Wine Basics - How To Choose & Buy Wine

wine basics-selecting wineDo 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're out to dinner at an upscale restaurant or preparing a meal at home, knowledge about wine pairing 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, and form the basis of wine reviews. 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
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 Wine Grades 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
Vintage simply refers to the year the wine was made. Because weather cooperates better in some years than in others, certain years will produce better wines than others. 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. It is beleived that 1990 was a great year for all wine, so if you are looking to impress, order a 1990 bottle and you are less likely to make a wrong choice! But remember, older wine does not necessarily mean better wine, especially if the older bottles were from a bad vintage.

Where to Buy
It is important to purchase wine from liquor outlets that take proper care of their wine, like buying directly from the winery. Extreme heat or cold, direct sunlight, and dramatic temperature fluctuations are not good for wine. Its is also important to buy wine from a vintner who uses quality Oak barrels for the ageing process, as this imparts a lovely flavor to the wine. Also, before you buy, make sure the wine is filled up to the neck of the bottle, the cork is not pushing out of the bottle, and there are no signs of leakage.

Wine has been a favorite topic among food and drink connoisseurs since long, and even if you are not into Wines, it can come in handy to learn the basics of wine. There are several factors to consider when selecting a bottle of wine, and those mentioned above are just a few of them. Understanding the basics of wine types, selections, storage and taste will surely add new dimensions to your wine experience. Hope this article serves to be an efficient introduction to help you choose and select the best wine, fit for your taste and your budget!

Related Articles:
How to Pair Wine with Food
Napa Valley - California's Wine Country
Tips to Host a Perfect Cocktail Party

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Anonymous said...

great article for beginners like me who feel dumb when people discuss about wine! thanks so much! I feel more learned already:)


Anonymous said...

absolutely loved this! I'm trying to get conversant with different brnads and labels, and this is a useful first step. could you discuss about diff wine types too in more detail?

PS: I'm loving your site, btw! gotta pass this on to my wife:)


Mansi said...

thanks sharon! I'm a novice too, crawling my way towards becoming better than average about the subject!:)

rajesh - that is something I have in mind for further posts..I plan to write some regular posts about Food & Wine, so keep visiting! and thanks for passing it on to others too:)D

Sophie said...

This is a very informative post. I dont' know anything about wine but I do want to start drinking it. I always cook with it, though. I'm definitely tabing this for future reference -- thanks for sharing :)!

Sonia said...

Hi Mansi,
Nice information as I am novice too...! I'll admit my hubby to read this post:)BTW, I have one question, is there any best substitute for Marsala wine for Tiramisu? I found very difficulty to find Marsala wine. However, I got Kahlua easily. I prefer to buy recipe's ingredients rather than compromise. So I think u can help me here.
Thanks 4 sharing such a nice info.
Have a gud day...!

Mansi said...

Hi Sonu - glad you liked the article:)

as for your tiramisu query:
Marsala wine is traditional in this recipe, but you could substitute any sweet dessert wine instead of that. Try Vin Santo, a good quality cream sherry, or Muscat. Kahlua can be used too, as it goes well with coffee:)

Sangeeth said...

wow! mansi..this is one of the reasons for which i visit ur blog regularly...u teach me a lot...what a great article.....whenever i go shopping I would ask my hubby if i cud buy red wine as for few recipes it is required to add wine to get rich flavour..but everytime we end up not buying because we do not know which one to ....thanks a lot!

Ramya's Mane Adige said...

Great post!! I'm always confused as to which wine to pick up at the store... this post of yours would surely help.. thanx :)

Anonymous said...

excellent tips! great compilation!


Priya said...

Thank you Mansi, this post will be a savior :) I was totally lost the few times that I ventured into the wine aisles, returning empty handed or picking up a random bottle in sheer helplessness. I did read a few articles but they were surely not beginner level :)

@the_whisk_affair said...

i am also a dummy when it comes to wines and wine pairing! thanks for the article, mansi! it sure was informative for me!!

Vanamala Hebbar said...

Nice to read ... i love red wine

Rachel said...

A very informative read!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mansi,
Its a very very informative post,thanks for sharing ur knowledge about wine
To be honest i m so much against of any sort of Hard drinks(even soft drinks),but thts my personal lookout,and i really feel dumb when ppl discuss abt wines(esp abt the ones that are used in cooking)
Ever since hubby dear had been to MUIR Woods,he keeps on telling loads of stories abt wines and i felt sort of left behind in his conversation.Now thnks to u,i can even surprise him by throwing sum words here and there picked up from WINE VOCABULARY

Mansi said...

nice to know some people will actually benefit from this article:) thanks for the input folks!

Priyanka said...

A great informative post Mansi.Liked your strawberry cake and moong dal kachori potlis- very cute.

Mallika said...

Very interesting. I have been trying to brush up on my wine knowledge for years. The problem is that I focus too much on drinking the stuff than learning about it...

Anonymous said...

Simple article on wines for biginners, wonderful! For me,
my rules are still more simple:

1. Any alcohol is alcohol - beer to rum. I prefer alcohols with low alcohol content, only because I can drink longer in parties without getting drunk.
2. Cheaper wines in supermarkets are not bad at al. They have similar tastes like costliest brands. I prefer cheaper wines, why to pay more for alcohol (which is bad habit) and a diuretic?
3. No alcohol goes well with an food, especially with Indian food. If you really want to enjoy food, eat food. If you really want to enjoy alcohol, drink with Indian chats (ground nut mixed with onion etc - Rajamasala, crisps, sev, ghatia etc). Never mix alcohol and food together.

I hope only 3 rules are much easier to remember.


Alcoholic anonymus

Wine Reviews said...

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