Wine Types

Red Wine

There are about 40 important red grape varietals grown in the world today. The major ones are listed below. Generally speaking, as you go down the list the grapes will go from light to full-bodied in texture; low to high in tannin level; lighter to deeper in color (which generally corresponds to perceived acidity); younger to older in ageability. In truth the redness of a wine depends on contact with the skin of the grapes: separate the grape from its skin soon enough after picking and you can make a very white red. For example, most wines made in Champagne are white wines made with a significant proportion of red grapes.

European wines will usually be identified by their appellation;
elsewhere wines will be identified by varietal.

Gamay Beaujolais, France
Pinot Noir Burgundy, France; California; Oregon; Champagne, France
Tempranillo Rioja, Spain
Sangiovese Tuscany, Italy
Merlot Bordeaux, France; California;Washington State
Zinfandel California
Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux, France; California; Chile
Nebbiolo Piedmont, Italy
Syrah/Shiraz Rhone, France; Australia

White Wines

There are 50 major white grapes grown in the world today, 24 in California alone. The three most important grapes are listed here, ranked by texture from lightest to most full-bodied.

European wines will usually be identified by their appellation; elsewhere wines will be identified by varietal.

Riesling Germany; Alsace, France; New York
Sauvignon Blanc Loire Valley, France; Bordeaux, France; New Zealand; California (Fumé Blanc)
Chardonnay Burgundy, France; California; Australia; Champagne, France

Other significant white wine grapes, listed alphabetically:

Albariño Spain
Chenin Blanc Loire Valley, France; California;
Gewürztraminer Alsace, France
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris Italy;Alsace, France
Sémillon Bordeaux (Sauternes), France; Australia
Viognier Rhone, France; California

About Appellations

The term appellation is French and refers to a viticultural region distinguished by geographical features which produce wines with shared characteristics. The idea is that the soil, climate, sun, water quality, and contour of a region combine to produce a style of wine that simply can’t be duplicated elsewhere. The size of an appellation can range from very small plots of land to huge areas that cover hundreds of miles.

American wines emphasize varietal over place but European winemakers take the opposite approach. In 1935 France founded the Institute National Des Appellations d’Origine, becoming the first nation to set up a countrywide system based on geography for controlling the origin and quality of its wines. Their Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) plan originated as a preventative measure during the Depression to protect French winemakers and consumers from fraudulent and inferior wine blending practices of some unethical French wine brokers. Since that time other countries have adopted similar regulatory controls.

In the U.S. appellations are known as American Viticultural Areas or AVAs. However, the American Viticultural Area carries a different connotation than the French appellation of origin. Labels, for instance, may identify a wine’s AVA when a minimum of 85% of the grapes used comes from within that specified AVA, while French AOC regulations have stricter guidelines which include vineyard location,
varietal, growing technique, crop yield, grape ripeness and ensuing alcohol content, and winemaking practices.

As a rule, the French rely more on terrain and the manifestation of nature upon grapes than do Americans. It’s the basis upon which the entire French wine classification is built, after all. However, American wine enthusiasts also recognize how powerful a tool regional flavors and style characteristics are for wine identification and classification. To illustrate, a wine that’s labeled simply California Chardonnay could emanate from anywhere in California rather than in the Sonoma-Napa County wine region.

In essence, wine-tasting is the study of how soil, climate, and weather affect different varieties of grapes, and how those factors are manifested in wine. So, the next time you enjoy a robust Zinfandel, pay attention to where it comes from, and later select another label from that same appellation. You should notice some subtle characteristics the two wines have in common. With your new-found knowledge, you’ll be able try wines from the same appellation with some degree of assurance that they will suit your taste, even if the brand is unfamiliar.



France – Bordeaux



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New Zealand

  • Gisborne
  • Hawkes Bay – Same link as above, then click on map
  • Martinborough – Same link as above, then click on map
  • Marlborough – Same link as above, then click on map
  • Waipara Valley – Same link as above, then click on map
  • Central Otago – Same link as above, then click on map


Other European

Other French

Other US

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France – Rhone

South America


  • Rioja
  • Ribera del Duero
  • Priorat
  • Navarra
  • Rias Baixas
  • Rueda
  • Jumilla


  • The Wine Factory

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