By: Amy UllmanSommeliers are often asked for suggestions on their favorite wines, but the real question is: “What do you like?”The most often reply is: “I don’t know.”
This makes a wine expert’s job rather challenging. One drinker’s trash is another’s pleasure: someone that loves delicate, fresh whites might find a rich Chardonnay revolting, and vice versa.
So what to do? Never fear – your pals at Drync have got you covered. Here is a guide to wines categorized by flavor profile. If you recognize just one of the vinos in the groups below, we have provided a few alternatives to seek out and savor!
BubblyHallmarks and adjectives: Fresh, bright, and, well…bubbly. But bear in mind the quality of bubbles can vary drastically. Some sparklers, like Prosecco, possess soft, easy-drinking fizz, while a well-made Champagne offers small yet firm bubbles that are meant to be savored.Grapes and regions:France: Champenoise blends (some combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) are grown all over the country, but outside of the Champagne area they are known as Cremants. Other not to be missed sparklers include Vouvray, Clairette de Die, and Blanquette de Limoux.
Italy: Prosecco from Prosecco, Franciacorta (Champenoise blends with a splash of Pinot Blanc), Lambrusco (sparkling reds).
Spain: Cava made from the indigenous Xarella, Paralleda, and Macabeo grapes (don’t worry – there will not be a quiz), is the budget flavor alternative to champagne – light on the palate but easy on the wallet.
Germany: Local sparkler Sekt is based on Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir.
What to look for on the label: Frizzante, Sparkling, Methode Traditionelle, Methode Champenoise, Spumante, Blanc de Blancs (sparklers made with only white grapes), Blanc de Noirs (white sparkling wines made with only red grapes – yes, that’s a thing).
Light Crisp WhitesHallmarks and adjectives: Refreshing, delicate, light-bodied wines that are mouth-wateringly high in acidity and minerals, and sometimes posses just the slightest hint of effervescence.Grapes and RegionsSpain/Portugal: Albariño from Rias Baixas, Verdejo from Rueda, Alvarinho from Portugal (aka Vinho Verde).
Austria: Two words: Gruner Veltliner. You will know these wines by the pinch of white pepper that tickles your throat on the finish.
France: Muscadet from the Loire, Chardonnay based Chablis, and Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre (a wildly different party from their kiwi cousins in New Zealand), and Abymes de Savoie, a clean white as fresh as a mountain breeze (*sigh* we are getting thirsty).
Greece: Assyrtiko from the Greek island of Santorini is a classic, which only recently started gracing American tables.
Italy: We know what you’re thinking: Pinot Grigio. But there is so much more to Italian whites than that ubiquitous quaff! Gavi de Gavi, Vermentino, Verdicchio, Vernaccia, Cinqueterre, Lugana, Erbaluce are just a few of our favorites in this category.
Aromatic WhitesHallmarks and adjectives: You will know when you have tried a wine in this category before you even take your first sip: the scents positively jump out of the glass. Wine geeks will often use terms like heady and exotic. The most fascinating thing about wines in this category is that they can be a bit deceptive: the best examples are bone dry on the palate with long lingering finishesGrapes and Regions: We will break this down by grape rather than by grape and region as these babies have serious scents and will travel.Chenin Blanc: Whether grown in the Loire or South Africa, Chenin Blanc based wines are known for their delicately complex bouquets dominated by honeysuckle, dry stone and lean lemon.
Gewurtztraminer: Gewurtztraminer can vary in style depending upon where it is grown, but is often redolent of rose hips, sandalwood, and lychee notes. The low acidity and full body make this a perfect winter time white.
Muscat/Moscato: There are thousands of subspecies of the muscat grape, but the finest is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, a gape that produced wine which was celebrated by the ancient Romans. It can run the gamut from bone dry to sticky sweet, but all possess powerful, distinct aromas of rich tropical fruit and fresh red and white flowers.
Torontes: Argentina’s star white has been described by turns as smelling like Fruit Loops or tasting like drinking perfume (in a very good way). These wines smell of sweet citrus and an almost tropical, botanical bouquet that would make Coco Chanel proud.
Riesling: Ah, the grape always described as sweet. Although the styles can truly run the gamut in terms of residual sugar, it has the distinction of smelling like gasoline drenched citrus, particularly when it ages – don’t knock it ’til you try it!
Rich WhitesHallmarks and adjectives: The very adjectives associated with these wines feel weighty on the palate: luscious, unctuous, fleshy, and (sometimes) buttery.Grapes and regionsOaked Chardonnay: This wine can actually be divided into two distinct styles based on the region and the type of oak in which they mature: French and American. French wines (primarily from Burgundy) posses flavors of golden baked apples, sweet baking spices, fresh vanilla bean and an almost crunchy, toasty quality.
