Here are some good-to-know facts about wines which I came across during my research on wines, driven by curiosity and lack of knowledge. Being in one of the largest wine districts of the world - California, I sure need to be educated on wines!
Basic types: "White wines" and "Red wines".
All wines are manufactured from grapes, however, different flavors are created by combining basic wine with fruits, or other additives, and by the actual manufacturing and aging process. Main difference between red and white wine is that the juice used to make red wine includes the skins, stems and seeds of red or black grapes while white wines can be made from any color grape, but only clear juice of grapes is used. Red wines tend to be heavier while white wines are usually sweeter. When wine is prepared in a way that produces carbon dioxide, it is termed as "Sparkling wine". The sparkling wine that specifically comes from the Champagne region of France, is known as "Champagne". These wines can be further categorized as Sweet or Dry, which is usually scaled between 0 (very dry) to 6 (very sweet).
Factors to consider while buying wine
1. Tannin Content: Tannins are a vital ingredient in wines, especially red wines, and form the basis of wine reviews. Tanin comes from the stalks, skins and pips of grapes. Tannins in a young wine produce a bitter, taste on the palate, while the aged wines are more subtle in flavor. Also, the "length" of a wine, which means the amount of time the sensations of taste and aroma persist after swallowing, is a good measure to consider.
2. Acidity: Various types of acids are present in wine, and are essential to the wine's longevity and taste. A higher acidity makes the wine more tart and sour tasting while a low acidity results in flat tasting wine that has a higher chance of going bad. The tangy, sharp, refreshing, bracing, bright, crisp or zingy flavors in wine is basically due to its acidity.
3. Alcohol Content: Full-bodied wines is a direct measure of its alcohol content.
* 7.5% - 10.5% indicates light body
* 10.5% - 12.5% indicates medium body
* 12.5% and over indicates full body (very high alcohol)
4. Wine Grades: The higher the rating, the better the wine. It is recommended not to go below 80 points for a quality wine.
5. Vintage: Older wine does not necessarily mean better wine, especially if the older bottles were from a bad vintage. The amount of rain that falls close to harvest time typically determines the amount of sugar in the grapes and thus, will affect the taste
6. Temperature: To get maximum flavor from the bottle, rich white wines, including most chardonnays, should be served cool, not chilled (limit them to about an hour in the fridge). Only lighter whites, including most sauvignon blancs, should be well chilled (about two hours in the fridge—longer and they might become too cold). Lighter reds, such as pinot noirs, should be served cool. Only "big" reds—such as most cabernets and zinfandels—are best served at about 65 to 70 degrees F.
Some popular Red Wines:
1. Barbera :
From: Mostly Italy and also in California
Characteristics: A silky texture, deep color, low tannins, and excellent acidity
Flavors: Juicy black cherry, raspberries and plum fruit
Food pairings: Versatile - match many dishes, including tomato sauces
2. Cabernet Sauvignon (Ka-ber-nay So-vee-nyon):
From: France’s Bordeaux region, Italy, California’s Napa valley, Australia’s Coonawarra region, Chile’s Maipo valley
Characteristics:Full, rich red wine - the world’s best varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon grape is a low yielding variety, with small berries and thick skins, which impart high color, flavor and tannins. It is full-bodied, but firm and gripping when young. Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s
Food pairings: Red meat. Not with spicy food
3. Cabernet Franc:
From: France’s Bordeaux region, Italy, Hungary
Characteristics: Lighter and lesser in tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon, but with same level of intensity and richness. Due to lesser tannins, it produces a smoother mouthfeel
Flavors: More pronounced perfume with notes of raspberries, black currants, violets and graphite
From: French Bordeaux region, Argentina
Characteristics: French Malbec is softer in tannins and lower in acidity while Malbec from Cahors region is more tannic and dark colored. Malbec is often blended with other varieties such as cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot to make Bordeaux style wines
Flavors: Plums, Berries and spice. Aromas of tobacco, garlic, raisin
Food pairings: Meat-based meals. Argentine Malbec suits Mexican, Cajun, and Indian dishes
From: France, Italy, US West Coast, Australia
Characteristics: Easy to drink – one of the lighter reds. Its softness has made it an "introducing" wine for new red-wine drinkers
Flavors: Typical taste is black-cherry and herbal
Food pairings: Anything will do
6. Pinot Noir:
From: France's Burgundy region, Austria, Argentina, Italy, California, Oregon, Canada, New Zealand
Characteristics: One of the noblest red wine grapes, it is softer/lighter than Cabernets, with similar characteristics. Very unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, the tannins are very soft.
