Wine basics – saying “I like red wine” is a lot like saying “I like brown pop”

It’s likely that you drink wine with some regularity (socially, or anti-socially), but when it comes to the type of wine you prefer, the options available go way beyond red and white wine; more importantly, if someone asks you, “which type of wine do you like?” they have an agenda to either learn more about you or to select a wine for you. Telling them, “I like red wine” is a lot like saying “I like brown pop”; while you may indeed prefer cola over other carbonated beverages, it’s likely that you have a preference for either Coke, or Pepsi…or maybe you don’t like cola and you prefer Fresca instead…what’s the point? Well, wine works the exact same way—There are different types of wine and the colour of a wine only tells you a tiny, little bit about what that wine will taste like.


Let’s dive into wine basics and get beyond red and white:

  • Firstly, there’s more than just red and white wine, there are also rose wines, which can actually be made from the grapes of red wine or the grapes of white wine or a blend of grapes from both red and white wines. Here’s a great article on why you might love rose wine too.
  • Next, there’s the simple fact that not all wines are created equal. There are varying levels of quality, as well as various methods available to produce wine which alter the outcome of flavours; so, one red may taste different than another red, simply based on its quality or method that it was produced.
  • Finally, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, there are wine varietals. This is a stuffy and fancy way of saying, “wine types” and the name of each varietal is actually anchored in the name of the plant that the grapes were picked from before they were crushed, fermented, bottled, shipped, and sold to you.


A crash course in wine biology – a beginner’s guide to types of wine

The majority of wines are grown from the same species of plant, “Vitis vinifera”; however, in the world of plants, a single species of plant can have many forms or variants – if that doesn’t make sense, think about the family tree of dogs: all domestic dogs come from the species, “Canis lupus familiaris”, and there are types (or variants) of the species such as a “German Shepherd”, or “Shizu”. Dog breeds are to Canis lupus familiaris, what varietals are to Vitis vinifera.


What characteristics do you like about wine?

In an effort to really drive home why, “I like red wine” isn’t a precise statement. It’s a lot like saying, “I like dogs that don’t shed.” Well that’s great, but there are likely other characteristics you also care about when it comes to choosing your favourite dog. Perhaps you like small dogs, energetic ones or quite ones; or maybe you prefer dogs that are mixed breed and offer better varied genetics and a longer life. Regardless of all that, it’s clear that you want a dog that doesn’t shed AND one that has X, Y, and Z other qualities.

Wine is relatable to this analogy in that each type of wine has a reliable and expected set of characteristics. Like your non-shedding dog, you can select qualities of wine based on the type.


Wine is diverse — as a beginner, it’s good to start describing wine by learning about it

There are acidic wines, fruity wines, aromatic wines, tannic wines, sparkling wines, sweet wines, and dry wines; there are wines that taste like spice, and wines that fill your mouth with bitterness, there are literally so many different styles of wine, that “white” or “red” doesn’t really cut it when someone is looking for direction from you.

So the next time someone asks which wine you like, give them a little more direction, and if you’re really not sure, start thinking about it RIGHT NOW. Start a digital cellar on Just Wine now for free, and save your favourite wines so you can easily remember which wines you liked and why.

As a starting point to the types of wines check out the below list of common red and white varietals. Once you’ve found a wine varietal you like, try other wines of the same varietal and see if you can refine what it is you liked about the first wine. This is what makes wine so neat, it’s personal, it’s experimental, and you get to get a little tipsy along the way.


7 Basic White Wine Grape Varietals Every Beginner Should Know

  1. Chardonnay
  2. Sauvignon Blanc
  3. Pinot Gris (Grigio)
  4. Gewürztraminer
  5. Riesling
  6. Muscat
  7. Viognier


7 Basic Red Wine Grape Varietals Every Beginner Should Know

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon
  2. Merlot
  3. Malbec
  4. Pinot Noir
  5. Zinfandel
  6. Cabernet Franc
  7. Tempranillo