Welcome to our Wine 101

Whether you’re just getting started with wine or work in the industry, this page contains many useful resources that will round out your wine knowledge. Let’s get started!

Wine Basics

Most wine is made with grapes, but they’re not like the ones you find in the grocery store. Wine grapes (latin name: Vitis vinifera) are smaller, sweeter, have thick skins, and contain seeds. There are over 1,300 wine grape varieties used in commercial production but only about 100 of these varieties make up 75% of the world’s vineyards. 

Find out more about the basics of wine (and which ones to try) in the following sections:

Wine and Food Pairings

There is only one rule for pairing wine with food: Drink whatever wine you enjoy drinking with whatever food you have chosen to eat. While we realize this probably contradicts what you have heard about pairing wine with food, so let us explain.

Over the past few decades the emphasis on black and white rules that dictate that only certain colors or styles of wine can go with certain kinds of food has gotten out of control. This pressure has caused unneeded anxiety among wine drinkers, when the reality is that many of the food pairing rules we have been told are so important, such as you should only drink white wine with fish, are actually bollocks. So, out with the old wine and food pairing guide, and in with something easy that will work for you.

Drinking wine should always come with no judgments.

So the traditional thought process goes, we’re not supposed to pair something like fish with a red wine, because a red will dominate the delicacy of the fish. But in fact, people have proven that what we might consider an overpowering red, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot, can actually be just as pleasurable to drink while eating the fish as a white wine. It all depends on what the flavors are in the dish and how everything plays off each other.

The pressure we experience to pair wine with food comes from nostalgia. We are so ingrained to believe that red wine must go with meat and white wine must go with fish, that for many of us, it’s hard to break this habit, and that’s ok too. If you enjoy the process of pairing wine this way, by all means ignore our advice. As we always say, wine is about your experience, not anyone else’s.

However, if you find the revelation liberating that many different colors of wine can go with food depending on its flavors, but still want a model for selecting wine, we suggest selecting wine based on things like the people you’re going to be drinking with, why you’re drinking with them, and the season.

Wine and Food Pairings

There is only one rule for pairing wine with food: Drink whatever wine you enjoy drinking with whatever food you have chosen to eat. While we realize this probably contradicts what you have heard about pairing wine with food, so let us explain.

Over the past few decades the emphasis on black and white rules that dictate that only certain colors or styles of wine can go with certain kinds of food has gotten out of control. This pressure has caused unneeded anxiety among wine drinkers, when the reality is that many of the food pairing rules we have been told are so important, such as you should only drink white wine with fish, are actually bollocks. So, out with the old wine and food pairing guide, and in with something easy that will work for you.

Drinking wine should always come with no judgments.

So the traditional thought process goes, we’re not supposed to pair something like fish with a red wine, because a red will dominate the delicacy of the fish. But in fact, people have proven that what we might consider an overpowering red, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot, can actually be just as pleasurable to drink while eating the fish as a white wine. It all depends on what the flavors are in the dish and how everything plays off each other.

The pressure we experience to pair wine with food comes from nostalgia. We are so ingrained to believe that red wine must go with meat and white wine must go with fish, that for many of us, it’s hard to break this habit, and that’s ok too. If you enjoy the process of pairing wine this way, by all means ignore our advice. As we always say, wine is about your experience, not anyone else’s.

However, if you find the revelation liberating that many different colors of wine can go with food depending on its flavors, but still want a model for selecting wine, we suggest selecting wine based on things like the people you’re going to be drinking with, why you’re drinking with them, and the season.

Types of Wine labels

Wines labeled by grape variety

When you see a wine labeled with “grape” words like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, then it’s labeled by grape variety. There are hundreds (actually, thousands) of different wine varieties and it’s possible to label a wine with more than one grape.

Wine labeled by variety doesn’t guarantee that the wine is 100% of the listed variety. Each country has their own set of minimum requirements to label wine by variety which is most of the time between 80-85%.


Wines labeled by region

(aka “vin de terroir”) Wines like Bordeaux, Chablis, Chianti, Sancerre, and Rioja are labeled by region. This style of labeling is used mostly in old world wine countries (Europe). Regional labeling likely came from a time when many different varieties grew together in the same vineyards and were blended together into wine.

Each wine region dictates what grapes can be used in the regional wine. So, in order to know what’s inside one of these regionally labeled wines, you’ll want to do a little research. For example, Chablis in France grows Chardonnay, and Chianti in Italy specializes in Sangiovese.


Wines labeled by Name

The last common style of wine labeling includes wines using a made-up or fantasy name. More often than not, named wines are unique blends invented by the wine producer. You’ll also find named wines common in regions that do not allow the use of certain grapes in their regional wine (but still grow them). For example, Tuscan wines made with French-origin grapes including Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet are not allowed to be labeled as an Italian regional wine. (This is how the first Super Tuscan wines came to be!)

Named wines are often blends or unusual wines that don’t fit the wine laws of a particular region. In most cases, you’ll find the unique details about the wine on the winery’s website.


Price Guide

How much should we expect to spend on decent wine? In our estimation the average price of a good quality wine is in between €15-€20. That doesn’t mean you can’t find quality wines for under €15 or even less than a €10 sometimes. You need to keep your eyes open and ask for advice from your local wine merchant, taste before you buy if you can get a chance with them. Here at The Wicklow Wine Company we are able to show you a wide selection of wines under €15 you can try and decide you like it or not and make your purchase than. Our Coravin system helps you to taste almost anything from our portfolio.

Cheap wine

Cost: €10-15

The first step up from the baseline are value wines. On the lower side of the value spectrum are the wines that usually have a dollop of residual sugar to make them more palatable. On the higher side of the value spectrum is where you’ll find the beginnings of quality. The higher tier value wines are mostly from large, well-known wineries that focus on good baseline quality wine for everyday drinking. There are also a few wines from economically depressed wine regions or made from esoteric varieties such as Greek Agiorgitiko or French Carignan. Many value wines are varietal wines from single vintages with grapes sourced from larger regions.

