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Wine Basics for Beginners

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Wine basics for beginners
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Do you have one of those crazy wine lover friends who pushes you to drink wine and listen to endless wine conversation that you do not understand? Or you simply what to know a little bit more about the beverage to improve your wine experience? Regardless of what is your purpose while reading this post, I decided to summarize the really basic wine knowledge for beginners, so that next time you get asked which wine you want, you can answer something more than red, white or rosé. So let’s make wine less intimidating and more enjoyable!

What are the most common wine terms to know

Let’s start the basic wine knowledge with some of the terms you should know in order to be part of a basic conversation about wine:

  • Appellation: This refers to where wine grapes are geographically grown.
  • Wine Legs: Have you seen the rivulets of wine that go down the sides of a glass when swirled? These are called wine legs.
  • Varietal: It refers to wines made from a single grape variety.
  • Vintage: This is the year when the grapes for the wine were picked.
  • Acidity: It is the crispy or lively sensation felt in the mouth wine-sipping wine.
  • Body: This is the impression of how light or heavy a wine feels in your mouth. As an example, full-bodied wine has a robust and very rich feel.
  • Elegant: it describes a wine that is generally medium-bodied and well-balanced.
  • Finish: It refers to the aftertaste left in your palate after swallowing the wine. For example, a full-bodied and well-balanced wine will for instance have a long finish and vice versa.
  • Tannins: This refers to the textural characteristic that makes wines taste dry.
  • Balanced: It refers to harmonic wines, so wines containing elements (flavours, alcohol, acidity) in harmonious proportions.
  • Breathing: This is the process of swirling wine in a glass to let it open up due to exposure to the air.

How to hold a wine glass properly

Personally I think that nobody should not be judged for how they hold a wine glass! As long as we enjoy it, I don’t really care how the fingers are placed in the glass. However, we live in a society where etiquette matters, so let’s revise 2 things to pass the test and be socially approved:

  • Hold the wine glass at the stem directly by pinching the stem with your thumb and index finger, or by grabbing the stem directly above the base of the glass
  • If the glass does not have a stem, then treat it as a regular glass

Done! Easy and straight to the point to increase your basic wine knowledge. Now you may wonder the reason for this wine etiquette right? In short, the reason lays in:

  • Appearance, so that you do not leave your greasy fingers in the glass
  • Temperature, so that you do not heat the wine with your warm hands
how to taste the wine properly

How to taste the wine

Your glass of wine has come to your table, so I bet your immediate instinct is to take a sip of it, right? Hold on! Let’s act like a pro and get more of the glass you order. Follow these steps, even if at the start it does not make sense to you:

  1. Look: check the colours of the wine you just got served in your glass. Not all red, white or rosé wines have the same colour, so take your time and check how intense is the colour of your wine.
  2. Swirl: wine is composed of many aromas; in order to experiment those aromas easier, swirl your glass and let some oxygen into the wine and open it up. Also, if you feel more curious have a look at how the wine slides back down the glass once swirled. Wines that display more “wine legs” or that have more viscosity are likely to contain more alcohol.
  3. Smell: now that you have opened up your wine, it is time to smell it for what you should hold the glass a few inches from your nose. Smell and try to guess what is it; some people can identify fruits like berries, cherries; floral or herb scents; spices like vanilla, toast, pepper, chocolate, coffee, etc. If you cannot smell anything, no worries, this comes with experience.
  4. Taste: take a sip of wine and let it linger in your mouth; do not swallow the wine immediately but roll it around in your mouth, let all your taste buds enjoy the wine and pay attention to the sensations you get from it.
  5. Think: note not only what you just tasted but also the after taste of wine, how long it lasted, did you like it, did you taste something in particular, etc.

Skipping some steps here and there, the five stages of basic wine knowledge described above will help you perceive better the wine you enjoy, discover new preferences, and the most important keep up with the wine pros at your table.

What are the most popular types of wine

As part of basic wine knowledge, it is important not to confuse the type of wine with the wine regions. It is also important to learn to give a little bit more complete answers when people ask you which type of wine you like. Since a “plain” red, white or rosé answer will, for sure, make roll the eyes of any wine enthusiast who is with you, below I share the most common types of wines:

Types of Red Wine

Red grapes are naturally high in tannins so they are bitter and astringent. Below the most common grape types:

  • Sangiovese: it is the primary grape used to make two of Italy’s most popular types of wine, the Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.
  • Pinot Noir: it is the world’s most popular light-bodied red wine. The grape enjoys the same climate as Chardonnay, so you will often find these two grapes planted close by.
  • Syrah/Shiraz: the varieties grown in Europe and California are called Syrah, whereas, in Australia and South Africa, it’s known as Shiraz.
  • Merlot: Merlot grapes are popular in cooler weather and while it is popular all over the world, it is mostly grown in France’s Bordeaux region and in Washington State.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: It is often called the “King of Red Grapes”. Originated in the Bordeaux region of France, it’s able to grow worldwide in a variety of climates. The most popular regions for this grape are the Napa Valley region, South America, Italy, Australia and Washington State.

Types of White Wine

They’re typically produced from gold, green or white grapes, but can also made from red grapes. Below the most common grape types:

  • Chenin Blanc: While it originated in France’s Loire Valley, South Africa has quickly become the largest producer Chenin Blanc producer in the world.
  • Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio: If the wine comes from France, it would be labelled Pinot Gris. Conversely, if the wine comes from Italy, it would be marked Pinot Grigio.
  • Riesling: Its majority is produced in Germany, where it originated. It prefers cooler climates such as the Alsace region of France, the Clare Valley of Australia and Washington State.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: It was first produced in the Loire Valley of Northwestern France. Worldwide it is also well produced in the Marlborough region of New Zealand.
  • Chardonnay: It is often called the “Queen of White Grapes”. It’s the best-selling wine, red or white, in the US and is the world’s most popular white wine grape variety. It is originated in the Burgundy region of France.

Other Types of Wine

  • Fortified Wine: These wines were originally created to help preserve them, but soon became their own unique wine style. They are made by the addition of a grape spirit, such as brandy, during the fermentation process. Some examples are Sherry, Port, Madeira, Marsala and Vermouth.
  • Rosé Wine: In principle, the longer the grapes are left in contact with the skin, the darker red the wine will be. This is why Rosé wines range from pink blush to a deep pink.
  • Sparkling Wine: It undergoes a second fermentation that gives it its characteristic bubbly quality. Sparkling wine goes by different names depending on which country it comes from, for example in Spain is called Cava, in Italy Prosecco or Moscato d’Asti, in France Cremant or Champagne if it comes from the popular region, and in the US it is called simply sparkling wine.
main wine regions and grapes

What are the most popular wine regions in the world

As I mentioned above, the question of which is your favourite wine is being answered either with wine type or wine region. Having checked above the most popular wine types in the world, now it is time to close our lessons of basic wine knowledge and check the best and most popular wine regions. Be ready, so that you will be able to differentiate between both, types and regions, during the next tertulia with your wine friends.

Burgundy, France: It is located a 3-hour drive southeast of Paris. This is one of the most popular and most expensive wine regions in the world. It combines red wines made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, or white wines made entirely from Chardonnay.

Tuscany, Italy: Tuscany is the birthplace of dry Chianti, made predominantly from Sangiovese grapes. The Tuscan region is also known as other red wines such as Carmignano and Elba Aleatico Passito.

Rioja, Spain: There are three tiers of Rioja’s bottles: Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva (ordered by price, lowest to highest). The primary grapes used in Rioja wines are Tempranillo and Garnacha.

Douro Valley, Portugal: Located in northern Portugal and best known for its Port wines. These sweet red wines are often served with chocolate and caramel desserts, though Port comes in dry varieties as well.

Bordeaux, France: The three popular red wine grapes here are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

Mosel, Germany: the fame of the region is thanks to Riesling. The locals tend to prefer dry versions of it, while the consumer abroad are more familiar with the sweeter version.  

Veneto, Italy: red wine and sparkling wine heaven thanks to the Prosecco. Made with white grapes, the Prosecco embodies the lighthearted spirit and bubbly nature of Italian life.

Wachau Valley, Austria: Situated along the Danube River in northeastern Austria, Wachau is a top-notch region in the realm of white wines. Its two popular grapes are Riesling and Grüner Veltliner.

Napa Valley, California, USA: Located in northern California around 1.5 hours north of San Francisco. The popular grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc.

Mendoza, Argentina: Located in the north-central region of the country along the Andes. Its popular grapes are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Torrontes, Sauvignon Blanc.

Colchagua Valley, Chile: Drive 80 miles south of Santiago and you will arrive in the region. Its popular reds are Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Syrah, Malbec, while its popular white is the Chardonnay

McLaren Vale, Australia: Located at the south of Adelaide, its popular wines include Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Vermentino

Marlborough, New Zealand: Located at the northeastern part of New Zealand’s South Island, it grows excellent Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay

I hope that now you feel ready to open that bottle, host your wine friends at home, hit the wine bar or order your favourite wine with confidence at the restaurant. Like Pasteur said, “a bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world”, so there’s a bunch of wine knowledge to learn! These here are only the basics of the basics. However, my message here is that wine is not as intimidating and complex as we think! Enjoy it with confidence, explore your taste and take advantage of your wine knowledge in your next social events. Cheers!

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