Wine Basics - How To Choose And Buy Wine

Jul 26 2008 - 11:14am
Red Wine

The authors of the Mediterranean Diet and the American Heart Association say drinking red wine in moderation is good for your heart, but how to choose wine is a question for many people. Do you feel confused and intimated when you have to choose a wine as a gift or to serve one at dinner? Are you someone who loves entertaining, but lacks enough knowledge about wines? There is a plethora of information about how to choose and select wine, and how to pair wine with food, and as fine dining becomes global, it becomes imperative to have at least some basic knowledge about the types of wine, and how to judge a good one from a mediocre one. While most people just feel comfortable going with some chosen labels, this may not always be your best bet! There are several factors which determine how to select a wine, and this article focuses on the basic wine knowledge that would help enhance your understanding of different types of wine, thereby making it easier to choose!

Whether you are out to dinner at an upscale restaurant or preparing a meal at home, knowing how to choose the right wine will always be useful. Certain wines go best with certain meals and deciding on the right food & wine pairing can be a lot easier if you know the basics of wine characteristics. After a recent trip to Napa Valley, where we saw the entire wine-making process at a famous vineyard, I know I am much better educated about wines than I ever was, and definitely in a position to share my findings with you!

The types of grapes used to make a wine, often known as "Varietal", are the most important factor in the taste of the wine. However, the flavors are also affected by factors such as soil, exposure to sunlight, climate, how the grapes are handled and fermented, types of yeast used, whether the wine is aged in wood or oak etc

Types of Wines

The two basic types of wines are "White wines" and "Red wines". All wines are manufactured with the help of grapes, however, different flavors are created by combining the basic wine with fruits, or other additives, and the actual manufacturing and ageing process. The 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. White wines can be made from any color grape, but only the clear juice of the grapes is used. The general rule of thumb is that red wines tend to be heavier while white wines are usually sweeter. When the wine is prepared in a way that produces carbon dioxide, it is termed as a "Sparkling wines". The sparkling wine that specifically comes from the Champagne region of France, is what we all know as "Champagne". These wines can be further categorised as Sweet or Dry, which is usually scaled between 00 (very dry) to 6 (very sweet). So the first thing you do, is narrow down your choices so you know what characteristics to focus on next!

Tannin Content in Wine

Tannins are a vital ingredient in wines, especially red wines. It 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. This can only be learnt after you've tasted a few wines, but recommendations work the best here.

Acidity of the Wine

Acids of various types are present in wine, and are essential to the wine's longevity and also to its taste. A higher acidity makes the wine more tart and sour tasting; whereas a low acidity results in flat tasting wine that has a higher chance of getting spoilt. Acidity, when present in the right quantities, makes all other flavours in the wine stand out, including the undertones of fruit, spice and herbs. The flavour in wine that you would describe as tangy, sharp, refreshing, bracing, bright, crisp or zingy is basically due to its Acidity.

Alcohol Content of the Wine


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You've probably heard of full-bodied wines, which is a direct measure of its alcohol content. The variations in the "body" of wine are like varying levels of fat-content in milk. On every wine label you’ll notice a percentage of alcohol by volume, which indicates its body as follows:

* 7.5% - 10.5% indicates light body
* 10.5% - 12.5% indicates medium body
* 12.5% and over indicates full body (very high alcohol)

Reading the Wine Label

This is perhaps the most important step for a novice person as reading a wine label carefull will often help you know the type, variety, flavor, region and vintage of the wine. It also pays to read the owner's notes on the bottle as it may guide you about the flavors, brand and sometimes, even food pairing suggestions. Plus, the wine labels will generally have a Points Rating printed on them; the higher the rating, the better the wine. Its recommended not to go below 80 points for a quality wine.

Vintage of the Wine


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