WINE 101 
More: Glossary and List of Terms
Our Beginner’s Beginning Guide to Wines

In conversations about wines, we’re often asked to describe the difference between a Bordeaux and a Burgundy, how to know which wines are lighter vs. those which are more complex or which wines pair nicely with grilled meats vs. creamy pastas or cheeses. After years of traveling West coast and European wineries, we delight in sharing the following observations with you.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc
Pinot Noir
Sauvignon Blanc
Pinot Gris
Wine:   Cabernet Sauvignon [Cab-air-nay So-veen-yawN]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Australia, France, Lebanon, New Zealand, South America, United States

Details: Adapts well to various climates. This is a durable grape of deep red color. In France, it has been grown in two areas of Bordeaux, Medoc and Graves, since the 18th century. Originated as a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It is often blended with a bit of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Shiraz – the product may often be better than its parts.

And the taste? Cabernets can be hearty and rich or mellow and mild. Black currant with overtones of blackberry and mint. Takes on vanilla and oaky flavors from aging in oak barrels. Higher quality cabs age well although more slowly, developing more flavors. Aging well and slowly is a good thing.

Wine-food pairings: Cabs go well with roasted beef, lamb and goose prepared with herbs. From pairings with appetizers to desserts, they’re a versatile match for Brie, Cheddar cheeses and, yes, chocolate. A ripe cab pairs nicely with your Thanksgiving turkey.
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Wine:  Cabernet Franc [Cab-air-nay FrahN]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Originated in France. Now in Canada, Hungary, United States: California, Oregon, New York.

Details: Is most often blended with other reds producing a variety of results, as it is less tannic than its offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon. Its better versions can stand with best of blends (often in California and Oregon, a large percentage of the Meritage) and its lesser bottlings are better served cool.

And the taste? Hints of raspberries, black currant leaves, and green pepper. Ripe fruit and tobacco often come to mind. If you get on the wrong side of the dollar sign, you might pick up a slightly soapy taste.

Wine-food pairings: It is not often seen: however, the lighter, and thus served cool variety from lesser years, goes well with… asparagus! Also pairs nicely with lighter fishes. The products of the finer years go well with meats cooked in beer – a challenge for most wines. Since it is so often paired with other reds, it is versatile and can be enjoyed with a variety of dishes.
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Wine:  Burgundy [Bur-guhn-dee]

Region or grape? Region

Where itís grown: Eastern France

Details: Each sub-region of Burgundy (Bourgogne) is unique, making generalizations of these wines difficult!

And the taste? Characteristics vary greatly. A Pinot Noir typically produces rich, velvety, light- to medium-bodied wines with balanced tannins and edgy acidity. Flavors range from subdued fruit, dark cherry and linden to peppermint and leather. Dry, classic Chablis is made from Chardonnay grapes, while the freshness of each year’s new Beaujolais Nouveau is from the more fruity Gamay grape. Sample each to see which pleases your palate.

Wine-food pairings: Pinot Noir varieties go well with roasted meats, poultry and game – and rich fish, like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, especially when accented with fresh herbs and spices. Delicate cheeses too. More fruity Burgundies pair nicely with lighter fish and seafood. For the brave, try a making a cheese soufflé to serve with.
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Wine:  Pinot Noir [Pee-noe Nwahr]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Eastern France (Burgundy, see above), Chile, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, United States: California, Oregon, Washington.

Details: Pinot Noir grapes are grown around the world, but the Burgundy region of France (again, see above), California, Oregon and New Zealand are primarily considered to be the best regions with the best conditions. Pinot Noir enjoys warm days and cool nights, and the wine will reflect its growing conditions in its flavor. It is said to be one of the most difficult grapes to grow, as it is very susceptible to rot, mildew and other disease-based complications. It is also a common grape to be used in the making of Champagne and sparkling wines, although it is seldom used alone in these varieties.

