Grape Tips Thursday – November 5, 2015: Wine For Dummies Crash Course: 9 Things To Know About Wine

This Week In Wine 101: Nine Things To Know About Wine

When it comes to wine there is a certain level of snobbery that comes with the territory. For some, it can be off-putting or even daunting. So, to help demystify the hype of wine, we’ve compiled a list of fundamental points to help you get to know wine a little better – and hopefully you’ll be more comfortable and familiar with it. This is why we created a simple wine for dummies course to help familiarize with the basics of wine.


1. The Major White & Red Wine Varietals

White Grape Varietals:

Chardonnay – From the Burgundy region of France, it’s one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, and is an important ingredient for making sparkling wines all over the world. California vineyards have perfected this varietal, however many other states and regions have their own unique methods for manipulating this grape, showcasing flavors and aromas that have oaky undertones or mineral notes with a crisp twist to fruity citrus characteristics that embody a more playful side to its personality, while producing medium to full-bodied wines.

Colombard – This grape originated in France and is grown in both California and Australia. It can be made into a dry or sweet white wines and is often described as having a tangy or acidic taste.

Gewurztraminer – (Pronounced Guh-vert- stra-muh-ner) This grape is grown in the Alsace region of France, Germany, California and many other U.S. wine regions. These wines, which usually have a higher alcohol content, are blessed with amazing bouquets (perfume) and pair well with spicy foods.

Gruner Vetliner – Native to Austria, this grape can also be found in Australia, California, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, New York, Oregon and other U.S. wine growing states. These wines are known for having tart, citrus and mineral notes and are sometimes combined with spicy or peppery characteristics.

The Muscat grape is grown throughout southern Europe and is indigenous to the region. Muscat is widely grown and produced around the world from Japan to South Africa. This wine is often described as tasting like grapes with a musky aroma. This is a grape that varies in color too. It can be found in white and dark purple that almost seems black.

Pinot Blanc is related to Pinot Gris and is grown in France, Italy, California, and Oregon. Known for its citrusy taste this wine is elegant in nature.

Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris – This grape makes a light to medium-bodied wine that is refreshing to the palate and possesses fruit flavors of melon, citrus, and finishes with floral, mineral or spice notes.

Riesling – Similar to a Chenin Blanc, this grape can be manipulated to be dry, semi-dry or sweet. Germans are regarded as the masters for producing this varietal – but it’s also produced in France, California, New York, Washington and Australia. Some of the flavors fused into this wine are, peach, green apple, citrus, honeysuckle and more.

Sauvignon Blanc/Pouilly-Fume – This grape should be drunk young and tends to produce dry wines. Both Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre are made from this grape and are produced in France. However, New Zealand also makes excellent Sauvignon Blanc wine. Gooseberry, peach, citrus, herbs and green grass are some of the flavors and aromas you may encounter.

Semillon – (Pronounced Say-Me-Yoh) make an assortment of white wines that can be dry, semi-dry to very sweet. Semillon blends well with other white wine varietals and is more notable in the Bordeaux region of France and Australia. The drier versions should be enjoyed young, while the sweeter ones tend to age well like their Barsac or Sauternes. Flavors and aromas most notable in Semillon are peach, melon, fig, herbs, spices or vanilla accents.

Viognier – (Pronounced Vee-on-yay) is produced in Australia, California, France and Washington. Viognier produces full-bodied white wines that are blessed with lush floral notes, peach, apricot, creams, and buttery qualities that sometimes incorporate mineral aromas that’ll make you sit up straight and take notice.


Red Grape Varietals:

Barbera – Indigenous to Italy, this grape is made into a light, fruity, red wine. This grape has been around for centuries and boasts flavors of cherries, blueberries and dried fruits imbedded with toasted or vanilla aromas.

Cabernet Franc – Is a grape that mingles well with other varietals making terrific blends! Produced in France, the United States and other countries, it teeters between light and medium-bodied. It’s also high in tannins. Blending raspberry, currant, licorice and cherry aromas – flavors sometimes experienced in this varietal are a mixture of berries, plum and black olive.

Cabernet Sauvignon – Grown in France, Chile, Argentina, Italy, California, Washington and Australia, this grape is a survivor that can thrive almost anywhere. Due to its intense tannic flavor it is often blended with other varietals to soften the harshness of its character. It possesses a chewy, jammy taste. With hints of black cherry and currant it pairs well with meaty dishes.

Gamay – As the most popular grape grown in Burgundy, France, these grapes produce light, simple, fruity red wines, and are meant to be enjoyed while they’re young. Beaujolais wine is made from this grape.

