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Uncorking Wine Types and Styles

"Wine is bottled poetry."

- Robert Louis Stevenson



I absolutely love this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson! It really captures the incredible artistry and creativity that goes into crafting a beautiful wine. And, of course, it's no secret that wine itself is just as complex and beautiful as the process that brings it to life. An amazing thing to appreciate and enjoy!


Shall we delve deeper into the various types and styles of wine? First, let's understand the distinction between types and styles. Types of wine include still, sparkling, and fortified, whereas styles of wine are categorized as white, red, and rosé.


I found it very enriching to dive deeper into this subject. It broadened my perspective and encouraged me to explore new types of wine while appreciating their distinct characteristics.


Let's start with the basic Types of Wine.


Types of Wine


In the end, the type of wine is entirely dependent on the winemaking process. The winemaker is responsible for making the decisions and choosing the path for the wine.


From a high level, there are three styles of wine; Still, Sparkling, and Fortified.



Pouring a glass of red wine.

Still Wine

Most wines belong to the category of still wine, which is typically what comes to mind when someone mentions they'll have a "glass" or two or three of wine.


As the name hints, these wines are still, not sparkling/bubbly. The alcohol by volume (ABV) typically falls between 8% and 15%. But you'll see most between 11.5% and 14% ABV.



So, you'll see most still wines in the United States named after the main varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.


As we explore wines worldwide, many take on the name of the region where they are crafted.


You'll see Beaujolais from France, Prosecco from Italy, Rioja from Spain, etc.



Two glasses of prosecco pictured in flutes.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wines are known for their bubbly and fizzy nature, which is caused by carbon dioxide gas produced during fermentation and trapped in the wine. This unique characteristic makes these wines stand out from the rest.


Once the bottle is uncorked, the gas is released in the form of bubbles within the wine.


People often associate these wines with special events and celebrations.


💡Did you know that Sparkling wines are made all over the world? Sparkling wine is often mistakenly referred to as Champagne in the United States. However, only sparkling wines made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France can rightfully carry the name Champagne.


There is so much history and interesting stories about Champagne, but that's for another day (or post)!


There are a few other famous examples, such as Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy.



Pouring two glasses of fortified red wine from a bottle.

Fortified Wine

I am going to be honest, coming into my studies, I had the least knowledge, experience, and, most importantly, enjoyment of Fortified Wines. And, I can honestly say that I had already decided I didn't like them before truly trying them. I'll get to this in a future post in this series, but pairing these wines with the right food made a remarkable difference, and I gained much more appreciation.


Back to it...

These wines contain additional alcohol, which was added during the winemaking process, resulting in higher alcohol levels ranging from 15% to 22% abv.


Some examples of fortified wines are Sherry, which is produced in Spain, and Port, which comes from Portugal. Easy to Remember: Sherry from Spain, Port from Portugal!


Styles of Wine

This will be a quick refresher from previous posts. Styles of wine are generally categorized as white, red, and rosé.


Six glass of wine pictured ranging from white to rosé to red.

White Wines

Just as a reminder, white wines are usually produced from white grapes, although they can also be made from black grapes. The color of black grapes resides in the skins, which means that if the skins are removed from the juice before fermentation, the outcome would be a white wine.


Some white wine examples would be Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Chablis (French Chardonnay), and Sauvignon Blanc.


Red Wines

Yes! You know this! Red wines are made using black grapes. The skins of these grapes are left in contact with the juice during fermentation, which gives the wine its characteristic red color.


Some red wine examples would be Rioja from Spain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc.


Wines

Lastly, Rosé wines are indeed made from black grapes. In general, red grapes with lighter skin and fruity features make excellent choices for Rosé.


After the grapes are pressed, the juice is briefly left in contact with the skins before being drained. This process results in a lightly colored juice due to the short duration of contact with the black skins. Remember, the duration of contact is usually only a few hours.


Although it is possible to make Rosé from any red grape, certain varietals such as Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Pinot Noir are more suitable for this type of wine.


White Zinfandel is definitely one of the most well-known examples of rosé wine. But, you'll also see others such as Grenache Rosé and Mourvedre Rose. You'll even once in a while see a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. I tried this once, and it was DELISH!


Notable Structural Characteristics of Wine

Although the type and color of the wine can provide some insight, it is truly the Notable Structural Characteristics that distinguish one wine from another. Each wine has a unique taste and texture. Being able to articulate and comprehend these characteristics elevates one from a wine consumer to a wine enthusiast.


This is one of the more difficult parts of learning wine.


The good news is that to become better at recognizing the more subtle nuances, it is recommended to PRACTICE! Oh no, I guess we have to drink more wine now!


So, to help identify and document these characteristics, there is thankfully a helpful standardized approach to tasting, aptly named: Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine (SAT). Not the SAT you took in grade school. This is so much better!


WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine®
WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine®

Now, given I took a Level 1 Course, we're going to keep it simple!


Sugar

So, what is sugar in the context of wine? Well, the sweetness in wine is a result of the residual sugar remaining after the wine is produced. Dry wines contain little to no sugar, while sweet wines have high levels of sugar.


Dry Wines

Most wines are classified as dry. This is achieved by allowing the yeast to fully ferment all the sugar in the grape juice, resulting in the production of alcohol.


What are some common examples?


Dry Whites: Chablis, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay

Dry Reds: Côtes du Rhône, Chianti, and Cabernet Sauvignon


Medium Sweet Wines

Most wines that have a medium level of sweetness are either white or rosé.


