The world of wine can be somewhat overwhelming and even intimidating to the wine newbie. With so many bottles, brands, and seemingly endless styles of wine, where does one start to dig through the various types of wine available? Here, a quick rundown of the five main categories of wine and their featured characteristics.
What's In Your Glass? The Main Wine Categories
1. Red Wine
Red wines are made from blue or purple-colored grapes and tend to carry considerably more tannins thanks to the way red wines are made with extended contact between the grape juice and grape skins. Many of the most famous wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Italy, Australia, and the U.S. are red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, or Cab Franc grapes. They can be created in a variety of styles with a lighter body (or weight) to fuller-bodied profiles, with a variety of different palate profiles ranging from quite dry to sweet and fairly fruity in flavor to spicy and savory.
2. White Wine
In the white wine category, famous grape varieties include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc. White wines tend to focus on acidity and the fresh flavors of white fruit nuances. They may be crafted in either dry or sweet variations and range from fruity to floral, spicy to sweet, or rich and creamy on the nose and palate.
3. Rosé Wine
Typically made from red wine grapes with just a short exposure of the grape skins to the pressed grape juice, rosé wines are made in wine regions all over the globe and offer a refreshing, well-chilled alternative (especially in summer) to many of their red wine counterparts. Considerable re-branding has taken place with rosé wines in terms of their public perception. The 1980s and early 1990s saw a slew of sweet, syrupy "blush" rosé wines stacking the shelves, but today's market has started to embrace the decidedly dry styles especially from France, Italy, and Spain.
Champagne and sparkling wines are a popular type of wine for their bubbly personalities that scream, "Celebrate!" Made from red and white wine grapes, sparkling wines can be either white, rosé, or red. The bubbles come from a second fermentation that captures the carbon dioxide bubbles under sustained pressure. Sparkling wines range in style from ultra dry to quite sweet and super bubbly to slightly fizzy, with a full spectrum of flavors and aromas that span the scale from floral to fruit-filled and fresh-baked bread to creamy buttery tones.
Fortified wines are made from a still wine that has additional alcohol added to it, generally bringing the total alcohol by volume to the 17-20% mark. Popular types of fortified wines include Port, Sherry, Marsala, and Madeira. Made from both red and white wines, with a sweet scene that runs from dry to semi-dry all the way to full blown sweet, the sweeter versions of fortified wines are popular dessert wines.
There is one other type of wine to consider, though it will typically fall into one of the top five categories, and it is the dessert wine. Made from red or white wine grapes, and based on higher levels of residual sugar thanks to botrytis, frozen grapes, or fortification, dessert wines are a delicious delight but don't necessarily claim their own category when it comes down to the basics of distinguishing between wine types.