Good wine

Cost: €15–20

This is the sweet spot for most wine buyers. You can find quite a number of decent varietal wines from good large-production wineries. In our opinion, the good wines within this category show the beginnings of typicity in wine (e.g. “a Cabernet Sauvignon that tastes like Cabernet Sauvignon” etc) and are labeled with a slightly more focused region (e.g. Burgundy vs Bordeaux). Unoaked white wines are generally higher quality at this price point than red wines because oak barrels cost money and red wine grapes typically cost more per ton (save for Chardonnay).

Ka’Mancine Beragna – one of The Wicklow Wine Company’s  direct import from Liguria. Very rare grape variety, Rossese.

High quality wine

Cost: €20–30

Wines with identity, character and attention to show the terroir the grow. The premium wine category seem to be the true start of high quality wine production. There will be some exceptional finds with high ratings in this category (particularly on good vintages) and you’ll find more wines from focused regions (e.g.Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, Tuscany, etc ). Most of the varieties used to make these exceptional wines have great ageing potential, ideal choices for someone who’s looking for that special bottle to open up on that special occasion to share the experience with friends, family or with some other wine enthusiasts.

Premium wine

Cost: €30–60

Exceptional quality, excellent-tasting, cellar-worthy wines from famous, highly rated and respected producers. Beyond this price point is where wine prices become a diminishing return to buy wines from in-demand wine regions (e.g. Burgundy, Rioja, Tuscany, Porto) or in-demand wineries.

Luxury wines with prestige

Cost: €60–120

This will get you excellent wines from any of the top wine regions of the world from producers with very high reputation and ranking. Big names, prestiges wines, unique aging requirements and in-demand wine varieties. This price range could get you into some luxurious experience. Essential to have a right meal or food pairing with most of these wines to have an even more memorable experience.

Iconic wine


The pinnacle of wines, wineries, and micro sites of the world (Perrier-Jouet ‘Belle Époque’ Blanc de Blancs, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Chateau Margaux, Dom Perignon, Vega Sicilia

Fortified Wines

A fortified wine is a delicious, viscous wine-based sipping treat that is often enjoyed as a drink before or after dinner. They are are fortified by the addition of extra alcohol in the form of brandy or spirits to bring them up to an alcohol content of 18%–20%. The original use of fortification was to preserve the wine, as casks of wine were prone to turn to vinegar during long sea voyages. Technically, by adding alcohol to the wine it stops the action of the yeast and prevents further fermentation, thus preserving some of the sugar from the grapes. The spirit added might also enhance the wine’s natural flavors. The liquor is added to the base wine during fermentation. Sherry, Port and Madeira from Spain and Portugal, vins doux naturels from France and Marsala from Sicily are all fortified wines you might have heard of. If the extra alcohol is added after fermentation, a dry fortified wine such as Sherry is the outcome. Fortified wines are not distilled, though some people mistakenly categorize them as a liquor. This is particularly true of vermouth, it is likely the result of its use in making martinis. They are rich in sugar, flavour, and alcohol.

These are the most well known fortified wines you should know about:

Madeira wine (Madeiran)

Madeira wine is a fortified wine made in the Madeira Islands. The wine is produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines which can be consumed on their own as an aperitif, to sweet wines more usually consumed with dessert. Madeira is deliberately heated and oxidised as part of its maturation process, resulting in distinctive flavours and an unusually long lifespan once a bottle is opened.

Marsala wine (Italian)

Marsala wine is a wine from Sicily that is available in both fortified and unfortified versions. It was first produced in 1772 by an English merchant, John Woodhouse, as an inexpensive substitute for sherry and port, and gets its name from the island’s port, Marsala.The fortified version is blended with brandy to make two styles, the younger, slightly weaker Fine (feeneh), which is at least 17% abv (alcohol by volume) and aged at least four months; and the Superiore (supereoreh), which is at least 18%, and aged at least two years. The unfortified Marsala wine is aged in wooden casks for five years or more and reaches a strength of 18% by evaporation.

Vermouth (Italian)

You know about absinthe, right? How it’s supposed to make you hallucinate because of that magical ingredient, wormwood? (It doesn’t). Turns out “vermouth” is actually named for wormwood, one of its historic ingredients (the German for wormwood being “wermut,”). Vermouth is a fortified wine flavoured with aromatic herbs and spices (“aromatised” in the trade) using closely guarded recipes (trade secrets). Some of the herbs and spices used may include cardamom, cinnamon, marjoram and chamomile. Some vermouth is sweetened; however, unsweetened or dry, vermouth tends to be bitter. The person credited with the second vermouth recipe, Antonio Benedetto Carpano from Turin, Italy, chose to name his concoction “vermouth” in 1786 because he was inspired by a German wine flavoured with wormwood, an herb most famously used in distilling absinthe. However, wine flavoured with wormwood goes back to ancient Rome. The modern German word Wermut (Wermuth in the spelling of Carpano’s time) means both wormwood and vermouth. The herbs were originally used to mask raw flavours of cheaper wines, imparting a slightly medicinal “tonic” flavor.

Historically, the way vermouth was flavored categorized it as either red (associated with Italy) or white/dry (associated with France). Carpano Classico is the classic red vermouth (Antonio Carpano is thought to have come up with the term “vermouth”), with dark, rich flavors like cocoa, wine, spice, toffee, herbs, etc., all intermingling with a slightly bitter edge. Carpano Antica is the classic recipe “alla vaniglia,” or with vanilla added.) Dolin Blanc, on the other hand, is a classic French white vermouth made with herbs and botanicals from the Chambery region of France. And Noilly Prat’s Extra Dry vermouth combines 20 herbs and spices for a complex, floral, fruity (and fully clear) vermouth with a bracingly dry finish. And then there are vermouths like Carpano’s Punt e Mes, which actually has a bittersweet flavor profile likening it to bitter amaros.

