Learning To Love The Wine You’re With

Pinot noir

Sure, we know the best terms to describe wine (think steely or balanced, and check out the Cryptic Language of Wine for more), but what about the actual wines themselves? There are many different types out there with interesting back stories, unique flavors, and things to consider when ordering. And, pinot noir is one of the most popular.

Pinot noir came about in Burgundy, France where it is referred to as "red Burgundy" today. It is made from a certain red-wine grape (that's pretty hard to grow) and has a French name relating to the words "pine and black."

Flavors: Expect a mix of black cherry, berry, and mushrooms. You might even get a hint of autumn in there, such as "fallen leaves."

How to purchase: Look for Pinots that come from California, Chile, Oregon, or New Zealand. These wines are rich in flavor (and fruitier than those from France) without costing you too much.

Sauvignon blanc

Sauvignon blanc is a dry white wine created in France's Loire Valley. Its name stems from the French word sauvage meaning "wild” and is roughly 500 years old.

Flavors: The wine is crisp yet musky, often infused with fruit, like green apple, lime, and peach. Sauvignon blancs that are fermented in stainless steel offer higher acidity (more of a tart flavor), while those fermented in a barrel are more creamy.

How to purchase: For the best-of-the-best, nab a French bottle from Bordeaux, but anything from New Zealand works, too—especially when that budget is a bit tight.

Malbec

Malbec is a dry red wine that ranges from medium to full-bodied. Originally from France, this hearty red grape is a go-to in Argentina, where it produces a bold color (it was once called the "black wine of Cahors," according to winemag.com) with moderate acidity.

Flavors: Expect anything from plum to leather, mixed with tobacco and a variety of spices.

How to purchase: Opt for one from Argentina (they provide a larger range of price points).

Pinot grigio

Pinot grigio is one of the most sought-after wines in America, and with its zesty flavor, we can see why. This white wine, which is originally from France (where it is known as pinot gris), later became a hit in Italy and the US. It is created with white grapes that are grey-blue in color (the color is supposedly how it got its name). The word gris translates to "grey" in French, while pinot comes from "pine cone."

Flavors: dry, with hints of honeysuckle, limes, and green apples.

How to purchase: Be sure to stay away from the "budget bottles" or "mass-marketing campaign" wines if you want to nab a pinot grigio that offers a true flavor.

Riesling

Born in Germany, riesling can be a dry or sweet wine, depending on your preference. While there is no proof of how riesling got its name, there is talk that it came from a small stream and vineyard named Ritzling in Austria.

Flavors: Pure because it's not usually blended with other grapes, can include citrus and peach with a dryer variation and honey or tropical fruit for those on the sweeter end.

How to purchase: A stand-out bottle will be from Germany, but you can find a solid riesling from Australia, New Zealand, Washington, and New York state, all ranging in prices without ever lacking in flavor.

Cabernet sauvignon

Cabernet sauvignon is a pretty popular wine these days, but did you know it was created by accident? According to vinepair.com, back in 17th-century France, red cabernet-franc grapes and white sauvignon-blanc grapes were mixed, creating a full-bodied red wine (ahem, cabernet sauvignon).

Flavors: Bold (thanks to being aged in oak), and infused with cherry, vanilla, and tobacco.

How to purchase: It is produced all over the globe, ranging from Bordeaux (the creme de la creme) to Napa Valley, where you'll find stellar options as well.

Merlot

Another well-liked red wine is merlot (also created in France). This name translates to "the little blackbird." Its name could reference the dark-red grapes used to produce the wine (or maybe the blackbirds that nibbled on the vine).

Flavors: Hints of plum and chocolate. It is also ideal to drink on its own (thanks to its smooth soft taste), unlike the heavy cabernet sauvignon which tends to pair better with food.

How to purchase: Be sure to keep an eye out for those from California, Chile, or Australia for a flavorful, inexpensive choice.

Rosé

Not a red but not a white . . . rosé fits somewhere in between. Originally from France, this wine is pink in color because of a shorter fermenting process (only a couple of hours compared to weeks for more full-bodied reds). The winemaker removes the red-grape skins once the wine has achieved that pink color.
The process of making rosé apparently dates back to ancient Greece when they produced more pale red wines. Then, in the 70s, rosé made its appearance stateside when California's demand for white grapes was too high so they began using red grapes to produce white wines.

Flavors: Light and citrusy, mixed with floral notes and "crunchy green flavor" (according to winefolly.com) that's in the family of "celery or rhubarb." A lighter pink that will give a more light and refreshing taste and one with a darker shade will have more body and flavor.

How to purchase: Make sure the wine is current, rosés don't age well like other wines. Anything from the Rhone Valley of France, the west coast of the US (Oregon and Washington, in particular), and even South Africa will do.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a popular wine among many because of its diversity. Originally from France (nicknamed white burgundy), chardonnay is produced all over these days, providing different flavors in different climates.

Flavors: Warmer weather provides more tropical flavors in the grapes, while colder climates give way to flavorful mushrooms. It is known for its oak flavor, which can give the wine a taste of vanilla.

How to purchase: If you don't want a bottle that's overbearing in oak, choose one that isn't mass produced or try one that is "un-oaked."

Champagne

Made in the Champagne region of France, this sparkling vino has three different types of grapes to back it up. Similar to cabernet sauvignon, champagne was also made by chance. The pressure during fermentation made the bottle explode which eventually gave bubbly the nickname of le vin du diable, or “the devil’s wine.” It is only considered champagne when it's made in France's Champagne region, though. Otherwise, it is referred to as a sparkling wine, or in Italy, it's called prosecco.

Flavors: Strawberry, vanilla, pear.

How to purchase: Anywhere from Italy to Spain to the United States makes a solid sparkling wine. If you like bubbles on the drier side, opt for a brut or extra dry (extra brut if you want to go even drier). But, for those who want something sweeter, demi-sec bubbles will surely do.

Cheers!

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