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  • Julianna Sweeney

A Beginner's Guide To Wine

Picking out wine can be extremely intimidating - especially if you're still a beginner (I feel you). There's a whole multitude of factors that go into the decision process. The world of wine is so wide and expansive (and constantly evolving) that there's always something new to be learned.

I've put together a little guide for all my beginners out there. Hopefully it will help you become a little more comfortable and a little less stressed next time you head to the liquor store or order a refreshing drink with dinner.

Let's get started...


1. Basic Wine Facts

  • Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grape juice

  • Grapes used for wine production are smaller, sweeter, contain seeds and have thicker skin that your typical grape

  • There are over 1,300 grape varieties for commercial production, however only about 100 of these varieties make up roughly 75% of vineyards worldwide

  • The most planted wine grape in the world is Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Wine types are named for the grapes that they are produced from

  • Just because the wine is old and expensive doesn't mean that it's the best

  • Champagne is just sparkling wine

  • All wines can be grouped into one of the 5 types below

2. Wine Types

  1. Red Wine - still wine made with black grapes (The most popular kinds are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Grenache and Pinot Noir)

  2. White Wine - still wine made from white, and occasionally black, grapes (The most popular kinds are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio)

  3. Rosé Wine - still wine made from black grapes produced by removing the skin before they taint the wine deep red, or a combination or red and white grapes

  4. Sparkling Wine - sparkling wine that can be red, rosé or white. This winemaking style involves a secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles.

  5. Dessert Wine - these wines are known to be sweeter and the winemaking style involves fortifying the wine with spirits

3. Terminology (from A-Z)

  • Acidity - All wines are acidic, but some more than others. When a wine tastes sour or tart, that's the acidity you're noticing. Sugar balances out acid.

  • Body - This refers to the weight, or viscosity, of a wine (an example would be skim milk (light) vs. whole milk (full)). Wines can be described as lighter or light-bodied, or full or full-bodied depending on their weight.

  • Dry - If a wine is dry, it means that it's not sweet. This means that it's more acidic.

  • Earthy - This description is popularly used for wines that have a natural and sometimes vegetal or woodsy flavor.

  • Fermentation - Through fermentation, bacteria and yeast feed on carbohydrates (sugar) and convert them into acids, gas and alcohol. Other examples of fermented foods and beverages are bread, kimchi, kombucha, and cheese.

  • Jammy - When a wine (typically a red) tastes richly of cooked fruit, it is sometimes referred to as jammy.

  • Minerality - Wines that taste of ocean, chalk, stone and other minerals (typically whites) are often described as having minerality.

  • New World - These wines come from countries where wine making was imported (US, Australia, South Africa). They typically have a higher alcohol content and more fruit.

  • Old World - These wines come from countries where wine making originated (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc.). They are typically lighter in body and higher in acidity.

  • Tasting Notes - Examples of nouns used to describe the flavors of wines are sweet plum, leather, sage, velvety, berry fruits, tobacco, and more. Sometimes wine experts use the absolute craziest and most ridiculous notes to describe the wine they're drinking...

  • Tannin - They are an element of the wine's structure that is naturally found in the grapes' seeds and skins. These tannins are more prominent and more desirable in red wines (when you drink wine, the tannins will give you a similar mouth-feel to if you over-steeped tea. It's a slightly dry, chalky sensation).

  • Young - not all wine is aged (and not all wine is age-worthy). Some wines are best consumed young (this means drinking wines that have been recently bottled). White wines, typically, are better in their youth while reds are typically better with age.

4. How to Properly drink wine

  • Check out the bottle and make sure that it's one that you think you'll like (type, region and year). Sometimes you will even get a story behind the company, the process or the flavors that are in the bottle you choose.

  • Pour your serving into a wine glass. Your pour should be about 1/3 of the glass. (Tip: Hold the glass appropriately - by the stem. This will prevent the heat and smell from your hand to interfere with the wine's aromas)

  • Swirling wine in the glass will increase the amount of oxygen in the glass and intensify the wine aromas (mainly in the reds).

  • Sniff the glass of wine (but do not stick your face in the glass). You will get aroma intensity depending on the complexity of wine.

  • Taste the wine. Sip not swallow, swish the wine around in your mouth to absorb the flavors. Take time to assess the intense flavor and then swallow to get the finish. A good finish will linger on your palate for quite some time.

  • Red Wine - Drink it at room temperature or a touch below. You can put your reds in the fridge for a few minutes before opening for a more crisp taste.

