Wine Varietals
The Main Twelve
Cabernet Sauvignon
Pinot Noir
Pinot Gris
Chenin Blanc
Gewerztraminer Sauvignon Blanc

Cabernet Sauvignon (red) [cab-er-NAY SO-vin-yon]
Red Bordeaux-France
A red wine known for its depth of flavor, aroma and ability to age. It is full-bodied and intense, with cherry- currant and sometimes herbal flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon may have noticeable tannins.
Flavors-- Its classic flavors are currant, plum, black cherry, spice, and firm tannins. Herb, olive, mint, tobacco, cedar, and anise, and ripe, jammy notes can also mark it. Food Pairings -- Roasted red meats, game meats, lamb, pasta with red sauce, full-flavored cheeses, and chocolate desserts. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Marjoram, Thyme, Allspice, Nutmeg

Chardonnay (white) [shar-doh-NAY]
White Burgundy—France
A white wine which can range from clean and crisp with a hint of varietal flavor to rich and complex oak-aged wines. Chardonnay typically balances fruit, acidity and texture.

Flavors -- Bold, ripe, and rich. Intense fruit flavors of apple, fig, melon, pear, pineapple, lemon, along with spice, honey, butter, butterscotch, and vanilla. Made in the dry style. Food Pairings -- Cream based sauces, shellfish, poultry, pork, veal, salmon, and full- flavored cheeses. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Mustard Seeds, Rosemary, Tarragon, Cloves, Fresh Ginger
Chenin Blanc (white) [SHENIN BLAHNK]
Loire Valley of France such as Vouvray. South Africa called Steen
A white wine with fresh, delicate floral characteristics. It grows well in warmer climates and produces light, well- balanced wines ranging from dry to off-dry (slightly sweet) styles.
Flavors -- Subtle melon, peach, spice, and citrus notes. Made in dry, medium dry and slightly sweet style. Food Pairings -- Asian food, poultry, clams, mussels, shrimp, crab, lobster, and mild cheeses. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Dill, Fennel, Allspice, Cloves
Gewerztraminer (white) [gew&-VERTS-trah-mee-ner]
A white wine that produces distinctive wines rich in spicy aromas and full flavors, ranging from dry to sweet. This varietal is a popular choice for Asian cuisines and pork-based sausages.
Flavors -- Spicy fruit flavors of peach, apricot and melon. Food Pairings -- Asian food, pork, veal, poultry, duck, and mild cheeses. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Cilantro, Mint, Black Pepper, Ginger
Merlot (red) [mur-LO]
Red Bordeaux—France
A red wine with medium to full body and herbaceous flavors. Merlot is typically softer in taste than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Flavors -- Two styles have emerged. One is a Cabernet-style Merlot, which includes a high percentage (up to 25%) of Cabernet, similar current and cherry flavors and firm tannins. A second style is less reliant on Cabernet, softer, suppler, medium-weight, less tannic and features more herb, cherry and chocolate flavors. Food Pairings -- Roasted red meats, game meats, lamb, pasta with red sauce, pheasant, duck, goose, and full-flavored cheeses.

Herb/Spice Pairings -- Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme, Allspice, Nutmeg
Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio (white) [PEE-no GREE or GREE-zho]
Known as Pinot Gris in France, and Pinot Grigio in Italy.
The low acidity of this white grape helps produce rich, lightly perfumed wines that are often more colorful than other whites.
Flavors -- Medium bodied flavors of citrus, spice, figs, and toasted almonds. Food Pairings -- Pasta with cream or red sauces, veal, poultry, and full-flavored cheeses. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, Garlic, Ginger, Green Peppercorn
Pinot Noir (red) [PEE-no NWA]
Red Burgundy-France
A red wine of light to medium body and delicate, smooth, rich complexity. The Pinot Noir grape is one of the most challenging wine grapes to bring to full potential.
Flavors -- Classic black cherry, spice, raspberry, and currant flavors, and aroma that can resemble wilted roses, along with earth, tar, herb and cola notes. Food Pairings -- Great with Thanksgiving Turkey, beef, game, lamb, pork, veal, pheasant, duck, goose, pasta with red sauce, full-flavored cheeses. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Rosemary, Thyme, Allspice
Riesling (white) [REES–ling]
A variety of  white wines known for their floral perfume. Depending on where they're made, they can be crisp and bone-dry, full-bodied and spicy or luscious and sweet.
Flavors -- Complex fruit flavors of peach, apricot, and green apple. Made in dry to off dry to sweet style. Food Pairings -- Asian food, poultry, grilled fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, smoked salmon, fresh fruit, and mild cheeses. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Chervil, Sage, Chili Powder, Curry

Sangiovese (red) [san-geeo-VEHS-eh]
Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, Italy
Sangiovese (Sangiovese Piccolo) - Sangiovese is best known as the grape behind the Italian red wine, Chianti. It often boasts a distinctively smooth texture topped with spice, raspberry and licorice flavors.
Brunello (Sangiovese Grosso) - This is one of two strains of the red, Sangiovese grape. It's bigger and much more rare than its cousin, Sangiovese Piccolo. Brunello is the grape behind Brunello di Montalcino, a luscious and long-aging red wine from Italy's Tuscany region.

Flavors -- Medium to full bodied with flavors of spice, raspberry, cherry, and anise. Food Pairings -- Beef, veal, pork, pasta with red sauces, poultry, and full-flavored cheeses. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Nutmeg, Black Pepper

Sauvignon Blanc (white) [SO-vin-yon BLAHNK]
White Bordeaux and Loire Valley of France
A white wine best known for its grassy, herbal flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is also called Fume Blanc, and is a popular choice for fish and shellfish dishes.

