Wine Drinking 101: Learning The Basics

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Wine Drinking 101


Wine drinking was a part of many cultures as far back as 3,000 BC, but the history goes even further. This blog post is dedicated to everyone who has ever wondered what wine is and how you drink it. 

We'll be going over the wine basics, from the types of wine, how you open a bottle, and a few tips to best enjoy it.

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What is Wine?

Wine is grape juice that undergoes fermentation. The sugar from the grape juice is broken down by a substance called yeast and converts it into alcohol. Technically, wine can be made from any fruit like apple, plum, pomegranate, and even pumpkin, but the most common one is grapes.

However, the grapes used in making wine are different from the grapes that we eat or table grapes. Wine grapes are smaller and ideal for being made into wine because they are sweeter, riper, and have many seeds and juice.

In making wine, winemakers can opt to produce either a single-varietal wine or a blend. 

Single-Varietal

A single varietal wine contains just one type of grape and may carry its namesake on the bottle or label for identification purposes. For example, a bottle labeled "Riesling" should have 50%, 75%, or even 100% pure Riesling grapes to be called by this name legally (depending on the country). 

In France, wine must have 85% of a specific grape varietal to be a single-varietal wine, while the US only requires 75%.

Single varietals are much more than a science experiment or "wine 101" lesson - they're an opportunity to show off your expertise in identifying differences between different types of wine. 

The more you taste, the better you'll get at telling how climate and winemaking techniques affect your favorite flavors.

Wine Blend

A wine blend is a mixture of different grape varieties. Field blends are the most common type of mixed-grape wines, and Port - an example that originated in Portugal's Douro Valley - is arguably one of the world’s best-known examples. 

Other famous field blends include Sauternes (Bordeaux region of France), Champagne (Champagne region of France), and Sherry (Spain).

The blending of grape varieties is one way that winemakers play with flavor. It's a tradition that dates back to the Ancient Romans, but wine producers worldwide have perfected it in modern times. 

Besides Portuguese wines, French wines like Bordeaux, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon are other examples that use blended grapes.

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Common Wine Terminology

Grenache wine grapes

Part of understanding the basics of wine is to understand the most common terminologies that you'll come across when reading about wine, such as the ones below:

Acidity

Acidity is what makes wines refreshing, crisp, and bright. Without acids, your wine tastes like a flat soda. To make the perfect bottle of vino, you need to balance it with some tartness or acidity and depth for an extra punch that’ll leave people wanting another sip.

Aeration

The introduction of air to wine to let it "breathe.” All you need when you aerate wine is time - literally giving it enough space for its aromas to reach its full potential by mixing with air molecules around them. 

Some wines need to breathe before they're finally ready for consumption, while others taste awful when aerated.

Aroma / Bouquet

Aroma and bouquet refer to the smells of wines, with aroma referring to a younger wine. The aroma can be used to describe the scent of a grape variety, while a bouquet is reserved for the smells produced during fermentation or aging wine.

Body

The body of a wine is what you can taste, not just the alcohol content. The mouthfeel affects your perception of how thick or viscous and slippery or thin it feels in your mouth.

Crisp

The crispness of a wine is often described by how tart it tastes, with high acidity and low sugar concentration. These wines are similar to apples or lemons in their fruity flavor profile. 

Dry

Dry is the term wine connoisseurs use to pertain to wine with low levels of sugar. 0.5% to 0.7% is the threshold at which most wine tasters perceive a taste of sugar in a dry wine.

Finish

The final component of wine tasting is the aftertaste, or what you can taste in your mouth even as it leaves. Better wines have a rich and complex flavor that lingers on well past when tasted.

Sweetness

The taste of residual sugar is considered one of wine’s finest qualities. Its sweetness comes from natural grape sugars that are leftover after fermentation has ceased. They're referred to by many as "residual sugar," and they determine the wine's sweetness.

If there's more residual sugar leftover, the sweeter the drink will be. Meanwhile, fewer leftover sugars mean that you'll have a dryer taste on your palate, such as in the case of dry wines.

Tannins

The tannins in wine give it dryness or astringency that is unique to certain wines. The scientific name for these compounds, polyphenols, are release from grape skins after they've been pressed and soaked up juice just moments later.