Mistelle (French)

Mistelle (Italian: mistella, French: mistelle, Spanish: mistela, from Latin mixtum “mix”) is sometimes used as an ingredient in fortified wines, particularly Vermouth, Marsala and Sherry, though it is used mainly as a base for apéritifs such as the French Pineau des Charentes. It is produced by adding alcohol to non-fermented or partially fermented grape juice (or apple juice to make pommeau). The addition of alcohol stops the fermentation and, as a consequence Mistelle is sweeter than fully fermented grape juice in which the sugars turn to alcohol.

Vins doux naturels (French)

Vins doux naturels are lightly fortified wines typically made from white Muscat grapes or red Grenache grapes in the south of France. These are the oldest fortified wines of all, and although they’ve fallen out of the spotlight, you should do yourself a favor and hunt some down (we by the way have some in stock). Vin doux naturel is a style that gives winemakers a lot of room to experiment. Sure, the variety of grape is central to any good wine, and we know how terroir lends perspective, while aging brings deeper layers of nuance. With VDNs, though, controlled exposure to air and sunlight affects the outcome even further. The resulting flavors cover a wide range, from honeyed stone fruit to herb-dried apricot and rich blueberry jam.

At the same time, there’s a deep-rooted history and tradition to these wines. To this day, they’re only produced in a small stretch of protected areas in France, and under particular regulations — as is the case with Cognac and Armagnac. There’s also a key process in their production that sets them apart — a little thing called mutage. Mutage is the thing that makes these fortified wines fortified, and it’s been utilized for over 700 years. We can thank a scholar and doctor by the name of Arnau de Vilanova, who discovered the technique way back in 1285. Once again, we find that scientists, academics and medical professionals are star players in the creation of delicious beverages.

As the name suggests, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Muscat de Rivesaltes and Muscat de Frontignan are all made from the white Muscat grape, whilst Banyuls and Maury are made from red Grenache. Regardless of the grape, fermentation is stopped by the addition of up to 10% of a 190 proof (95%) grape spirit. The Grenache vins doux naturels can be made in an oxidised or unoxidised style whereas the Muscat wines are protected from oxidation to retain their freshness.

Sherry (Spanish)

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez, Spain. The word “sherry” itself is an anglicisation of Jerez. In earlier times, sherry was known as sack (from the Spanish saca, meaning “a removal from the solera”). In the European Union “sherry” is a protected designation of origin; therefore, all wine labelled as “sherry” must legally come from the Sherry Triangle, which is an area in the province of Cádiz between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. There are three grape varieties authorized for the production of Sherry: Palomino, Muscat of Alexandria (also known as Moscatel) and Pedro Ximénez. The latter two grapes are mainly used for sweetening purposes, and Palomino is by far the dominant grape in the region.

After fermentation is complete, sherry is fortified with brandy. Because the fortification takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later. In contrast, port wine (for example) is fortified halfway through its fermentation, which stops the process so that not all of the sugar is turned into alcohol.

Sherry is produced in a variety of styles:

Fino – the freshest and most delicate of sherry styles, weighing in at around 15% alcohol,

Manzanilla – fino-style sherry from the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Because the more humid environment these wines are typically lighter and even fresher than fino, often with a distinctive salty tang,

Amontillado – is an amber-coloured sherry that is nutty and complex because it has been aged oxidatively it will last for longer once opened,

Palo Cortado – sort of half way house between a fino and an amontillado, Palo Cortado is the result of a fino sherry losing its flor, a popular style nowadays,

Oloroso – brown-coloured sherries, which develop in barrel often for many years. The result is a complex, rich, nutty style of sherry with aromas of old furniture and raisins which are dry,

Pedro Ximenez – made from air-dried grapes, with fermentation stopped early by the addition of spirit, Pedro Ximénez is a remarkably viscous and amazingly sweet, it tastes like liquid Christmas cake,

Cream – more commercial products that have been sweetened by the addition of Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez. Cream sherry is always sweet.

Port wine (Portugese)

Port wine (also known simply as Port) is a fortified wine from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is typically a sweet red wine, but also comes in dry, semi-dry and white varieties. There are several different kinds of port, but the 2 primary styles of Port include a red Port with more berry and chocolate flavors (and slightly less sweetness), and a tawny-colored Port with more caramel and nut flavors (and more sweetness).

Fine aged Vintage Port or 30+ year Tawny Port have an even wider array of subtle flavors including graphite, green peppercorn, hazelnut, almond, butterscotch and graham cracker.

One of the most important qualities of true Port is the unique blend of Portuguese indigenous grapes. Port grapes include Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão, and there are said to be at least 52 varieties!

Ruby Port

Ruby Ports, so named for their distinct ruby color, are young, approachable wines with fresh, fruit-filled aromas and an equally nimble palate presence. These wines are wallet-friendly, entry-level Ports made from a mix of both grapes and vintages. They’re aged for a total of three years and are quite popular. Ruby Ports are intended to be consumed young and enjoy a remarkable food-pairing versatility.

Tawny Port

A Tawny Port is a blend of older-vintage wines and displays a rich amber color. Tawnies typically fall on the slightly sweeter side of the spectrum. As a tawny port spends more time in oak, its color starts to fade from ruby red to more ruby-orange or a “brick-red,” often reaching a deep amber or mahogany color by the time it’s matured. As the aging process continues, a Tawny will taste nuttier and will develop the rich flavors of caramelized figs, dates, and prunes, compared with the fresh-fruit character of Ruby Port. On the label, the age is most commonly designated as 10, 20, or 30 years. These year designations represent the average age of the various vintages used in the Tawny Port blend, not the exact years the wine has been aged as a whole. Tawny Ports come in three different styles:

A Colheita Port – is made from grapes that were all harvested in the same year.

A Crusted Port – is an unfiltered tawny that develops visible sediment, “crust,” and needs decanting before serving.