We learned that most wines are dry because the yeast eats sugar and converts it into alcohol and CO2. So, how do you keep some sugar in wine?


There are two key ways:


1. You can remove yeast early before fermentation is completed leaving some residual sugar.


2. You can add unfermented grape juice to the wine.


Moscato, Gewurztraminer, and German Rieslings are great examples of medium-sweet wines.


Sweet Wines

Sweet wines often contain a high amount of sugar which can result in a thick and syrupy texture.


Now, for sweet wines, there needs to be EVEN MORE sugar in the wine.


So, here are a couple of ways that can occur:


1. Use grapes with a really high sugar content. The yeast will actually stop fermenting before eating all of the sugar. Essentially, give the yeast too much work to do with not enough time to do it.


2. For fortified wines, the fermentation process is stopped by adding high-strength distilled alcohol before all the sugar is consumed, which kills the yeast. Remember, with the additional alcohol, these wines range extra-high in alcohol (15% to 22% abv.) as a result.


There are a few varieties of fortified wines, such as Sherry, which is made in Spain, and Port, which is produced in Portugal. Remember: Sherry from Spain, Port from Portugal!


Another example of sweet white wine is Sauternes (sow·turnz), a full-bodied sweet white wine from Bordeaux, which tastes fantastic with a dessert. I drank some with some sugar cookies, and wow, did they complement each other so well!


Acidity

The refreshing characteristic of wines is attributed to the acidity present in the grape juice. This makes acidity a crucial aspect of wine.


Acidity in wine is easily identifiable by the sensation of mouth-watering it produces. However, excessive acidity can lead to an unpleasant taste, while inadequate acidity can result in the loss of a wine's refreshing quality.


The presence of acid is crucial in sweet wines as it helps to counterbalance the sweetness, preventing the wine from becoming unpleasant.


Some examples of white wines with high acidity are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Chablis.


Some examples of red wines with high acidity are Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.


Tannin

As another reminder, red wines contain tannin, which originates from the grapes' skin. The quantity of tannin present in wine is determined by the type of grape used and the winemaking process. Pinot Noir grapes, which have delicate skin, typically contain less tannin than Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which have thick skin and high tannin content.


Although tannins can have a bitter taste, they primarily serve as a structural component of wine that is more of a sensation than a flavor. Tannins can leave your mouth feeling dry.


Some red wines that have a high tannin content include Red Bordeaux from France and Chianti from Italy.


Some red wines with low tannin levels include Beaujolais (bow·zhuh·lay) and certain kinds of Pinot Noir.


Alcohol

Most still and sparkling wines typically contain alcohol levels ranging from 11.5% to 14% abv. Nevertheless, certain wines may contain up to 15% abv, while others may have as little as 8% abv.


A type of wine that contains a high alcohol content is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which originates from France. So so good, so so expensive!


White Zinfandel is a wine that contains a low level of alcohol (drink an extra glass, I guess?).


Body

When it comes to describing the sensation of wine in your mouth, "body" is the commonly used term. Several factors contribute to this feeling, but one way to assess it is by considering how well the wine fills your mouth.


We then typically describe the "body" as light, medium, and full.


Some examples of light-bodied wines are Italian Pinot Grigio and Beaujolais. For medium-bodied wines, there is Sancerre and Côtes du Rhône. And lastly, for full-bodied wines, you could include Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauternes.


Aromas & Flavors

Wines can possess a range of aromas and flavors originating from diverse sources. Certain elements derive from the grapes, while others form during the process of ripening, winemaking, and maturation.


Wine glasses pictured with fruit and spices in the glass. This is for demonstration purposes.


Honestly, this is something I am really focusing on when I have a glass of wine. All joking aside, this part is really difficult. It can be challenging to articulate the scents and tastes present in wine. I have learned quickly there is no magic formula but, yet again, PRACTICE!


Fruit

Most wines are likely to have fruity aromas and flavors that are specific to the grape variety used. For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon wines are known for their black fruit aromas and flavor.


Oak

Remember, wine can be fermented and/or matured in oak barrels. While this information may not always be listed on the label, oak can impart a variety of flavors to the wine, including cedar, baking spice, cloves, coconut, smoke, and vanilla.


Other

Other?! So mysterious. One of the fascinating aspects of wines is their eclectic range of aromas and flavors. Aside from the usual ones, they can also contain unique hints of grass, flowers, herbs, vegetables, earth, mushroom, and leather. It's important to note, however, that not all wines possess these "other" flavors or aromas, but a great many do.


💡Did you know When it comes to wine, the term "grassy" typically refers to wines that have a strong aroma reminiscent of freshly cut grass, often accompanied by high levels of acidity? Though, this aroma doesn't come from actually adding actual grass to the wine. That would not be so pleasant. Rather, it's the result of aldehydes (linking an article here if you're interested in the science behind it), a compound that can be found in both certain wines and in grass itself.


It's important to keep in mind that our sense of taste is closely connected to our sense of smell, so it's common for the scents and flavors to be alike or identical.


Well, that's it! Hope you learned a thing or two!


Next Up!


Next time, we are going to take a look at a deeper dive into key grape varieties and their characteristics. Get ready to learn more about Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and more!


Until next time!


Headshot of the author.





Cheers,

Jake


I’m a wine enthusiast. The more wine I drink, the more enthusiastic I get.

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