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Introduction to Wine Selection

N. Jay Sorensen, MBA RD
Last Updated: November 09, 2014

Wine comes in many varieties with a match for every meal and taste preference. A dozen bottle wine cellar assures you that you will have a wine on hand to complement almost any meal. To choose a wine for your special meal go to the Food Wine Pairings web page to match your meal with the appropriate wine.

Light Bodied Wines

Riesling: Food friendly dry and sweet Rieslings are infused with tangy fruit flavors, most notably apricot and apple. Austria, Germany, Alsace, California, Washington, New York and Australia produce fine Rieslings.

Gewurztraminer: Although grown mostly in temperate climes (California, Washington, Alsace, Germany), it evokes tropical spices and is a good match for spicy, tropical foods such as Thai dishes.

Chenin Blac: Rich and ripe in the Loire’s Sauvennieres and Vouvray regions, these can be dry and finty elsewhere.

Medium Bodied Wines

Sauvignon Blanc: While this tiny grape finds sublime expression in Loire’s Sancerre and Pouilly Fume regions, splendid offerings also come from California, Washington, Bordeaux and New Zealand. It’s always tangy and often citrusy (lime, grapefruit), with more depth than you might expect from its opening crispness.

Pinot grigo: Prevalent in Italy and recently (as pinot gris) in Oregon, this tends to be crispy, almond-scented wine.

Semillon: A foundation for the great dessert wine Sauternes, this grape generally is blended with other whites.

Full Bodied Whites

Chardonnay: Rich fruit flavors are this grape’s hallmark, wherever it’s grown. Wines from Burgundy (Pouilly Fuisse, Montrachet, Chablis, Meursault) are generally crisper and softer than New World versions, which tend to be buttery and oaky (often to a fault) but still fruit-packed in California and Australia.

Viognier and Sancerre: From the Rhone and Loire, these floral, opulent offerings are a real mouthful.

Pinot Blanc: Alsace and California produce fionr renditions of this lush, pear and melon laced wine.

Here is a suggested dozen bottle wine cellar

  • 1 bottle Rose Anjou from France or Zinfandel Rose or Cabernet Rose from California

  • 1 bottle Beaujolais from France or from California

  • 2 bottles (red) Burgundy or Pinot Noir from California

  • 2 bottles Chardonnay from California or Chablis from France

  • 2 bottles Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot from California or a St. Emolion, Medoc, Margaux or Pauillac from Bordeaux

  • 1 sweet, but not fortified wine, a Barsac or Sauternes from Bordeaux, a Riesling Ausiuse from Germany or a late harvest Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or White Riesling from California

  • 1 Mosell Qualitatswein or Kabinett, which indicates the name of a city or village and the name of a vineyard in that city or village

  • 1 Rhine Qualitatswein or Kabinett, which indicates the city or village and the vineyard, or a Johannisberg Riesling or White Riesling from California

  • 1 Sauvignon Blan from Washington or California or an Appellation Graves from Bordeaux

Light Bodied Reds

Pinot noir: This cool climate lover finds its greatest expression in Burgundy, but central and northern California and Oregon are making

Barbera and Dolcetto: The first of these two Piedmont (northern Italy) staples is starting to move in a more full-bodied direction, but both are primarily friendly, simple wines. 

Pinotage: This berry-laden South African hybrid is often complex.

Medium Bodied Reds

Merlot: Most California renditions are overly juicy and don’t compare to the heights that this plumy red reaches in Bordeaux.

Sangiovese: This rustic, spicy, acidic grape is the base for virtually all great Tuscan reds (Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino).

Grenache: The bass for crisp, rich teauneuf-du-Papes and Riojas, this toasty, fruity grape is merely so-so as a varietal.

Malbec: Argentina is producing hearty versions of what is mostly blending grape in the U.S. and France.

Full Bodied Reds

Cabernet sauvignon: Bordeaux, Napa and recently Washington state have produced the most profound versions, but Sonoma, Chile and Australia are making marks with this rich, intense wine redolent of dark fruits.

Syrah/Shiraz: Australia, California and the Rhone are nailing smoky, thick wines that are great young and age beautifully.

Zinfandel: Berries, cherries and black pepper pop out in this northern California staple.

Nebbiolo: The grape of Italy’s lush, toasty Barbarescos and Barolos hasn’t done well elsewhere.

All The Rest

Sparkling wines of note include Champagne from Francem Cava from Spain, and Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante from Italy. Only the bubblies from the Champagne region can use that designation, so American sparkling wines have designations such as demi-sec (semi-dry) and brut (very dry). Perhaps the wine world’s foremost (and most surprising) recent trend is the emergence of rose as a serious offering. Combining the delicacy of white wines with the complexity of reds, these succulent offerings are not your college era’s Mateus. Fortified wines such as Port, Muscat and Sherry ratchet up the intensity (and alcohol levels) of grapes.