Wine Guide For Beginners

Why learn about wine you say? – Because most other forms of alcohol are mass consumed in India and are known to all. But wine, with their difficult to pronounce names (popular wines with pronunciations are given later) and hard to understand vintages and flavours is a slightly complex nut to crack. Many remain curious about wine but their inexperience prevents them from trying it. Becoming an oenophile is not everybody’s cup of wine, err tea. Also, a glass of wine can be paired with any meal any time of the day. Therefore, here is an easy beginner’s guide.

Image by Jirka Bursik

Image by Jirka Bursik

Wine is made by crushing wine grapes and then storing them in barrels for months or years for fermentation. The kind of grapes used with the material of barrel and time dedicated to fermentation produces thousands of different kinds of wines.

Styles of wine

There are countless styles, literally, but before jumping into the nuances and subtle differences between each, it’s important to know the broad categories.

1.       Red wine – made from black grapes fermented with their skin on, you can get a light-bodied (eg. Pinot Noir), medium-bodied (eg. Zinfandel) or full-bodied red wine (eg. Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah). The differences refer to how full a wine will feel inside the mouth. It usually has flavors of red, blue and black fruits.

2.       White wine – made with green grapes or with black grapes with their skin peeled off, they can be light-bodied (eg. Sauvignon Blanc), full-bodied (eg. Chardonnay) or aromatic (eg. Reisling). It usually has flavors of citrus, orchard and tropical fruits.

3.       Sparkling wine – most time intensive to produce and largely associated with Champagne region in France, where they first came about, they contain carbon dioxide bubbles making them fizzy. Often any sparkling wine is mistaken to be Champagne, which is not the case unless it has been made in Champagne. Eg. Cava.

4.       Rosé wine – pink colored wines made from black grapes with their skin peeled off after a few hours. They come in many flavors, with the sweet one being the choice of drink for many beginners because of its light sweet taste. Eg. White Zinfandel.

5.       Dessert wine – most intensely flavoured, aromatic wine meant to be taken with or as a dessert. Eg. Port.

6.       Fortified wine – these are wines made by adding another spirit during fermentation, giving it a distinct flavour and higher alcohol content than other wines. Eg. Sherry.

How to taste wine

Getting started with wines requires an active interest in trying to fine-tune your senses to different flavours and aromas. It will take time and an exposure to a few types of wines before you’ll be able to tell your preferences in a social gathering (or you can play safe and probably order a sweet Riesling or Pinot Noir).

Begin by examining the colour and opacity in neutral light. Apart from the obvious red and white differences, it can also tell you about the age of the wine (whites become more yellow and brown with time and reds become more transparent). Next, smell it and try to identify floral, fruity, spicy, woody aromas. Slightly swirling brings out more flavors. Finally, savour the wine and assess the taste (sweet, sour or bitter) and flavors (pepper, peach, vanilla, orange, etc.). If you feel the wine is too acidic, too alcoholic, etc., it is an out of balance wine. So, pay attention to what you see-smell-taste next time!

Reading wine label

A New World Wine (left), an Old World Wine (right) [Source: wine-rack-depot.com]

A New World Wine (left), an Old World Wine (right) [Source: wine-rack-depot.com]

The world of wines is divided into Old World wines (mostly old European makers, who originally developed winemaking, who mention the region of manufacture on the wine and assume the reader knows the kind of grape used there) and New World wines (US, Canada, Australia, India, etc., who imported the method of winemaking, who mention the kind of grape used and the region).

Eg. An Old World wine might read – Château Moulin de Grenet 2009 Lussac Saint-Émilion. A New World wine might read – Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, New Zealand. The latter tells that the wine is produced in New Zealand at Dog Point Vineyard and uses Sauvignon Blanc grapes, whereas, the former tells the wine is produced at Château Moulin de Grenet (vineyard ) in Saint-Émilion and assumes the reader knows that the region mostly produces Merlot wine. Many old world wine makers now have started mentioning grapes due to ease of understanding.

Wine labels always mention producer, alcohol content, vintage and region. (Read more about nutrition labels of food & beverages here.)

Indian wines

Earlier disdained in the international community, Indian wines are now appreciated by many experts. They are mostly produced in Maharashtra and Karnataka with many popular vineries like Sula, Indus, Grover’s, York, Chateau D’ori, etc. Almost all of them offer wine tours for a modest fee where you can go to sample different wines and learn about the manufacturing process. (Read here about a trip to Sula Vineyard.)

Sula Rasa (Shiraz), Grover’s La Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz), Indus Sauvignon Blanc, Sula Reisling, Reveilo Syrah, Chateau D’ori Merlot are some sought after Indian wines.

some Popular wines at a glance

1.       Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab-er-nay Saw-vin-yawn) – dry (not sweet) full-bodied red wine with a strong flavour ranging from black currant to pepper and cedar.

2.       Shiraz (Sear-ah) – full-bodied red wine with a strong flavour of berries, pepper, tobacco and smoked meat.

3.       Zinfandel (Zin-fan-dell) – the medium-bodied red wine with a strong fruity flavour.

4.       Pinot noir (Pee-no Nwar) – the light-bodied red wine with a fruity and floral taste is said to be loved by everyone.

5.       Chardonnay (Shar-dun-nay) – dry full-bodied white wine with citrusy and tropical flavors and flavors originating from oak.

6.       Riesling (Reese-ling) – fruity floral white wine, it can be sweet and sour or dry, depending on the region. It is said to go nicely with the spicy Indian food.

7.       Merlot (Mer-lo) – fruity red wine with black cherry, raspberry flavors and a smooth finish.

final tips

1.       Wine bottles should be stored sideways in a cool, dark place. The temperature should not be fluctuated much and the bottle should be quickly closed after pouring to prevent as less contact with oxygen as possible.

2.       Red wine is best served at room temperature; white and rose are served cold while sparkling can be served with ice.

3.       Decanting almost always improves the taste of red wine and, in simple terms, is a process of pouring red wine in a glass pitcher and letting it sit for a few minutes. This settles the sediments and also while pouring, the flavors that could be bundled together in a pungent manner separate out and also make the wine breathe (react with oxygen). Even a cheap red wine can be made palatable by decanting as the initial flavours soften. This process is more efficacious for young wines, and mature wines in fact should be decanted just before serving as they’ve already aged a lot on their own.

4.       A Merlot, a Chardonney, Syrah, etc. simply means that they have been made from the merlot, chardonnay and shiraz type of wine grapes. It’s not the brand, origin place, or any other thing. So, a Chardonnay from different places can taste different.

5.       The wine glass should be held from the stem as the heat from the hands can impact the texture of wine.

6.       If a wine is a 'vintage' wine, then all its grapes were grown in a particular year, otherwise it is a mixture of several vintages. Each kind of wine is said to have a few good years in which climate and other harvest conditions were good and a nice vintage could be obtained.

(left to right) a wine rack, holding wine glass from stem, decanting.

(left to right) a wine rack, holding wine glass from stem, decanting.