Grenache/Grenacha – Produced in France, Spain and Australia, these medium-bodied wines are full of bold, fruity and spicy.

Malbec – This grape comes from France but the Argentineans have really made waves with Malbec wines. Full of robust bold flavors that will knock your socks off, they pair really well with meaty dishes. Other regions known for producing this grape varietal are Australia, California, New Zealand, Oregon, South Africa and Washington.

Mourvedre – A popular Mediterranean varietal grown in Europe, this grape produces medium-bodied wines that incorporate fruity flavors of cherry and berries, with light spicy notes. California, France and Spain have perfected this varietal.

Merlot – This grape makes excellent wines that are widely popular but this varietal also blends well with other grapes like Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot’s flavors range from blackberries, blueberries, cherries, plum, currant, but often have herbal aromas.

Nebbiolo – This grape hails from Italy and thrives in their terroir. This full-bodied wine, with berry, cherry, tobacco and mint flavors, is tart, acidic high and in tannins. This varietal is definitely best enjoyed with a meal.

Pinot Noir – This grape produces sexy, elegant and smooth wines that are attractive in every way. They are produced in France, California, Oregon and New Zealand. Its flavors combine fruits, floral notes, and spicy undertones with a toasty side.

Sangiovese – (Pronounced Sahn-djoh-VEH-zeh) From Italy, this is the main grape produced in Tuscany. Sangiovese is light in color and is very acidic. Its flavors and aromas are reminiscent of cherry pie and include fruitful flavors like, strawberry, plum and cherry with hints of violet, oak and nuts.

Syrah/Shiraz – This beautiful grape is grown in France, Australia, California and Washington. Each region has their own recipe for how they produce the wine. French Syrah’s are distinguishable by their spicy, peppery notes, firm tannins and great potential for aging. Whereas Australian Shiraz tends to take on a sweeter side, with fruitier flavors, like plum with hints of chocolate. This varietal is best enjoyed with a meal.

Tempranillo – (Pronounced Tem-prah-NEE-yoh) Is a grape that emerged from Spain and is the principal varietal grown in Rioja. Made to have strong flavors and aromas of fruits and herbs, it spends several years aging in oak barrels and pairs well with meaty dishes.

Zinfandel – Perfected in California, this grape produces both white and red varietals. This varietal can take on a lighter side and can be easily transitioned from a medium to full-bodied wine. Zinfandels flavors and aromas consist of berry, black pepper and sometimes licorice.


2. The Body Weight of Red & White Wines

White Wine Varietals Red Wine Varietals


Note: varietals with a (*) symbolize wines that can vary in body weight.

When a wine is described as light-bodied this is often a description that encompasses the color of the wine and how it feels in your mouth. Light-bodied wines tend to feel light and watery, not to say that they are void of flavors but they tend to feel lighter on your tongue. Compare that to a medium or full-bodied wine, which can feel a bit fuller, thicker or as though it is coating your tongue. This will be discussed more below.


3. Evaluating Wine

After pouring yourself a glass of wine, there are several (customary) steps to follow before enjoying it. They are as follows:

Color: Begin by examining the color of the wine. Is the wine transparent or more opaque? The color can indicate whether the wine is light, medium or full-bodied. It can also indicate the age. Older red and white wines tend to have a dull tint to their color. Some older white wines will exhibit a faded yellow or brown color whereas red wines will have a reddish or orange tint.

Swirl: When swirling the wine, make sure you’re holding the glass by the stem and not the bowl. The heat from your fingertips can raise the temperature of the wine. Swirling unlocks the aromas and bouquets (perfume) of the wine.

Smell: What do you smell? Are there any fruits, spices, minerals, herbs or floral notes you detect from the taste?

Taste: When you enjoy the first taste of the wine swish it around in your mouth; allow the flavors to settle into your palate.

Savor: Don’t just taste, savor – what flavors do you detect? Are there sweet, wooden, savory or fruity nuances that linger on your tongue?

Trying to identify aromas and flavors is an important part of the experience. If you enjoy the wine, try to articulate what you like about it. When you find that one (wine) that moves you, figure out what you like or love about it. But, if you find the wine absolutely awful, don’t be afraid to spit it out or say no thank you.

Also, you may also notice tannins, which are found in most every wine, although some will have higher levels than others. What are tannins? They are a polyphenol compound found in the grapes skins, stems and seeds. They often take on a very astringent taste that makes your mouth or tongue feel dry or void of any saliva. Many describe it as a dry after-taste similar to very strong tea. But dry does not always mean the wine is filled with tannins. Often times, wines that are dry in nature are a result of an absence of sugar.