Indicated Age Tawny Ports – are designated as being 10, 20, 30, or 40 years old; the number indicates the minimum average age of the wines used in the bottle.

Vintage Port

A Vintage Port is a Port that is made of blended grapes, usually from various vineyards, which are all from the same vintage year. Historically, Vintage Ports are only declared every three out of 10 years on average. The best grapes, from the best vineyards in the best years, come together to create a quality Vintage Port. These Ports typically spend about 6 months in oak and then go unfiltered into a bottle for further aging. This extended aging is typically to the tune of another 20 years or more! As a direct result of long-term aging, a pretty heavy layer of sediment forms, and Vintage Ports require decanting and a good bit of aeration before they’re consumed. If Ruby Ports are the entry-level Port, then Vintage Ports represent the upper echelon both in style and cost. A classification that is common to mistake with the “Vintage Port” designation is the Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port. This particular style of Port is made with grapes from a single vintage, but it has aged in oak only four to six years before it is bottled and released.

White Port

As the name implies, White Port is derived from white grape varietals and can be made in both very dry to semisweet styles. White Port is typically fruitier on the palate and a bit fuller-bodied than other fortified white wines. Often served as an aperitif, this particular Port has found favor as a gin replacement when served as a “Port and Tonic” on the rocks.

Moscatel de Setúbal (Portugese)

Moscatel de Setúbal is a Portuguese wine produced around the Setúbal Municipality on the Península de Setúbal. The wine is made primarily from the Muscat of Alexandria grape and typically fortified with aguardente. The style was believed to have been invented by José Maria da Fonseca, the founder of the oldest table wine company in Portugal dating back to 1834.

Above: Madeira fortified wine

Above: Spanish Vermouth

rasteau vin doux naturel

Above: Vin doux naturel

Above: Pedro Ximenez Sherry

Above: Vintage Port wine

Above: White Port wine

  • Wine Tasting 101
  • Body of Wine, Corked wine
  • Acidity, Tannin
  • Glasses, Decanters
  • Temperature

   There’s no right way or wrong way to taste wine. It’s this simple — do you like what you’re drinking or do you not like what you’re drinking?    Let’s repeat that: There’s no right way or wrong way to taste wine. Tasting wine can be as simple as this — do you like what you’re drinking or don’t you?    That said, there’s a formal way to taste wine that reveals more about the wine in your glass, even before you start drinking. It has four simple steps: look, swirl, smell & sip.


   The first step in tasting a wine happens before you actually taste the wine. When the wine is first poured into your glass, look at it. 

You have to get an idea of its color, as a wine’s color can tell you a lot about the wine. It is better to hold their glass of wine against a white background, which helps you see the color more easily. A wine’s color can tell you a lot about the wine.

   The color of a wine comes from contact with the grape skins after the grapes have been juiced. The longer the wine comes in contact with those skins, the more those skins will impart their color on the wine. If the grapes were skinned and were being juiced, never letting them come in contact with their skins, the resulting wine would have no color at all! Because the grape skins have a lot of their own characteristics, just like the zest of an orange has purer orange flavor, the more they can give to the wine the more they in contact with the juice. On top of this, oak can also help make colors lighter or darker, so understanding color, especially for white wines, can help people choose wines better for their own taste.

With White Wine

   First the shade of yellow. Light and bright white wines that you can see through have had minimal contact with the grape skins and are usually crisp and refreshing, like lemonade on a hot summer day. Typically, these wines have not been aged in an oak barrel. If the wine is darker and deeper in yellow, then this is usually a good sign that the wine was aged in an oak barrel. It will have a smoother taste and will be much fuller and richer.

With Red Wine

   The same steps hold true when examining a red as with a white. If the wine is light red, even approaching pink, it should taste light and bright. It may even be a little tart or “fresh” tasting and that is because the lighter the red of a wine, the less likely that it was ever aged in oak, and oak is what helps round and mellow a wine. As the hue of the red wine gets darker and darker, approaching the colors of maroon and purple, the red will become much bolder and richer. With these types of red wine the darker and deeper the color, the longer they’ve spent aging in an oak barrel.


   Everyone has their own unique technique for swirling wine, and that’s okay. Some people leave the bottom of the wine glass firmly planted on the table and just make a few circles with the base, while others like to pick the wine glass up and slightly flick their wrist, thereby making little circles in the air. No matter how you swirl the wine, your technique is completing an important next step in the tasting process: getting more oxygen into the wine.

   Oxygen is a friend and also an enemy of wine. In the beginning, oxygen is really great for a wine because as soon as a wine encounters oxygen, it begins to break down, which most people refer to as a wine “opening up.” As the wine opens, it gives off its aromas and also softens, which is good. But if you let a wine sit in a glass exposed to oxygen for too long, say overnight, the oxygen will fully oxidize the wine, ruining it and leaving it with an unpleasant taste that can be flat and even bitter.


   One question comes up a lot is why wines taste and smell like so many different things and not just grapes. The more you drink wine, the more you start to notice subtle flavors like vanilla, spice, tobacco, tropical fruits or even ocean air. We know a winemaker doesn’t actually add spices or seawater into a wine, so how does the wine end up inheriting these flavors? Grapes are an incredibly impressionable and delicate fruit. All of the environment the grape grows within affects the taste: the type of vine, the soil, the rain, the air, the insects and herbs around the wineyard, even the nearby sea or lake. Not to mention all the care the grape gets from the winemaker: the fertilizer, the pruning, the harvest, and so on. Good farming equals great wine, and it is at this stage where the grapes also first come in contact with elements that can impact the wine’s ultimate characteristics. After the grapes transition from the vineyard to the cellar, each decision the winemaker makes has an influence on the overall flavor. How the winemaker chooses to press the grapes, whether the winemaker wishes to age the fermented juice in steel or oak, and how long the winemaker lets the wine sit in these vessels all aid in imparting unique flavors and smells into a wine. With all of these factors having an influence on the overall taste and smell of the wine, it’s no wonder that so many of us pick up different characteristics when tasting and smelling the same wine. It’s one of the things that makes drinking wine so much fun. When you smell a wine, you’re preparing your brain for the wine you’re about to taste.

Our sense of smell has a profound effect on the way our brain processes flavor. If you want to better understand just how profound, hold your nose and then put a strawberry in your mouth and start to chew. Halfway through chewing, release your nose. You’ll notice right away how much more you actually taste when you have your sense of smell. This is why smell is so important when it comes to tasting a wine. When you go to smell the wine, stick your nose all the way into the glass and close your eyes — sure you might feel silly doing it, but you’re going to notice a lot more smells this way — then breathe in deep. As you smell the wine, think about what scents you’re picking up, and keep in mind that there are no wrong answers! If it’s a white wine, maybe you smell bananas, lemon rind, pineapple or even that scent that is always in the air when you go to the beach. If it’s a red wine, you may smell prunes, cherries, strawberries, peppers, plums or tobacco. In both situations, you may say you just smell grapes, and that is totally fine too. Your brain can only pick up scents that are in your memory, meaning they are scents you’ve smelled before or smell often. That’s why ten people could be sitting around a table smelling the same wine and say they smell ten different things!

You have to beware of the specific smell of corked wine. A corked wine is not pleasant to drink, so if you smell anything that is reminiscent of wet newspaper, a moldy dank basement, old wet rags or wet dog, there’s a chance the wine is corked. If you’re not sure, feel free to ask those drinking with you if they pick up similar scents, and never be afraid to ask your server what they think, because if the bottle is corked, they should replace it. A good rule of thumb to remember here is that the only way a wine can be corked is if the wine bottle was sealed using an actual real cork. If instead the wine is closed with a screw cap or synthetic plastic cork, having a corked wine is not possible.


Congratulations, you are about to get the great prize! You’ve looked, swirled and smelled, so now it’s time to sip your wine. Take a sip from your glass and let the wine sit in your mouth for a moment. You need to let the wine linger in your mouth so that your brain can process the taste and you will be able to think about it. What does it taste like? Do you taste any of the smells you picked up? Is the wine drying your mouth out (if this is happening, it means that the wine is strong in tannins)? Then swallow. If you’re tasting with others, talk about the wine. Just sit back, relax and have another drink.

Enjoy, if  you like it. Get a different wine if you don’t. The main idea is that you enjoy yourself. And don’t forget there is no right way to taste a wine!

Body of Wine

One of the primary ways to analyze and talk about wine is by discussing a wine’s body. In wine talking about body is not a discussion of shapeliness, but instead an analysis of the way a wine feels inside our mouth. Wine body breaks down into three categories: light body, medium body and full body, and a good way to think about the difference between them is the way skim milk, whole milk and cream feel in your mouth. While there are many factors that can contribute to a wine’s body, the main factor is alcohol. Because of this, knowing the influence alcohol has on the body of a wine is a good trick to help you quickly know what category of body the wine you are drinking will fall under.

The reason alcohol is the main contributor to a wine’s body is because alcohol is what gives a wine its viscosity and is responsible for either the heavy or light mouthfeel we experience when we sip a wine. As a wine contains more and more alcohol, it becomes more viscous (i.e., it becomes heavier, and thereby feels fuller in our mouths). This is why we call a heavily viscous wine full-bodied and a low viscosity wine light-bodied.

Here are the general rules:

Wines Under 12.5% alcohol (the alcohol percentage should always be written on the wine’s label) are said to light-bodied. These are generally the white wines we think of as crisp and refreshing. Good examples of these wines are Riesling, Italian Prosecco and Vinho Verde.

Wines between 12.5% and 13.5% are considered medium-bodied. Good examples of these wines are Rose, French Burgundy, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.

Finally, any wine over 13.5% alcohol is considered full-bodied. Some wines that are normally over this alcohol level and considered full-bodied are Zinfandel, Syrah/Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec. While the majority of wines over 13.5% alcohol are usually red, Chardonnay is a great example of a white that often can also be considered full-bodied.

Corked wine

Corked wine is something you may not heard of until you’ve actually encountered with it. What it means when a wine is ‘corked’ and what you should do when you buy a corked bottle?

Let’s start with what isn’t corked wine:

  • It’s not the pieces of cork floating around your wine
  • When a cork covered in little white crystals (these crystals, which are called tartrate, are a natural by-product of some wines and are totally harmless)
  • you also can’t tell if a wine is corked from smelling the cork itself.
  • if the bottle you opened used a screw cap or synthetic cork to form the seal, it can’t be corked.

So what is a corked wine?

A corked wine is one that has been contaminated with cork taint, and this contamination gives off a very distinct smell and taste. Cork taint occurs in a small percentage of all natural corks available in the world, with recent studies finding that only about 5% of wines with natural corks are actually corked. It is not harmful to drink corked wine but it can ruin your experience.

How does cork taint occur? In small instances, airborne fungi come in contact with the cork and create a substance known as TCA, a nasty chemical compound that ruins the wine the second the wine in the bottle comes in contact with it.

Corked Wine Taste & Corked Wine Smell

So how do you know if a wine is corked? Corked wine gives off a smell that is similar to a dank moldy basement, a wet newspaper or a wet dog. When you actually sip the wine, a typical corked wine taste will be flat and dull, exhibiting no fruit characteristics. Some people also say that corked wine tastes astringent.

Wine legs

We want to clear something up right now: wine legs don’t matter. In fact, in all of our years involved in wine, we’ve never met anyone who could read them correctly. Nor could they explain why they believe they matter. But, just in case you encounter someone who wants to talk about legs, and claims to understand them, here’s a quick explanation so you’re prepared.

Wine legs are the droplets or streaks of water that form on the inside of a wine glass as you move the wine around. While some people think these legs relate to the quality, sweetness or viscosity of the wine, THEY DO NOT. In fact, wine legs are just a representation of how much alcohol is in a wine. And why should they bother when the alcohol percentage is already printed on the wine label?