Semillon: An undeservedly unknown variety that lends a waxy, lanolin drenched elegance to White Bordeaux and Australian whites.
Pinot Gris: This is Pinot Grigio’s alias when grown in Alsace and Oregon. The body is fuller, and the floral qualities a little more pronounced, yet the acidity is somehow higher than their Italian counterparts.
Warm Climate Italian Whites: Soave, Greco di Tufo, Fiano, and Falanghina all make gorgeous whites that are smooth and polished, but with that tell-tale Italian racy acidity.
Light Fruity RedsHallmarks and adjectives: Delicate, sheer, and elegant are often the descriptors for these babies.Grapes and regionsPinot Noir: The grape that makes wine geeks swoon – and for good reason. Old world examples are reminiscent of tulle: sheer yet course with complex layers of flavor; Ranier cherries, bacon fat, and a hint of smoke and limestone-y minerals. New World examples are sleek and silky with luscious fruit and a vibrant acidity.
Beaujolais: The most famous version of this Southern French Gamay based wine is the Nouveau version that comes out every November (great timing – it goes fabulously with turkey). However, the year round version is far superior: brimming with sweet cherries, pronounced minerals, and a vibrant acidity.
Barbera: The lone easy drinking stalwart in the otherwise challenging region of the Piedmont. The best Barberas hail from Alba, where they are expressively fleshy, or Asti, where they’re leaner and more mineral driven. They are consistently juicy, fresh and delicious!
Zweigelt: Although this Austrian grape is actually the offspring of the equally obscure St Laurent and Blaufrankisch (Gesundheit!), one sip makes us fantasize about a more scandalous family history: imagine that the uber jocks Merlot and Syrah had a ballerina baby; slim, elegant, with an insouciant touch of pepper.
Approachable RedsHallmarks and adjectives: The descriptors that match with these wines are smooth, sleek, and balanced.Grapes and regions:Malbec: The grape that made Argentina famous – smooth, ripe, and laden with flavors of black raspberry and milk chocolate. If loving this wine is wrong, we do not want to be right.
Rioja: This Tempranillo based Spanish stunner runs the gamut in terms of weight and complexity, but the results are consistently drinkable: rich, luscious fruit underscored by a vibrant acidity, earthy complexity, and the sweetness of American oak.
Merlot: The grape that everyone loves to hate actually produces some delicious wine, brimming with cassis, plum, and delicate hints of tobacco and earth. It can often fly solo in the new world, but also rocks on the right bank of Bordeaux, such as Pomerol and St Emilion.
Cabernet Franc from the Loire: Look for regions like Chinon and Bourgeuil on the label, and fresh red raspberry, graphite-y mineral and tobacco flavors in the bottle.
Spicy RedsHallmarks and Adjectives: These vinos are positively electric, with a piquancy unmatched by other varieties. These wines have not only a peppery kick, but a savory one as well, providing balance.Grapes and regions:Shiraz/ Syrah: Whether this wine is leading the charge in meaty and wild Northern Rhone reds or flying solo in Aussie Shiraz, this wine is synonymous with spice.
Schiopettino: The name of this grape means “gunshot,” in Italian, an apt description if ever there was one! These Friulian wines are flinty, smoky, and bursting with red berries and pepper
Zinfandel: Its parentage is an obscure Croatian grape, and it has an awesomely agreeable Italian cousin, Primitivo. Although its reputation has been sullied by it’s trampy sister, White Zinfandel, the pure, true undiluted wines from this grape can be stellar, loaded with brambly black and red fruit, cracked pepper, anise, and silky tannins.
Full Bodied Bold RedsHallmarks and Adjectives: These wines are weighty on the palate and rich in some combination of fruit, acidity or tannin.Grapes and regionsCabernet Sauvignon: The big papa of the wine world – this variety is grown in almost every wine producing country and almost always handles it with aplomb. The best examples are brimming with cassis, black plums, eucalyptus, cedar, and a decadent mix of cigar smoke. The tannins are pronounced yet smooth, the acidity strikes the perfect balance.
Nebbiolo: Although you might not know this Italian powerhouse by name, it produces the famous Piedmontese beauties Barolo, Barbaresco, and the Langhe. They are reminiscent of roses, red fruit, and road tar, with searingly high acidity and tannin.
Tannat: So named for it’s super high level of tannins. This baby rocks in the Madiran in Southwest France, and in the new world, Uruguay.
Now, with these tips in mind, you’ll be equipped and ready to go when someone asks what kind of wine you like!
Writer Amy Ullman is the irrationally exuberant founder of Wine for Rookies. She received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts from Harvard University in 2009 with concentrations in Economics and French. She holds the title of Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators, and is currently working on her Diploma of Wine and Spirits via the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.