Wine for beginners... And other normal people.
There are only 140 people in the US who have earned the title Master Sommelier, and I’m not one of them. Chances are, neither are you. In fact, most of the human population isn’t. But that doesn’t stop any of us from drinking and loving wine. Turns out you don’t have to be an expert to know what you like, you just have to own a handful of taste buds and sometimes a wine opener (but who doesn’t love a screw top).
The point is, mainstream wine culture can be intimidating. There’s all kinds of foreign words being thrown around and names you’ve never heard of, and different sized glasses and bottles and styles and colors. Honestly, the sheer magnitude of information we don’t know about wine and winemaking can be overwhelming at best and discouraging at worst. The good news is, for the most part, none of that really matters, truly.
The only question you need to ask yourself when you take a sip is “Do I like this?”. If the answer is no, toss it. Seriously, life’s too short to drink something you don’t like. If the answer is yes, great, drink that glass and maybe grab the bottle to see what it is so you can have it again. It really is that simple. There are a few other basic concepts that are really easy to grasp that will make finding the wine you like just a little more straightforward… these are some of them.
What is Wine?
1.an alcoholic drink made from fermented grape juice.
Why is some wine red and others are white or pink?
Red wine is wine made from dark-colored grapes. But did you know that the juice from most purple grapes is greenish-white? So the red color is actually coming from the skin of the grape and not the juice inside. Crazy right?! Actually, most of the red-wine production process involves getting color and flavor from the grapes skin into the wine. This is accomplished by crushing the grapes (with a machine, not feet) and letting the juice and skins hang out in big bins for a few weeks while they ferment. After that, the now red colored alcoholic juice is separated from the skins and transferred to barrels or tanks to age into a grown up wine that gets put into a bottle.
White Wine is wine that is fermented without the skins of the grapes. After the grapes are crushed they are immediately removed from the skins and put into tanks to ferment. Because, turns out, some white wine grapes (like pinot gris) are actually red! Totally bonkers right?! So, after the juice gets nice and boozy, it is either transferred to barrels or left in the tank to age into something a little more interesting before being bottled.
Sweet Wine is wine that has leftover grape sugars in it after it is finished fermenting. This sweetness in wine is called residual sugar. The way we describe the sugar levels in a wine is Dry, Off Dry, and Sweet. Dry means that a wine has no sugar in it and is not sweet at all. Off Dry means that the wine has a little bit of sugar and is a little bit sweet. Sweet means that the wine has a lot of sugar and is, well, pretty sweet.
Rosé is a type of wine that incorporates some of the color from the grape skins, but not enough to qualify it as a red wine. It’s created by crushing the grapes and allowing the skins to remain in the juice for two to twenty hours. The longer that the skins are left in contact with the juice, the darker the color of the final wine. There are a few other methods to making this kind of wine, but this is the most common.
What about all those other words?
Fermentation is the process in which yeast is added to the grape juice and it goes to work eating the sugar in the juice and produces alcohol in the process. No yeast, no wine.
Varietals are the different types of grapes, so all their different names. i.e. Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Noir are different grape varietals.
Vintage is the year the grapes were grown. So the year you see on the label is when the grapes that make up the wine in the bottle were picked and made into wine. If you don’t see a year, it is because the wine in Non Vintage, which just means it’s a blend of different wines from multiple years.
Tannins are present mostly in red wines. It’s the sensation you get when you drink a really bold red wine and it feels like all of the spit had been sucked out of your mouth. That’s tannin.
Acidity is what gives wine its tart and sour taste. Acidity is important because it helps to slow wine from going bad.
At the end of the day the most important thing is to drink what you like, with the people you love, in the places you want to share.