Oaked or not?

Many wines can benefit from coming in contact with oak. Oak can enhance the color of the wine, soften and round out flavors, and impart its own unique characteristics. Almost all red wines and many white wines spend time in oak barrels before being bottled, and that’s just because winemakers have found they taste better that way.

If all you taste is the characteristics of the oak, instead of the fruit, we say the wine is not balanced. If you drink a wine that tastes like liquid butter, that wine has way too much oak.

So how do you recognize when a wine has been oaked? When a wine sits in oak to age, the oak slowly imparts its flavors and colors into the wine. If this is a white wine, the longer the wine sits in oak, the darker a yellow it will become, almost mimicking the hue of straw. If the wine is red, color is not affected as much, but often the longer the wine sits in oak, the darker red it can become.
   In terms of flavors, living inside oak is a compound known as vanillin, which as the name suggests, tastes like vanilla. When a wine sits in oak for a long time, that compound leaves the wood and transfers into the wine, which is why many white wines, especially Chardonnay, can have such prominent vanilla flavors. Other flavors that can be enhanced by oak are mocha, caramel, toffee or honey.


So what is acidity in wine? Acidity is a wine’s “pucker” or tartness; it’s what makes a wine refreshing and your tongue salivate and want another sip. The easiest way to think about acidity is to think about a glass of lemonade. That pucker you get when you drink the lemonade, combined with the refreshment the lemonade gives you, is acidity. It’s what makes that lemonade great to drink on its own and also pair well with food.

When someone says a wine is crisp, bright or fresh, what they are really saying is the wine has great acidity. Although these words are most commonly used to talk about white wines, red wines can be crisp, bright and fresh as well.

The common misconception is that not all wines have acidity, but in fact, all wines do. If a wine has no acidity at all, it tastes dull and boring, which people refer to as flat. It is that little bit of acidity that causes your taste buds to want more and recognize other flavors.

For acidity to work best, even when it’s dominant, like in our white wine example, the wine has to be in balance, which is referred to as a balanced wine. This means that the acidity of the wine plays well with the wine’s other components; it doesn’t overpower the wine, causing it to be extremely tart and sour and it also doesn’t leave something to be desired, leaving the wine dull.


If you drink wine, at one point or another you’ve probably heard someone refer to a wine’s tannins, but you may not know what they are or why they matter. While knowing what this term means is not a necessity for enjoying a glass of wine — really! — it can help you better understand the wine you’re drinking and even why some wines give you a headache. You experience the effect of tannins any time you drink a wine that creates a drying sensation in your mouth.
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside grape skins, seeds and stems. The scientific word for these compounds is polyphenols. Depending on how dry your mouth feels, you can determine whether a wine is high or low in tannins. We say a wine that is high in tannins is tannic.

The longer the skins, seeds and stems soak in the juice, the more tannin characteristics they will impart. This explains why red wines have stronger tannins than white wines. When producing a red wine, the winemaker wants the skins to impart more color, thereby adding more tannins to the juice.
Winemakers love tannins because they work as a natural antioxidant to protect the wine. This is actually a key reason why certain red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, can be so age-worthy. And, as we know, antioxidants aren’t just useful for helping us age wine; they also have great health benefits for humans! Now you can tell your nutritionist there’s no need to keep drinking that pomegranate juice; you’re just going to have a nice glass of red wine instead!
The only downside to tannins is that they can give some people headaches. A good way to test if you’re susceptible to tannin headaches is to determine whether or not similar substances that are strong in tannins, such as dark chocolate and strong black tea, produce the same effect. Tannin headaches are rare, usually we just get a wine headache from consuming too much, but if you do realize you suffer from them, sticking to white wine, which is very low in tannins, would solve your tannin-triggered headaches!

There’s a wine glass for every style of wine you would ever want to drink–a glass specific to Bordeaux, one for Pinot Noir, another for Chardonnay and on and on.
In fact, the choices are so numerous that you’re probably wondering whether you need a wine glass for every type of wine you drink. The short and simple answer is no. While many will try and convince you that by using the perfect type of glassware for a certain type of wine you will be improving the drinking experience, we have to disagree. A glass of wine is going to taste just as good in a glass created specifically for that wine as it will in a tumbler. The wine is what matters, not the glass.

So why are there so many different kinds of glassware? Marketing. In 1973, Claus Riedel of the Riedel glassware company was looking for a way to sell more wine glasses, and he came up with a novel way to do so: the Riedel Sommelier series. The initial series consisted of ten glasses of different shapes that were each said to be the ideal glassware for a certain type of wine. According to Riedel, the specific shape of the glass would aid a wine drinker in picking up every aroma of the wine, and that shape would also direct the wine to the exact part of your mouth that would allow you to taste that wine best. After releasing the glasses, sales skyrocketed.

However, in 2004, an article in Gourmet Magazine reported that studies at major research centers in Europe and the U.S. suggested that Riedel’s claims were, scientifically, nonsense.

So the bottom line? Save yourself the anxiety. It’s our belief that every home really just needs two sets of wine glasses: a set of sparkling wine flutes and a set of all-purpose glasses that are great for both red and white.

No matter the glass you choose to buy, the ones that work best are ones that have stems. This is because the stem ensures your hand doesn’t have to touch the bulb of the glass, which would warm the wine. It also makes it much easier to swirl the wine when you initially taste it!


Decant simply means to pour a wine from one vessel, its bottle, into another. While there are a lot of fancy decanters out there on the market, all you need is another empty container. The reason you decant a wine is to allow it to come in more contact with oxygen. Oxygen, during its initial contact with a wine can be very beneficial, enhancing a wine’s flavors and softening it.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can only decant certain types of wine, any wine, both white and red, can be decanted. There is hardly a wine that is worse from being decanted, so our rule is, if you want to decant a wine, do it, even if you are just decanting it because you think it looks prettier in the decanter.

Decanting is also a great trick to ensure a wine is more likely to please all of your guests. The contact the wine has with the air rounds out the wine and makes it more pleasing to most people’s taste buds, plus if you have a nice decanter, it looks pretty sitting on the table prior to being served. Remember we taste with our eyes as much as we do with our nose and tongues.

To decant a wine, pour the wine from its bottle into your decanting vessel 15 to 20 minutes before you want to serve it, and just let it sit, then serve. Happy decanting.

Does serving wine at certain temperatures affect how the wine tastes? Are there ideal temperatures at which to serve different types of wine? Yes, it does! Knowing what wines to serve at what temperatures is much easier than you might think. The reason we try to serve wine at their correct temperatures is because the temperature can dramatically impact the way a wine smells and tastes. By serving the wine at its ideal temperature, we ensure we have the best experience. Here are three general rules that should serve you well: Sparkling Wine Should Be Served Cold — 4-8 C° We like to put our bubbly in the freezer about 20 minutes before we pop it – but don’t forget about it or you’ll have an explosion. If you’re short on time, you can also place the bottle in an ice bucket for 40 minutes and have similar results. The cold temperature will keep the bubbles fine rather than foamy. After you open the bottle and pour the first glasses, you should place the open bottle on ice until the entire bottle is finished. White Wine And Rosé Should Be Served Cool — 9-15 The best way to get white wine and rose cold is to place it in the fridge (if it is possible to the door storage shelves, where it would not freeze) immediately after buying it; however, if you buy the wine the same day you want to drink it, either leave it in the fridge for an hour, or you can place it in the freezer for about 10 minutes. That should do the trick!  After opening the bottle and pouring everyone their first glass, we prefer not to place it on ice, but instead let the bottle sweat on the table, as the wine’s aromas and character changes slightly as the temperature rises, which we love. Red Wine Should Be Served Room Temperature — 15-20  Put it in the fridge for only an hour before you want to drink it. Unless it is hot (30-40 C° like a summer day) in the place you store the bottle or it is exposed to direct sunlight, you can leave on a shelf or any storage place without worry too much. After opening, just as with white we like leaving the wine out on the table to slowly warm.

Acidity: Identified as the crisp, sharp character in a wine. The acidity of a balanced dry table wine is in the range of 0.6 percent to 0.75 percent of the wine’s volume.

Alcohol by volume: As required by law, wineries must state the alcohol level of a wine on its label. This is usually expressed as a numerical percentage of the volume. For table wines the law allows a 1.5 percent variation above or below the stated percentage as long as the alcohol does not exceed 14 percent. Thus, wineries may legally avoid revealing the actual alcohol content of their wines by labeling them as “table wine.”

Alcoholic Fermentation: Also called primary fermentation, this is the process in which yeasts metabolize grape sugars and produce alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat. The final product is wine.

Appellation: Appellation Defines the area where a wine’s grapes were grown, such as Bordeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin, Alexander Valley or Russian River Valley. Regulations vary widely from country to country. In order to use an appellation on a California wine label, for example, 85 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must be grown in the specified district.

Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP): This is the European Union’s new designation, meant to replace the old Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (French) for recognition across the member states. It was officially adopted in January 2016.

Balance: A wine is balanced when its elements are harmonious and no single element dominates. The “hard” components—acidity and tannins—balance the “soft” components—sweetness, fruit and alcohol.

Blending: Wines are blended for many reasons. To make a more harmonious or complex wine, wines with complementary attributes may be blended. For example, a wine with low acidity may be blended with a high-acid wine or a wine with earthy flavors may be blended with a fruity wine. To create a uniform wine from many small batches is another goal, since grapes from different vineyards, stages of the harvest and pressings are frequently vinified separately and the small batches differ slightly. Red Bordeaux offers a prime example; five different grapes may be used, each contributing its own nuances to the blend.

Château: French term for “castle.” In the wine world, it translates loosely as “estate.” However, in France, the term is protected.

Corked: Describes a wine having the off-putting, musty, moldy-newspaper flavor and aroma and dry aftertaste caused by a tainted cork.

Cuvée:  A blend or special lot of wine.

Decanting : A technique that removes sediment from wine before drinking. After allowing the sediment to settle by standing the bottle upright for the day, the wine is poured slowly and carefully into another container, leaving the sediment in the original bottle.

Dry: Having no perceptible taste of sugar. Most wine tasters begin to perceive sugar at levels of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.

Fruity: Having the aroma and taste of fruit or fruits.

Grand Vin: The premier cuvée made by a winery. Grand vin, or “great wine,” is an unregulated term frequently used in Bordeaux to indicate that a wine is the best of multiple wines made at a given winery.

Harvest: The process of picking the grapes, whether by hand or machine. Also the time period when the grapes are picked; usually September through October in the northern hemisphere and March through April in the southern hemisphere.

Ice wine: A dessert wine made from frozen grapes.

Mature: The stage at which the wine will not gain any additional complexity with further bottle aging and is ready to drink. Also describes grapes when they are fully ripe.

New World: The New World is comprised of countries that have started producing wine more recently than the countries of Europe, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.

Noble Rot: Also known by its scientific name, Botrytis cinerea, noble rot is a beneficial mold that grows on ripe wine grapes in the vineyard under specific climatic conditions. The mold dehydrates the grapes, leaving them shriveled and raisinlike and concentrates the sugars and flavors. Wines made from these berries have a rich, complex, honeyed character and are often high in residual sugar. Noble rot contributes the unique, concentrated flavors in such wines as BA and TBA Riesling from Germany, Sauternes from Bordeaux, Aszu from Hungary’s Tokay district and an assortment of late-harvest wines from other regions.

Noble Varieties: Considered the classic grape varieties, originating in the Old World, which have the ability to make outstanding wines. Reds include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Syrah (Shiraz in the Southern Hemisphere). Whites include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gerwürztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

Old World: The Old World refers to the countries of Europe where winemaking dates back centuries. The Old World was once associated primarily with traditional winemaking techniques, while the New World was known for modern winemaking, though those stereotypes are no longer as accurate.

