; fans adore its intense floral scent and sweet-spice flavors, while detractors lament its low acidity and lack of subtlety. This wine pairs great with Indian and Middle Eastern foods.
Common Red Wines on the Market
By definition, red wine is a type of wine made from dark-colored grape varieties. The actual color of the wine can range from intense violet, typical of young wines, through to brick red for mature wines and brown for older red wines.
The juice from most purple grapes is greenish-white, the red color coming from skin pigments of the grape. Much of the red-wine production process therefore involves extraction of color and flavor components from the grape skin.
Because of the influence of grape skin during the process of making the wine, reds have a tendency to be much more complex than white wines. Besides skins enhancing flavors, most red wines in the world see some type of oak influence, be it from barrel aging or the addition of oak chips/dust in a tank.
The exploration into the red wine world can be exciting and daunting, considering the sheer amount there is. In this category, be cautious, you really get what you pay for.
While Merlot’s flavor does vary depending upon where it’s grown climate-wise, you’ll typically get notes of ripe blue, black and red fruit. These tasting notes are often backed by undertones of coco, vanilla and various earth tones.
Typically a medium to full-bodied, dry red wine with plenty of acidity and relatively high tannin and alcohol levels. Dark, inky purple color profiles and ripe flavors of plums, black cherry, and blackberry can give this wine a decidedly jammy character.
This wine variety is packed with flavors resembling ripe red fruit – including raspberry, raisin, cranberry, cassis and plum. These jammy fruit flavors are often backed with distinct black pepper spice, tobacco, dry barnyard door and coffee. Warmer climate Zins adhere to more jammy flavors while cooler climate Zinfandels contain more black fruit and pepper nuances.
► Cabernet Sauvignon
The typical taste profile of Cabernet Sauvignon is high acidity, high tannin and medium to full body with black fruit notes of black cherry, vegetal notes of green pepper, and spice notes of vanilla from oak aging.
► Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir produces a perfumed wine with scents of earth, spice, cherries, strawberries, herbs and raspberries when ripe. It is a light to medium bodied wine, with high acidity that can age well.
► Syrah /Shiraz
Big-bodied, dry red wine that tends to shine its brightest on the opening palate. Not only is Syrah flavor-packed, but it’s also one of the darkest colored inky wines you can find. Deep purple in hue with not much translucency, Syrah’s violet and velvety elegance is backed by big fruit of black cherry, raisin and crunchy spice.
The aroma varies, but most give off notes of forest leaves, wild berries, and anise. Also, tart cherry, red plum and strawberry. Over time, you may notice the figs, roses and dried cherry scents, particularly if it is an older blend.
This classic Italian red is a great blend of mostly Sangiovese, but sometimes can have Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon, and even Merlot. Originating from the Tuscan region, most people associate Chianti with the little bottle in the wicker basket. There are a vast number of Chianti’s, from simple (wicker basket type) to highly complex (Chianti Classico/Riserva), to choose from.
► Cabernet Franc
The variety is most famously known as the third grape of Bordeaux and can be found in many of the world’s top Bordeaux Blend wines. It most commonly appears blended in red wines, where it adds herbaceous accents of tobacco and dark spice. One of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as varietal wines they are light to medium bodied and often show vegetal characteristics, in particular green bell peppers.
Named after the small town in Portugal of Porto in the Douro region, these fortified wines are a great with dessert or for dessert. The two main styles of port are Tawny and Ruby. Ruby having more dark cherry and berry characteristics and Tawny having more caramel and dried fruit tones. Other ports you may see are Rose and White. These two are usually consumed before dinner.
A wine with a long history, Muscat is known throughout many regions of the world. The Italians are the top produces for this wine under the title of MuscatoBianco. Muscat may be produced as dry, medium, sweet, sparkling or even dessert wine, and are also used as table grapes around the world – this is why it is particularly described as being “grapey”.
► Petite Syrah
Petite Sirah is deep, dark, and rich. It’s fruit forward to the point of being generous and tends to be easily appreciated by those just beginning to explore the world of wine. On the nose, expect sweet black berry fruit, blueberry, chocolate, baking spices, and cigar. On the palate, its rich and round blackberry, leather, cocoa, anise, and cinnamon provide a lush portrait.
► Petite Verdot
Petit Verdot is a full-bodied red wine that originates in southwestern France in the Bordeaux region. It is highly desired as a blending grape in red Bordeaux blends because of its plentiful color, tannin and floral aromas of violet. Because Petit Verdot is such a bold wine, it is commonly added in less than 10% of most wine blends. The wine is also rarely produced as a single-varietal wine, however there are several producers making phenomenal Petit Verdot wines in regions within Australia, Chile, Spain, California and Washington State.
The #1 Wine grape of Spain. Bold and structured like a Cabernet Sauvignon. When young this wine is fresh and fruity. When aged with oak and time it can become what serious wine lovers crave.Dominant flavors include cherry, dried fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. Age impacts the flavors of Tempranillo significantly, imparting juicy fruit flavors and heat. Reserva and Gran Reserva examples feature deeper, darker fruit notes, dry leaves, and Tempranillo’s signature leather flavors.
The unmistakable candied fruit roll-up and cinnamon flavor is what gives Grenache away to expert blind tasters. It has a medium-bodied taste due to its higher alcohol, but has a deceptively lighter color and is semi-translucent. Depending on where it’s grown, Grenache often has subtle aromas of orange rinds and ruby-red grapefruit. When Grenache is grown in Old World regions such as Côtes du Rhône and Sardinia, it can have herbal notes of dried oregano and tobacco.