The Top Six Wine Varietals

Learning the basics of wine begins with becoming familiar with the big six varietals, which are the grapes that comprise the majority of the world's wines.


grapes on the vine

Photo by: Bruce Shippee

Bruce Shippee

grapes on the vine

Chardonnay: This wine is the world's "it" white, which is usually rich and buttery but sometimes moderate in weight and intensity. It positively sings in the presence of richer fish preparations, roast or fried chicken, and dishes with butter or cream sauces.

Sauvignon Blanc: This white is popular for its bright and zesty personality. "Savvies" (as they say in New Zealand) are textbook perfect with equally light and tangy tastes, be it delicate fish such as halibut or sole, goat or feta cheeses, or citrus sauces.

Riesling: While this wine is loved by insiders, it is misunderstood by the rest of us who think that it is always sweet. Dry versions harmonize with seafood of all kinds, while those with some sweetness are famous for their affinity with spicy fare and fruit sauces.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Known as the emperor of grapes, this red is big in spirit, history and taste, coveted by connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. Cabernet makes fast friends with heavier meats, such as steak and sausage, and hits all the right notes with Roquefort and other blue cheeses.

Merlot: This moderately rich red wine can be downright delicious. Hamburgers, stews and dry cheeses, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, hit its gastronomic sweet spot.

Pinot Noir: As the darling of the last decade, Pinot is light, silky and crisp enough to pair with a galaxy of foods — and please fans of both red and white wine. It is a bull’s-eye pairing with robust fish such as grilled salmon and swordfish, as well as with poultry, pork and all but the richest pasta.

Mark Oldman
is a wine expert, acclaimed author and lead judge of the hit series The Winemakers.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Wine Varietals to Know

With our glossary in mind, let's dig deeper into the big six grape varietals.

Wine Tasting Terms to Know

Swirl your wine, breathe deeply, take a taste, and think about what comes to mind. Here is what to look for when tasting wine.

Budget Wines

Wines under $10, recommended by Michael Green

Top Turkey Tips

Guidelines for tackling the big bird.

Giada's Thanksgiving Wine Picks

Giada pairs her Thanksgiving menu with fantastic wines.

Pairing Cheese and Wine

Putting cheese and wine together successfully is a little more challenging than it might seem, although these simple tips will help ensure enjoyable pairings.

Wine Bottle Crafts

Stop wine-ing! There are many things you can do with your wine bottles after you've finished the wine. Here are a couple we came up with:

Cold-Weather Wines

"Septembral" is a poetic word for autumn and the cooler weather and richer, earthier food that come with it. These six wines fit the Septembral theme (and beyond).

Wine for Sangria

Sangria, a mixture of wine, fruit, sweetener and sometimes liquor, is capable of bringing such happiness that science should consider classifying it as an antidepressant. Here are some guidelines to make sangria as uplifting as it can be.

Giada's Holiday Wine Picks

See what wines Giada is serving for the holidays.
More from:

Celebrate with Wine

Get Cooking