And the taste? The very broad ranges of flavors, textures and bouquets make tasting Pinots an exciting mystery. It tends to be of a medium body and can be much lighter both in color and flavor than other red wines. It is less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon. It boasts both fruity and floral aromas with hints of vanilla and even spice.

Wine-food pairings: Perhaps the most reliable red to go with fish and most other games and meats, with the exception of lamb. Try it with grilled salmon topped with a mango salsa or roasted duck with a green apple relish.
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Wine:  Bordeaux [Bore-DOH]

Region or grape? Region

Where itís grown: Bordeaux, France – the largest wine-growing region in the world. Consists of five main districts.

Details: Created with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes; can be blended with other reds like Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Garnet to ruby in color.

And the taste? Generally light in flavor; may hint of blackberry, other black fruits, wood and other notes. It’s been said a classic Bordeaux has a “cigar box” aroma. Depending on your opinion of cigars, this can be desirable!

Wine-food pairings: Excellent with grilled meats, poultry and game; pairs well with rich foods and sauces, especially those prepared with red wines. Experiment also with Indian and North African dishes. Or perhaps a rich meat cassoulet or – for the extremely adventurous (both in the kitchen and at the table) – try lampreys a la bordelaise (eels stewed with their blood in a red wine sauce).
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Wine:  Syrah/Shiraz [See-rah, Shee-rahz]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Originated in the Rhone Valley, France. Also: Australia, New Zealand, United States.

Details: Called Syrah in the U.S., France and some other countries, but Shiraz in Australia and New Zealand where it is considered their finest red wine. (Petite Sirah is a cross between the Syrah grape and Durif grape, also originating in the Rhone Valley of France.)

And the taste? Hearty, medium- to full-bodied; medium to high tannic wine. Definitely affected by temperature when growing. Warmer climates bring out mellower flavors, while cooler temps entice the spice. Experience hints of blackberry, violets, herbs, pepper, smoke and leather. Even traces of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and mocha.

Wine-food pairings: Hearty foods are the best pairings here. Like grilled and dark meats, strong game and substantial, rich cheeses. Also try with Indian, Mexican and other bold flavors. It is hard to beat a good Syrah and a nice, rare filet of either beef or bison. For a truly comforting meal on a winter’s night, try pairing with a shepherd’s pie.
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Wine:  Chianti [Ki-AHN-tee]

Region or grape? Region

Where itís grown: The Chianti region of Italy.

Details: On the label, Riserva indicates superior quality and aging of at least three years. Inexpensive varieties of this red wine produced in the U.S. and elsewhere represent generic labels and are not a true regional Chianti. Remember the saying, you get what you pay for?

And the taste? True Chianti produces strong, bold flavors varying in style, primarily determined by aging. Light to full-bodied, Chianti is always dry. Here, taste hints of concentrated fruits, tart cherry and violet.

Wine-food pairings: Perfect with Italian foods and other dishes rich in seasonings. Think red meats and sauces, and pastas like lasagna, spinach and ricotta cannelloni, and our favorite, pizza. (For a win-win combination, try a take-out pizza from Pizza Bella in Lake Oswego – you can pick up a great, reasonably priced Chianti and sample the special pizza-of-the-day while you wait!)
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Wine:  Sangiovese [Sahn-joe-VAY-zeh]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Primary grape used in northern Italy. Also finding its way to the U.S.

Details: Will be found in Chianti, the “Super Tuscans” and Brunello di Montalcino. Many are experimenting with this wine because of its wonderful ability to blend with others to create smoother wines showing acid levels that play well with a variety of foods.

And the taste? On its own, it tends to be spicy with a smooth texture and medium body. When blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, the “Super Tuscans” are big wines, intense and plumy with some spice.

Wine-food pairings: Try any variety with grilled and roasted meats, rich pastas, sausages. A rich meaty lasagna with garlic bread and a “Super Tuscan” is a pairing that is hard to beat.
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Wine:  Tempranillo [Temp-rah-NEEL-yo]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Originated in Spain and Portugal on the Iberian Peninsula. Now also Australia, United States: California, Oregon, Washington

Details: Tempranillo does best in cooler regions and is not particularly fond of dry or hot weather. It has little resistance to pests so it can be a bit problematic to produce. It is often blended with other grapes, like varietals that are low in sugar content and acid level. It is the most important grape in Spain and is the major grape in Rioja reds.

