We both got to work, reading as much as possible to learn all we could--and then share it at our first meeting. My only experience up until that point was that I drank ONE wine--Riunite Lambrusco, which is a super sweet red wine that you can buy at any liquor store or grocery store. I tasted wine at a couple of weddings, and thought it was disgusting. But I knew that it was such a POPULAR beverage around the entire world, so I wanted to like it.
I'm going to write this entry as if I was talking to someone who knows absolutely NOTHING about wine, and you're not looking to become an expert--you're just looking to know the basics and how to learn to enjoy wine. Some of the things I write may not sit well with the "wine snobs", but I'm not looking to turn anyone into a wine snob! ;)
First things first: Wine is essentially fermented grape juice. There are 3 basic categories of wine that you should know.
Red wine--Made from red grapes, and after extracting the juice of the grapes, the skins are placed into the wine while it ferments, which "stains" the wine the various shades of red.
White wine--This could be made from any color of grape, but there are no skins placed in it while it ferments, so it remains white (clear) in color.
Rose wine--(Pronounced rose-ay) Made with red grapes, and the skins are only placed into the juice for a short time, making a light pinkish color of wine.
You may hear people talk of "dry reds" or "sweet whites", etc. Depending on how sweet the wine tastes, it is considered "sweet", "dry", and the in-between variations "medium dry" and "medium", or even "semi-dry" and "semi-sweet".
There are many different factors that determine what category the wine falls into (alcohol content, residual sugars, etc) but all you really need to know is that a sweet wine tastes sweet, and a dry wine does not.
From my experience with Winers, MOST beginner wine drinkers prefer sweet wines, because they're used to drinking sweet drinks. That is what I always suggest for beginners. Once you enjoy the sweet wine, then I would move to the semi-sweet or semi-dry wines, and eventually, the dry wines. A lot of the girls in my wine club used to hate the dry wine, but after tasting it over and over again, they now prefer the dry wine.
Once you learn the colors and the sweetness factors, then you can start to learn about varietals. There are MANY different types of varietals, and I couldn't begin to list them all. But I will explain a little about them and what it means.
A wine "varietal" refers to the name of the grape that the wine was made from. For example, when you hear someone say they are going to have a glass of Chardonnay, the word Chardonnay is actually the name of the grape that was used to make the wine. Other common varietals--Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Grigio. These are all the names of the grapes used to make the wine. Again, there are way too many to list, but I'll stick with the very common ones.
When you go to the grocery store, wine is usually organized on the shelf by varietal. So if you look at the bottles, you should see one of the varietals listed--for example, Merlot--and the bottles all around that bottle are probably Merlot, too.
The difference between these bottles? They are different brands, come from different vineyards, bottled in different places. It's kind of like shopping for shoes--you tell the salesperson you want black heels, and they bring you a ton of different black heels to choose from. They are all made by different companies. When shopping for wine, one bottle of Merlot might be made in California, and another bottle might be made in Australia. That's what is so fun about trying wine--you may not like a particular bottle, but there are thousands more to try out!
There are wines called "blends" as well, which means that different grape varietals are mixed into one wine. It might be a "Cabernet-Merlot" blend, "Merlot-Malbec" blend, etc. A common one that you may see on the shelves is called Menage A Trois (a fun name!)--they blend three varietals into each bottle. For example, the Menage A Trois red is made up of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
So you know the color, whether it is sweet or dry, and the varietal. Next, you can learn the "vintage". Vintage is simply a fancy word for "year". The year (vintage) listed on the bottle is the year that the grapes were picked. For the true beginner, this doesn't mean much. If you're going very in-depth, then you'll learn that the weather and climate in different years yielded better or worse quality of grapes, and therefore, the certain vintages may taste better. But for the average person, don't worry about the vintage.
Wine labels can be intimidating because there are so many unfamiliar words. Some things you will find on the wine label, along with the varietal and vintage:
- Brand name--By law, this has to be listed. If there is no brand, then the bottler is considered the brand. It will say, "Bottled by..." (usually on the back label).
- Appellation of Origin--where the grapes are grown.
- Producer and bottler
- Alcohol content--a percentage of alcohol in the wine
- Other mumbo-jumbo, like the government warning about drinking alcohol.
