7 Types of Wine to Know (Even If You’re Just a Casual Drinker)

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You know what’s overwhelming? Shopping for wine. Any given wine store could carry hundreds of bottles, so how are you supposed to choose? (Hint: It has nothing to do with how pretty the label looks, although, guilty.)

We couldn’t possibly explain every single varietal out there, so we’ll save that for our TED Talk. Instead, here’s a crash course on seven major types of wine, including basic reds and whites, but also more adventurous options like fortified and *orange* wine.

Meet the Experts

But first, some wine 101

We probably don’t need to tell you that wine is made by fermenting grape juice—but these aren’t your standard snacking grapes. Wine is made from either white grapes, which look green in color, or black grapes, which are reddish or purple in appearance. Other factors that affect the final outcome of a bottle are complex and include how long it’s aged, what type of vessel it’s aged in, the climate in which the grapes are grown, how long the juice sits with the skins, and more.

4 Shopping Tips to Help You Find the Best Bottle

  • Shop at a dedicated wine store, if possible. While there’s nothing wrong with grocery store vino, a wine shop will have the most varied selection of bottles from small producers. (Plus, the expert help you can get there is indispensable.)
  • Don’t use price as an indicator of quality. There are a ton of factors that go into the price of a bottle of wine, but it’s not necessarily an indicator of how good the contents will taste. We’ve tasted under-$15 bottles that were totally delish.
  • Consider the geography. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but wines that come from cooler climates tend to be lighter and more acidic than those from warm climates, which tend to be bigger, bolder and higher in alcohol. That’s because grapes grown in warmer climates produce more natural sugars during the growing season, and sugar converts to alcohol.
  • When in doubt, ask for help. The folks running your local wine store are there for a reason: They love wine, and they're often happy to help. Give specifics if you can, like previous wines you’ve loved, what you’re serving it with and your budget.

The Best Types of Wine to Serve with 9 Classic Holiday Foods

The 7 Key Types of Wine to Know

Here’s what you should know about the basic types of wine before you hit the store.

types of wine red wine
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1. Red Wine

Red wine is made from black grapes, and it gets its hue (which can range from a light ruby to a deep oxblood) from fermenting with the grape skins. This also imparts tannins, which you can thank for that dry, astringent mouthfeel when you sip a particularly bold red wine.


  • Lighter bodied reds, which have lower alcohol, fewer tannins, higher acidity and red fruit flavors (like pinot noir and gamay)
  • Medium bodied reds, which have moderate alcohol and tannins, and a blend of red and dark fruit flavors (like grenache, Côtes du Rhône and merlot)
  • Full bodied reds, which have higher alcohol, bold tannins and black fruit and spicy flavors (like cabernet sauvignon, malbec and syrah)

Food Pairings:

Pairing red wine (and all wine, for that matter) is largely a matter of preference, but there are a few guidelines to follow if you’re just starting out. Bold, full-bodied reds pair well with hearty foods (like red meat or slow-cooked, rich dishes). Lighter reds are versatile and can pair with pasta, pizza and even poultry.

Serving Tips:

Again, how you serve the wine depends on its specifics, but in general, you should serve red wine just below room temperature, around 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, especially if it’s a high-tannin bottle (otherwise it could come off bitter). But lighter, higher acidity reds can be delicious with a chill. The pros (and home stores) will tell you that you need a “red wine” glasses for serving, but in our humble opinion, any wine glass will do.

types of wine white wine
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2. White Wine

On the other hand, white wine can be made from both white and black grapes—confusing, right? The key here is that white wine is fermented without the skins, which is why it’s pale in color and low in tannins. It can range from crisp to buttery, depending on the wine.


  • Light bodied white wine, which is crisp and acidic and can range from citrusy to herbaceous (like pinot grigio, albariño, sauvignon blanc and vinho verde)
  • Full bodied white wine, which is creamier and bolder in flavor and usually aged in oak (like Chardonnay, viognier and sémillon)

Food Pairings:

Just like red wine, you can technically pair white wine with anything you please, but it lends itself well to seafood and fish, poultry and salty snacks or spicy dishes.

Serving Tips:

White wine will taste best with a chill, about 49 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because, as wine educator and author of The Wine Bible Karen MacNeil explains, cool (not freezing) temperatures highlight white wine’s acidity and make it taste fresh and light.

types of wine rose wine
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3. Rosé Wine

Rosé starts like red wine with black grape juice and skins, but the skins are removed after a short period of time. The result? A blush color, low tannins and a crowd-pleasing, easy to pair flavor. Rosé can be made from any type of black grape, and its exact flavor will depend on the varietal and where it was made.


