Vegetarian recipes

Skinny Chef: Wine 101 – A lesson in grapes

Learning about wine can take some time: There is so much out there, and the wine industry keeps growing and changing every year. I’ve broken it down by most of the grape types used in wine production, and that is typically the way Americans recognize a bottle of wine, rather than by region.

For example, you shop for a “Chardonnay”. That could be from anywhere in the world, instead of a Rioja or a Chateauneuf de Pape that tells you the region where the wine was produced.

The simple explanations below cover most of the wines, based on the grape varietals used that you’ll encounter at standard no-frills wine shops.

Each wine ranges in price, depending on producer, year, country of origin. Which grapes that are blended together. More expensive doesn’t always mean better. Then, of course, as your wine knowledge increases, there is your personal taste to take into account.

After all, wine is to to be enjoyed and savored. Compliment a delicious meal prepared with thought.

White wines

  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chardonnay
  • Muscat
  • Semillon
  • Gruner Veltliner
  • Viognier

Red Wines

  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Pinot Noir
  • Gamay
  • Merlot
  • Nebbiolo
  • Sangiovese
  • Syrrah
  • Grenache
  • Tempranillo


Gewurztraminer is a fragrant, sometimes sweet wine. The name means “Spice Traminer,”. The traminer is the grape varietal. The aroma can range from lychees to flower blossoms. Sometimes a ripe peach with cinnamon that I find so seductive! The most popular and well-produced Gewurztraminers come from Germany and the Alsace area of France. They mellow out hot and spicy foods, like Indian and Mexican. Can also be paired with wild game. Enjoy the Gewurztraminer’s slight effervescence – tiny bubbles that cling to the inside of the glass – not nearly as pronounced as in champagne. Gewurztraminer can also be served as any aperitif or for a light dessert wine paired with fresh peaches or lychees over sorbet.


Riesling grapes are hearty and do well in cool weather. It’s no wonder they flourish in the Rhine region of Germany. But you’ll also find them in Alsace, France, Austria and sometimes Northern Italy, where the temperatures drop in the fall. With the scent of apples and flowers, the riesling is a great way to start out a meal, enjoy with buttery fish. Even salmon cooked with a sweet sauce. Riesling can also compliment BBQ pork with a sweet and spicy sauce.

Gruner Veltliner

This is a wine based on a grape grown in Austria. It happens to be one of my favourite whites. It has really gained popularity on restaurant menus. The aromas of this medium-bodied wine are a touch of peach mixed with a hint of spice –. Most say resembling ground white pepper –. It reminds me of ground coriander seed. Considered to be an “easy-sipping summer wine”. In Austria and Germany, I think its balance and mineral flavours lends well to a pre-dinner drink. Maybe a good pairing for simple seafood preparations, such as raw oysters or poached shrimp.

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc is known for its crisp flavours and aroma of apples and pears. I enjoy vintages that come from the Alto Adige, Italy or Alsace can be the perfect match for seafood dishes prepared with light, creamy sauces. The bright, perky flavour of most Pinot Blancs contrasts nicely against the smooth texture of sour cream or goat cheese. The wine’s medium body and less complex flavours make it a great wine for summer parties and al fresco dinners.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc, a grape variety that's grown all over the world, is blended to produce many white wines. It has a wide range of flavours and aromas, based on where it's cultivated. Sancerre, primarily produced with Sauvignon Blanc, is one of my favourite whites from France. I think of grass and minerals when it comes to a Sancerre. They make the perfect combo for seafood dishes sprinkled with fresh chopped herbs. Sauvignon Blanc –. Part of “new world wines,”. As they call them (wines from places like New Zealand, Australia. South America) –. Can have grapefruit, citrus and green bell pepper notes. They're typically inexpensive wines that are great for entertaining. Easy for wine newbies to enjoy, since they don’t have complex or strong flavours that can take some time to appreciate.


A very well-known, popular grape, you can find it growing in most of the wine-producing countries. I usually see mostly California and French-style Chardonnay lining store shelves, and they tend to be very different in flavour depending on how they were produced –. In oak or stainless steel barrels. Californian-style Chardonnays typical have a very oakey flavour –. Meaning they pick up the woody taste of the barrel –. That you either enjoy or not. I prefer the French or steel-vat-produced Californian, which have more austere, mineral, clean flavours –. A better match for herb-based dishes. This is delightful with room-temperature dishes with chopped fresh herbs like pesto pasta. Example.


Muscat is a very aromatic grape. I always think of ripe peaches and sometimes honey dew when I sniff its perfume. You can find style differences from sweet and syrupy, to sparkling. Even dry, depending on where your Muscat comes from. I serve it as a dessert wine along with ripe peaches or baked fruit desserts.


You usually don’t find this grape on its own in a single-grape wine, though Australia has produced it as a single varietal. Grown in France, Chilli. Australia, it's often blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Lends the characteristic tastes of lemon and butter. Semillon is typically used in dry wine production. You can also find it in dessert wines. Namely the most famous of the bunch, Chateau d’Yquem, which uses a large percentage of it to blend with Sauvignon Blance.


