What You Need to Know
- About 77 million Americans drink one.
- The alcohol content of most table wines is around 12%.
- When people will be drinking a lot, a wine with an alcohol level below 9% might work better.
Wine is popular. About 77 million Americans, or one out of three of us, drink wine. Some are social drinkers, preferring merlot to martinis. Others study it, knowing as much about wine as you know about life insurance. It’s helpful to know some basics.
In the United States, we categorize wines by the type of grape, often called varietals. Ditto Australia and New Zealand. It’s a New World thing.
In France, Italy and other parts of the Old World, they might use the same grapes, but name their wines based on geography. Burgundy, Champagne and Bordeaux are good examples.
For simplicity, we’ll talk about grape types, or varietals.
It’s the most popular varietal grown in the United States. It’s associated with white wine. “I’ll have a glass of chardonnay” is frequently heard in bars. Chardonnay is available at all price points. Plenty comes from California, and from Australian and New Zealand, too. If it’s aged in oak, it takes on a vanilla aroma.
Reasonable: California produces many. New Zealand can be a pleasant surprise for your client.
Higher-priced: France, specifically the Burgundy region, does a great job. Chablis is often a bargain compared to Puligny Montrachet and Meursault.
2. Cabernet Sauvignon
It’s the second most popular varietal grown in the United States. It’s a red wine. California cabernets are a steakhouse staple. The “cult wines” are generally cabernets.
Reasonable: California produces plenty. Wines at lower price points are often not that great. Louis Martini has a line of Signature Cabernets from places like Napa and Sonoma that are reasonable.
Higher-priced: Unfortunately, the sky is the limit in this area. Screaming Eagle is the name everyone knows. It’s at least $ 1,000 per bottle, They produce 600-plus cases a year. You won’t find it in stores, but it’s available at auction.
Those two are the most popular grape types. Because everyone drinks them, people often use the acronym ABC. ABC stands for:
- ABC — Always Buy Cabernet (Chardonnay)
- ABC — Anything But Cabernet (Chardonnay)
One of the reasons this red wine is popular is because it’s softer and easier to drink. It requires less aging. It took a hit in the film “Sideways” but is popular because it’s approachable.
Reasonable: You will find plenty of good examples in California and Australia. They are at all price points.
Higher-priced: Saint Emilion is a wine area in the Bordeaux region of France. Their wines are primarily based on Merlot, often with cabernet added. They aren’t that more expensive and can be quite good.
4. Pinot Noir
This is the grape type “Sideways” was all about. It’s a thin skinned grape that can be tricky to grow. The best examples of this red wine are in the Burgundy region of France. This is deep water from a cost perspective.
Reasonable: California does a good job, but New Zealand is the sleeper. Pinot noir wines from these regions are affordable.
Higher-priced: Venture into the Burgundy section of the wine store. Get some help. In Burgundy, operations that buy grapes from many local places and blend them together are called negociants. Louis Latour and Jadot are examples. They have location-specific wines at many price points.
5. Sauvignon Blanc
It’s an alternative to Chardonnay for white wine fans. It can have a citrus quality, perhaps reminding you of lemons (in a good way). It’s also known for grapefruit and mown grass aromas. It’s tasty.
Reasonable: New Zealand made its name on this grape. One acknowledged as among the finest is Cloudy Bay. It should be under $30.