And the taste? True Spanish Tempranillo produces wines that are medium in body and high in acid. The flavors are generally reminiscent of plum and black currant. Although it can be consumed while young, it is typically best when aged, especially in oak.

Wine-food pairings: While in Spain, try the Catalan dish of rabbit cooked with wine and herbs and ask your servers to recommend their favorite Tempranillo. Typically, it goes well with a variety of foods, but to be on the safe side, error on the side of medium to highly flavorful foods, rather than lighter fare. Even a roasted leg of lamb can pair nicely.
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Wine:  Madeira [Mah-DER-ah]

Region or grape? Region

Where itís grown: Portugal.

Details: Named after the Portuguese island on which it’s produced, in the late 1700s this wine was placed in pipes to serve as ballast in the holds of ocean-going ships. Exposed to extreme heat and constant rocking, this originally light, acidic wine gained a depth of flavor, softness and pleasant burnt quality.

And the taste? Produced from one of four varieties of grapes and labeled as such -- Sercial: very dry, light color; Verdelho: medium-dry, golden color; Bual: medium-sweet, velvety, dark gold to brown; Malmsey: sweet, chestnut brown (made from the original grape). Often “refreshed,” meaning the next year’s wine includes some of the previous year’s wine to preserve a consistent flavor. (Think sourdough bread.) The grades of Madeira are: Reserve, five years or older; Special Reserve, 10+ years; and Extra Reserve, 15+ years.

Wine-food pairings: Goes wonderfully with savory dishes, poultry, mushrooms and cheeses, like Fontina, and in dessert sauces. This versatile wine may be served before dinner, with the richer Madeiras as an after-dinner beverage, the lighter ones as a dessert wine and the heavier varieties as a dessert cordial. Additional suggestions: With salted almonds before dinner and, at Christmas/holiday time, a perfect pairing for traditional dishes, like plum pudding or mincemeat pie.
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Wine:  Port

Region or grape? Neither – it is a type of fortified wine made from either red grapes (mainly Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Tempranillo, Touriga Francesca, Touriga Nacional) or white grapes (Esgana-cao, Folgasao, Malvasia, Rabigato, Verdelho, Viosinho).

Where itís grown: Originally, all port was produced in Portugal and is strictly regulated by the Instituto do Vinho do Porto. Now, also: Australia, France, United States: California, Oregon.

Details: Port can be either red or white. Both varieties are typically sweeter, thicker, richer and have a higher alcohol content than most other wines. This is accomplished by the addition of distilled grape spirits (like brandy) to fortify the wine and halt fermentation before the all the sugar is converted into alcohol. There are many varieties. The two most popular reds are Tawny, which is aged in wooden barrels up to 10, 15, 20 and 30 years, and Ruby, which is fermented in wood and aged in glass, preserving the wine’s red color. White Port is generally served chilled as an aperitif.

And the taste? Ummm… Sweet, thick, strong, fruity.

Wine-food pairings: If it is white, you will most likely see it alone or with cheeses before dinner, as an aptertif. The reds are typically served after dinner. Try it with a plate of strong flavored cheeses, such as Sharp Cheddar, Blue and Stilton, or with a bittersweet chocolate cake or a rich chocolate budino. If you’re shying away from desserts, an assortment of high quality nuts pairs nicely with most Ports.
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Wine:  Zinfandel [Zin-fahn-DELL]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Originated in Italy. Also: United States.

