Food-wine pairing: dry versions go well with fish, chicken and pork dishes.
Districts: the classic grape of the Rhine and Mosel, riesling grows in all wine districts. Germany’s great Rieslings are usually made slightly sweet, with steely acidity for balance. Riesling from Alsace and the Eastern USA is also excellent, though usually made in a different style, equally aromatic but typically drier (not sweet). California Rieslings are much less successful, usually sweet and lacking in acidity for balance.
Typical taste in varietal wine: Riesling wines are much lighter than Chardonnay wines. The aromas generally include fresh apples. The riesling variety expresses itself very differently depending on the district and the wine making. Rieslings should taste fresh. If they do, then they might also prove tastier and tastier as they age.
Food-wine pairing: it is a good choice for fish and chicken dishes.
Districts: chardonnay makes the principle white wine of Burgundy (France), where it originated. Chardonnay is grown with success in most viticultural areas under a variety of climatic conditions.
Typical taste in varietal wine: often wider-bodied (and more velvety) than other types of dry whites, with rich citrus (lemon, grapefruit) flavours. Fermenting in new oak barrels adds a buttery tone (vanilla, toast, coconut, toffee). Tasting a USD 15 Californian Chardonnay should give citrus fruit flavours, hints of melon, vanilla, some toasty character and some creaminess. Burgundy whites can taste very different.
Food-wine pairing: a versatile food wine for seafood, poultry, salads.
Districts: New Zealand produces some excellent Sauvignon Blancs. Some Australian Sauvignon Blancs, grown in warmer regions, tend to be flat. French origin sauvignon blanc is grown in the Bordeaux district, blended with semillon. It is also grown in the upper Loire valley.
Typical taste in varietal wine: generally lighter than Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc normally shows a herbal character. The dominating flavours range from apple, pear, and gooseberry through to tropical fruits of melon, mango, and blackcurrant. Quality unoaked Sauvignon Blancs will display smokey qualities; they require bright aromas and a strong acid finish.
Easy to drink. Its softness has made it an "introducing" wine for new red-wine drinkers.
Food-wine pairing: any will do.
Districts: a key player in the Bordeaux blend, merlot is now also grown on the US West Coast, Australia, and other countries.
Typical taste in varietal wine: black-cherry and herbal flavours are typical. The texture is round but a middle palate gap is common.
Widely accepted as one of the world’s best varieties. Cabernet sauvignon is often blended with cabernet franc and merlot. It usually undergoes oak treatment.
Food-wine pairing: best with simply prepared red meat.
Districts: cabernet sauvignon is planted wherever red wine grapes grow except in the Northern fringes such as Germany. It is part of the great red Médoc wines of France, and among the finest reds in Australia, California and Chile.
Typical taste in varietal wine: full-bodied, but firm and grippingwhen young. With age, rich currant qualities change to that of pencil box. Bell pepper notes remain. Vanilla notes come not from the fruit but from the oak treatment.
One of the noblest red wine grapes — difficult to grow, rarely blended, with no roughness.
Food-wine pairing: excellent with grilled salmon, chicken, lamb and Japanese dishes.
Districts: makes the great reds of Burgundy in France, and good wines from Austria, California, Oregon, and New Zealand.
Typical taste in varietal wine: very unlike Cabernet Sauvignon. The structure is delicate and fresh. The tannins are very soft; this is related to the low level of polyphenols. The aromatics are very fruity (cherry, strawberry, plum), often with notes of tea-leaf.