Humans have been drinking wine for thousands of years. During that time, we’ve managed to create countless varieties and flavors. King or peasant, rich or poor, there is a wine that you will enjoy.
With so many wine varietals, talking about what wine tastes like is difficult. Due to the different types, blends, and fermentation processes, each wine variety has a different taste. The tastes of wine span from dry and somewhat bitter, to sweet, bright, and fruity.
Let’s look at what different types of wine taste like. We can also look at how they are made, and when you might choose to drink them.
What is Wine
Wine is the fermented juice of grapes. The fermentation process is what turns the grape juice into alcohol. This is done by adding yeast to the grape juice, which converts the sugar of the grapes into alcohol.
Non-Alcoholic wine is generally made in the same way as regular wine. However, at the end of the process, the alcohol is removed. This makes it different from grape juice which is simply unfermented.
The Body of Wine
One of the ways to talk about the taste of wine is to talk about its body.’ This refers to how light or heavy it feels on your tongue. Think about the difference between drinking honey and drinking water.
Wines are classified as being light, medium, or full-bodied. However, it’s rare that medium is used as a stand-alone descriptor. We usually say things are light to medium or medium to full.
Body is often used to help pair wine with food. If you have lighter foods, such as fish or salad, you might want a light-bodied wine. Conversely, if you are eating something heavy, such as pasta or steak, choose a full-bodied wine.
Most of the time, red wines are full-bodied and white wines are light-bodied, but there certainly are exceptions to that.
Types of Wine
There are five basic types of wine. Each has its own palate and complexity of flavors.
Wine is made with either red or green grapes. From these two types of grapes, there are roughly 10,000 varieties of grapes. Imagine how many different wine varietals you could come up with, with 10,000 different varieties of grapes!
Red wine seems to be the most popular, just edging out white wine by a handful of percentage points. According to YouGov, a market research firm, 69% of people claim red wine is their favorite. Only 65% percent of wine drinkers like white best.
Red wine is best when served at around room temperature. Chilling red wine can cause the tannins, which are the grape skins, seeds, and stems to become bitter. Tannins provide texture and body to the wine.
There are many types of red wine. Some of the most popular are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz.
Merlot is a dry red wine with a medium to full body. It sits fairly heavily in your mouth and has a moderate amount of acidity.
When drinking Merlot, you’ll often get hints of blackberry and some herbs. This is one of the fruitier wines. However, like all wines, the flavor changes slightly depending on where the grapes are grown.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a dry wine with a full body that sits very heavily in your mouth. It will somewhat coat your tongue and linger after you’ve swallowed.
Unlike Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon has an earthy taste. Here you get fewer notes of fruit and more savory flavors. Drinking Cabernet Sauvignon will taste peppery and oaky with only small hints of berry.
Shiraz is the term for this wine if you are in Australia, but in France they use Syrah.
Shiraz is another dry wine with a full body. However, it has a much more complex palate than some of the other wines. Shiraz contains flavors of smoke, herbs, berries, peppers, and oak. Some varieties even contain hints of bacon, vanilla, or violet.
Shiraz, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, is one of the driest, full-bodied wines.
Pinot Noir has a much lighter body than the other red wines on this list. Flavorwise, it crosses somewhere between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine tastes like berries and cherries mixed with an earthy flavor.
White wine is made mostly from green grapes, although red grapes can be used as well. However, if red grapes are used, the skins are discarded quickly so they don’t change the color of the wine.
Since the grape skins are where many of the tannins are kept, you can chill white wine without making it bitter.
Again, there are many varieties of white wine. Some of the most popular are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Chardonnay.
Sauvignon Blanc is a light-bodied dry wine. It explodes with flavors of tropical and citrus fruits. You can also taste some hints of spice as well.
This type of wine is often blended with others to create new and different varietals.
Pinot Grigio has been rising in popularity lately. That means there are more varieties to try and easier to find one that will appeal to you.