Here is a label from one of my personal favorite bottles of wine:
|2005 Kendall-Jackson Zinfandel|
Here is another label, and this one is a NV wine--which means "non-vintage". That means the grapes may have been picked in different years, so there won't be a vintage on the label. Usually, that is the case with less expensive wine.
|NV Barefoot Moscato (If you think you don't like wine, try this... you'll probably like it)|
There is one word you should know that doesn't really fit in anywhere else here, so I'll just write about it here. Tannins. You will come across that word a LOT when reading about or hearing about wine, so you should probably know what it means. The tannins in a wine refer to the dry mouth-feel that you get when drinking highly-tannic wines.
Imagine chewing on a mouthful of grape skins--you know how your mouth would feel dry and almost sticky, and taste a little bitter? Same thing when you drink plain, black tea. When a wine has a lot of tannins, it just means that it makes your mouth feel dry like I described, and somewhat bitter. This isn't considered a BAD thing--it's just a way of describing the mouth-feel of the wine.
To taste what I'm talking about, try a Cabernet Sauvignon, as it is known as being one of the most tannic wines.
Now that you know how to read a wine label, I'll make a few suggestions for common wines that you might want to try (as a beginner to wine). I mentioned that most beginners like sweet wines, so here are some sweeter varietals:
Riesling (most Riesling that you find in the grocery store is sweet; if not, it will usually specify "dry riesling")
White Zinfandel (this is made from a Zinfandel grape, which is red, but the color of the wine is a pink color)
Some specific wines that were very popular among the "beginners" at wine club:
Riunite Lambrusco (red)
Barefoot Moscato (white, pictured above)
Barefoot Riesling (white)
Barefoot Sweet Red (red)
I've found that no matter what the varietal, Barefoot seems to be a popular brand among people who are just looking to try new wine varietals (and you can find it anywhere!). If you're totally unsure, start with that brand and pick a bottle that sounds good to you--and try it out!
Once you're enjoying the sweeter wines, you can start trying out some that aren't so sweet (but aren't bone-dry, either). Here are some of the varieties I'd suggest trying:
Sauvignon Blanc (white)
Merlot (red) --Kendall-Jackson Merlot is my very favorite wine of all-time!
Pinot Noir (red)
When you're ready to try some bolder, dry wines:
Cabernet Sauvignon (red)
Pinot Grigio (white)
Now, keep in mind that not ALL Zinfandels are very bold and dry, and not ALL Rieslings are sweet. It depends on the brand, the vintner, etc. If you try one and don't like it, don't be afraid to try the same varietal of a different brand.
A few notes about serving wine. Google this, and you'd have waaaay more information than you'd know what to do with. The bare basics that you need to know:
Red wine should be served slightly colder than room temperature, at or a little above 60 degrees. If you put the bottle in the fridge for about 20 minutes before serving, that'll do ya just fine.
White wine should be served colder, at about 35-40 degrees. Refrigerate, and then take out about 10-15 minutes before serving, to allow it to get to the right temp.
You may be thinking, "What's the big deal if I drink my red wine cold?"
"White wines too warm will taste alcoholic and flabby, while white wines too cold will be refreshing but nearly tasteless. As for reds, keep them too warm and they will taste soft, alcoholic and even vinegary. Too cold and they will have an overly tannic bite and much less flavor." --SOURCEI never used to understand what the big deal was until I started experimenting with different temps, and it really does make a big difference in how the wine tastes. You don't have to get the exact temperature, but please don't drink red wine from the refrigerator.
Also, drink wine from a wine glass. You don't need a different glass for reds, whites, and all the varietals of each. Just a normal wine glass will do.
And ALWAYS remember...
|...Wine tastes SO MUCH BETTER when you drink it with friends!|
The cost of wine can vary enormously. Don't assume that the more expensive the bottle, the better the wine will taste, either. I've tasted very expensive wine that I didn't care for, and I've tasted very cheap wine that I thought was great.
|Seriously... use a glass|
I've found this to be a good solution to when I want to have a glass of wine every evening without finishing a whole bottle. If I have wine with a friend, we open a bottle, but when it's just me, by myself, I've been going for the box lately :) I've tried other brands of boxed wine, and didn't care for any of them--but the Black Box is really good! Just don't leave it out on your counter when you have company ;)
And that pretty much sums up Stress-free Wining. Hopefully I clued you in on how to start drinking the world's best beverage. If there is one thing I cannot stress enough, it is to TASTE A HUGE VARIETY OF WINE, as many different varietals and brands possible. Wine is an acquired taste, and if you just try it once, you may not like it. But over time, you will start to realize what you were missing out on. It took me about 4 months of trying all different types of wines to truly start enjoying MOST of what I tried.