Wine Basics for Beginners
If you really want to enjoy wine and develop your palate for this fine drink, it helps to start with the basics.
When you know what to look for, you will better appreciate the art that goes behind winemaking and the overall experience that even a single sip has to offer.
Here are the important details you that you can start with.
The first thing that you notice in wine is its color. Usually, we say that it is a burgundy or white wine. But did you ever wonder why they ever come to be that way? It all goes back to the intricate and well calculated process of how they are made.
White wines are those that contain a little red pigmentation or none at all. These wines are often made from white grapes. Although these are never literally white but rather, these are grapes that have gold, green, yellow-green and light-orange skin. Black grapes, which is really just a general term, are not really black but those with red or blue tint. These grapes create white wine since most of their juices are clear. The most popular white wines include the Sauvignon Blanc, Reisling, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.
Red wines, on the other hand, are made from black grapes. It’s not the juice that gives its red or blue tint, but rather its the grape skins which contain most of the grape’s pigmentation. Grape skin are the most important part that make up the color of the wine because of its tannins and color compounds. The process is actually called maceration, and it is when the skin is left with the juice during fermentation so that it also leaves its pigment. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are among the most popular reds around.
Rosé wines have that characteristic pink color which is why it is also dubbed as pink, rosé or blush wines. They are also made from black grapes, but they don’t really turn red because the grape skins only comes in contact with the juice for a couple of hours before it is removed. But in some cases, Rosés can also be made by blending red and white wines together.
But the interesting thing about wine color is that when white wine ages, it gains color. While red wines lose color as it collects years. Swirling a wine is important in appreciating its color .
Sparkling wines is also a selection that contains carbon dioxide bubbles. Wine makers have developed their own techniques on how to trap carbon dioxide, which actually occurs naturally during fermentation. When we mention of sparkling wines or a bottle of bubbly, the first name that comes to mind is Champagne. But this is actually a misconception because Champagne is only a type of sparkling wine and this name only refers to a wine derived from grapes that are grown in the Champagne region.
Graphic by Wine Folly
One of the important parts of wine tasting is also savouring the scent. Why? Because 80 percent of what we taste is brought about by our sense of smell. And indeed, there is a bevy of scents that you can revel in since wines has over 200 on its own. This is the reason why in wine tasting you have to swirl your wine first. This allows oxygen to mix with the wine, and also releases the aroma made from the esters, esthers and aldehyde compounds.
But many find themselves confused with a wine’s aroma and bouquet. Before going further, you have to know that there are three classifications of wine aromas. The primary aroma, which is also known as the varietal aroma comes from the varietals or types of grapes used. The secondary aromas, or the vinous aromas, are the ones developed before and during the fermentation process. Meanwhile, tertiary aromas are the ones developed after the fermentation process and it develops during the maturation process goes through in barrels or in wine bottles.
The “nose” is the term that wine makers use in describing the bouquet and aroma of the wine. It is important that you take the time to smell the wine because this also helps you identify certain characteristics, and it is also through this process that you slowly develop preferences.
Graphic by Bordeaux-Undiscovered
The thing about wine is that it just surprises your palate with a layer of flavours. But you really have to know what is coming for you. True wine tasting goes beyond just sipping and swallowing the drink, it has to really caress the senses to be able to marvel at the real beauty of the wine. The hallmarks of wine tasting are pointing out a wine’s sweetness, fruit, body, acidity, tannin and aftertaste.
Is it sweet?
Sweetness can be tasted right away since it can be appreciated at the tip of your tongue. It actually makes a wine’s first impression. You have to let the wine linger in your mouth, giving it enough time to impress the taste buds. A good indicator of sweetness is the tingling on your taste buds.
But, did you know that a wine’s sweetness also relates to its level of dryness? Some stores even have sweetness codes, which determines the sweetness expected from a wine selection. This is primarily based on the amount of residual sugar that is left in the wine after the fermentation process has been completed. Other factors that also affect the sweetness of the wine include its alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity and the temperature upon serving. For example, low levels of tannin and acidity can create a stronger impression of sweetness. Intense fruit flavors can also be confused with sweet flavours. But you have to remember that a wine can be fruity but not necessarily sweet.
Dessert wines also have very high sugar content and are made to be sweet for various reasons. One reason could be that grapes are harvested very late, or the grapes are dried on straw mats so that the sugar content is concentrated. They are referred to dessert wines because they are best paired with fruits or desserts.
Name a few fruit flavours. How intense is the flavour?
Wines are also characterized by their main fruit flavours, and it is important that you take time to savour it so that you will now recognize your preferences. The fruitiness of a wine also suggests the different growing regions. This can be appreciated at the middle of the tongue, the sides of tongue, the cheek area, until the back of the throat.
When we talk about a wine’s body, this term describes the overall feel of the wine or its general weight inside your mouth. A wine can be full, medium or light-bodied.
The body of a wine is a result of several factors. It could include its age, alcohol level, grape variety and the way that it is made. For example, a wine with high alcohol content will feel weightier because alcohol contributes to the viscosity of the wine. In wine making techniques, leaving the wine on its lees after the fermentation process can also give it more body. But an important point to consider is that a wine with fuller body doesn’t necessarily mean that it is high in quality.
How acidic is this wine?
The acidity of a wine is often confused with alcohol content. You see to determine and experience what wine acidity means, you will notice these types to be light weight and come off as spritzy. Usually, wines that are grown in cooler vignettes have a higher acidity. When you drink it, you will notice the tingling sensation focusing on the front and sides of the tongue as if you are eating pop rocks. Also, if you rub your tongue on the roof of your mouth it will feel gravelly. It leaves the mouth wet like you’ve just bitten into a juicy peach or apple. If you prefer a wine that is richer in taste, then it is best to go for those that are slightly less acidic.
Is there tannin?
Determining the tannin of a wine is often the tricky part because it is often confused with the level of dryness because tannin also has a drying effect in the mouth. Tannins is a result of the presence of phenolic compounds that give wine a bitter taste. In the wine making process, the inclusion of the stem, brush and seeds also contributes to the tannin found in wines. Tannin is best described to be rather herbaceous or astringent and it can make your tongue dry out. If you swallow it, it leaves a lingering bitter or dry sensation in the mouth.
Tannins are important in a wine because it gives it structure, complexity and balance. Adding to that, tannins also help increase the shelf life of a wine.
How long is the aftertaste?
This denotes the overall taste and balance of all the components of the wine, and it also lingers in your mouth. This is referred to as the length and finish of the wine. You can appreciate a wine to be high in quality when it has a long and pleasing aftertaste. In fact, some of the top quality wines have an aftertaste that can last up to 1-3 minutes.
Now that we have laid out the basics, you can now at least appreciate your wine more not only for the drink that it is but for the complexity of flavours that follows from every sip.