Culinary Arts

A Complete Guide to 13 Types of Wine: Everything to Know About Red, White, and Sparkling Wines

Written by MasterClass

Jul 10, 2019 • 8 min read

The sheer variety of wine bottles on store shelves or restaurant lists can be overwhelming. There are thousands of grape varieties in the world and even more kinds of wines made from them. Understanding a little more about the general wine types, their flavors, and how they’re made can help you choose the best wine to go with your moment or mood.

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What Are the Different Types of Wine?

Wine can be broadly broken down into a few main types:

  • Red wines are defined by their dark fruit flavors and tannins that make them a great match for food. Oak aging plays a part in many red wines.
  • White wines tend to be more tart and refreshing than reds, with aromatic notes like flowers, citrus, and orchard fruits. White wines are usually lighter in body and in alcohol.
  • Rosé, sparkling, and fortified wines. These styles of wine are often paired with a matching occasion: rosé wine during the summer, sparkling wine for special events, and fortified wine after a big meal.

All About Red Wine

Red wines are made from black-skinned grapes that have colorless juice. When the grapes are pressed at the winery the grape skins mix with the juice (called must) to create a reddish-purple beverage.

  • Tannins. The grape skins also contain tannins, the compounds responsible for red wine’s bitterness and mouth-drying quality. The tannins in red wine act as a preservative, which means that red wines with higher tannin can generally age longer than white wines (which don’t have tannin) or red wines with lower tannin. As they age, the tannins and anthocyanins in red wine fall out of suspension, forming sediment at the bottom of the bottle. This sediment can be removed by decanting.
  • Aging. Many red wines are aged in new oak barrels to add flavors and aromas of sweet baking spice, cocoa, chocolate, and vanilla to the wine. Oak barrel aging also softens the tannin structure of red wine, making the wine taste smoother.
  • Taste. The flavors and aromas of red wine vary depending on the aging method and grape varieties included. Fruit flavors in red wines include red fruit (like strawberry, raspberry, red cherries, red plum, pomegranate, cranberry), black fruit (like black cherry, black plum, blackberry, blackcurrant), and blue fruit (blueberry). Warmer climates produce wines with riper, jammier fruit qualities. In the Old World, earthy aromas like potting soil, wet leaves, and barnyard are common.
  • Varietals. Red wines can be varietal wines made from a single type of red grape. These wines will be labeled with the name of the grape (more common in New World wine regions like the US, South America, Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa) or the name of the wine’s appellation, like Burgundy. Some grapes have different names depending on where they are grown, like French syrah, which is known as shiraz in Australia.

6 Different Types of Red Wines to Know

  1. Bordeaux. Many red wines are blends of different grapes. The most famous red blend is Bordeaux, the French wine that can be made from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and a few other varieties. Because Bordeaux is a protected appellation, similar blends made in California’s Napa Valley, for example, would not be allowed to be called Bordeaux and would be labeled instead as “meritage” (indicating a Bordeaux-style blend)
  2. Chianti. Some red wines, like central Italy’s Chianti, are strongly identified with one grape (in this case, sangiovese) but can have a small percentage of other grapes blended in, according to the rules of the appellation.
  3. Rioja. Rioja is a Spanish blended wine made mostly from the tempranillo grape, which is the third most-planted wine grape in the world. The tempranillo grape is blended with mazuelo (also known as carignan), garnacha, and graciano to make rioja, which all work to add body and structure this dry, plush, and woody wine. Rioja wines are classified by the length of time they have spent aging, rather than a classification based on vineyard sites like in Burgundy.
  4. Syrah. Syrah is a type of red wine grape that is frequently used to make a single-varietal wine. Syrah is known for being a very drinkable wine with deep, meaty, dark fruit flavors and a fully body.
  5. Primitivo. This type of wine is made almost exclusively in southern Italy under the name primitivo, while the rest of the world calls this grape and wine “zinfandel.” Primitivo wines are known for being high in alcohol content, fruity with notes of raisins and black cherries.
  6. Beaujolais. Fun, fruity Beaujolais is the red wine that doesn’t act like a red wine. This low-tannin value is the definition of glou-glou (French for “glug-glug,” the sound it makes as you gulp it down!). From banana and bubblegum-scented Beaujolais nouveau to funky, mineral cru Beaujolais that could pass for pinot noir, this wine offers a style for every occasion.

All About White Wine

White wines are made from green-skinned grapes whose juice is also colorless. For white wines, the grape skins are removed from the must before fermentation. Acid structure and aroma are more important in white wines because they lack the tannins that red wines have from contact with the grape skins.