Flavors: The aromatics are very fruity (cherry, strawberry, plum), often with notes of tea-leaf or damp earth
Food pairings: Excellent with grilled salmon, chicken, lamb and Japanese dishes
Food pairings: Red meat. Not with spicy food
7. Sangiovese :
From: Italy’s Tuscany region, California, Australia
Characteristics: The primary style is medium-bodied, high acidity. Not as popular as Merlot but with similar attributes
Flavors: Fresh berry and plum
Food pairings: A good choice for Italian and other Mediterranean-style cuisines
Characteristics: One of the biggest reds. While shiraz is used to produce many average wines it can produce some of the world’s finest, deepest, and darkest reds with intense flavors and excellent longevity
Flavors: Wild black-fruit (such as blackcurrant), with overtones of black pepper spice and roasting meat
Food pairings: Red meat
From: Found mostly in California, Also in Italy
Characteristics: Strong red – Too red and alcoholic. The world’s most versatile wine grape, making everything from blush wine (White Zinfandel), to rich, heavy reds
Flavors: Often a zesty flavor with berry and pepper
Food pairings: Depends on freshness/heaviness of the wine; Pasta, pizza, and meats
Some popular White Wines:
From: Burgandy, France; England, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, California, New York, Washington, Canada
Characteristics: Elegant white with buttery taste. Chardonnay was the most popular white grape through the 1990’s. Often wider-bodied (and more velvety) than other types of dry whites
Flavors: Rich citrus (lemon, grapefruit). Fermenting in new oak barrels adds a buttery tone (vanilla, toast, coconut, toffee)
Food pairings: Versatile. Good choice for fish and chicken dishes
2. Gewurztraimer (Gah-vurtz-tra-meener):
From: Alsace, Germany; US west coast and NY
Characteristics: Ideal for sipping. A very aromatic variety but not as refreshing as other dry whites
Flavors: Fruity flavors with aromas of rose petals, peaches, lychees, and allspice, honey, cinnamon
Food pairings: Asian food, pork, grilled sausages
3. Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio:
From: Extensively in Venezia and Alto Adige regions of Italy. Also in US western coastal regions
Characteristics: Pinot gris can produce crisp, dry wines with good acid "bite". Alsace Pinot Gris shows aromatic, fruity flavors that improve with a couple of years in the bottle. Popular wine
Flavors: Aromatic, fruity flavors
Food pairings: Versatile
From: The classic German grape of the Rhine and Mosel, riesling grows in all wine districts
Characteristics: Germany’s great Rieslings are usually made slightly sweet, with steely acidity for balance. Riesling wines are much lighter than Chardonnay wines. Often consumed when young. Dry Riesling served at 52 deg F while sweeter Rieslings are served warmer
Flavors: Fresh apples. Aroma is flowery, tropical fruits
Food pairings: Spicy Thai, Chinese cuisine
5.Sauvignon Blanc (So-vee-nyon Blah)
From: France’s Loire valley and Bordeaux regions, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, In California as Fume Blanc by Robert Mondavi
Characteristics: Crisp wine. Generally lighter than Chardonnay
Flavor: Normally shows a herbal character suggesting bell pepper or freshly mown grass. The dominating flavors range from sour green fruits of apple, pear and gooseberry through to tropical fruits of melon, mango and blackcurrant
Food pairings: A versatile food wine for seafood, poultry, and salads
From: France’s Bordeaux region, Chile, Argentina, Australia, California
Characteristics: Often blended with Sauvignon blanc to delimit its strong berry-like flavor
Food Pairings: Fish, mussels, clams, pasta salad
Remember to swish your glass of wine around to release the different flavors in it, and take a smell of it, before you take your first sip!