Wines are generally named after one of two things. In some cases, they’re named after the place where they originated. In other situations, they’re named after the grape from which they’re made. We’ve put together a general list of the most common wines currently on the market.
Barbera: After a reputation-gutting scandal over this red wine in the ’80’s, Barbera has lately become the third-most popular red wine around the world. What was the scandal, you ask? Well, let’s just say that any vintage from the mid-eighties should be passed over: some Italian vineyards got caught putting methanol into some of the weaker wines. Don’t worry, though: after thirty deaths and a handful of cases of blindness were reported, a dozen arrests were made, wine from the offending vineyards was pulled off the shelves, and the wine’s reputation has gradually been restored.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabs might not be as popular as its less-tannic brother Merlot, but at least no one’s ever written “I’m not going to have any F***ing Cabernet Sauvignon!” Come to think of it, while the slightly stronger taste in Cabernet fits the curse a little better, it’s name is a little too pretty to fit that sort of rant.
Chianti: Invented in the 19th century in Italy, Chianti a relatively new player on the wine scene, the squat-bottled red blend known as Chianti is known to go well with red wines and, in at least one case, human liver. That said, unless you’re a census-taker, you’re probably not at risk of ending up on a plate.
Merlot: When people ask for a glass of red wine, most of the time they’re referring to Merlot. Considering that this French grape variety is also the most widely used in blends, it’s also the easiest to make fun of.
Nebbiolo: One of the grand poobahs of Italian wines, this red Italian variety is known for its complex bouquet of flavors.
Petite Sirah: Even though it gets its name from France, the Petite Sirah, a red named because the grapes themselves are smaller than average, the wines that come from them are more typically made in California.
Pinot Noir: The black grapes that make Pinot Noir started in France and have since spread all over the world. Not only is the wine among the most romantic in the world, but it also occasionally serves double-duty: the grapes are also used in some vintages of Champagne.
Sangiovese: This red’s been known in Italy since the Roman Empire, but hasn’t really caught fire on this side of the pond. Those who’ve never heard of it shouldn’t feel too bad, though – if you’ve ever had Chianti, you’ve had it because it’s part of the blend.
Syrah/Shiraz: Shiraz is dry, crisp, and furthermore, it goes perfectly as well with Prime Rib, as it does with burgers too.
Tempranillo: This Spanish red gets its name from the way its grape ripens earlier than others in its native region.
Chablis: Chablis could be called the Sole Sovereign of Chardonnay. Named after the region in France, Chablis Charddonnays are widely considered the best of their kind.
Chardonnay: Really? You don’t know what chardonnay is? Okay, fine. Most of the time when people ask generally for a white wine, they meant that they want a chardonnay. This crisp white is the single most popular of its kind in the world and originated, like many of its alcoholic brethren, from the Burgundy region in eastern France
Chenin Blanc: The Chenin Blanc grape was first grown and cultivated in the Loire Valley, again in the region where our beloved, crepe-eating, beret-wearing brethren were born. The grape’s acidity makes it very versatile. It’s used all over the world as an ingredient in variations of sparkling and dessert wines, as well as one of its own.
Gewurztraminer: This wine originated in the Alsace region of France, which explains its German name. The region that produces this “off dry” white wine was traded back and forth between Germany and France until the first World War.
Muscat: This versatile grape is most popular for wine in Chile, but both Californian and French vineyards have been known to make everything from straight white to sparkling to dessert wines.
Pinot Blanc: Ah!, Full-bodied whites like these are wonderful and rare. For those who think all they like are reds, they should try this one.
Pinot Gris: And here’s another one. Those of you who’ve looked at this listing and have a question mark floating over your head, not to worry. It’s also known as Pinot Grigio in Italy – which just about everybody’s heard.
Riesling: This is Germany’s crown jewel wine grape, producing a white that, depending on how it’s cultivated, is either sparkling, dry, or sweet.
Sauvignon Blanc: This crisp, dry white started in southwest France, but has sometimes been so popular that at least one vineyard in California re-named their version “Sauvignon Fume” just to increase sales. It worked.
Semillon: How the Australians decided to make wine out of their French grape is a mystery that can only be solved by the folks from down under.
Viognier: The folks in the Rhone Valley who make Condrieu love this grape so much that it’s the only grape allowed inside of the wine. Why they don’t call the wine by its grape name is probably just a matter of ego, but we’re not going to speculate too much bout that.
Madeira: In order to get the good version of this normally brandy-infused wine is sold out of Portugal, but for those of you who don’t want to worry about customs or shipping and handling can rest easy. You can usually find the cheaper versions (which can still e mighty tasty) for lass than $10 a bottle.
Port: Another Portuguese fortified wine, this sweet, heavy beverage is one of the most amazing desserts you’ll ever drink.
Sherry: According to Spanish law, all wines with the name “Sherry” Have to come from the Sherry (“ahem, “xerez”) region of that country. The people who drink it straight have more fortitude than I do, but I can easily see it put in for cooking.
Vermouth: As a drink by itself, it tastes something like heavy, liquid nothing. It’s known as a common ingredients in Manhattans and martinis, and fits there perfectly.