WINE FOR BEGINNERS
“GOOD WINE” FOR BEGINNERS
You have probably heard from both friends and experts many times that any wine you like is a good wine. This is true if simply enjoying wine is your goal. You don’t have to do more than take a sip, give it a swallow and let your inner geek decide “yes” or “no.” The end.
It’s true that figuring out what you like is an important component of wine tasting, but it’s not the only component. Quickly passing judgment about a wine is not the same as truly understanding and evaluating it. If you’re tasting properly, you will be able to identify the main flavor and scent components in every wine you try; you will know the basic characteristics for all of the most important varietal grapes, and beyond that, for the blended wines from the world’s best wine-producing regions. You will also be able to quickly point out specific flaws in bad wines.
FINDING WINE FLAWS
Rest assured, there are some truly bad wines out there, and not all of them are inexpensive. Some flaws are the result of bad winemaking, while others are caused by bad corks or poor storage. If you are ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant, you want to be certain that the wine you receive tastes the way it was intended to taste. You can’t always rely on servers in restaurants to notice and replace a wine that is corked. You are ultimately the one who will be asked to approve the bottle. Being able to sniff out common faults, such as a damp, musty smell from a tainted cork called TCA, will certainly make it easier for you to send a wine back.
DISCOVERING DIFFERENT WINE TYPE
A wine beginner might know the basic differences between a red and a white, but it’s also important to learn all the wine types and varietals. You can explore everything from Chardonnay to Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel in our guide to the most important red wine grapes and white wine grapes.
EXPLORING WINE REGIONS
Wine is made in virtually every country in the world. These countries are often referred to as “Old World” or “New World.” “Old World” consists of regions with long histories of wine production, such as Europe and parts of the Mediterranean. Some of the most well-known “Old World” wine regions include France, Italy and Germany, and these regions focus greatly on terroir—the unique characteristics of the soil and climate, which give their wine a sense of place. “New World” (as the name suggestions) is used to describe newer wine-producing regions, such as U.S., Australia and Chile. These regions tend to have hotter climates and generally use different labeling methods; they tend to use grapes rather than region on labels for recognition.
While learning how to choose wine, it’s helpful to know some of the major wine regions and the grapes they are best known for:
MOST POPULAR REGIONS AND GRAPES
For more information on these popular regions and varietals, click the links to access the Wine Enthusiast Buying Guide.
READING A WINE LABEL
At first glance, a wine label can be confusing to those just getting started. Luckily, New World wine producers have made it easier on wine beginners by listing the grape(s) directly on the label. Old World regions have typically relied on the wine consumer to be familiar enough with the region to know, for example, that Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir.
Old World Wines might read like this:
Chateau Moulin de Grenet 2009 Lussac St. Emilion
New World wines might read like this:
Cakebread 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley
The French wine lists “Saint-Emilion,” assuming the consumer realizes that wines from Saint-Emilion are mostly Merlot. The wine from Napa, California, on the other hand, lists both the region and the grape variety. As you study more about wine, you’ll become more and more accustomed to all the wine varietals and the Old World regions that produce them.
Old World wine producers are slowly realizing that in order to compete on the global market, they need to make it easy on the consumer. But as much as times may change, a deep understanding of how to read a wine label will always be a useful skill.