It can be difficult to understand what's what when it comes to wine. Have you ever nodded your head in agreement when someone talks about wine? Or how about finding yourself at a lost when trying to pair cheese and wine? It doesn't have to be that way, especially once you start to learn more about this fascinating subject.

Wine has rich cultural, religious and historical significance, so much so that this will be part 1 of our wine dedicated cheat sheets, making basic wine knowledge accessible and easy to understand. Parts 2 and 3 will debut in the near future, taking a look at white and sparkling wine.

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Pinot Noir

Loved for its complex elegance, pinot noir can be delicately fresh, with a fruity aroma and a soft and smooth tannin taste. However, because of its fragility, it can be difficult to grow and is rarely blended. Pinot noir is best consumed as a pure varietal, with great wineries producing this wine coming from Burgundy, Austria, Chile, California and New Zealand.

Suggested pairing: beef, pork, chicken, duck, veal, cured meats, soft cheeses

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Known as shiraz in Australia, this varietal makes common appearances in bottle shops and wine bars thanks to its fruit dominant flavours, heavy body and pleasant acidity. Popular regions that produce great syrah are California, Australia, and in the Rhone Valley in France.

Suggested pairing: smoked meats, barbecued meats, steak, lamb, wild game, stews, hard cheeses

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Cabernet Sauvignon

Probably the most popular varietal, cabernet sauvignon reigns in regions like Bordeaux and Napa Valley, California. LIke the syrah, it is a full-bodied wine, but differentiates when it comes to its strong tannins. It also tends to have a long finish, making a perfect companion to well bloodied meats.

Suggested pairing: smoked meats, barbecue meats, steak, mushrooms, cheddar, pecorino, raclette, roasted duck

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A variety originating from Croatia, Zinfandel wine is usually medium to full bodied, can boast an exotic array of fruity influences, and is easy to pair with a wide variety of cuisines. Thanks to its diversity, you can even try pairing cuisines such as Thai, Chinese and Indian food with the wine.

Suggested pairing: curry, pasta, lasagna, barbecue meats, manchego

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Easy to enjoy, thus making it easy to like, merlot is a versatile wine, even with young. Don't be surprised to find whiffs of plum, blackcurrant or berry when nosing a glass, with a full-flavoured medium body character. Because of the grape's sturdiness, good merlot can found in places like Bordeaux, California and Italy. 

Suggested pairing: cheese, pasta, grilled meats, steak, roast duck, pizza, cold cuts

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Although the most popular grape varietal in Argentina, where the wine is readily available, malbec originates from Bordeaux. It can have a spicy, woody and easy to like character, with pleasant notes of fruits the likes of berry and plum. This varietal is also used for blending to create other types of red wines.

Suggested pairing: spicy food, mexican food, barbecue, grilled meats, indian food, duck confit

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The French aren't the only ones who make good wine, with Italian winemakers making their own varietals just as well. Sangiovese primarily hails from the Tuscany region of Italy, although California takes a claim as well, and is a medium bodied wine known for its acidity and slighty spiced qualities.

Suggested pairing: italian and mediterranean cuisine, carbonara, lamb chops, cheese baked pastas

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The Spanish also have their own varietal, tempranillo, that yields a medium acidic profile despite having notes of berries, dried fig, and cherry. Because tempranillo is a major part of Spanish wine culture, a large number of vineyards that produce good bottles of the wine come from Spain, while countries such as Argentina, America, Portugal, Australia and New Zealand are also producers.

Suggested pairing: spanish food, mexican food, paella, hard cheeses, lasagna, barbecue meats