Oxidized: Describes wine that has been exposed too long to air and taken on a brownish color, losing its freshness and perhaps beginning to smell and taste like Sherry or old apples. Oxidized wines are also called maderized or sherrified.

Phylloxera: Tiny aphids or root lice that attack Vitis vinifera roots. The vineyard pests were widespread in both Europe and California during the late 19th century, and returned to California in the 1980s.

Reserve: A quality classification. The term indicating that the wine has been aged for an extra period of time prior to release. Wines must be aged at least a couple of years, with a minimum of one year in oak. 

Rich: Describes wines with generous, full, pleasant flavors, usually sweet and round in nature. In dry wines, richness may be supplied by high alcohol and glycerin, by complex flavors and by an oaky vanilla character. Decidedly sweet wines are also described as rich when the sweetness is backed up by fruity, ripe flavors.

Rosé: Rosés, also known as blush wines, range in color from muted salmon-orange to bright pink. These wines are made from red grapes, colored through limited skin contact or, in rare cases, the addition of small quantities of red wine.

Rustic: Describes wines made by old-fashioned methods or tasting like wines made in an earlier era. Can be a positive quality in distinctive wines that require aging. Can also be a negative quality when used to describe a young, earthy wine that should be fresh and fruity.

Sherry: Sherry is a fortified wine made in Jerez, Spain, most often from the Palomino grape but also from the Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel varieties. Following fermentation, the wine is fortified with distilled wine spirit, up to the minimum strength of 15.5 percent alcohol. The fortified wine is then usually aged in oak barrels arranged in a solera system of multiple vintages, and which may include more than a hundred vintages of Sherry blended together. Sherries may be classified by their quality, age, sweetness and or alcohol contents into categories which include fino, manzanilla, amontillado, oloroso, cream, etc.

Single Vineyard: A bottling whose grapes hail from one particular vineyard or site. They are often regarded superior to their multi-vineyard counterparts.

Skin Contact: Refers to the process of grape skins steeping in juice or fermenting must to impart color and flavor to the wine.

Stale: Wines that have lost their fresh, youthful qualities are called stale. Opposite of fresh.

Super Tuscan: Wines from Tuscany made using international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah rather than relying primarily on local varieties such as Sangiovese. Although their quality can be outstanding, these wines must be labeled with the lower levels of Italy’s classification system, Vino da Tavola or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, since they do not conform to Tuscany’s traditional winemaking practices.

Sweet: Sweet describes the sugar content in a wine, found at higher levels in late-harvest and sweet wines. Not to be confused with fruity wines. Most people begin to perceive sweetness at concentrations of 0.3 to 0.7 percent residual sugar.

Table Wine: Still wines containing 7 percent to 14 percent alcohol. The term is also a quality classification in many European Union countries, indicating the lowest level of quality: Vin du Table in France, Vino da Tavola in Italy and Tafelwein in Germany.

Tannins: The mouth-puckering polyphenols, most prominent in red wines, that are derived primarily from grape skins, seeds and stems, but also from oak barrels. Tannins are an important component of a wine’s structure and texture, and act as a natural preservative that help wine age and develop.

Tartaric Acid: The principal acid in grapes and wine; contributes to taste and stabilizes color. Unlike malic acid, tartaric acid does not decline as grapes ripen. Tartaric acid can precipitate out of solution in bottled wine to form harmless tartrate crystals resembling shards of glass.

Terroir: A term describing the interaction of soil, climate, topography and grape variety in a specific site, imprinting the wine and making each wine from a specific site distinct. Derived from the French word for earth, “terre.”

Varietal: Refers to a wine labeled with a single grape variety. Used predominantly in the United States and Australia, the term “varietal” denotes a wine named after and made from a single grape variety. For example, “The popular varietal is served in many restaurants” and “The herbal aromas of this Sauvignon Blanc are varietally correct.” For varietal bottling, a minimum of 75 percent of that wine must be made from the designated grape variety. The term is frequently misused in reference to a grape variety itself.

Variety: A variety refers to the grape itself, whereas the term varietal refers to the wine made from that grape variety. For example, “Chardonnay is an early-ripening variety.”

Vin de Pays: French quality classification meaning “country wine”; it is one level above vin de table.

Vin de Table: France’s lowest level of wine classification, meaning “table wine.” There are no limits on vineyard yields for wines labeled vin de table, and they do not require a vintage date.

Vino de Pago: The highest classification of wine in Spain, requiring that wines be made entirely from estate-grown grapes in addition to the requirements of the Denominatión de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca.) classification.

Vinous: Literally means “winelike” and is usually applied to dull wines lacking in distinct varietal character.

Vintage: Indicates the year in which the grapes were grown. For vintage dated wines made in the United States, 95 percent of a wine must come from grapes that were grown and picked in the stated calendar year. In the southern hemisphere where the grapes may grow in the year preceeding a February through March harvest, the vintage date refers to the year of harvest. Also refers to the time of year in which the harvest takes place.

Viticultural Area: Defines a legal grape-growing area distinguished by geographical features, climate, soil, elevation, history and other definable boundaries. Rules vary widely from region to region, and change often. Just for one example, in the United States, a wine must be 85 percent from grapes grown within the viticultural area to carry the appellation name.

Vitis Labrusca: The species of grape native to the eastern U.S. that includes the Concord and Catawba varieties.

Vitis Vinifera: Classic European winemaking species of grape. Examples include Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and most of the famous varieties grown around the world.

Winemaking: Largely synonymous with “Vinification,” winemaking is the process by which harvested grapes are crushed, fermented (and otherwise manipulated through yeast inoculations, temperature control, punch-downs, pump-overs, racking, oak-chip additions, filtering, etc.), aged in barrel, steel tank or other vessel, and finally bottled.