With a bunch of festive meals to start the new year, one might drown in the diverse range of wine options available in your local wine shop from red to sparkling - and to further confuse a wine amateur, there are also different types of red, white, rosė and sparkling wine! We know how daunting stepping into the wine universe can be; even wine connoisseurs had to start somewhere. Fret not, here is Wine 101: everything you need to know about wine basics - from the differences between major types of wine to how to properly store and care for them.
You may have heard of the different wine types such as red, white, rosė, sparkling, fortified and dessert wines but when it comes to the differences between them it can be confusing and overwhelming for a greenhorn. For starters, red and white wines differ in the types and parts of the wine grape that is used in the winemaking process which determine its colour, flavor and aroma.
Most red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are made from black grapes, whilst white wines like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are usually made with white grapes. Rosė wines, which sit in between the reds and whites, are made from black grapes but because the grape skins are shortly removed during fermentation, the red pigments from the skins are only transferred slightly, giving these wines their sweet pink or blush colour.
Apart from the grape type that is used in winemaking, the fermenting process is also important in determining the type of wine produced. The grapes are usually crushed into a pulp, also known as a must, before fermentation.
To produce red wine, the skin, seeds and stems of the black grapes are left with the must to ferment, and in a process called maceration, its red pigments and tannins are extracted into the must. Tannins are a naturally occurring substance found in grapes and are responsible for the acidic and bitter taste you find in reds. Therefore, a longer maceration process makes the wine more tannic and gives it a deeper colour. On the other hand, tannins are generally lower in white wines because its juice is removed from its skin almost immediately, thus making them sweeter than most reds.
Speaking of taste, knowing how reds and whites differ in taste can allow you to pair the right wine with your food. Talk about a great opportunity to impress your dinner date! Whilst reds are largely known to have deeper flavors such as cocoa, leather, earth and meat, whites are more commonly known to have lighter flavors such as tropical fruits, citrus fruits and flowers. That is why red wines are usually paired with heavier meat-based dishes while most people generally drink white wines with lighter foods such as poultry, fish or vegetables.
You may also find that both reds and whites that have been aged in oak will have toasty flavours such as caramel or vanilla. These wines are best paired with salty food because the salt cuts through the bitterness of oak.
Much like the process of winemaking, the serving temperature of wine is imperative because it affects the flavour of the wine. It is worth noting that tannins in wine tend to taste more bitter as the wine becomes colder. Therefore, red wines should be served at slightly below room temperature whilst white wines are generally best served slightly chilled. However, take care to avoid serving white or rosė wines too cold as their flavour might get lost.
You may have read or heard people talk about the body of a wine and wonder that even means. No, they are not referring to the shape of a wine bottle (if that’s what you’re guessing) but rather the weight or viscosity of the wine, or the way a wine feels inside your mouth.
Interestingly, knowing a wine’s alcohol content can tell you whether the wine is full-bodied or not. Generally, wines over 13.5% alcohol are considered full-bodied, such as Zinfandel and Cabernet. These wines tend to feel thick and coat the sides of the glass as you swirl. On the other hand, wines under 12.5% alcohol are said to be light-bodied, almost like water, with examples like Riesling and Italian Prosecco. Wines between 12.5-13.5% alcohol are considered medium-bodied, such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio,, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Since we’ve covered the main distinctions between wine types and the bodies of a wine, let’s dive deeper and discuss the differences between the types of reds. There are 31 different types of red wines, but knowing the differences between common reds like Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel is a good start. Both Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are full-bodied reds. However, whilst Cabs have bold tannins and a long persistent finish, Shiraz are more intensely fruity-flavoured and have less tannins. On the other hand, Zinfandel and Merlot are medium-bodied reds. Zinfandel, although fruity-flavoured like Shiraz, is also spicy with a medium-length finish while Merlot has a more red-fruited flavour with lower tannins, thus making them feel smoother.
Whilst the grape type and winemaking process are important in giving wine its unique flavour, did you know that wine glasses designed for a specific wine type can help bring out certain wine characteristics which can enable you to better experience wine? You may also be wondering what happens if you have leftover wine in the bottle? As wine promptly spoils when it comes into contact with air, it is therefore crucial to use a quick vacuum pump to remove excess air in the bottle to slow down the deterioration process of the wine.
With any hope, you’ve learned something extremely valuable from our blog. The next time you grab a tasty glass or bottle of wine with your date in 2020, feel free to spread your new wealth of knowledge while swirling your glass. You’re welcome.