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Understanding the Basic Types of Wine

Wine can be categorized in many different ways, such as level of dryness, the colour, the region the grapes were grown, or which meal you would have it with. Some reds may be sweet and some whites may be dry so one type of wine of a certain type may not taste the same as the rest, but they can usually fall into general categories.

Wine Colour

The easiest and most simple way to categorize wine is by the colour. There are red wines, white wines, and you also have sparkling and blush wines. Red wines obtain their colour and generally more bitter flavours by leaving the skins, seeds, and stems in the fermenting vat during the wine making process. Blush wine can be obtained by removing the skins early in the fermentation process.

Whites usually have a sweeter, lighter flavour while reds are more complex and robust. Sparkling wines, such as Champagne, are made fizzy through a carbonation process. Classifying wine by these categories can by quick and easy as you can tell at first glance which type you’re looking at, but it can be occasionally misleading when determining the potential flavour of a wine.

Grape Region

The grape varietal a wine is made with is another popular classification method. Grape varieties such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon can give you many clues in what taste to expect from any particular wine. Darker grapes are generally used for red wines as they get their colour from the skin, but whites can be made from any colour grape because the juice within is always clear.

Sweet to Dry

While white wines are usually sweeter and reds more bitter or dry, the tastes can be reversed in some cases. Riesling and Muscat are generally lighter types of white while Chardonnay is a drier flavour. With red wine, Cabernets are drier and Merlots can be fairly sweet.

Wines with Meals

Wine can be grouped into four categories when it comes to serving with food. Aperitifs are wines you would serve as a cocktail or with an appetizer course and would usually be a sweeter variety. Dinner wines can be reds or whites and should be paired with the main course as to not overpower the meal.

Dessert wines are usually heavier, much sweeter wines that should be served as a finish to a meal or with a dessert as a nice accompaniment. Port and Sherry are both good examples of common dessert wines. Sparkling wine, such as Champagne, can also be served as an appetizer, with dinner or dessert, or on its own.

Regardless of how you classify a wine, the flavours and aromas can greatly vary and tasting a specific bottle will be the only way to get the true idea of its flavour. These categories are still useful in pointing you in the right direction when deciding on a type of wine to purchase or taste.

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What are the Differences between Red Wines and White Wines?

Aside from the obvious colour differences, red and white wines can vary in numerous ways. The differences in their composition can affect their taste, the foods they should be paired with, and their ability to age. Different types of grapes may be used for each type of wine, but in some instances the same grape varietal can produce both a red and white type with contrasting flavours and bouquets.

Fermentation Process

The first difference to be mentioned regarding red wine and white wine is the way they’re made. Red wine will generally be made form black grapes while whites can be made from black or green or a combination of both.

When making red wine, the manufacturer leaves the skins, seeds, and stems in the fermenting vat with the juices to allow the extra tannins to leech into the liquid. For white wine the juice would first be extracted from the skins, seeds, and stems then fermented on its own. Blush wine is produced by removing the skins part way through the fermentation process.

Taste and Tannins

The tannins in wine that give it a more bitter flavour come mostly from the skins. Because red wines are fermented in a vat with the skin, they a have higher tannin content and generally have a more dry and bitter flavour. Whites usually taste fresher and crisper as their tannin content is lower.

Aging

The tannins in wine help to preserve it, so for the most part, red wines can be aged longer and will taste better with age as the tannins mellow. Some of the tannins can be removed to make the wine ready for immediate consumption, which is why white wines are usually ready to drink much more quickly as they naturally have a lower tannin content.

Flavours

Generally speaking, red wines will have a more bitter, mouth puckering taste while whites will be much smoother and sweeter. Reds may taste heavier and full-bodied and lights may be fresher and fruitier, but in some cases those characteristics could be reversed. Tasting as many wines as possible will give you the best idea of what to expect with each type and can give you a better appreciation of the differences between white and red wine.

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Choosing the Right Wine for Your Meal

When pairing a wine with any given meal, a few guidelines should be followed. It’s important not to overpower the food being served while choosing something that will compliment the taste. If you want to keep the process simple there are some very general rules you can follow, but to choose the perfect wine a little more experience and research may be required.

Wine and Food Pairing Basics

Generally speaking, it’s usually a safe bet to pair red wine with richer foods and white wines with lighter meals. You may also choose to use a wine from a certain region with foods that come from the same area. The right wine should prepare your palate for the meal you’re enjoying rather that clash with it, so choosing a wine that is less complex that your food can be a good start.

When to Use a Red Wine

On most occasions, a red wine can be served with red meats and red sauces. They can go well with beef, lamb, pasta, or anything rich and hearty. Some red wines are more bitter than others, so depending on your personal tastes and your own experiences, you may find a personal preference for which wine variety you like best with different types of meats.

White Wines with Your Meals

White wines are usually crisper and fruitier and can be paired best with lightly seasoned foods. Chicken, fish, pork, and foods with light sauces will usually taste best with a white wine. Sweeter whites can be served with fruits and salads while a drier type may taste best with something that has a bit more spice.

Getting More Information on Specific Wines

A certain degree of trial and error maybe required if you have a pickier palate, but starting with the basics will point you in the right direction. Tasting more wines can expand your knowledge base and being open to the suggestions of experienced sommeliers when dining out may introduce you to potentially new and delightful wine and food pairings.

The proper wine should add to the flavour of the meal rather than distract from it. If you’re serving a multi-course meal, it can be a good idea to offer a different type of wine for each course. Your own tastes will be the final deciding factor on which wines to serve with which meals, but additional tips and advice can be found on manufacturer’s websites, in-store from your wine retailer, or even by the suggestions of regular dinner party guests.

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