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Different Styles of Wine

Red Wine

Red wine poured in a glass

Trying a new wine can be daunting, but light-bodied reds are perfect for novices. When you think of a light-bodied red wine, it's probably going to be pale in color and have very little tannin - which is the reason for their popularity.

As mentioned, tannins are what make wines taste dryer. So when looking at light wines, it makes sense that they're often some of the world's best-appreciated varieties because drinkers want something more drinkable with less bitterness or "bite."

Light-bodied red wines to try:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Gamay Noir or Beaujolais
  • Blaufränkisch
  • Zweigelt
  • St. Laurent

Medium-bodied red wines are perfect for those who want a wine that pairs well with their favorite foods. These wines offer many flavors and have the right balance between acidic zestiness, making them rich in taste while complex enough to match any dish from salads to lasagna without being too overpowering or cloyingly sweet.

Medium-bodied red wines to try:

  • Merlot
  • Zinfandel
  • Grenache
  • Sangiovese
  • Montepulciano

Full-bodied red wines are deep and dark in color, with a strong tannin presence. They're the most robust of all types of red wine! The tannins bind to proteins found in our saliva when we drink it, providing an astringent effect that freshens your palate for more enjoyment.

This is why you'll often find full-bodied reds paired brilliantly with dishes like a ribeye steak.

Full-bodied red wines to try:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Malbec
  • Syrah/Shiraz
  • Pinotage

White Wine

Glasses of white wine

People often call light-bodied white wines the "gateway" to the world of fine wines. These are dry and crisp, which means they pair well with almost anything you put in front of them- so it's no wonder that these are some of the most popular bottles sold on shelves across the globe!

They taste different depending on what country they come from (usually determined by climate). Regardless, all are bursting with fresh flavors for your enjoyment.

Light-bodied white wines to try:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Albariño
  • Grüner Veltliner

When you are looking for a wine that has the rich, smooth taste of red wines but doesn't overwhelm your palate with tannins or heavy flavors, then consider tasting full-bodied white wines. They have a complex, sophisticated taste that is both smooth and creamy.

The secret to the difference between light and full-bodied wine? It's all about winemaking techniques! Full-bodied whites go through the process of oak-aging. Oak barrels, just like whiskey or bourbon barrels, can make a massive impact on how your favorite bottle tastes.

Full-bodied white wines to try:

  • Oaked Chardonnay
  • Viognier

Sparkling Wine

Pouring Champagne into a Glasses

Sparkling wine, like Champagne and Prosecco, is a beverage that has bubbles bursting through it. The carbon dioxide in the drink is due to secondary fermentation, pressurized tanks, or injection. 

Its size and amount of gas determine how bubbly the drink will be. With these factors at play, you may find sparkling wines are typically white to rosé with varying sweetness levels from very dry to sweet- just like any other type of wine!

Sparkling wines to try:

  • Champagne
  • Cava
  • Prosecco

Rosé

Pouring a glass of cold rose wine

The rosé wine has been around for centuries and is still very popular today, with many varieties to choose from. 

The name “rosé” comes from the light pink color that these wines take on during production, as they are only exposed for short periods to red grape skins before being bottled and shipped out all over the world.

These days, there is an almost endless variety available in stores everywhere thanks to technological innovations like machine harvesting, which has allowed producers more control than ever when making rosés.

Rosé Wines to try:

  • Grenache Rosé
  • Mourvèdre Rosé
  • Sangiovese Rosé

Fortified

 Fortified wine poured into a crystal glass

Fortified wine is a type of drink that has been infused with the essence of distilled spirits. Often, fortified wines are enjoyed before or after dinner and are popular all across the world.

Fortification originally started as an ingenious preservation technique where alcohol was added to prevent casks filled with wine from being converted into vinegar by sea voyages lasting weeks at a time - now we enjoy these drinks just because they're delicious!

Fortified wine to try:

  • Port wine
  • Sherry
  • Madeira
  • Marsala
  • Vermouth

Dessert Wine

Cookies and Sweet Dessert Wine

As the name suggests, dessert wine is consumed with dessert, usually as an accompaniment. Dessert wines will often have higher alcohol content due to their sweeter flavor profiles.

Dessert wines to try:

  • Moscato d’Asti 
  • Sauternes
  • Ice Wine
  • Rutherglen Muscat 

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Wine Drinking 101: How to Drink Wine

Which Wine Glass Should I Use?

Empty Wine Glasses

Many people enjoy wine because of its aroma. A large part of enjoying a glass is taking in the scent as you drink it, making choosing the right type and shape of a wine glass so important. Here are some things that'll guide you in selecting a suitable vessel for your wine.

  • Bowl shape - The shape has an impact on how much aroma is released when drinking. When it comes to wines with complex aromas like those from Burgundy or Bordeaux, which have numerous floral notes, letting air flow over more surface area can help release these flavors better.

    Wider bowls also provide plenty of room for all your guests to enjoy their favorite grape!
  • Stem - Whether you enjoy drinking wine out of a stemmed or stemless glass is mainly personal preference. But do note that a stemless glass can increase the wine’s temperature because it doesn't have any sort of handle, which in turn transfers the heat from your hand to the contents inside. 

White wines are especially susceptible to this phenomenon since they typically require a colder environment for optimal consumption.

  • Rim - A wine's taste is impacted by the rim, which can be thin or thick. A thinner edge allows for more direct contact between your tongue and the liquid. 

However, it also means that if you happen to spill any on yourself while drinking, it will not flow down because there are no lips at first.

Conversely, thicker rims inhibit smooth flow onto your tongue and accentuate acidity and harshness in the wine due to less surface area touching your mouth when drinking from them.

How to Hold a Wine Glass

Holding a wine glass

There are many different ways to hold a wine glass securely by the stem. One is with your thumb and fingers pinching together at the top of the handle. 

Another method includes holding it in one hand while using your forefinger or middle finger as an anchor point for support on either side of the bowl's base.

If you're using a stemless wine glass, just hold it close to the base and not around the middle or top. If you grasp it too low, your hand will heat the wine faster. You'll also leave unsightly fingerprints everywhere when mishandling this delicate type of drinkware.

How to Open a Wine Bottle

Opening a wine bottle

Who knew opening a bottle of wine could be so complex? It often starts with an awkward moment when you struggle to open the foil and break off part of your fingernail in the process, or worse yet - drop the bottle all over the floor!

A few tools make opening wine bottles easier, such as using an electric wine opener. In the case of Champagne, one fantastic way to open a bottle is to saber it. But if you're a beginner, you may start with a more traditional approach using a wine corkscrew.

First, cut below the lip to remove the foil. You may use a wine foil cutter to create a cleaner cut. Then, insert the corkscrew in the center, rotate clockwise until it tightens up and feels like it's coming out slightly. Finally, pull out slowly until the cork disengages from the bottle leaving behind some tartrate crystals along its way, which is best dealt with by wiping them down gently.

Swirling Wine in a Glass and its Effect

Women swirling wine in a wine glass

After you have poured the wine into your glass, it's time to swirl it. Oxygen is excellent for this drink at first because it breaks down the grape’s natural acids and sugars.

But if given too much time exposed to oxygen, say overnight when left sitting on its side, oxidation will take place and ruin what once was a refreshing taste. This will leave flatness and even bitterness from some hideous chemical reaction taking hold.

When swirling wine, the aromas intensify in the glass. It's like opening your mouth and sniffing to get a whiff of something delicious. Swirling agitates the drink’s molecules, so they release their subtle nuances. 

When this occurs, stick your nose into the glass. That way, all those fragrances can be smelled at once without having any distractions.

Being a wine connoisseur is not required to perfect swirling. You can practice this simple technique using any liquid and an empty glass of your choice! All it takes is about 5 - 10 seconds for all those amazing smells and flavors to come out. 

Plus, water makes a great substitute when practicing because there's nothing worse than spilling that fine vino on expensive furniture or carpets.

How to Taste and Understand Wine Flavors

Wine tasting is one of the most fulfilling experiences a wine lover can have, as it allows for in-depth analysis and understanding of how this drink was made and what type of flavors are present. Wine tasters carefully examine wines' appearance, smell, taste, and texture to determine their quality using the steps below.

  • Inspect

The wine's appearance is worthwhile to the experience when tasting. Try noticing its color and opacity before looking closely at viscosity. You can then spend five more seconds on these characteristics and create an overall evaluation of the product!

  • Smell

Wine is a complex beverage with hundreds of aromas. When you first start smelling it, try not to focus too much on one specific aroma. Broadly speaking, wines can be divided into three primary categories: 

a.) Primary Aromas (fruits, herbs, and floral notes)
b.) Secondary Aromas (cheese rind, nut husk, or stale beer)
c.) Tertiary Aromas (roasted nuts, baking spices, vanilla, autumn leaves, old tobacco, cured leather, cedar, and even coconut)

These are more subtle flavors that do not always correspond directly with the ingredients in the wine but instead give it depth, such as fermentation-based smells from the winemaking process.

  • Taste

Wine can also have many different tastes. Different wines will also be more or less acidic depending on their origin, which includes climate and the type of grape used to make it.

For example, some grapes grow in wine regions where they have higher acidity levels, while other varieties may result in sweeter wine because not all sugars were fermented away during the production process, so there’s natural sweetness leftover for your tongue to detect.

A wine's texture can be detected by your tongue. It is related to many factors, including alcohol content and ripeness. A higher-alcohol or riper wine will have a more pronounced texture than a lower one because it has that "richer" taste you get from ethanol, and the tannins give off a sandpaper feeling on the teeth when drinking red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon.

  • Analyze

The tasting is over, but don't go yet! Take some time to reflect on what's going through your head right now. Was the wine anything like what you were expecting? Either good or bad, depending on how well they matched up with expectations beforehand.

Do those factors matter more than others when judging wines as a whole (i.e., too acidic vs. alcoholic)? What about the price point? Do expensive bottles always taste better than cheaper wines?

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Food Pairings with Wine

White wine and food

Studying wine is a complex process, but it can be simplified by understanding the different components that make up its taste. Beyond acidity and alcohol levels, some tannins offer bitterness to balance out sweetness or maintain an overall dryness in the wine’s flavor profile.

This means pairing wines with food becomes easier since you can combine flavors to create unexpected results for each preference. There are two methods you can use to pair wine with food: congruent and complementary.

Creating a congruent pairing is not as simple as just grabbing the first bottle on hand. For wine and food to make an engaging pair, they need at least one thing in common, like flavor or texture. 

The vital tip when creating these combinations is that while it's excellent if your dish complements the flavors of your drink, you want them each to stand on their own without being overpowered by either side.

Bottom line, the flavors of food and wines can be enhanced when they are paired together because like-minded ingredients will complement each other's flavor profile! A great example is a red wine that has cherry or smoky notes. This would go well with foods such as steak or smoked sausages, which have similar taste profiles.

A complementary pairing is when two different types of food or beverage come together to make a balanced flavor. They may not share any compounds, but they balance each other well with their contrasting flavors.  

For example, salty dishes such as fried chicken and potato chips are best paired with white wines like Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. The saltiness from the food decreases the sweetness of these types of wine while also bringing out their fruitier flavors and aromas more than usual!

Wine Drinking Tips

Toasting with wine

Reading a Wine Bottle Label

Wine labels are not just for decoration. These small pieces of paper carry vital information about what's inside the bottle, which is how wine drinkers can learn to be smart buyers in an increasingly competitive market.

Some info on these labels might seem straightforward and easy to understand, like whether or not wine is made from grapes grown locally. Others will likely prove tricky if they're written in another language or exhibiting specific information, like in the case of French wine labels.

There are five main things on a wine label you should pay attention to: producer/name, region, variety/appellation, vintage or non-vintage, ABV.

  • Producer - The first thing you need to know is who made the wine. You can recognize this by looking at either a producer's name on top or bottom of the label, but some American wines only show their wine name and are produced under license from larger companies.
  • Region - It tells you where the grapes are sourced from to produce wine. A large-scale vineyard indicates a cheaper, value bottle, whereas wines with specific locations often have higher prices and quality levels as they're more refined.
  • Variety / Appellation - The variety of grapes used to make the wine can be a clue where it came from. If you're looking at a blend with no grape listed, look for the appellation, which may give clues about what varietals were used based on regional rules and regulations.
  • Vintage or Non-Vintage - The distinctive flavor of wine can be determined by many factors, including type and age. Vintage is a term that refers to when grapes were harvested for winemaking. It affects the taste profile as well.
    Multi-vintage wines or “Non-Vintage” are lower value because they have the ease of pulling from multiple vintages to manipulate flavors to meet demand without sacrificing quality too much.
  • Alcohol by Volume - The alcohol level of wine indicates how rich and flavorful it may be. For example, many European wines have to meet the standards of 13% ABV or higher, but in America, that can go up as high as 17%.
    The reason behind this difference might lie with different climates. European grapes tend to ripen more slowly than American ones, which gives them time to develop sugar levels.

Choosing the Right Wine

Beyond the fundamental question of red or white, you need to choose your grape type and region for it too! Along with these options, wine also comes in different levels of quality that have specific prices attached as well. It can be hard deciding what's worth spending money on when there are so many choices nowadays.

The most important thing to do when looking for new wine is to read the label’s back. It's hard to get an idea about what kind of taste and flavor it will have just by reading its name or tasting it, even if someone tells you how good it tastes.

The best way to find out all your options before making any decisions is by actually going through them one at a time on the list in order from the lightest body up until richer, heavier-bodied, full-bodied bottles.

If you want your wine to compliment the dish, consider how strongly flavored or rich it is. Matching reds with meat and white wines with fish isn't enough for a well-rounded meal. Instead, think about whether they will clash in flavor or strengthen each other as one overpowers the taste of the other.

Wine ratings are a great way to determine if you're getting your money's worth when shopping for an expensive bottle. Some wine apps can help guide decision-making by quickly highlighting whether it is worth spending more on each bottle!

Aerate Wine for Better Flavors

Pouring Wine in Decanter

Though many people don't realize it, aerating your wine can make the difference between a glass of bitter alcohol and one that's enjoyable. This is because when you expose your wine to air for some time, all those sulfides (and other compounds) are oxidized into something less volatile.

A delicate older wine may get its singular aromas diluted by the air in which it was exposed for too long of a period. In contrast, more recent vintages tend to become smoother when aerated over time because their harsh flavors have already blended nicely from being allowed an extended amount of exposure beforehand. When aerating wine, you may use special tools like aerators, pourers, and decanters.

Wine Tasting Develops Your Palate

Should you pursue to become a wine connoisseur, chances are you will experience wine tasting sooner or later. Don't be intimidated by them because they don't always have to be formal. You can go to a wine event to relax and spend some time with friends.

Perhaps the most crucial reason you should join wine tastings or workshops is to learn and experience different types of wine to widen your palate. 

This will eventually help you identify new flavors and make more informed decisions when buying your next bottle of wine. You also get to meet wine experts who will help you know more about the world of wine.

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Wine Drinking FAQ

1. What are the benefits of drinking wine? 

Wine has been a staple in human culture, but the idea of whether or not it's healthy is still debated. However, studies reveal that moderate consumption of red wine daily helps reduce the risk of heart disease and other diseases. 

Other benefits include an abundance of antioxidants, a decrease in bad cholesterol, regulated blood sugar, and the promotion of gut health.

2. Is it okay to drink wine every day?

It depends on certain factors like the amount of wine consumed and lifestyle or diet. Studies have found that moderate consumption of wine could be beneficial when combined with a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

The optimal amount is one glass (150ml) per day for females or two glasses (300ml) per day for males. This recommendation comes from research on subjects who have consumed these quantities daily over an extended period associated with improved health outcomes and decreased risk of chronic diseases such as heart attack or stroke.

If you have health complications or are on a strict diet, we suggest checking out the bottle of wine you have so you can peruse its nutritional content.

3. What makes organic wines different?

Organic wine is produced from organic grapes grown in the vineyard without synthetic chemical additives. Organic winemaking avoids using refined sugar, sulfurous acids, and fining agents, often used during conventional processing methods with nonorganic grapes or other ingredients.

Organic growing practices include organic fertilizers, low-impact harvesting, and biologically active tradable inputs such as insecticidal soap or essential oils. 

The use of chemicals can pollute water sources that may lead to environmental degradation over time; therefore, it's important to protect our environment by choosing a sustainable option like organic wines!

Conclusion

Drinking wine is more than just the act itself. It is about exploring the very composition of wine and appreciating every bit of flavor it offers. Even if you just want to enjoy wine and not go the extra mile to be a connoisseur, you still need to know the basics to do it properly. 

With many wines to explore, you're off to a great start! Are you ready to continue your wine journey?


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