Basic Wine Varieties

A guide to the big six―the most common grape varieties found in the United States―and foods to pair them with.

 

Reds

Pinot Noir
A delicate, light-bodied wine that has a silky texture without the “chewiness” that comes from a lot of tannins. (Tannins leave a dry, fuzzy feeling on your tongue, similar to the sensation you get when you bite the skin off of a grape.)

Pairs well with: Nearly anything. This versatile wine works with steak, strong-flavored, meatier fish like tuna or salmon, grilled chicken, turkey, or vegetarian dishes.

 

Merlot
Medium-bodied, with an uncomplicated fruitiness that is often described as “jammy” and a taste that’s reminiscent of plums or cherries.

Pairs well with: Pasta, lamb, and red meat.

 

Cabernet Sauvignon
Big and bold with a rich, velvety texture and a lot of tannins, which allow it to age well in the bottle. Flavors include notes of coffee, chocolate, and tobacco.

Pairs well with: Strong cheeses like Maytag Blue, and heavy, gamy foods such as steak, veal, and sausage.

 

  

Whites

Riesling
Often sweet and always fruity, Rieslings are crisp and fresh with notes of apple, apricot, and peaches.

Pairs well with: Spicy food such as Chinese or Indian.

 

Sauvignon or Fumé Blanc
A light, slightly acidic white with herbaceous aromas.

Pairs well with: Seafood or deep-fried foods, because it contrasts well with the oiliness, just like lemon juice. It’s also one of the few wines that work well with tangy tomatoes and salads that contain vinegar.

 

Chardonnay
A rich and creamy, full-bodied white that typically has notes of vanilla and is often described as buttery for the way it feels in the mouth.

Pairs well with: Roast chicken, fresh corn on the cob, clams.