Getting Into Wine: Red vs. White and Other Basics

Common Wine Varietals by Color

Note: This is post two of an "intro to wine" series. If you haven't read part one yet, it might be helpful to read before continuing! 

Welcome back, fellow wine newbies. First things first, we need to discuss types of wine and what those names you can't pronounce (yet) actually mean. 

Red vs. White

The most basic way to categorize wines is to divide them between reds and whites. White wine, which is generally light in both color and flavor, tends to be made from lighter colored grapes, though in actuality it is contact between the skins and the fermenting grape juice that gives wine most of its color. So, red wine tends to be made from darker grapes and also gets much more contact with the skins during the winemaking process.

P Diddy drinking champagne

There's another small-ish group of wines that deserve a category of their own: sparkling wines. These "bubbly" wines have been exposed to carbon dioxide and are the drink of choice for people with things to celebrate and P. Diddy. (Though, according to the picture to the left, he clearly doesn't know how to drink it very well.)


Within those very broad categories, there are a lot of different varieties of wine. One way winemakers classify those varieties (especially in the U.S.) is by labeling wines by their varietal name. The varietal is the specific type of grape used to make a wine (i.e. Chardonnay is made from Chardonnay grapes). This method of labeling is really helpful, especially to beginners, in figuring out how a wine will likely taste. Some popular varietals you've probably encountered are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Reference the graphic at the top of the post to see different varietals on a spectrum, or, better yet, explore our wines page and read the descriptions of different varietals to get an idea of their flavor profile and what occasions they're perfect for. On that note, here are two recommendations I have regarding varietals (not that you asked):

  1. Sad woman drinking wineDon't get stuck in a varietal rut just because you know you like one type in particular. It can be a little intimidating to buy a bottle when you aren't sure if you'll like the contents, but no one likes drinking with that girl (or guy) who "only drinks Pinot Grigio." Be a little adventurous, and I guarantee it will pay off. And if you're hesitant, use the chat box in the bottom right to ask us for recommendations! 
  2. Grab one of our intro packs, like this one from Piccola to try a few different varietals from one winery. That way, if you aren't crazy about one bottle, you have a backup plan! 


Sometimes wines aren't classified by the type of grape used to make them, but instead by the region in which that style of wine originated. For instance, there's no Bordeaux grape - the name refers to the region in the south west of France.  Bordeaux red wine, which is what you mostly see in stores, is actually a blend of up to 4 grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grapes. So when you see wines labelled "Bordeaux" on shelves (and in our marketplace), you can count on them to taste like a deep red blend. Some other well-known regionally-named wines are Burgundy, Chianti, and Champagne.

Resource of the Week

I know I posted a link to Wine Folly last week, but since they have such a vast collection of articles, let me point you toward a particularly relevant chart this week: The Different Types of Wine. If you're confused by the words used to describe the wines (like tannins, off-dry, etc), come back next week, and I'll do my best to explain them!

Until then-- what's your current go-to varietal? Comment here, tweet us @winestyr, or post on our Facebook wall for a chance to win 3 bottles of wine on us!

Jordan Johnson



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  • Dana Boone
    My go-to white is a Sauvignon Blanc and Cab Sav is my red of choice. Although, back in my college days, I was too picky to venture beyond a sweet Riesling. Thank goodness I came to my senses :)