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.
99713874

99713874

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.

Top 5 Moments from the AC Food & Wine Festival

This past weekend marked the third annual Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival, featuring numerous events that showcased the talents of Food Network and Cooking Channel personalities like Sunny Anderson, Robert Irvine, The Neelys' and Guy Fieri.

Summer Fest: Our Top 6 Fresh Herbs

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — herbs are an easy way to give low-cal flavor to many dishes. Better still, you add extra nutrients such as vitamins A and C, fiber and phytochemicals. With herbs overflowing in our backyards and in our patios, we're celebrating our favorites while they last! We polled all our contributors to find out what's on the top of their lists, plus our favorite ways to use them.

6 Ways to Make Over-the-Top Foods More Over the Top … with Bacon

Celebrate bacon and all it's done for you with Food Network's over-the-top and indulgent recipes, made better with bacon.

Top Chops

Learn more about chops and other cuts from the pork loin.

Budget Wines

Wines under $10, recommended by Michael Green

Affordable Weeknight Wines — Outsmarting Wine

Here are three wine types that will enchant any night of the week and won't break the bank.

How to Taste Wine — Outsmarting Wine

Learn how to taste wine by using these three ways to build your wine-tasting vocabulary.
More from:

Celebrate with Wine