How To Talk About Wine
Because flavors are so subjective, it’s easy to dismiss wine-tasting terms as pretentious and less-than-useful. However, understanding a few basic phrases can give you all the vocabulary you need to describe the wines you enjoy . To get you started, here are a few commonly-used wine words:
Now that you know how to talk about, let’s get into the wines themselves. Below are many of the most popular wine styles you’ll find in stores and at restaurants, along with a few underrated gems.
How Much Wine Should I Buy
This is a popular question, so we came up with an easy equation. While it may not be perfect, we use this to find out a general number of how many bottles are needed. We then associate red or white accordingly, depending on the time of year and predicted preference of the guests tastes.
Our calculation is based on a few assumptions:
One standard-sized bottle contains 4 glasses of wine. Which is where the 4 comes from in the equation.
Generally, people can be expected to have a glass per hour. This will largely depend on if you are serving other drink options at your event, but in general, some people will have more than one glass, and others wont drink wine at all, so it tends to even out.
Example A: Eight guests for a three hour event
8 guests divided by 4 = 2. Multiply that 2 by 3 to get the answer of 6 bottles.
Since there are 4 glasses of wine in a bottle, this brings us back to the conclusion that if each of your guests consumes one glass of wine per hour you will need 6 bottles total . Depending on their predicted tastes, you can then decide to buy red, white, rosé, or sparkling wine.
Example B: One hundred guests for a two hour event
100 guests divided by 4 = 25. Take 25 and multiply by the number of hours, 2, to get your answer of 50 bottles.
Now that you have the tools, youre ready to plan the perfect party! Want advice on serving wine to your guests? Check out our Tips & Tricks on Serving Wine blog.
How To Smell Wine
- Swirl the glass. This will allow the volatile aromas to evaporate.
- Smell the lower end of the rim and then the upper part of the rim. I usually get fruit aromas on the lower end and smoke, mineral aromas and ageing aromas on the upper part.
- After several smelling attempts, sometimes your nose will refuse to tell you anything. Dont worry. Smell your arm above your hand and resume smelling. This acts like a reboot for your sensors.
- If youre still not getting anything specific, the wine may be too cold, your nose may be faulty or the wine is just too nondescript and simple to give you more than the most basic aromas. But I promise good wine will soon stop smelling like wine and start revealing its secrets with practice.
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What You Should Do:
Go to the liquor store and buy some bottles of wine. Any wine. Make it 3 red, 3 white.
How do you pick which wines to buy?
Start simple. Go for wines youve heard mentioned over and over: Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.
Why cant I just ask the shop attendant to help me?
You can. By all means, ask your local liquor store owner to help you pick 3 radically different reds, and 3 different whites.
But there is a chance they will ask what do you like. And since the whole point is that you dont know what you like and want to find that out, this will lead to confusion. And both of you will come away feeling very silly.
Reason 2 for going it alone at this early stage? Finding your own words to describe the wine. A wine seller will tell you what you should taste in a bottle. And when it comes time to taste test, you want to be focused on what you actually taste. Not the words some guy in a shop used to sell it to you.
Instead, select 4 to 6 different types. Bring them home. And taste them.
What should you do with the wines you dont like?
Cook with them! You wont really be able to taste the wine once its been all mixed up in a flavorful broth or fancy dish.
- Red wines go excellently with pasta sauces, beef marinades, and this simple stove top beef stew.
- And white wines go very well in white sauces, seafood dishes, or this one-pan chicken, potatoes, and artichoke casserole!
Different Types Of Red Wine
Red wines are categorized by varietals the type of grape that is used to produce the wine. Some red wines blend several varietals to elicit different flavors or tasting characteristics. These red blends are also generally more affordable than single varietals from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, or Australia.
Within these types of red wine, each one can have a different style: light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied. Red wines with a light body have an airy effect on the palate. These wines including Grenache and Pinot Noir tend to have fewer tannins and thus less of a punchy flavor. Medium-bodied red wines like Merlot and Shiraz have a higher alcohol content compared to light-bodied wines and offer a lingering flavor. Full-bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon from California contain more than 13.5% alcohol and offer a full mouth feel. They are rich and bold with intense flavors.
Not sure which type of wine you’ll like? Here, well break down the differences between red wines. Plus, well give you handy tips on which ones you may like based on your taste preferences.
