What Wine Goes with Your Coffee Order?

Your taste in wine determined by your taste in coffee
Valerie Thomas of St Martin's Vineyard, the most south-westerly vineyard in England, pours a glass of wine produced on her farm on February 18. Matt Cardy/Getty

It can be overwhelming to decide which wine is for you when confronted with multiple shelves of reds, whites, rosés and sparkling varieties from all corners of the world at your local shop. What if you could pick the perfect wine for your palate based entirely on your coffee order?

Wine expert and former wine merchant Joe Fattorini reveals to Newsweek the most enjoyable wines for lovers of Americanos, lattes and more. He has been using his coffee taste test for several years, once convincing a friend who said she “only drinks Sprite” to put down the soda and relish a glass of Riesling instead.

Fattorini says the link between taste in coffee and wine stems from the number of taste buds we have, and from individual tolerance to bitter flavors. “Some of us have very few taste buds, about 2,000 of them,” says the wine connoisseur. “Some people have what we call hypersensitive taste buds—about 8,000 of them.”

Tolerant tasters, who have fewer taste buds, “need very loud drinks to excite them,” while hypersensitive tasters want “a quiet, gentle wine which, to them, feels balanced. They find big, powerful wines overwhelming because the volume is turned really high.”

So, what wines should you be drinking? I asked Fattorini, who also co-hosts U.K. channel ITV’s The Wine Show with actors Matthew Rhys (The Americans) and Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey), to share his expertise based on some of the most common coffee-shop orders.

Americano

Classic Americano drinkers, whether they take it black or white, enjoy the popular white wine sauvignon blanc, says Fattorini. [“It’s] midweight, mid-fruit, mid-acidity, moderately intense.”

If you’re more partial to red, merlot is the wine for you. “Merlot is midweight: It’s got a juicy, plummy fruit to it, and it’s got that tannin, dry mouthfeel like tea, but not too much. It’s in the middle...that’s why people like it.”

Cappuccino, latte and cafe au lait

“Where people are wanting milky coffees, the milk is calming down that bitterness and softening [the flavor]. That indicates you’ve got more taste buds, so big flavors will overwhelm the palate,” says Fattorini. He suggests pinot grigio for white wine drinkers. “Pinot grigio is considered pretty boring, but it’s lighter... It’s softer—it has a pear-and-almond softness rather than a punchy apple character.”

For red-wine fans, Beaujolais, a French wine made from Gamay grapes, “is making a wonderful comeback,” Fattorini says, “because people are saying, ‘I don’t want to drink big, ballsy reds, I want something that’s softer and lighter.’” Alternatively, try a pinot noir, which is “lighter and gentler for people with sensitive palates…the tannins are lighter, softer and gentler.”

Mocha

If you like your coffee sweet, embrace it. “If you have a sweet palate, you’ve probably been told to aspire toward and learn to enjoy dry, firm, bigger styles of wine, and it’s a total fiction.” Fattorini says that in the 18th and 19th centuries, people generally drank dessert wines as table wines “because it was accepted [that] people have sweet palates.” Some of the most famous people of the era, like Napoleon, Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria, enjoyed sweet wines.

“People think their only respite is white zinfandel, which is actually pretty chemical. I would go for Riesling, particularly an off-dry Riesling. An off-dry muscat, too,” says Fattorini.

But there is another, less common wine Fattorini recommends: “The one to look out for is Gewürztraminer. It’s not only slightly off-dry, it has a very low acidity—it doesn’t have a zesty tang that people find slightly revolting.”

Espresso, cortado and macchiato

If you like your coffee black and intense, you also may like very fine wines. “You’ll probably enjoy the most expensive wines in the world, but the problem is you’ll probably be bankrupt very soon,” says Fattorini. But, he adds, “you’re well catered for, because as a society we’ve created a perception these are wines to aspire to.”

Oaky wines such as cabernet sauvignon or chianti classico are best for espresso drinkers.

For more budget wines, Fattorini suggests chardonnay “from anywhere in the world,” shiraz from Australia and malbec from Argentina.

Chai tea latte

Coffee lovers who are partial to the kick of cinnamon and cardamon are in the “hypersensitive territory,” says Fattorini. “One market that has satisfied this market is New Zealand pinot gris. There’s an elegant and more refined style than pinot grigio in Europe. You’ll find a soft, elegant, perfume-scented aroma that runs through.”

Happy drinking.

Joe Fattorini is a wine expert, resident sommelier for Celebrity Cruises ships and co-host of The Wine Show on the U.K.’s ITV.