I’ve always been attracted to this wine, which is full of tropical fruit odors like pineapple. A touch of coconut in some vintages. Though I taste a lot of heavy-ripened fruit in the beginning, the taste drops off dramatically to reveal the dry nature of this wine. Chardonnay drinkers will notice the bold beginning flavours and rich weight on the tongue. Also appreciate the rich caramel colors that come from the greenish-golden grapes.

Red Wines

Cabernet Franc

 Normally blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is used in the production of high-quality, delectable French wines from Pomerol and St. Emillion. On occasion, when you find this grape produced as a single varietal, they tend to be a bit fierce upon first sip. This is the case for some new wines from upstate New York. I suggest you give them ample time to breathe and decant before enjoying, as they can be quite drinkable. They've aromas and flavour such as violets, raspberry, cedar, green bell pepper.

Cabernet Sauvignon

If there is one grape out there you should get to know, this one is a superstar responsible for hundreds of award-winning wines around the world, including the prized wines of Bordeaux, France, Sonoma. Napa Valley. The adaptable Cabernet Sauvignon is also resistant to disease. Gives off a good juice-to-grape ratio, making it very desirable for winemakers. I’m partial to the flavour of black currant that most “big cabs”. Have, along with notes of leather, black cherry, tobacco. Earth. Pair Californian cabs, rich and full, with meats and thick stews.

Pinot Noir

Difficult to grow, the pinot noir is the prissy lady of many vineyards. it's successfully grown in Burgundy, France, California, Oregon and New Zealand. With the scent of violets and strawberries, it’s no surprise that this little lady is used in Champagne production. Some Pinots, especially from the New World, aren't that ladylike, as they can have a sexy aroma of spice, crushed roses. Sweat. This medium-body wine pairs well with grilled duck, lamb. Salmon.


This brute of a grape is responsible for Beaujolais. When enjoyed young, it can be delightful. Example slightly chilled at a spring or summer picnic. Its aroma and flavours are comprised oftentimes of flowers and strawberries, which are pleasant enough. However, Beaujolais can be rather harsh, without much complexity in body or flavour.


I think most Americans are familiar with this grape. It became popular when Americans started drinking more wine in the 1970’s and is still “a greatest hit”. At many parties and gatherings. Primarily grown in Bordeaux, France and California, Merlot’s flavours include dark fruit like plum and currants, as well as green bell pepper. Sometimes can have a hint of vanilla or warm top soil. I think the fruity, soft flavours of Merlot makes it easy to drink, contributing to its popularity with the occasional wine drinker.


This bad-boy grape is bold and strong, prized among Italian winemakers since it goes into production of some heavy-hitters in the wine world. Namely, Barolo, Barbaresco and other costly wines. Its flavour profile includes cherry, smoke. Sometimes fennel or licorice. Its strong lingering aroma and body pair nicely with strong wild game and hearty stews. Quality wines made from nebbiolo can be a bit rough on the wallet. When I want to splurge, I certainly enjoy the flavours and elegant craftsmanship of the delectable, bold-yet-suave Barolo.


The primary grape used to produce Chianti, once enjoyed as an inexpensive, rustic wine to sip with pizza and other Italian peasant dishes. Chianti, grown in the Tuscany region of Italy, is another wine that most Americans feel comfortable ordering at any restaurant. In my experience, a good Chianti can be quite expensive. I recommend plunking down a few extra dollars to go up on the quality scale if you choose Chianti. Shoot for less-costly Spanish wine.


Syrrah, also known as Shiraz, gains its fame from fine wines like Hermitage and Cote Rotie produced in the Rhone Valley, France. Other less expensive, very drinkable wines from the same region, like the Cote de Rhones can provide excellent quality for the price. Flavours and aroma differ immensely based on where the grape is grown. The major notes are black pepper, blackberry. Smoke. Inexpensive Shiraz produced outside of France – South Africa, South American. Australia. Example –. Can be a bit harsh and overpowering, though wine drinkers with bold tastes certainly enjoy them all the same.


Widely-planted throughout the world, Grenache is used as a base for blends of great wines like the Chateauneuf de Pape. Since Grenache has a high sugar content, it's also used in sweet wine productions. Can lend aromas of berries, spice. Vanilla. The Spanish version of this grape, called “granacha”, is widely used in the wine production of Rioja and Priorat. Wines from these areas found in your local wine shop can range in price. Tend to be affordable and and very drinkable –. A good pick for a dinner party.


Tempranillo is primarily grown in Northern Spain. Is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Grenache to produce drinkable wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Flavour elements include herbs and leather, strawberries. Cherries. Price point compared to quality of the blends make these wines from Spain perfect for table wine or an inexpensive party gift. The leathery notes of most Rioja couples nicely with dried ground chillies used to flavour most tapas dishes.

The post Wine 101 appeared first on Skinny Chef.

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One thought on “Skinny Chef: Wine 101 – A lesson in grapes

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