A basic guide to popular wines

Tips on finding wines you enjoy

Marks-and-Spencer-wineWine is a complex drink; it’s enjoyed by so many, but understood by so few. The truth is, even people who have loved and enjoyed wine for decades often have no idea where to start when trying to choose a nice bottle for dinner! Basically, people tend to know whether or not they enjoy a given wine, but they may not be so sure as to why or where to find similar bottles.

Becoming truly proficient in understanding and selecting wine takes a great deal of time. And if you’re interested, your best option is a course, a series of tastings, or even some wine tourism. The Telegraph has a handy list available of the top wine-tasting courses to consider. But in the meantime, here’s a brief guide to what you can expect from some popular wine varieties and which regions produce them.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a fairly strong red wine, generally thought of as having a “full” flavour with rich complements such as spice and even chocolate undertones. It’s commonly associated with France (and specifically the region of Burgundy), but in the US, California and Oregon also produce wonderful Pinot Noir.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Often viewed as a heavy, strong red wine, Cab actually comes in a number of different flavour varieties. The wine is best used as an accompaniment to rich, hearty red meat dishes. The Napa Valley in California is big on Cab, but some alternative regions, such as Chile and Australia, also produce wonderful bottles.


In terms of description and relevant regions, Merlot is very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the wine itself is a bit different, generally more closely associated with fruit. It tends to be very full-bodied, however.

Sauvignon Blanc

Crisp and fruity, Sauvignon Blanc is a refreshing white wine that most believe pairs beautifully with seafood and light chicken dishes, as well as earthy vegetable dishes. The wine is produced expertly in California, New Zealand, and most interestingly in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. That last region may sound obscure, but this country’s wine is actually becoming very popular. You can see for yourself at the Marks and Spencer wine section, where several South African bottles have won various awards such as the 2011 Vergelen Amphitheatre Sauvignon Blanc and the 2013 Zebra View Chenin Blanc. So in short, don’t snooze on these South African vintages.


An extremely popular white wine, Chardonnay is in some ways a bit richer and fuller than Sauvignon Blanc and can taste (or feel) dry in many cases. Food pairing works similarly to Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay is truly produced all over the world in the most popular regions.

Pinot Grigio

This light white wine is extremely refreshing and one of the best popular wines to drink on its own with no food accompaniment. It has delicate, fruity flavours. And in addition to the popular Californian and French varieties, it’s made wonderfully in Italy. For those looking for a few of Italy’s own award-winning bottles of Pinot Grigio, be on the lookout for Ecco Domani’s offering.

Again, gaining a thorough understanding of wine varieties takes time and practice. But this basic guide to the most popular wines can help you to discover some of the less well known regions where these popular wines grow!