  • Provence-style rosés, which are typically very pale pink with a fruity, zesty flavor profile
  • Rosado, which is a Spanish style of rosé that’s usually deeper pink with a light, fresh flavor
  • Rosato, an Italian rosé that ranges from light and delicate to bold, depending on the region it’s made in

Food Pairings:

Rosé can pair with a wide range of foods depending on its style. Light, crisp rosés play nice with salty or spicy food, cheese, and seafood, while juicier rosés can hold their own when paired with pizza, pasta and poultry.

Serving Tips:

Like white wine, rosé is best served with a chill to enhance its refreshing factor.

types of wine orange wine
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4. “orange” Wine

Orange is a bit of a misnomer, because these wines can range from a deep gold to a light straw color (and they have nothing to do with the citrus fruit). According to wine writer Marissa Ross, you can think of them like white wines made in the style of a rosé or red wine, but with white grapes: The juice ferments with the skin for a short period of time, imparting tannins like a red, but retaining the crisp, dry taste of a white.


  • Like rosé, orange wine can vary depending on the grapes it’s made with and the country it hails from, but can taste sour, tannic and dry with notes of honey, bruised apple, sourdough bread and even wood varnish.

Food Pairings:

Because they’re nuttier, bolder and more tannic, skin-contact whites can be paired with heartier poultry, pork or even beef dishes, but also taste nice alongside lighter fare.

Serving Tips:

Since every bottle is slightly different, you’ll have to experiment to find a sweet spot for serving temperature, but in general, orange wines can be served slightly warmer than whites (but not warm).

types of wine sparkling wine
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5. Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is any wine that contains carbonation. It can be white, rosé or even red, and the bubbles are (usually) a naturally occurring result of fermentation.


  • Champagne, a sparkling white wine from the Champagne region of France
  • Cava, a Spanish sparkling white
  • Prosecco, an Italian sparkling white
  • Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine
  • Sparkling rosé

Food Pairings:

Cheese, seafood, fresh fruit and salad are natural pairs for bubbly, as well as spicy and fatty food, since the bubbles scrub your palate.

Serving Tips:

Sparkling wine should always be served cold, partly because it enhances the effect of the carbonation and partly because if you try to open a warm bottle of sparkling wine, it’s almost guaranteed to explode. (Cool science lesson: It’s because, as the University of California, Santa Barbara Science Line explains, cold liquid can hold onto more carbon dioxide.) For the safest and easiest way to open a bottle, read on here.

types of wine dessert wine
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6. Dessert Wine

Here’s where the lines start to blur: Dessert wines and fortified wines (more on those in a second) are often lumped together because they’re both on the sweet side. Dessert wines are broadly defined as any sweet wine, usually served after a meal.


  • Moscato
  • Sauternes, a French sweet wine made from white grapes affected by noble rot, a fungus that concentrates the grape sugars
  • Tokaji, a Hungarian sweet wine made from grapes affected by noble rot
  • Ice wine

Food Pairings:

These sweet wines pair best with other sweet foods, hence their name.

Serving Tips:

Since they’re intensely sweet and higher in alcohol, dessert wines are usually served in smaller wine glasses. White dessert wines are typically served well chilled, while red dessert wines are served closer to room temp.

types of wine fortified wine
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7. Fortified Wine

Fortified wine is any wine that’s fortified with an addition of a distilled spirit (usually brandy). It’s high in alcohol and usually sugar, and most commonly served at the end of a meal.


  • Port
  • Sherry
  • Madeira, a Portuguese fortified wine that goes through an oxidizing process during production
  • Marsala, a fortified wine produced in the Italian city of Marsala, Sicily
  • Vermouth, a fortified wine flavored with botanicals (like barks, flowers, herbs, roots and spices) and served as an apértif or cocktail ingredient

Food Pairings:

Fortified wines don’t have to be paired with food, but since they’re sweet, they’re typically served with chocolate, cheese, nuts and other dessert foods.

Serving Tips:

Some fortified wines, like Sherry, should be served slightly colder, while others, like port, can be served closer to room temperature. It often depends on whether it’s red or white.

Katherine Gillen is a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City restaurants. She used to sling sugary desserts in a pastry kitchen, but now she's an avid home cook and fanatic baker.


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...