Out & About

The Sommelier’s Cheat Sheet

Many people treat their wine choices like their coffee choice. They opt for the same thing – every single time – because they’re not fully confident in what 80% of the alternative options actually are anyway. Ristretto espresso shot any one?

However, wine varietals are far more straight forward than you think, and while understanding the subtle changes in grapes and regions may seem scary, honestly all you really need to know is how it might taste and that it didn’t come out of a box.

Below is a simple, no fuss explanation of the wines you’re most likely to find at your average local bar.

The Whites



Aromatic and citrusy, a Riesling can be anything from a tart white to a glass of alcoholic honey. It can also be a sparkling wine, just to be confusing.

Pinot Gris/ Pinot Grigio

No, one isn’t just short for the other. Pinot Gris is French and typically sweeter, Pinot Grigio is Italian and is lighter, crisp, and clean.


Chardonnay is the most diverse wine variety. If you like the idea of anything from butter in a glass to acidic stone fruit, chardonnay has your back. Oak ageing will make it taste creamier and malolactic fermentation (I promise that’s the geekiest thing I’ll say) makes the texture smoother.  

Sauvignon Blanc

Also known as “Savvy B”. First of all, what’s with people that call it that?  Anyway, “Sav Blanc” is perfectly acceptable for what is probably the first wine anyone has ever tried. Depending on the climate the grapes are grown in, the flavour can range from aggressively grassy to sickeningly sweet. If you’re ordering a New Zealand “marlbra” (marlborough people) you are basically after fermented passionfruit.

The Sparklings



Champagne is sparkling wine but remember, not all sparkling wine is Champagne. To earn this title, it has to be from the French region of the same name. Wine from this region will always taste different so it’s hard to sum it up, but the one consistentcy is that it will always be expensive.


Brut sparkling wine is the most common style of (affordable) bubbles, offering a typically crisp, dry palate appeal.


Compared to its zealously effervescent cousins, most of these wines tend to be less bubbly, much lighter in body and fresh but not necessarily dry.

Passion pop

Just kidding! Contrary to your eighteen-year-old self, this is not a wine varietal.

The Reds


Cab merlot

A blend of cab sav and merlot at around a 70/30 ratio. Wine aficionados tend to describe it as having hints of “dark plum” and “touches of chocolate”.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Being so popular, the cab sav is planted widely and changes dramatically. It can be aromatic, acidic and powerful, or taste like black-currants, cigar boxes, pencils and dark chocolate.


Merlot is smooth and dry but can also be a little fruity. It lacks backbone however, and Shiraz lovers will often liken it to wine tasting water.


Big and bold, Shiraz wine’s common flavours include blackberry, boysenberry, pepper and clove. 

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Michelle is a self-described epicure who loves depriving herself of sleep and then complaining about it. When she’s not writing, acting, or biting off more than she can chew, you can find her at The Lobo Plantation holding a rum old-fashioned.

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