I used to choose my wine based solely on label design. While this has happily resulted in some decent tasting wines, and occasionally an exceptional one, it is obviously not the standard one should normally adhere to.
So I recently decided to educate myself with some basic information concerning types of wines and the regions they are from. I am still far from a wine connoisseur, and I have much more to learn before I can even begin to rattle off the names of popular and rare foreign vintages as if they were something I drank everyday. But I am now confident enough to peruse the aisles of the wine at my liquor store and casually select a nice bottle of wine to more than adequately accompany any meal.
Since the most popular wines typically hail from France, I decided to focus solely on those first. These wines are typically named after the region of France they are produced in. The red wines are exquisite, and serve as a pleasant addition to any fine meal.
A Red Bordeaux is a type of French wine made from three types of grapes, usually Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, The flavor of such wines is usually woody with characteristics of cherry or tobacco. These wines are usually paired with highly flavorful roasted meats and poultry, or served with fine cheeses.
A Red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir grapes. Softer and fruiter than the Bordeaux, this wine yields a taste of berries, and is ideal for lighter dishes such as fish or meats with mild flavors.
Made from a mixture of sometimes up to twenty different grapes and easily my favorite, Rhone wines are full-bodied wines with a higher alcohol content than other wines. An excellent pairing with barbecued and spicy meals, and other dishes that tend to explode with flavor. Since my wife and I frequently prepare meals with a vast assortment of herbs and spices, we usually keep a few bottles of Rhone reds in the wine rack, so that we are always prepared for a delicious dining experience.
There are two types of Beaujolais wines, both made from the Gamay grape. For those just venturing into trying different wines, Beaujolais Nouveau is a fresh, fruity wine released each November and eagerly snatched up by the case. A heavier version with more concentrated flavors is simply called Beaujolais, though it is still comparably light next to other wines, with fruity, berry flavors. Served slightly chilled, these wines are very popular in the summer, often used for picnic outings.
The White Burgundies, made from Chardonnay grapes, are rich, buttery wines with subtle hints of lemon and other spices. There is a large variety of white burgundies to choose from; anywhere from full-bodied wines to lighter fare. The lighter wines pair nicely with fish and light meats such as poultry or veal, and the heavier whites tend to pair better with pastas and dishes with creamy sauces.
Made from the Sauvignon grape, the White Bordeaux is lighter but more acidic, resplendent with flavors of fruits and herbs. Also paired with lighter foods, some brands blend well with fruity desserts.
Light and crisp, the Loire wines are made from the Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc grape. Containing traces or herbaceous or smoky characteristics, these are also served slightly chilled and are a perfect match for seafood, especially shellfish. The acidity of the wine also makes it a suitable match for vegetable soups and stews.
Encompassing a vast selection of available wines, the Alsatian wines are highly acidic, with fruity crispness and spicy subtleties. Leaning more toward the dry side of wine, rather than sweet, as suggested by its fruity flavors, these wines are enjoyed with Asian and Indian style cuisines, and pork dishes.
Champagne is in fact a sparkling wine named after the region of France it is produced in. Made from a mixture of grapes, there are two types of champagne; vintage and non-vintage. The former describes a champagne made from a crop of grapes from a particularly good year, and are obviously more expensive. However, the difference between the two in terms of taste is usually minor. Champagnes vary from light and crisp to heavy and toasty. A little experimentation with different champagnes may be required before you find one you prefer over others. Champagne goes well with most dishes, except for spicy foods.
Of course France is just one of many excellent wine-producing countries, as evidenced by the various sections of your wine and liquor store. But with this basic understanding of types of wine, you’ll find that learning about other regions and their own wines is a somewhat more familiar process. Additionally, tasting the different brands as you pair them with their applicable meals lends an air of supreme satisfaction and contentment to the whole learning process.