The CollegeCandy Guide to Wine

After one too many plastic cups of Pabst Blue Ribbon, I’ve moved on to wine as my new drink of choice. But, like beer, there are many kinds of bad wine that are too easy to accidentally drink. So what makes a good wine? And what’s the difference between a chardonnay and a Cabernet?

Here’s the rundown on the mot popular kinds of wine and what to drink them with.


Cabernet Sauvignon is produced mainly in France and California. This red is what’s called “full bodied,” meaning it’s got a rich, strong flavor of dark fruits like black current. The best Cabernets taste a bit earthy and dry and they tend to get better with age, so pick-up a bottle with the earliest date (as in, 2003 rather than 2008).

Pair with red meat, grilled vegetables, or pasta with red sauce.

Merlot is arguably the most popular red wine. Merlot can range from medium to full-bodied and is high in alcohol and low in acidity. Flavors include plum and chocolate (yum!). Grown all over the world, this wine is easy to enjoy.

Pair with pasta with red sauce, beef, or grilled or smoky meats.

Pinot Noir is made from a velvety grape that is one of the hardest to grow, which makes a good pinot great and a bad pinot terrible. A good pinot will be complex, with flavors ranging from black cherries to earthy spices. Pinot Noir grapes traditionally come from Burgundy, France, but are now being perfected in Oregon and California.

Pair with salmon, pasta, or pork.

Zinfandel is an up-and-coming wine. The fancier Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon wines often overshadow this red, but California growers have started to turn Zinfandel into their pet project. Flavors can range from light fruits to peppery fruits.

Pair with spicy or highly seasoned foods.


Chardonnay is one of the most popular whites and the grapes for this wine are grown all over the world. This wine is slightly dry with some acidity and can have flavors of figs, peaches, and/or honey.

Pair with seafood, grilled fish, chicken, or pork.

Pinot Blanc is a bit simpler than a Chardonnay, and a younger Pinot Blanc is better than an older one because they don’t respond too well to aging. This wine is dry with high acidity, and it offers a hint of apples and spice. The grapes for this wine grow well in the Alsace region of France and in California.

Pair with vegetable-based dishes roast chicken, fish, or pork.

Sauvignon Blanc is sharp, acidic, and light- to medium-bodied. This white wine can taste of grass and herbs (in a good way, promise!) or of grapefruit, and it can be drunk when it’s young or aged, both taste good. Look for a Sauvignon Blanc that comes from a warmer climate for a fruitier, melon flavor. This grape grows well in northeastern Italy, California, and New Zealand, but the best ones are from France’s Loire Valley and Bordeaux region.

Pair with chicken, fish, vegetarian cuisine, or Asian food.

When in doubt, don’t be shy about asking a clerk in a good supermarket (like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods) or go into a specialty wine shop and ask for a suggestion. And check out, each week they’ve got a new deal on wine. This week, it’s two bottles of Little Vineyards 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon for $45 (one bottle usually retails for $30).

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