The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Wine

Wine lovers are well-known for their love of using special vocabulary to describe the various aspects of wine. However, to those of us with little to no experience, the only words we recognize are “red” and “white”. Luckily, even if you never become a licensed wine expert, you can still learn the basics of what differentiates a Merlot from a Sauvignon.

Body
Also known as the texture, wines are labeled as either full-bodied or light-bodied. All this means is how rich the flavor is. It’s very similar to the viscosity difference between skim and whole milk. Visually, color is a great indicator of a wine’s body. Dark wines with rich color are full-bodied while the pale, lighter wines are light-bodied. If you find yourself still in doubt, check the alcohol content. The higher this is, the fuller the wine.

Acidity
Unfortunately, wines were not labeled based on sweetness. Instead, they’re ranked on their tartness. The more tart a wine is, the higher its acidity. Therefore, if you’re looking for a sweet wine, ask the waiter for one with low acidity. As a rule of thumb, this will generally mean you’ll like wines of warmer climates, such as those grown in California or Australia. The cooler the climate the wines were made in, the tarter they tend to be.

Flavors
Directly affected by every process of the making of the wine, from the growing of the grapes to the aging of the drink, flavors are the distinct tastes that can be detected within each sip. The most basic groups are flowers, fruits, spices, earth and herbs. The most respected wine experts can isolate these in mere sips. Even though you might not plan to reach a level where you can distinguish a hint of coffee matched with a touch of the earth of northern France, being able to tell a few of the flavors apart is a great way to enhance your wine drinking experience.

Color
It’s important to address color simply because not all wine lists will be separated by whites and reds. Knowing the more popular of the colors can help you avoid ordering something you don’t like.

White Grapes
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Chardonnay wines are all made from white grapes. Interestingly enough, these “white” grapes are actually green in color. Of the four, the Chardonnay tends to be the most popular as it has the most versatile flavor, dependent on how the grapes were grown and how the wine was made.

Red Grapes
Including the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Pinot Noir, red wines will typically be fuller and sweeter than the whites if only due to the natural flavor of red grapes. Of the red wines, there really is no one favorite. All are highly regarded for their fullness and swathe of flavors.