Wine can seem like a complicated thing, from different varieties and flavors to regions to glassware to tannins (and you may even be asking, ‘What are tannins?!’ We’ll get to that another day.), the list goes on and on. Here’s the thing though, wine doesn’t have to be complicated! You may have asked yourself some questions about wine. Believe me, we have too; let’s try and go through some common ones.
There’s a lot of wine out there. What’s the best place to start?
The easiest place to start is with the two main types: red and white. White wines are typically lighter than red wines in taste, with flavors more reminiscent of lighter and acidic fruits. Think lemons, limes, pineapples, and apples. Red wines are usually heavier than whites and have more savory tastes. You may encounter flavors of herbs and tobacco for instance, but dark fruit flavors like berries and cherries can be quite prominent too. There are other types of wine out there as well, including, rosé, sparkling wine, champagne (which is sparkling wine made in the Champagne region), and ports.
If it can break down to red and white, why are there so many varieties?
The short answer is that there are a lot of different grapes! The longer answer is that each of those grapes has their own flavor and characteristics before they’re even turned into wine and those can become more evident through the wine making process. Some of the more common varieties are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for white wines and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot for reds.
If the wines are all made from the same grapes, why do they all taste different?
What can help separate one glass of Cab from the next comes down to two big things: terroir and the winemaker. Terroir may sound fancy, but it’s really just the area where the grapes are grown. Everything from the soil, weather, and the actual way the land is shaped can have a profound effect on how a wine will taste. Winemakers influence the taste of a wine as well. They choose how long a wine is fermented and aged as well as which other wines are blended in (even single varietal wines can have small amounts of other wine blended in).
I’ve seen people swirling and smelling their wine before they drink it. Does that really help?
It can! Swirling or swishing a wine around in your glass helps it get oxygen. Wines have been sitting around in an unopened bottle for a while, so getting that oxygen can help bring out different smells and tastes. Wine can become too oxidized, but it isn’t a problem you’ll run into by just swirling it.
Smell and taste are very connected, so smelling a wine can help you pick out the different flavors and prime your palate for when you take a sip. Don’t feel like you have to do either of these though, your wine will still taste good without these extra steps!
Do I need to age my wines? I’d like to drink them now.
You don’t have to store, or age, any of your wines. In fact, most wines are opened while they’re young. That said, some wines can benefit from being laid down for some time. Some wines are also produced with the idea that they’ll be aged in mind. Aging a wine can allow you to get a different taste of the wine as it breaks down; fruit flavors will begin to disappear, tannins will soften, and the color can even change. How much someone enjoys what changes in the wine all comes down to personal preference, so try different things and find out what you like!
I want to try aging a bottle, does it have to be stored on its side?
While some of the answers come down to preference, this one doesn’t. To properly age wine, it has to be stored on its side. By storing wine horizontally, the cork is kept wet. If the cork starts to dry out, it can shrink enough to allow oxygen into the bottle which can oxidize the wine too much! If that happens, it can ruin the wine you were saving for a special moment.
If you’re ready to start exploring wines more, our American Cellars Wine Club provides a good mix of red and white wines of popular varietals including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot.