The world of wine can be a complicated one. There are so many grapes, regions, and vintners. Keeping it all straight can seem daunting. Perhaps that’s why so many of us settle for drinking wine without really appreciating it.
I have been drinking wine for many years, but have just recently put myself to the task of really understanding it. Through my studies I have come across some simple and illuminating information that has made the world of wine much easier to understand.
Here are my five favorite quick tips for understanding wine:
1. New world wines are named for the grape. Old world wines are named for the region.
This tip was a real eye-opener. The U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Argentina, and Chile put the name of the grape on the label. Europe names it’s wines after the region. What California calls Chardonnay, France calls white Burgundy. What’s called Syrah in the U.S. is called Rhone in France. And for some reason Australia calls it Shiraz, but it‘s all the same grape. Knowing the grapes of the primary regions of Europe makes it much easier to discern information from wine labels.
2. Wines should be matched by weight with foods.
For a quick way to pair food and wine, keep light wines with light food, and heavy wines with heavy food. Common wines listed by body from light to heavy are: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon. Common foods from light to heavy are: White Fish, Steak Fish, Chicken, Pork, Beef.
3. Put names to flavors
It’s very easy to sip a wine and decide whether or not you like it. But opinion doesn’t help us understand and remember the wine. Naming what we taste does. The more flavors you can identify in a wine, the better able you are to remember and appreciate it. Keep an arsenal of descriptive words in your lexicon to mentally flip through as you take your first sip. Maybe you taste fruit, but what kind of fruit? Is it strawberry, apple, peach, lime, grapefruit? What about earthy flavors like, dirt, coffee, licorice, smoke? Or maybe you taste spice. Is it vanilla, cinnamon, anise, clove? You can find flavor charts and flavor wheels on line and in many wine books. They’re great to have in front of you as you analyze what you’re tasting.
4. The color of wine tells you something about the age of the wine.
Like the rings of a tree, the color of wine gives away it’s age. A very young red will be a purple-blue red. As it ages it becomes more of an orange red. A well aged wine will start to turn a brown red. Young whites are very light, some even clear. A middle aged white becomes yellowish. An older white turns golden.
5. The shape of the bottle tells you what region the wine is from.
A long-necked bottle is used for the German and Alsatian wines, (Riesling, Gewurztraminer.) A soft-shouldered bottle is use for Burgundy and Rhone wines (Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Chardonnay, Viognier.) A firm shouldered bottle is used for Bordeaux wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc.)
The world of wine is complex. That’s what makes it interesting and intimidating. But knowing these few bits of information can really help in shopping for, tasting and appreciating wine.