How do you like them apples? A Guide to Wine Varietals for Beginners…


When the leaves of the trees begin to change from emerald green to autumn colors of bright orange, pale yellow, burgundy and brown, we know that the end of summer has truly approached.

We take those last opportunities to dine out on the patio. We layer our clothing, never knowing if we’ll need that sweatshirt or coat or not. We head off to the apple orchards to begin picking our favorites at their peak.

“But, Carrie, it’s Wine Wednesday,” you say.

“Why apples?”

Well, because… You can learn a thing or two about grapes from apples!

When I’m doing a Wine Tasting for a group of beginners, my #1 goal is to take the intimidation out of wine. I never really know how much the tasters in the room know until I start talking with them. From time to time, I find myself haphazardly talking about Chardonnay versus Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot versus Zinfandel. Sometimes the tasters in the room seem to be following me. Other times I get blank stares. But I’m happiest when someone isn’t afraid to speak up and asks,

“But what IS a Chardonnay? I don’t understand. I hear these names all the time, but I don’t know what know what that means!”

You see, grapes are like apples.

Well, you know how there are different varieties of apples? Most people are familiar with Red Delicious, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and the ever popular Honey Crisp. You probably have a favorite of these or prefer to use a particular one in a favorite dish. {That reminds me, it’s been years since I’ve made a Baked German Apple Pancake. Digging out that recipe is now on my to-do list!} You might even prefer green to red apples. In any case, there are  hundreds of different varieties and each tastes different from one another.

Grapes are the same way.

There are white (green) and red (purple) grapes. And some are much better for wine-making than others! The grapes you see in the grocery store are generally reserved for eating, not for wine-making.

Then they are different varieties of grapes. Here are some of the most well-known:

  • Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Zinfandel (FYI – This is a RED grape!)

Many bottles of wine are labeled this way – by the grape variety, or varietal. Others, well… that’s for another post. 😉

Still, the one thing that makes grapes different from any other fruit is that it can take on the flavors of other fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, etc. At my tastings, another question I often get after we read the tasting notes is if they actually put the fruit or herbs or tobacco or {insert other descriptive aroma or flavor here} in the wine.

The answer is, “No.”

The wine varietal and wine-making technique both have a huge contribution to the finished product; but, generally speaking, no other fruits or flavors are added to fine wines. Terroir plays a major role as well. In addition to the weather each and every growing season, the grape vines may pick up hints of other vegetation growing in the same soil.

And if you aren’t sure how to describe wine now {i.e. people tell me they just smell wine or alcohol}, that’s perfectly fine! You have to start somewhere. It just means that you need to drink more some practice. Remember, The Importance of Company. By listening to others and tasting different wine varietals, you’ll be picking up those aromas and flavors on your own in no time!

Speaking of apples, I signed up for my first ever 5-mile race and it takes place at an apple orchard this fall! I’ve only run five miles twice before. What have I gotten myself in to?! 😉

Whether it’s apples or grapes, it’s almost time for harvest.

What is your favorite fall activity?


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