- Flickr / Visit Finger Lakes
What is a Chardonnay supposed to taste like? How about a Nebbiolo?
Not every wine enthusiast has the time – or money – to sign up for weeks of wine classes in order to better understand what’s in their glass.
According to sommelier Jörn Kleinhans, owner of the The Sommelier Company, they don’t need to.
“I get so many phone calls where people have a hard time expressing what they’re longing for,” Kleinhans says. “They want to experience more and learn more, but it’s hard for them to find the essential terms for what they’re interested in.”
To build that knowledge, Kleinhans recommends tasting a specific, broad collection of wines that are perfectly representative of their type to “get a really good overview of the classic wines of the world. We’ve found this has been an effective way to not only get an overview of the world of wine and an education on the flavors, but also helps identify what people really like.”
He explains these aren’t necessarily the best wines out there, and they certainly aren’t the most expensive. The entire collection can be purchased for under $200.
“Each represents a distinct style and offering from the others,” he explains, “so you can say with confidence you got the full education of wine flavors in one box.”
Kleinhans recommends 10 wines:
- Flickr / Phillip Capper
Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand
Expect it to taste: Crisp, refreshing, citrusy.
“Sauvignon Blanc is one of the three important white wine flavors,” says Kleinhans. “While the original grape belongs to the Loire Valley in France, it’s an excellent value purchase to get from New Zealand. Only in New Zealand does Sauvignon Blanc have the characteristic grapefruit flavor.”
- Flickr / Leonid Mamchenkov
Chardonnay from Napa Valley, California
Expect it to taste: Creamy and rich.
“Chardonnay is on the other side of the spectrum of white wine,” says Kleinhans. “Rather than tasting refreshing and acidic and citric, it should be more creamy and mouth-filling and rich. Traditionally, Chardonnay belongs to the Burgundy region of France, but it’s a great new world experience that shows this richness in Napa Valley.”
- Flickr / allisonmseward12
Riesling from Mosel, Germany
Expect it to taste: Aromatic and semi-sweet.
“While the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are dry wines, not having the residual sugar that gives you sweetness, Riesling, as the third of the three most important white wine grapes, does have sweetness in most cases,” says Kleinhans. “It’s one of the most aromatic, perfect food pairings when it comes to spicy foods – sommeliers know that one of the most perfect food pairings is Thai curry and Riesling.”
- Flickr / Jeremy Keith
Grenache from Provence, France
Expect to taste: Dry Rosé.
“When white wine doesn’t seem appropriate or sufficient, but you’re not ready for heavier red wine, a dry rosé is the solution,” says Kleinhans. “The best rosé in the world from Provence combines the cold refreshment and acidity of white wine with the addition of small red fruit aspects that remind you of red wines, but don’t go all the way. It’s an elegant, classy opening of a light lunch in summer or early fall.”
- Flickr / sashimomura
Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast
Expect it to taste: Feminine and raspberry-perfumey.
“Pinot Noir is the gold standard flavor of the feminine side of wine,” says Kleinhans. “Its perfuminess, softness, aspects of vanilla, and reminders of raspberry as the dominating fruit make it important to have Pinot Noir as an archetype of important wine flavors.”
Merlot/Cabernet blend from Bordeaux
Expect it to taste: Silky and plummy.
“The other great wine flavor in the world that is famous on the red wine side is the Bordeaux blend,” says Kleinhans. “Pinot Noir belongs to Burgundy, and in Bordeaux the important wine is the blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. With this blend you’re tasting a silky and plummy wine from the origin place of Bordeaux, in Western France.”
- Flickr / Vaping360
Tempranillo from Rioja, Gran Reserva Bottling
Expect to taste: Cigar smoke and Cherry.
“We’ve been covering a number of different countries and collecting the most important distinctive flavor of each country,” says Kleinhans. “Going into Spain, the most important wine is Rioja – the Gran Reserva bottling is one of the great secrets, where you can buy one of the world’s high end wines at an impressive price. It’s one of the greatest Gran Reservas available. You’re looking for oak notes of cigar smoke, leather, and sawdust.”
- David Silverman / Getty Images
Nebbiolo from Piemonte, Italy
Expect to taste: Tar, roses and liquorice.
“The Nebbiolo grape belongs to the Alpine foothills in the Italian province of Piemonte,” Kleinhans says. “It also makes the great wine Barolo. Tastes of tar, roses, and hints of licorice among other herbaceous aspects make these Northern Italian wines so intriguing and so unique.”
- Flickr / Graeme Churchard
Shiraz from Barossa, Australia
Expect it to taste: Meaty and peppery.
“Moving to the most drastic red wine flavors now, we’re tasting the Australian interpretation of Syrah – Australians call it Shiraz,” says Kleinhans. ‘The most important notes are meat and pepper, and it’s wonderful dinner company with game and peppery sauces. This specific bottle at the link is one of the greatest Shiraz of all time under $20.”
- Flickr / Carlos Pacheco
Petite Sirah from Paso Robles, California
Expect it to taste: Jammy and bold.
“While it is not for everyone to have an over the top, highly alcoholic Petite Sirah, it establishes one of the extremes in our multidimensional universe of wines we’re putting together,” says Kleinhans. “We want to see the extremes: the softer tones of Italian Nebbiolo, and the extreme jammy, bold flavor of Petite Sirah. A wine that doesn’t hold anything back, it’s one of the most extreme representations of red wine-making and should be paired with bold barbecue.”