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Once You Understand Your Own Preferences Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Advice
According to Bosker, you only really need to know two things when you buy wine: How much you want to spend, and what flavors you like. “That could be as specific as, ‘I adore Slovakian dry Rieslings’ or as broad as, ‘I like wines that taste like peach,'” she says. Communicate those facts at a wine shop or restaurant just like you’d ask a sales attendant to point you in the right direction at a clothing store. “Whoever works there will be able to help you find something fabulous,” says Bosker.
Best Wines For Beginners: Easy
Starting out in the world of wine can be bewildering. For many, wine is an acquired taste, and uninitiated palates may need to start with lighter wines in order to learn to appreciate the various flavors in the wines before moving forward. Fortunately, some wines are great “break-in” wines that can kick start a lifelong appreciation of this wonderful beverage.
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Dry Wine Vs Sweet Wine
When youre learning about different wines, youll also hear some described as dry and others as sweet. Theres a whole spectrum of sweetness for wines thats based on the amount of residual sugar left in them after the fermentation process is complete.
A sweet type of wine is one that has a larger amount of sugar left behind. This gives it a sweeter flavor that some people might find more palatable.
The drier a wine is, on the other hand, the less sugar is left behind. This means that more sugar has been converted to alcohol during the fermentation process. Dry wines may have a more bitter taste.
Sweeter wines also tend to have a lower alcohol content than drier wines. A general rule of thumb is that wines on the sweeter side tend to have an alcohol content of 10 percent or less. An off-dry wine will have an alcohol content of 11-12.5 percent, and a dry wine is one whose alcohol content is 12.5 percent or more.
There is some stigma around sweet wines, as wine connoisseurs often assume that having a preference for sweet flavors makes one amateurish or less refined than those who prefer an off-dry or very dry wine. I say whatever, and am a proud lover of sweet wines!
In fact, theres a variety of high-quality wines that come in all flavor profiles, and one is not better than the other based on dryness alone.
They better have wine!
What’s The Difference Between Red And White Wine
Okay, you probably dont need any help recognizing a white wine versus a red wine. They look different and they certainly taste different as well. But its worth your while to understand why these types of wine look and taste so different. The culprit in both cases: the skins, and a little something they bring to the party called tannins. Remember the word tannin and what it means, because wine people talk about tannins a lot.
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Additional Wines That Could Be Added To Either Option Listed Above
Sparkling: Some guests might enjoy a sparkling wine. You might also want one if youre celebrating for a birthday or anniversary party. Unless its a really special occasion where you want to serve Champagne, you should go with Prosecco from Italy or Cava from Spain. They are both really enjoyable and more economical than Champagne.
Sweet wine: Depending on the group of guests, you might like to have a sweeter option on hand as some people do not enjoy dry wine. A few possibilities here include Moscato from Italy or Riesling from Germany.
Rosé: If youre having a party in the summer or know that some of your guests enjoy rosé, having a few bottles on hand is a nice touch. Try a rosé from the South of France Provence, for example, produces great rosés at great prices.
How To Find The Perfect Wine For You
F& W’s Ray Isle investigates the sommelier strategies that can help you find an ideal bottle of wine all on your own.
The Jordan Pond House, in Acadia National Park, Maine, serves lemonade in an unusual way. Youre given a big glass of unsweetened lemonade and a little pitcher of sugar syrup. Then you pour in as much syrup as you want until the lemonade is to your liking. Some people like their lemonade very tart, some people like it very sweet and most people are somewhere in the middle.
Thinking about wine in the same way isnt such a stretch like lemonade, some wines are very tart, some less so. In fact, although wine can seem dauntingly complex, it shares a lot of characteristics with other things you eat and drinksourness, bitterness, sweetness and so on. If you dont like intensely tangy lemonade, you probably wont like intensely tangy wines. The problem is, if youre looking at a list of unfamiliar wines, how do you know which ones youll like? You dont. And, unlike lemonade, you cant adjust a wine to your taste.
In a restaurant, of course, you can ask the sommeliera good one can divine which wines youll enjoy, even if you dont know yourself. At The NoMad in Manhattan, wine director Thomas Pastuszak refers to these skills as the Jedi mind tricks of the sommelier, a phrase I like if only because it brings to mind an image of Alec Guinness in Star Wars, pointing to a wine list and saying, These arent the Cabs youre looking for…
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Best Crisp White: 2018 Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc
Courtesy of Wine.com
Region: New Zealand | ABV: 12.6% | Tasting Notes: Passionfruit, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon Peel, Fresh Grass
Fans of crisp, refreshing whites can never get enough of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Not only is it always a great value for the price, but it also offers unique and complex flavors and aromas not commonly found in other inexpensive wines.