Details: Deep red, bordering on black. Grows best in cool, coastal
{A side note: After wine was reported to have medicinal benefits and
its boom began in the U.S. in the ‘80s, white wine gradually became
more popular. Thus winemakers with acres of Zin grapes were driven to
produce a “White Zinfandel” – technically a blush or rose´ rather than
a white wine. As it’s produced from the Zinfandel varietal, it is pale
in color as skins are quickly removed after the grapes are crushed.
Considered by some to be a starter wine for those uninitiated in the
appreciation of finer wines.}

And the taste? Always structured but varies from light to
heavier, full-bodied and from dry to sweet. This is a spicy, peppery
wine with hints of fruit: berries, plums, raisins and dark

Wine-food pairings: Goes well with food considered “American,” like
pizza and hearty sandwiches, but is substantial enough to accompany
game, spicy dishes, red sauces and Asian cuisine. Plays well with
high-acid foods, like tomatoes and citrus.
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Wine:  Chardonnay [Shar-doe-nay]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: This is the only grape allowed to be grown in the Chablis region of France. Also: Australia, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, United States. (Originated in Lebanon.)

Details: Over the past 40 years, this white wine’s popularity has grown tremendously, particularly after California winemakers began production. Vines are easy to grow and supply a high yield. Also used in production of high quality, sparkling French wines and champagnes.

And the taste? Chardonnays can be simple to complex, dry to light or semi-sweet, depending on its region of growth and fermentation. If grown in France’s Burgundy region, chards are likely to be complex, long-lived and steely. Outside of France, they tend to be big, creamy and oaky or dry, buttery and fruity, like the California chards. Flavors range from a wide variety of fruits to butterscotch, honey, spice, nuts and, of course, oak. Refer to bottles’ labels as quality can range greatly.

Wine-food pairings: When dry, goes well with poultry, seafood, egg dishes and creamy sauces. Can pair nicely with a light grilled or smoked red meat. The more complex, buttery Chards with a full-mouth feel pair nicely with more hearty dishes, like lobster thermidor, duck a´ la orange, guacamole or a creamy coconut curry. Good cheeses to go with Chards? Gruyere, Provolone and Brie.
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Wine:  Sauvignon Blanc [So-veen-yawn BlahN]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, South Africa, United States (also known in the U.S. as a Fume Blanc).

Details: This is a green-skinned grape. In France, its susceptibility to noble rot makes it ideal for producing the most lovely Sauternes. A very popular varietal in New Zealand where it has achieved much critical acclaim. Can be blended with Semillon to round out the flavor.

And the taste? Easily recognized by its grassy, gooseberry flavors and its bone-dry style. Can be slightly sweet and tropical and has even had the description of “cat’s pee on a mulberry bush”! [Note: Amazingly, this is desirable.]

Wine-food pairings: Best chilled slightly with fish or cheese, green vegetables, spicy foods, dishes with lemon. And for the parsnip lover, you have found your match!
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Wine:  Viognier [Vee-ohn-yay]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Historically, almost exclusively grown in France. Now also being seen in Australia and the U.S.: California, Oregon, Washington

Details: At one time, a very common grape and then became rare. Now is being planted much more generously in areas around the world. It tends to be expensive, particularly the original perfumy version from the northern Rhone.

And the taste? Fruity with a nice bit of spice. The Condrieu variety yields a wine that is notably full bodied, almost fat, yet still dry and is thought to best exhibit the complete array of blossoms, fruits and musks that make it so desirable. It should be noted that keeping these wines too long may cause them to lose a good deal of their floral aromas, which is what makes this wine particularly unique.

Wine-food pairings: It can be somewhat difficult to match with food, but the richness of both crab and lobster are sure winners. Also, try scallops sautéed with saffron or roasted pork generously spiced with rosemary.
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Wine:  Riesling [REESE-ling]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Germany, since the 14th Century. Also: Australia, Austria, Canada, the

Alsace region of France, New Zealand, United States.

Details: A late-ripening white grape with only a moderate yield, which may be reflected in this wine’s price. Ages well. The grape has many names: Weisser Riesling, Rheinriesling, Riesling Renano and Johannisberg Riesling.

