Wine has been a staple of social events since the Ancient Greeks first introduced it to parties, along with grapes, philosophy and fables. Today, it’s too easy to behave like a wine snob, sniffing each glass, swirling it around in your mouth, discussing the different odors each varietal contains with great specificity.
Want to irritate a sommelier? Behave like Paul Giamatti in Sideways, refusing Merlot and espousing the virtues of a fine California Pinot Noir. Worse, one can go all-out and act like Frasier or Niles Crane, attending upper crust wine clubs and mocking those who know less than you.
You don’t have to be an expert or even have a terribly refined palate to enjoy a fine glass of wine. Perhaps the most knowledge you need is what varietal, brand and colour goes with what type of dish. That’s more than enough to impress mixed company without coming off as a snob.
For those of us who are still uninformed, or are happy to drink it from a box, here are some of the most popular types of wine out there:
1. Chardonnay Wine
Grown globally, this medium bodied white wine has found popularity as the best selliing varietal in America. For an ideal chardonnay, it should be oak-aged and have a light, buttery aftertaste. Those with palates have noted hints of apple and crisp pear in every sip, often combined with hints of spice and, to a certain degree, a playful twist of vanilla. Served best with creamy sauces or chicken dishes.
2. Reisling Wine
Reislings are a controversal type of wine, with some staunchly objecting to its bitter and acidic taste. Like a lot of German-based cuisine, in this case originating from the Rhine Valley, it’s direct and some would argue a bit harsh. After a while, though, one often becomes accustomed to it and tastes hints of honey – more sweet than bitter.
As such, it’s the perfect desert wine to give as a gift, especially when you package it inside a beautifully personalized wine box. If you’re daring enough to pair it with a main dish, it usually goes best with Asian food, the spicier the better, or other rich foods such as pork.
3. Pinot Grigio Wine
Pinot Grigio has always been a big seller for housewives and real estate agents, taking the edge off a long day with its light, refreshing taste. It’s similar to a Chardonnay with its apple and pear texture, only it’s much less dense. This is one of the most popular types of wine that complement seafood dishes quite well.
4. Cabernet Sauvignon Wine
Aged in dark oak with hints of spices, a sip of this full bodied wine will also give you the taste of the Napa earth on which the grapes are farmed and nurtured. This became one of the most popular types of wine due to how well it goes with a fine steak, one of America’s main staples.
5. Pinot Noir Wine
Fans of Sideways saw this coming a mile away, and sales of the varietal did increase after the popularity of that film. As Paul Giamatti explains, what makes a Pinot Noir so special is it’s difficulty in cultivating the grape, which can only be grown in colder climates.
Another gem of Napa Valley thanks to the Santa Ana winds that blow into the farms annually, Pinot is typically described as being smooth, but also rich, harbouring flavors of red fruit such as cherries. Served best alongside wild game or veal.
6. Syrah Wine
When one things of Australia, wine is not the first thing that comes to mind. Nevertheless, that country’s popular Syrah (or “Shiraz”) won over this continent with its sweet, jam-like taste. It’s been said they are rich in fruit flavour, yet somehow more complex, perhaps mixing in the Aussie dirt and wind with every sip. Goes best with filling meat dishes, particularly venison.
7. Zinfandel Wine
There are few, if any, grapes believed to have originated in America, but the Zinfandel is the exception to such a rule. Zinfandels are as American as they come – usually containing a higher alcohol content, grown only in California, and packing quite a punch. Surely one can guess what kind of food goes with this bold varietal: smoked or barbecued meat.
8. Malbec Wine
The Malbec began its life as a French wine, but in more recent history has found a popular home in the Mendoza area of Argentina. It’s deep red, both in colour and flavor. This would be a good time to mention tannins – the biomolecules that bind with and create proteins and amino acids. Usually, one can see their reside when tipping the glass and watching the residue. This is a strong tannin-ed wine, creating a dark, fruity flavor that goes well with steak
9. Merlot Wine
Not much different from a good Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot differs only in the way it puts it’s fruity flavor above all else. The red fruit and spices in each sip are generated by very smooth tannins and oak-aging. When at a restaraunt, Merlot is typically the go-to varietal for any meat, particularly staples such as hamburgers or, more adventurously lamb or duck.
All of these are popular for their variety in flavor, which can be subtle or drastic, and as such has led to an entire culture surrounding the beverage. Snob, elitist or just someone who appreciates a decent pairing, there’s a wine out there to match your tastes.