  • White Wine - For whites, it’s helpful to let them warm up in the glass as you drink. Do not over chill as it will affect the taste.

  • Rosé Wine - Chill the rosé wine between 30 minutes and three hours. Do not over chill as it will affect the taste before drinking.

  • Champagne/sparkling Wine - Store it in a cool, dry place. 30 minutes before serving, you should put the Champagne or Sparkling wine into an ice bucket or in the fridge. (A flute is a must for making sure the Champagne or Sparkling wine stays as bubbly as possible.)

5. Most Popular Wine Varieties and General Tasting Notes

Cabernet Sauvignon (red)

  • Tasting Notes - Dark, ripe fruits, black cherry, plum, spice, vanilla, cedar or oak from barrel-aging

  • Body - heavy

  • Notable Growing Regions - Well known styles from California, France (Bordeaux)

  • Food Pairing - Grilled meats, roasted meats- beef, lamb

Pinot Noir (red)

  • Tasting Notes - Red fruits, bright cherries, strawberry, some spice, vanilla

  • Body - light

  • Notable Growing Regions - France (Burgundy), California, Oregon, Australia (Yarra Valley), New Zealand (Otago Valley), Italy (Northern)

  • Food Pairing - Light, flavorful meats (duck, pork, chicken thighs), mushrooms, salmon and heavy flavored fish

Malbec (red)

  • Tasting Notes - vanilla, tobacco, dark chocolate, wet earth, and oak

  • Body - medium

  • Notable Growing Regions - Argentina (Mendoza), France

  • Food Pairing - Pasta, Barbecue or grilled meats, spicy food

Merlot (red)

  • Tasting Notes - dark fruit flavors of black cherry, blackberry, plum, and raspberry layered with herbal notes and undertones of vanilla and mocha

  • Body - medium

  • Notable Growing Regions - France (Bordeaux), Washington, California, Italy (Tuscany), Australia (South Australia)

  • Food Pairing - Many foods from chicken and pork to dark meats

Chardonnay (white)

  • Tasting Notes - wide range from apple and lemon to papaya and pineapple, and it also shows notes of vanilla when it's aged with oak

  • Body - medium

  • Notable Growing Regions - France (Chablis, Burgundy), Italy, California, New York, Australia (South Australia)

  • Food Pairing - Fish, lightly seasoned chicken, soft cheeses

Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris* (white)

  • Tasting Notes - Italian, lime, pear, sour apple; France, lemon, honey, honeysuckle; U.S., white nectarine, ripe stone fruits

  • Body - medium to medium-heavy

  • Notable Growing Regions - Italy, France, U.S.

  • Food Pairing - fish, salads

Rosé (rosé)

  • Tasting Notes - Light, rose petal, underripe strawberry, limestone, strawberry, summer fruits, ripe fruits, floral, spice hints

  • Body - light to medium-heavy

  • Notable Growing Regions - France, Spain, California, Italy

  • Food Pairing - light appetizers, seafood, cheeses, grilled meats, pizza

6. How long does open wine last?

  • You should ALWAYS put opened wine that you plan to keep in the fridge. Do not leave it out as it will go bad exponentially quicker.

  • White wines will last between 4-7 days in the fridge (with a cork) depending on the body

  • Red wines will last between 3-5 days in the fridge (with a cork)

  • Rosé will last 5-7 days in the fridge (with a cork)

  • Champagne or Sparkling wine will only last 1-3 days in the fridge with a sparkling wine stopper

  • Dessert wines - the sweeter the dessert wine, the longer it will stay (some may last up to 28 days in the fridge with a cork)

7. How do I know where to start?

When I first started on my little adventure to becoming more knowledgable about wine, I started with Winc. Reason being, I didn't really know where to start and how the heck was I supposed to know what my taste was or what I liked if I couldn't even decide on a bottle to try? One thing I knew for sure was that I didn't want to waste my money on something I didn't find enjoyable.

I was introduced to Winc by a really good friend of mine. They have a quiz that you can take to help you better understand what you might like and where to start. Once you take the quiz, they automatically recommend bottles that you might like based on your answers. Even better, because I used her referral code, I got $30 worth of wine to try out for free (and she got a free bottle too)!

If you're interested in doing the quiz and receiving $30 worth of wine for your first time, you can use my code (I'll get a free bottle too!):

If you don't want the free wine but are still interested in learning more about your taste in wine, you can check out these other resources that I put together:

I hope this little guide helps and look forward to hearing your feedback! Here's to a fruitful wine adventure ahead. Have a fantastic weekend!

Sending love always,




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