And the taste? Typically a sweeter, zesty wine, it balances fruit and steely acidity. Varies from dry and crisp to full-bodied sweet. Hints of apple, peach, melon, honeysuckle, floral, honey, musk and light spice. Is definitely affected by growing region: German Rieslings, more tart; Californian, drier and more melon flavor. Cheaper offerings may be harsh; higher quality, more expensive ones more sweet, complex and delicate. Again, it’s what you’re willing to pay.

Wine-food pairings: Considered the most versatile white wine to pair with foods. [Read: plays well with everyone.] Is an excellent aperitif, goes nicely with all cuisines except perhaps the most hearty and is lovely served as a dessert wine. Think stir fry, sushi, your Chinese carry-out, Caesar salad or a variety of fish, particularly those that are smoked.
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Wine:  Gewurztraminer [Geh-VERTZ-trah-mee-nur]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Canada, France (especially Alsace), Germany, Italy, New Zealand, United States (mostly California, New York, Oregon, Washington).

Details: Characterized as an aromatic wine grape, it is noted for its floral fragrance. Flourishes in cooler climates. Can also be produced as a late harvest dessert wine.

And the taste? Can be completely dry to semi-dry. Strong smell of lychees on the bouquet.

Wine-food pairings: Considered to be one of the better wines to go with curries and Asian cuisine, particularly spicy foods. Some might say that it is best with a delicate and rich foie gras. Perhaps Munster cheese and Gewurztraminer on a spring afternoon…
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Wine:  Pinot Gris [Pee-noe Gree]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy (where it’s referred to as Pinot Grigio), New Zealand, United States (primarily: California, Oregon, Washington).

Details: Grows best in cool climates. Related to Pinot Noir. The grape has a grayish white fruit hence the name. Originated in the Middle Ages in Burgundy, then spread to other countries.

And the taste? The varieties differ and can be yellow to copper pink in color, light to full bodied, rich, lean, crisp, acidic, more fruity, less fruity – from bone dry to richly sweet. It is difficult to generalize due to the wide range of locations where it is grown

Wine-food pairings: Also due to the variety of styles, it pairs well with a variety of foods. Dennis and Donna McFall of West Coast Wine Cellars enjoy Pinot Gris with fresh, grilled northwest Salmon. It also goes well with a cold brunch consisting of fruit salads, green salads, cold spicy sesame noodles and a chilled onion flan. Drier versions are a nice accompaniment to linguine with a creamy parmesan sauce or mushroom-filled ravioli. A sweeter Pinot Grigio will pair better with foie gras.
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Wine:  Muscat [Moos-caht]

Region or grape? Grape

Where itís grown: Australia, Austria, Chile, France, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, United States. [Varieties also pop up in other locales.]

Details: This “family” produces many grapes with big yields. Generally very sweet and floral but can also be dry. Known as Muscato in Italy and Moscatel in Spain. The number of varieties of this grape suggests that it is very old.

And the taste? One of the few wines that makes you think “grapes” when you taste it, whether it is dry, sweet, still, sparkling or fortified. Sometimes has a hint of orange, rose, musk. The fortified versions often taste of raisins.

Wine-food pairings: This versatile, lovely wine is as different as the various areas that produce it. If you are in France, you may wish to drink your fortified Muscat as an aperitif. The darker and sweeter Muscats of the Australian variety can complement the strongest of chocolate desserts and truly go well with ice creams. The fizzy, sweet Italian Muscatos (think Asti) can be very versatile and pair nicely with a fresh fruit salad. The orangey Californian Muscats can be served alone as an after-dinner drink or with a dessert that is not as sweet as the wine.
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  This is not a complete list of every wine region, grape or type. Please feel free to send us your thoughts, observations, additions and menu suggestions.
See our “Contact Us"” page.
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We are always looking to expand our own knowledge and that of our clients.
We look forward to hearing from you.

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West Coast Wine Cellars | 01606 SW Carey Lane, Portland, OR 97219 | (503) 517-2715 | CCB# 191442