Learning about wines from grape skins to tannins (the textural element that makes wine taste dry and complex) to the weird rituals of swirling and sniffing, is no easy task. But hey, we all need to start somewhere.
The first step really to a killer wine list is to learn about the most popular varieties. Check out the five most popular wine varieties and see which ones pair best with your favorite dishes.
1. Cabernet Sauvignon (“Cab-er-ney Saw-vin-yawn”)
Referred to as ‘Cab” by those in the know, this is a full-bodied red wine with big tannins and notes of black cherry, cedar, and tobacco.
Goes well with grilled steak or lamb and firm cheeses like aged cheddar. This is the most popular wine variety in the world.
2. Pinot Noir (“Pee-no-Nwahr”)
Taste of cherry, cranberry, and rose. This is a dry, light-bodied red wine with higher acid and soft tannin. The Pinot Noir grape is quite finicky, requiring a specific soil, climate, and very specific care so these wines tend to have a higher price tag.
Pair with chicken, pork, soft cheeses or nutty, medium-firm cheeses like Gruyere.
3. Merlot (“mehr-LOW”)
Medium to heavy bodied red wine, less tannic than a Cab. Merlot has a velvety feel in the mouth and berry fruit flavors.
Easy to drink, it’s a great choice for wine newbies and the perfect food match for thick stews and barbeques.
4. Chardonnay (“Shar-dun-ney”)
Taste of citrus, tropical fruits, often cinnamon, and toasted caramel notes from oak.
This is a dry, medium to full-bodied white wine that pairs well with seafood like lobster, crab, and shrimp; also chicken, pork, cream sauces, and cheeses like brie and Gruyere.
5. Riesling (“Reese-ling”)
Citrusy, floral, and fruity white wine that comes in variable sweetness. One of the most versatile wine types, this is great for people who hate the taste of alcohol.
Pairs well with chicken, duck, and pork. One of the few wines that complement spicy dishes like Indian, Thai, and Moroccan. Goes well with cheese fondue.