There is so much going on in this beautiful bottle from Amisfieldit shows vibrant tropical notes of passionfruit, mango, lychee, and papaya alongside zesty grapefruit, lemon, and lime, fragrant honeysuckle and elderflower, and freshly cut grass. Expressive but not overwhelming, it makes a great match with freshly shucked oysters, vegetable dishes or anything with plenty of fresh green herbs.
Best Red: 2018 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon
Courtesy of Wine.com
Region: California | ABV: 14.2%| Tasting Notes: Blackberry, Blueberry, Cedar, Cola
For beginners who know they love a full-bodied red, its impossible to go wrong with California cabernet sauvignon. This plush, rich bottling comes from the Central Coasts Paso Robles region, known for a warm, dry, and sunny climate thats ideal for producing ripe, user-friendly wines.
The True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best values youll find there, with powerful dark fruit flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and plum accented by vanilla, spice, cola, and toasty oak notes. The tannins here add structure but are not too drying, and a splash of acidity keeps this big wine from feeling heavy or overpowering.
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Leaning How To Taste Wine
Learning wine tasting from scratch is not easy. After my one-day tasting class I realised how weak I was when it comes to my tasting technique. I bought a number of books to help, listened to podcasts, especially the Guild of Sommeliers excellent series. And I even searched the internet looking for a manual on how to become a tasting guru in ten easy steps. You might say that one cant learn to dance by reading a book and it may be the same with wine tasting. But its disappointing that there isnt a simple and practical book to get you started.
Ive also learned that developing your own tasting techniques needs time, practice and cross checking with other people. I guess you need to be patient with yourself and try to attend as many tasting sessions as possible.
But in the meantime, if you dont have time nor patience, or too much money to spend on tasting classes, what do you do? Hands on, full of enthusiasm I started my journey to become a blind tasting guru. During this process I felt like a spy, trying to gather as much intel to build my own map of professional tasting.
I might be wrong, I might be right, but here is my personal guide to becoming a tasting guru in 10 simple steps, based on what I learned over the last year and a half.
Learn How To Identify A Grape Variety By The Leaf And Grape Bunch
So you want to be a pro ampelographer? Thats what they call someone who is a botanic specialist focussed on the grape vine. Or maybe you dont? Maybe you just want to know how to tell one grape variety from another. Or as they would say in South Africa, one cultivar from another . Or even one varietaly as some linguistically misguided drinkers sometimes say. Or you are just curious. Or have nothing better to read.
These days the most reliable way to identify a grape variety is to do a DNA test . But few people carry around a DNA test kit in the vineyards.
So lets get serious.
The most important clue to identify the grape variety is the leaf. It should be a full-grown leaf to properly show the characteristics. There are several things to look for. Here are the most important:
- The size
- What kind of fingers and holes does the leaf have
- Is it flat or waffley?
- Is it smooth or hairy? Or perhaps a little bit dusty?
- What is pattern and distribution of the nerves
- And much more
Second thing to look at is of course the grape bunches, although that is difficult unless it is close to harvest time. Here are some of the important things:
- Well, first is of course the colour
- The size of the bunch
- The size of the berries
- The shape of the bunch. Is it conical? Cylindric? With two parts, a big main part and a small ear to the side?
- Tight or wide spread?
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What Should I Know About White Wines
White wines are a little less straightforward when it comes to deciding on food pairings, Capaldi notes. A white wine that is lighter, more acidic, and fruity, like a German riesling or sauvignon blanc, will likely pair well with light, zesty dishes like seafood and shellfish.
One of Capaldis other favorite foods to recommend for white wine lovers? French fries, since the simple saltiness complements the light flavor super well. For more fuller-bodied, rich-tasting wines , youll want to partner them with richer flavor profiles like roasted turkey, potatoes, cream-based pastas, and other fatty-textured food, says Capaldi.
As for optimal temps when it comes to white wine, you want to keep lighter or sparkling wines at a pretty ice cold temperature, which helps them stay crisp to tasteanywhere from 38 to 45 degrees, Capaldi says. For a full-bodied wine, you can keep it at what Capaldi calls fridge cold, which, yup, means that its good at whatever temp you keep it at in your fridge, anywhere from 45 to 55 degrees.
See below for more information on white wine specifics and their various flavor notes, according to Herwaldt.
- Sauvignon Blanc:This wine also can vary quite a bit when it comes to taste, Herwaldt says. The dry wine has citrus notes, like grapefruit, and an herbaceous taste that Herwaldt compares to freshly cut grass. High in acidity, it pairs super well with goat cheese, which is also acidic-tasting, Herwaldt explains.