Different kinds of wine grapes produce different kinds of wine. There are two main categories of wine grapes: white and black, which refers to the colour of the grape skins.
White grapes, as the name suggests, produce white and sparkling wines; black grapes produce reds and rosé (pink). The rich colours of red wines do not come from the grape juices; rather, it is from the pigment of the grape skins when it is crushed and extracted during production. Rosé wines are lighter in colour because the grape skins are removed, so the pigments do not fully transfer into the juice.
Wine regions are divided between Old World, traditional regions such as Europe and the Middle East; and New World, like Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and the US. Wine flavours and aromas can change depending on the region and climate, as well as the production process.
In this article, we will explore the most common red and white wines, and talk a little about their flavours.
Merlot A light, smooth wine that is easy to drink. The grape is dark, blue, and fleshy, mostly commonly found in the Bordeaux wine region. It was used primarily as a blending wine, to soften Cabernet wines, as it does not lend itself to long-term aging.
Merlot wine grapes - David McSpadden, Flickr
There are two “styles” of Merlot, depending on the region and harvesting times.
International-style Merlots are full-bodied, with intense, fruity flavours (primarily plum and blackberry). This is because the grapes are harvested later, when the fruit has completely ripened, which gives it an inky purple colour and higher alcohol levels.
Traditional Merlots, produced in Bordeaux, are harvested earlier, before the fruit has completely ripened. This helps retain acidity levels, with tarter fruit flavours (such as raspberries and strawberries), and a medium body. They have moderate alcohol levels.
Food Pairing: Merlots are very versatile and can be paired with almost any type of food, particularly grilled meats and chocolate.
Cabernet Sauvignon This is a deep-coloured wine that is perfect for aging. The grapes are hardy and easy to cultivate, now found in almost every major wine region in the world, and have thick skins. It is a smooth, ripe wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon - bigbirdz, Flickr
Cabernet Sauvignons are full-bodied and bold, and its flavour varies. It has been known to carry vanilla, cedar, chocolate, and coffee flavours; as well as blackcurrant and cherry. This wine is often aged anywhere between 15 to 30 months, either in oak barrels, or with oak chips in bags. This adds woody flavours to the wine, such as vanilla and cedar, and softens the astringency from the tannin.
Food Pairing: Hearty meats, such as lamb and beef, as well as strong cheeses.
Pinot Noir This is one of the more complex rosé wines, and is delicate and fresh, with very soft tannins. Pinot Noir grapes can produce some of the finest wines in the world, but cultivating them is difficult and tricky, as they age unpredictably, and are susceptible to rot. It is the primary grape of Burgundy, Champagne, Oregon, and New Zealand.
Pinot Noir Grapes
Pinot Noir wines taste like cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and other red fruits when it is young. As it ages, it starts developing leafy and earthy notes, particularly the ones cultivated in Burgundy, France. The flavours can also vary between fruity and vegetable-like depending on the climate.
Syrah (Shiraz) Syrah, also known as Shiraz in Australia and South Africa, is a dark, spicy, and rich wine that has big, bold flavours. It carries an aroma of leather and black fruits, and is suitable for aging. The grapes can be used for blending, or on its own, and its flavours vary depending on climates.
Because of its widespread cultivation, there is no ‘typical’ Syrah aroma or flavour. Blackberry and pepper are most common; others such as dark berries, chocolate, espresso, and truffle have also been found.
Chardonnay Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape originating in Burgundy, which has since spread to wine regions around the world. It produces many different kinds of wine, mostly medium and light-bodied, strong acidity, with crisp, fruity flavours. The grapes are also a key component in sparkling wines, such as champagne.
It is one of the most versatile grape varieties; the flavours and aromas change easily depending on where it’s grown and how it is cultivated. Oak-barrelled chardonnay carries rich, buttery, honey-like flavours, while stainless steel-barrelled Chardonnay has a fresher, mineral taste. It often tastes like apple and lime in colder climates, and tropical fruits such as melon and citrus in warmer climates.
Food Pairings: Seafood, poultry, pork
Riesling Riesling is cultivated from white grapes, from the Rhine region of Germany. It has high acidity, and flowery aromas, producing dry, sweet white wines. Like the Chardonnay, Riesling is highly versatile and susceptible to change depending on region and climate.
Riesling Grapes - T.o.m., Wikimedia Commons
Cultivated in cooler climates, Riesling carries notes typical to fruits that grow on trees, such as apples and pears. They can develop citrus and peach notes, and lime, in warmer climates. All of this, coupled with the higher acidity levels, makes it a perfect aging wine. After aging, it can develop rich, honey-like aromas.
Food Pairing: Spicy food (such as Thai), poultry, pork
Sauvignon Blanc Originating in Bordeaux, France, this green-skinned grape produces crisp, dry white wine, and is also commonly used in dessert wines. The flavours range from green and grassy, to sweet and tropical, depending on where it is cultivated. Sauvignon Blanc is grown in France, Chile, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Washington, and California.
Vintage Grapes in Casablanca Valley, Chile - Dominic Rivard, Flickr
Cooler climates produce a stronger acidity, and grassy flavours; there can also be tropical fruit and flowery notes. The aroma suffers in warmer climates, because the grapes tend to be over-ripe, but produces stronger tropical fruit flavours, such as grapefruit and other tree-fruits.
Australia produces a wide range of black and white grape varieties, including Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot; Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. Wine Australia has a comprehensive list of grape varieties grown in Australia.
Do you have a favourite wine? What do you like to pair with it? Let us know in the comments, or on the forum!