Occasionally you’ll encounter a wine with flaws. For example, if the wine has a musty, damp or stale aroma or taste, this could indicate a bad bottle. If this happens, voice those detections and ask for another glass or bottle.

For more details on how to par-take in the pre-drink ritual of evaluating wine, read [“When a glass of wine is first poured I always want to participate in the pre-drink ritual of evaluating the wine but I have no idea what I’m doing. What are the steps and what am I looking for?”]


4. Ageing Wine

Contrary to what many believe, not all wines need to be stored for years on end. The majority of wines are best enjoyed while they are young. While many red wines may benefit from aging, most white wines should be enjoyed immediately.

[For more information on how long a wine should be stored read, “How long should you lay down a wine and when is the best time to drink wine?”]


5. Reading a Wine Label

Deciphering wine labels can be difficult, especially when they are from Europe. Most New World wines are labeled by varietal and Old World wines label their bottles by appellation or region.

Usually the producer of the wine will be listed in larger print, below that will be the label or region, then the vintage (year), followed at the bottom by the alcohol content. French wines tend to have a higher alcohol content than say German wines but this varies.

See the examples listed below:


French Wine Label

napa valley 2012 cabernet sauvignon label 6. Wine Serving Temperatures

The ideal temperature for white wines to be served at is between 400F – 500F – for red wines it is between 550F – 650F. When a wine is exposed to warmer temperatures it will speed up the aging process and eventually spoil the wine.

If you’ve opened a bottle of wine and find yourself unable to finish it, put the cork back on and place it in the refrigerator. Yes, that is correct. The cool temperature slows down the aging process and preserves the wines flavors and aromas.

[For more information about preserving wine read, “How long will a wine keep after it is opened?”]

There are also different types of wineglasses intended for specific varietals. A wine glass consists of three parts: the bowl, the stem and the base. Red wineglasses tend to require more of the aromas and bouquets to be delivered when smelling and tasting the wine – which explains their (bulbous) shape. Whereas, white wineglasses are usually designed to keep the wine from being exposed to too much oxygen.

[For more information about types of wineglasses read, “What is the importance of a particular wine being poured into or drank from a particular wine glass?”]


7. Countries Known For Specific Varietals

Argentina – Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Torrontes, and Chardonnay

Australia – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay

Chile – Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

France – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc

Germany – Riesling, Muller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Gewurztraminer, Spatburgunder, Dornfelder, Trollinger, Portugieser

Italy – Nebbiolo, Barbera, Moscato, Chianti, Pinot Grigio

New Zealand – Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc

Spain – Tempranillo, Grenacha, Palomino, Albarino

South Africa – Chenin Blanc, Pinotage

United States – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc


8. The Differences In Vintages

Each year is (called) a vintage and because of varying weather conditions some years or vintages will taste better (or worse) than others. Simply put, because weather conditions are not constant, each vintage will taste different when compared with other vintages.

The term Terroir (pronounced ter’war) is a reference to the unique characteristics of where the wine was grown. The lands characteristics, like the soil type, topography, and other vegetation grown in the area, influence where the grapes are grown and how the wine tastes.


9. Old World Wines & New World Wines

You may have heard these terms before and wondered, what are Old World wines and New World wines? This is a reference to a country’s origin – Austria, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Germany are all considered Old World wine regions, basically European countries. New World wine regions are, Argentina, Australia, California, Chile, New York, New Zealand, Oregon, South Africa, and Washington.

Hopefully after reading this article you’ll feel more at ease with wine and be able to better navigate your way through a conversation or even select a wine to enjoy for the evening. Having knowledge of the “major” red and white wine varietals is a great place to start when figuring out which types of wines or grape varietals you’d like to try. Knowing the body weight of a wine can help you better when pairing wine with food. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions and thoughts about a wine you like or dislike. This is part of the experience and when you come across a wine you love try to detect what qualities and features you love about it. This can go a long way in helping you find wines that appeal to your style and taste.

If you’re interested in starting a collection of wines and would like to know which wines benefit from aging, ask either the retailer, vineyard or conduct your own research online. Knowing which countries are renowned for certain varietals can also help you select new wines to sample. You’ll find every country has their own methods for producing wines with traits that are unique to those regions – whether it’s dry, sweet, robust, bold, delicate, fruity, oaky, or mineral flavors, there are certain qualities that are found in every wine that serve as signature characteristics to that specific region. Every year is a vintage year and each year is very different from the year before. To test this, go out and buy two bottles of the same wine from different vintages (year) and see the difference for yourself. Plus, you now know what countries fall under the terms, Old World wines and New World wines and no longer have to wonder what these phrases mean when they pop up in a conversation or article. To learn more about the points we’ve discussed click on the links listed above. Cheers!

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