  • Aging. White wines are more likely to be aged in stainless steel barrels, a technique which maintains their fresh aromatics. Oak aging can add aromas and flavors of vanilla, baking spices, coconut, and caramel to white wines.
  • Varietals. White wines are most often varietal wines made from one grape variety. Like red wines, they will usually be labeled by variety in the New World and by appellation in the Old World. White wines made from a blend of grapes are more common in certain areas, including Spain, Bordeaux, and France’s southern Rhône.
  • Taste. White wines can range from dry to sweet in style. Classic dry white wines include Italian pinot grigio, French muscadet, or Austrian grüner veltliner. Some producers make dry wine and sweet wine from the same grapes. In Germany, riesling grapes are harvested at varying levels of ripeness to make different types of wine, some sweet, some dry, from the same vineyard. In France’s Loire Valley, producers growing chenin blanc grapes will make dry sparkling wine in cool vintages and sweet dessert wine in warm vintages.
  • Aroma. Some white wine grapes, including gewürztraminer, muscat, riesling, and pinot gris, are considered aromatic, meaning they have powerful fruit and floral aromas. Semi-aromatic grapes include sauvignon blanc, and albariño from Spain. Neutral grapes, like chardonnay, have less distinct aromas but respond well to winemaking processes like oak aging or sparkling winemaking. Many white wines also have stone fruit aromas like peach, nectarine, apricot, apple and pear. Floral, herbaceous, and mineral are common non-fruit descriptors for white wines.
  • Climate. The flavors and aromas of white wines vary based on the grape and the climate they are from. Warmer climates tend to produce riper tropical fruit aromas like guava, passionfruit, pineapple, and melon. Citrus, like lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange dominate in cool climate wine regions.

4 Different Types of White Wines to Know

  1. Pinot Grigio. Pinot grigio is a grape that is often made into a light, refreshing white wine that is known by different names in different countries. For example, it is known as pinot grigio in Italy, but the French call it pinot gris. Pinot grigio is usually light, crisp, and dry. It is the second most popular white wine in the US, after chardonnay. Pinot grigio is usually medium to light-bodied, dry, and acidic wine. But depending on the region the grapes are grown, some pinot grigios can have a full to medium body, and can be both sweet and citrusy.
  2. Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon blanc is one of the most popular white wine grapes in the world, prized for its unique citrusy, fruity aroma and refreshingly high acidity. Sauvignon blanc’s flavors vary in intensity depending on where it is grown, from grassy and grapefruity in France and Italy, to the bold, powerful tropical fruit-and-jalapeño style of New Zealand.
  3. Riesling. Riesling is an aromatic white grape that yields a fruity, floral white wine. Common characteristics of riesling wine include aromas of citrus, stone fruit, white flowers, and petrol; they are light in body and high in acidity.
  4. Chardonnay. Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the world. The green-skinned grape grows in almost all major wine regions across the world. The chardonnay grape is naturally neutral, and can quickly take on a variety of different characteristics, depending on where it is grown, and how it is matured. The result is an endlessly sippable, easy to enjoy wine with low acidity.

All About Rosé

Rosé wines are made from red grapes, but the grape skins are removed from the must after a short period of maceration (usually less than 24 hours). The skins give the wine its pink color but do not impart much tannin. Rosé wines can have flavors common to red wines, like strawberry, cherry, and raspberry, and also more typical white wine flavors, like citrus and tropical fruit.

All About Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines can be white, rosé, or red in color. They can be made from any grape varieties, depending on the appellation rules of the area where they are made. Sparkling wines can be single-varietal wines or made from a blend of grapes. Sugar content in sparkling wines varies from dry (like brut nature Champagne) to sweet (like Moscato d’Asti). Most sparkling wines contain a few grams of sugar to balance their high acidity.

Two of the most well-known sparkling wines are Champagne and prosecco.

Champagne can be a varietal wine (made from one variety, such as chardonnay, pinot noir, or pinot meunier) or a blended wine, made from a blend of the permitted grapes. It is made in the méthode champenoise, also called the traditional method, which involves a primary alcoholic fermentation followed by a secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce its bubbles.
Prosecco, which is always a varietal wine made from the glera grape, is made via the Charmat method, where the secondary fermentation happens in a large closed tank before the wine is bottled.

All About Fortified Wines

Fortified wines (called vin de liqueur in Europe) are made by adding distilled grape spirit to fully- or partially-fermented wine. Most fortified wines are sweet, with the exception of certain dry styles of sherry. Fortified wines include Port, Madeira, Marsala, sherry, macvin, and the vin doux naturels of southern France. Fortified wines like vermouth are sometimes aromatized with herbs and botanicals. Fortified wines are higher in alcohol than other types of wine.

Learn more about wine appreciation in James Suckling’s MasterClass.