Use This Helpful Wine Guide at Your Next Dinner Party
“Wine is fun. It's complex, vibrant and meaningful. It should be part of your life...” - Geoff Kruth, Master Sommelier
There are 1,300 different varieties of wine grapes grown around the world. This is why you need a wine guide. Some wines, called varietals, are made from a single type of grape. Other wines are NV, non-varietals, which are a blend of different grapes. This wine guide will help you choose the perfect fit for your evening.
A sommelier friend of mine told me many years ago that if I was serious about finding out about wines, the best method would be to taste test different styles of wine. I have to admit — it was fun!
When people talk about wine, they speak of the “body” of the wine, which is the way it feels inside the mouth. Wine can have a light, medium, or full body.
The percentage of alcohol in the wine determines its body, which should always be stated on the bottle. Wines with 12.5% alcohol are light-bodied, 12.5 to 13.5% are medium-bodied, and those over 13.5% are full-bodied.
Here are some examples of wines in each of these categories:
12.5% and Under
Sparkling: Italian Asti, Italian Prosecco
White: French Vouvray and Muscadet, German Riesling, Portuguese Vinho Verde, Spanish Txakoli
Rosé: California white Zinfandel, Portuguese rosés
I love a good German Riesling, such as a Gewürztraminer, which I pair with crab, mussels and/or shrimp, as well as virtually any Asian food.
The first time I tried it, I served it with crab quiche, salad and crusty bread and it was delicious!
12.5 to 13.5%
Sparkling: California sparkling wine, French Champagne, Spanish Cava
White: Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Australian Riesling, French Alsace white, French Loire and Bordeaux whites, French white Burgundy, Italian Pinot Grigio, New York Riesling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Oregon Pinot Gris, South African Sauvignon Blanc, Spanish Albarino
Rosé: French rosés, Spanish rosés
Red: French Beaujolais and Burgundy, French Bordeaux, Italian Chianti, Spanish Rioja
In this category, my go-to wine is the Pinto Grigio. I love its light, dry, slightly acidic and crisp body with hints of tree, citrus and tropical fruit.
It pairs excellently with fish (grilled Chilean sea bass) or chicken (roasted chicken with lemon, sage, garlic, rosemary and olive oil) — basically anything light!
13.5 to 14.5%
White: Australian Chardonnay, California Chardonnay, California Pinot Gris, California Sauvignon Blanc, California Viognier, Chilean Chardonnay, French Sauternes, South African Chenin Blanc
Red: Argentine Malbec, Australian Shiraz, California Cabernet Sauvignon, California Pinot Noir, California Syrah, Chilean Merlot, French Rhône red, Italian Barolo.
Here’s where I switch over to reds. While I like virtually every wine listed above, I particularly love red blends.
Blends let the vintner take the cream of the crop from each variety and combine them to produce a wine that is, for me, better than what the individual type of grape produces. I’ve found some terrific tasting blends priced very well under $20!
Personally, between the traditional Old World blends from France, Italy and Spain, and the New World from Argentina, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand, I prefer the New World.
When I serve stuffed pork chops (I stuff them with apples and cherries), I pair it with a Syrah/Shiraz blend.
14.5% and Up
White: French Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (fortified), Portuguese Madeira (fortified), Spanish sherry (fortified)
Red: California Petite Sirah, California Zinfandel, Italian Amarone, Portuguese port (fortified)
These very full-bodied wines have different tastes dependent upon whether or not they’re traditional or modern. Because these wines are what I call “heavy,” I pair them with hearty stews, soups, etc.
What About Glassware?
Now that you’ve decided the type of wine you want serve, what do you serve it in?
You don’t have to spend a lot on glassware, but it is true that the same wine served in different glasses takes on different tastes.
Believe it or not, there was a research study done that found that different glasses allowed a wine’s aromas to enter the drinker’s nose differently.
The general rule of thumb is to serve white wines in a smaller bowl glass because those tend to preserve the floral aromas of white wines. That said, more full-bodied whites like Chardonnays should be served in a wine glass with a slightly larger bowl.
Red wines should be served in a larger bowled glass because these glasses tend to make the wine taste smoother since its larger opening allows the ethanol in the wine to evaporate more easily.
The next thing to consider is the temperature at which to serve the wine. Temperature has a great deal to do with taste.
I like to open reds and let them “breathe” while I’m fixing dinner. I serve reds at or slightly below room temperature depending on which type of red it is.
For example, Pinot Noir is better served on the cooler side, so I’ve been known to open it, let it breathe, then put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
I always serve whites out of the refrigerator, and in a very non-politically correct way, I like my whites with a cube or two of ice.
Years ago, I went to a wine tasting event at Hershey Lodge in Pennsylvania. I got quite an education on how different reds interacted with different types of chocolate and how the taste of each changed.
I always thought a wine that combined both chocolate and red wine would be divine — and now they exist! One I really like is called ChocoVine from Holland. It’s a yummy blend of chocolate and red wine that’s creamy, sweet and delicious!
Wine is truly a fun beverage to experiment with. Once you have a basic understanding from our wine guide, you're ready to find your favorite flavor. Cheers!