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How to Master the 4 Most Common Wine Varieties in the US

Learning how to drink wine is like the first day of a new job.

At first, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing – and that can be scary and overwhelming. 

You don’t know how to use the computer programs.  You don’t know your coworkers or superiors.  You might not know your way around the building.  Someone has to show you how to do your job. 

There is a learning curve involved. 

But then, slowly, you begin to feel comfortable sitting at your computer.  You’re comfortable talking with your coworkers.  You start to feel like you are getting the hang of this job thing. 

You start to make friends with your coworkers, and they start inviting you to grab drinks after work.

Suddenly, this world that you felt so uncomfortable in is starting to make sense.  You’ve gained the knowledge you need to perform your job.  You’ve been practicing after all, by coming to work day after day and repeating the same motions until it’s become second nature.

And then it happens – you’re good at your job.  It feels like it’s all of the sudden, but you’ve been working your butt off.  You’ve taken one step, and then another, until you’ve reached your goal.

You have mastered your job, and you thought you would never feel like you knew what you were doing.

Learning about wine is the same thing.

There are so many things to know that it feels like you’ll never learn it all.  That may be true, but you can learn enough to enjoy drinking wine with confidence.

Just like learning a new job, learning about wine takes some time and practice.  You need to be willing to try new things.

But hey – you get to drink alcohol while you learn. 

What’s better than that?

So how do you know which wines to choose without wasting your money?  How do you avoid making a mistake?

You need some practice –  and some knowledge.

Some Current Statistics About Wine in the United States

  • From 2015 – 2017, the United States was the leading wine consumer in the world, with 15% of the world’s consumption of wine.
  • From 2015 – 2017, the United States was #3 in wine production in the world.
  • 40 % of Americans drink wine
  • California holds 44% of the United States’ wineries, with Washington and Oregon following at 8%
  • California makes 81% of the wine in the United States
  • Climate change is having an impact on the wine industry as wineries are forced to move to higher ground due to increased residual sugars in wines.
  • According to “The State of the Wine Industry Report 2019”, Millennials refuse to enter the premium wine market, buying consistently in the $8 – $11 range.

With the wine industry booming, it’s a good idea to know some basic facts about the 4 most common varietals in the United States.  The industry will continue see growth in the coming years.  It’s also important to pay attention to Millennials refusal to buy wine in the premium market.  As they get older and become a larger purchasing demographic, the wine industry will have to listen – and hopefully their response will be better quality wines at affordable prices. 

I am one of the first Millennials at 37, and I have a hard time spending more than $15 on a bottle of wine. But I love to try new wines.  This has led to my research of the world of buying wine online, with some pretty favorable results.  Stay tuned to future posts on the best places I have found to buy wine online for great prices.

But first, you need to have some knowledge to know what you’re looking for. 

Knowing these Varieties Will Give You Power to Master any Dinner Party – Can You Tell the Difference?

GrapeCabernet
Sauvignon
ZinfandelMerlotPinot Noir
ColorDeep RubyDeep red
with purplehue
Deep ruby/
blue
Pale ruby
SmellBlack
current,
tomato, leaf,
cedar wood,
dark spices
Licorice,
black
pepper,
cardamom,
smoke
blackberry,
baking
spices,
vanilla, smoke, tobacco
leaves, wet
Red
berries,
cherries,
violets,
leather
TasteCedar,
baking
spices, black
cherry, black
currant
Fruits,
overripe
nectarine,
raspberry,
blueberry,
blackberry,
cherry,
plums,
raisins,
tobacco,
black
pepper
Plum, black
cherry, bay
leaf,
vanilla,
chocolate,
clove
fruit flavors,
including
raspberry,
cherry,
rhubarb,
mushroom,
floral
rose
BodyFull-bodiedMedium-
bodied
Medium-
bodied
Light-
bodied
Food
Pairings
Red meat
(steaks,
burgers,
prime
rib), aged
cheddar,
stilton, and
gouda
Chicken,
pork,
beef,
lamb,
pasta,
cured meat,
gruyere,
gouda,
asiago,
blue cheese,
and
manchego
Steak,
chimichurri,
lamb, pasta
with tomato
based sauce,
gorgonzola,
brie,
Jarlsberg,
and
paremesan
Wide range of foods,
including
Salmon,
chicken,
pork, pasta,
mushrooms,
goat cheese,
feta, brie,
and Swiss
cheese
What Sets
it Apart?
It has
higher levels
of a
compound
called
Methoxy-
pyraxin,
which gives
it a
vegetable
aroma
(think bell
peppers)
It has a
big flavor
range,
from light
and fruity
to complex
to big and
bold.
It can be
grown in
both cool
and hot
climates
It has low
tannins and
medium
high acidity,
meaning it
pairs well
with a
wide variety
of foods
Why Should
I Care?
It’s the most
popular
wine in the
world. It
also has a
higher
alcohol
content, so
keep that in
mind when
you decide
who’s
driving
home.
It’s range
and
availability
give you a
lot of
options for
pairing with
food and
pleasing any
taste at an
affordable
price.
Merlot and
Cabernet
Sauvignon
are half-
siblings,
with
Cabernet
Franc as
parent
grape.
Experienced
tasters
have a hard
time telling
them apart.
Merlot is a
fraction of
the price
of
Cabernet, so
you’ll be
getting a
better value
for a wine
that tastes
basically the
same.
Because it
pairs well
with a wide
variety of
foods, it’s a
great choice
for a dinner
party or a
gift. It’s a
safe choice
at the store.
Fun FactThis grape is
the product
of natural
genetic
crossing
between
Cabernet
Franc (red
grape) and
Sauvignon
Blanc
(white
grape)
Zinfandel
is related
to Italy’s
Primitivo,
and may
actually be
the same
grape
Merlot
means
“Little Black
Bird” in
French.
It’s the
ancestor to
many grapes
including
Gamay Noir
and
Chardonnay
Good
Wines
Under $15
Columbia
Crest,
Kirkland
Napa County
Line 39,
Kirkland
Columbia
Valley

Cline
Ancient
Vines,
Layer Cake,
Sonoma
County Old
Vine
Zinfandel,
Carnivore
Cupcake
Vineyards,
14 Hands
Winery,
H3 Merlot,
Columbia
Crest
Kirkland
Carneros
Pinot Noir,
Bonterra,
Kirkland
Russian
River
Valley

Now You Can Have Confidence to Choose Wine You’ll Love

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge about the 4 most common wine varietals in the United States, you can choose your wine with confidence.

If you need a wine that can cut through rich steak, choose a Cabernet.

If you want an extremely available and fruity wine with more body to pair with a richer meal, choose a Zinfandel.

Want a great tasting wine at a lower price?  Check out the Merlot section.

If you need a light wine that pairs well with anything, choose a Pinot Noir.

Just remember that you can’t go wrong as long as you try wine.  If you don’t try different varieties, you’ll never learn what you like and don’t like.

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