Pinot Grigio is a light-bodied, semi-dry wine with a mild citrus flavor. You can also find notes of honeysuckle, lime, and green apple.
Riesling is a versatile wine. If you look, you can find Rieslings that are dry, semi-sweet, and sweet. They also range in flavors from citrus to tropical.
However, Riesling is often described as flowery, spicy, and honey-like. If you like variety in your wines, this may be a good option.
Chardonnay is one of the most popular wines in the United States. It is a medium to full-bodied dry wine with a complex flavor palate.
This wine generally has tropical fruit flavors, but mistake it for a sweet wine. If you get Chardonnay that has been aged in an oak barrel, you get a different flavor. This way Chardonnay tastes like vanilla with a toasted note.
To get that distinct pink color of traditional rose wine, the grape skins are taken out of the wine at different times. If you have a lighter pink, the grape skins were removed sooner. If your rose is darker, they were left in longer.
Rose wines can be either sweet or dry depending on how and where they were produced. In addition, most rose wines are a blend of different grapes. However, they do tend to be drier overall.
Sparkling wine is a carbonated wine. These wines are often named after the region in which they were produced. They can come in a range from very dry to sweet and be either red or white.
If you want a drier sparkling wine look for Brut on the label. If you’re hoping for something sweeter grab a bottle labeled Extra Sec.
Some popular types of sparkling wine are Champagne and Processco.
Champagne is likely the most popular sparkling wine. Hailing from the Champagne region of France, drier champagne will have an apple or melon flavor. If you favor a sweeter Champagne you’ll get notes of peach or cherry.
Prosecco is a light-bodied wine that is sweeter than Champagne. It holds fresh, fruity flavors such as peach, melon, and pear.
Dessert and Fortified Wine
Fortified wines are wines that have additional spirits added to them, typically, brandy.
The alcohol content is also generally much higher on dessert and fortified wines than the others on the list. Average red and white wines range from around 5-15% in alcohol content. Many of the dessert and fortified wines average between 17-30% alcohol content.
Dessert wines and fortified wines are often much heavier and sweeter than the other types of wine. These wines are typically enjoyed after a meal, rather than in accompaniment to one.
Some of the most popular dessert and fortified wines are Port, Madeira, Sherry, Moscato, and Ice Wine
Port is most known as a sweet, red wine. It’s a full-bodied, heavy wine and has flavors of raspberry, blackberry, and caramel, among others.
Madeira is unlike other wines, as it is actually heated in order to create this after-dinner drink.
This wine is full-bodied, and sweet, with tastes of caramel, nuts, and burnt sugar.
Sherry is generally a mix of old and young wines. Oftentimes the distinctive flavor or nuts comes from allowing some of the wine to oxidize.
Sherry like some of the other wines can come in a range of bodies and sweetness. The drier sherries will have nuttier flavors. The sweeter sherries will have flavors of brown sugar and figs.
Moscato is light-bodied and sweet. It has a wonderfully clear, fruit flavor with berries and apricots.
With a lower alcohol content than the other dessert and fortified wines, you enjoy more of this refreshing beverage.
Ice wine isn’t as popular as it is rare and expensive, but reason enough to know what it tastes like. This wine can only be produced from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. The grapes also need to be harvested while they are frozen.
This makes ice wine fairly rare and much of it is produced in Canada. While other bottles on this list can be found cheaply, it’s unusual to find an inexpensive bottle of ice wine.
Overall, ice wine is exceptionally sweet. Ice wine made with red grapes tastes like candy and berries. Ice wine made with green grapes has a more peach-flavored taste.
A Wine For Every Drinker
No matter what kind of flavors you enjoy, there is a wine out there for you. Wines range in flavor from extra dry to overly sweet. They have flavors hitting fruit, earth, nuts, caramel, and more.
With over 10,000 varieties of grapes, there is definitely a taste for everyone. You just need to find what you’re looking for.