Flavors -- Tropical fruits, such as melon, pineapple, and citrus. Food Pairings -- Seafood, salads, light pastas, poultry, appetizers, and goat cheese. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Basil, Oregano, Cumin, Ginger
Syrah or Shiraz (red) [sir-RAH or shih-RAHZ]
Rhone Valley-France
A variety  that can produce monumental red wines with strong tannins and complex combinations of flavors including berry, plum and smoke. It's known as Shiraz mainly in Australia and South Africa.
Flavors -- Rich, complex, and distinctive wines, with pronounced pepper, spice, black cherry, tar, leather, and roasted nut flavors. A smooth, supple texture, and smooth tannins. Food Pairings -- Beef, small game, poultry, and full-flavored cheese.

Herb/Spice Pairings -- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Black Pepper, Garlic, Black Truffles

Zinfandel or White Zinfandel (red or blush) [ZHIN-fan-del]
A red wine with light to full body and berry-like or spicy flavors. The Zinfandel grape is also widely used in the popular off-dry blush wine known as White Zinfandel.
Flavors -- (Red) Full bodied, ripe, cherry, black pepper spices, pretty oak shadings and mild to firm tannins. (White) A blush-colored, slightly sweet wine with flavors of peaches, watermelon, and candy. Food Pairings -- (Red) Game dishes, pizza, hamburgers, barbecued ribs, and tomato-based sauces.  (White) Appetizers, Asian food, pork, poultry and mild cheeses. Herb/Spice Pairings -- Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf, Basil, Black Pepper, Garlic

More Terms


Aperitifs - Aperitifs, or appetizer wines, are generally served before meals. Champagne and sherries are traditional aperitifs, and light white wine is also appropriate.

Barbera - Barbera is a red wine grape found primarily in Italy's Piedmont region. It produces bright, crisp wines with deep ruby colors, full body and low tannin levels.

Blush Wines (Rosés) - Blush wines, also called rosés, are light pink wines made from several red wine grapes. They get their color from a very short period of contact with the grape skins during the wine-making process. Blush wines are light and usually have some sweetness.

Champagne/Sparkling Wine - These wines are made effervescent in the wine-making process. Champagnes and sparkling wines range in style from very dry (Natural), dry (brut) and slightly sweet (extra Dry) to sweet (sec and Demi-Sec). Many sparkling wines are also identified as Blanc de Blancs (wines made from white grapes) or Blanc de Noirs (wines produced from red grapes).

Dolcetto - This red wine grape is found almost exclusively in Italy's Piedmont region. It produces soft, purple and fruity wines with fragrances resembling licorice and almonds. Dolcetto is best enjoyed one to three years after harvest.

Dessert Wines - Dessert wines are usually served with or in place of dessert, and can be sweet or dry. Dessert wines are officially classified as having an alcohol content of between 17 and 21 percent. Sherry, wines made from the Muscat grape family, Tokay and Port (available in a range of styles based on sweetness and time aged in wood). Late-harvest varietals are not officially termed dessert wines, but are increasingly popular in this role.

French Colombard - French Colombard is a white wine which is generally light and off-dry (slightly sweet). It is the most widely planted varietal in California.

Fume Blanc - Fume Blanc is a white wine best known for its grassy, herbal flavors. Fume Blanc is also called Sauvignon Blanc, and is a popular choice for fish and shellfish dishes.

Grenache - Grenache is a red wine grape that produces fruity, spicy wines with medium body and tannins. It also can show a lighter side when it's turned into Rose.

Marsanne - This grape can produce rich white wines with flavors resembling pears, citrus and nuts.

Mourvedre (Mataro) - This warm-weather, red wine grape can turn into pleasant medium-weight wines with cherry and berry flavors. It goes by the name Mourvedre in France. In California and Australia, it's often called Mataro.

Muscat - The white Muscat grape produces spicy, floral wines that often do something most other wines don't: they actually taste like grapes. Muscats can range from very dry and fresh to sweet and syrupy.

Nebbiolo - This is the great red variety of Italy's Piedmont region. At its best, Nebbiolo produces strong, long-aging wines with depth and character.

Petite Sirah - Petite Sirahs are red wines with firm, robust tannic tastes, often with peppery flavors. Petite Sirahs may complement meals with rich meats.

Pinot Blanc (Pinot Bianco) - Some people call Pinot Blanc the poor man's Chardonnay because both grapes produce similar flavors and textures. Pinot Blancs are often clear and intense with hints of fruit and honey.

Pinotage - Pinotage is a red hybrid grape that's gained its greatest acclaim in South Africa. At its best it produces big, plummy wines with a lot of character.

Red Wines - Red wines are usually dry and have some tannic astringency. They gain their color during the wine-making process, through the extraction of pigments from the skins of red wine grapes. Reds may be aged in wood for depth and complexity, or produced in light, fruity styles. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and blush wines (roses) are red wines.

Roses (Blush Wines) - Roses, also called blush wines, are light pink wines made from several red wine grapes. They get their color from a very short period of contact with the grape skins during the wine-making process. Roses are light and usually have some sweetness.

Semillon - The white Semillon grape reaches its pinnacle in sweet, honeyed wines such as the Sauternes of southwest France. Semillon is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes with Chardonnay.

Table Wines - Table wines include red, white, blush (rose) wines containing from seven to foutreen percent alcohol and are still, rather than effervescent. Table wines can be made from any grape or combination of grapes in any style a vintner chooses. Table wines may carry varietal names or names describing the color (for example, blush) or region (such as Chablis) or a name coined by the winery.

White Wines - White wines can range in style from bone dry to sweet. Some are aged in oak, while others are kept out of wood. Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, French Colombard, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are all white wines.

Viognier - Viognier is a rare white grape that's difficult to grow. Fans of this variety enjoy its peachy, apricotty and sometimes spicy flavors.