The Ultimate Wine Guide for Beginners
A birthday party, an awards ceremony, graduation, a wedding…there are a million reasons why you might need to buy a bottle of wine. There will be times you’re even expected to. On the surface, this might seem like a triviality, but walking up to a vast selection of wines in a liquor store without a clear idea of what you like or need can be incredibly daunting.
Our wine guide for beginners will help alleviate the pressure that comes with choosing a single bottle out of that enormous variety. And this isn’t the only reason to learn more about wine, either. Wine is a cultural phenomenon that dates back over 8,000 years, accompanying humanity through its best and its worst moments. Wine often goes hand-in-hand with cultural and social experiences, and knowing which bottle to pick up for which event can really set you apart. Besides, it’s great to know what you like best of all the bottles available.
In this wine guide for beginners, first let’s take a look at all the different kinds of wine that are out there:
What is Wine?
What is wine? Essentially, wine is an alcoholic drink made almost always from the fermentation of grapes. Some wines are made from rice, and still others are made by fermenting other fruits. There are hundreds and hundreds of different grape varieties that can be—and are—used in the production of wine throughout the world, too. Getting to know these different kinds of wine and the occasions they’re paired best with is a great first step into the world of wine.
Wine Type Fundamentals
Perhaps the most famous type of wine for events is the bubbly kind, and for good reason! Originating in the region of Champagne, France (which is where the most popular sparkling gets its name), sparkling wines are difficult to make as well as very time consuming. That price tag on some of the most elaborate bottles is there for a reason! The cost is also why bottles of sparkling wine are often reserved for special occasions. While an imported bottle of Champagne can put a dent in your wallet, however, try picking up a bottle of Brut for an occasion instead—this is another sparkling wine that is delicious and easier on the bank account.
Often, white wine gets a bad rap for being simple to drink and an easy “introductory wine,” but there is a world of complexity to explore of whites that can appeal to even the most loyal of red wine drinkers.
The first kind of white wine is the light white. These are the famous, easy-to-drink bottles. For this same reason, light whites are often called the “beer” of wine. Having a light profile also makes these wines easy to pair with any hour d’oeuvre or plate, making them a great accompaniment for many different meals. Pinot Grigio is an example of a classic light white.
There are also whites that are a bit more complex and not quite as “easy-drinkers” as light whites. These are called the full-bodied whites. Full-bodied whites are white wines that are richer, creamier, and aged in oak barrels. These have more complex flavor profiles and are often popular among regular red wine lovers. Chardonnay is a good example of the full-bodied whites.
The last white wine to know is the aromatic white. These wines are incredibly aromatic (naturally), with perfumes that really punch up as soon as you open the bottle. Aromatic whites can be either dry or sweet, but are often a touch on the sweet side thanks to the heavy perfuming. Moscato d’Asti is a popular example of a wonderfully aromatic white wine.
Iconic in popular culture in large part due to its attractive color, rosé is definitely a wine especially admired by those that appreciate the details. This wine has a light red tint (hence the name), and is made by coloring or dying the wine only briefly with the skins of red grapes. Although rosé is generally characterized by this special, technical process, there is actually a very diverse selection of flavor profiles you can find within the rosé family. There are prominent sweet and dry selections to choose from, and plenty more to explore.
The most iconic wine is red. Though, just as with white wine, there are many different kinds of red wine to choose from, and all of them are worth getting to know.
Just like with white wines, we start with the light-bodied reds. These red wines are slightly paler, so much so that they’re see-through in your wine glass. These are some of the most sought-after wines in the world. Pinot Noir is an example of a light-bodied red.
Medium-bodied red wines are great to pair with a huge swath of different meals. They have a great balance between flavor and zest, making them complex and palate-filling while also capable of accompanying lots of different flavors on a plat. Merlot and Zinfandel are some classic examples of medium-bodied red wines.
Full-bodied red wines are the “big hitters” when it comes to flavor. These bottles provide so much flavor with every sip, in fact, that they completely take over your palate. Sometimes they can even be considered palate cleansing. Flavors this pronounced need to be paired with other bold and unapologetic flavors, which is why full bodied reds go so well with rich and fatty cuts of meat, like really juicy steaks. Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec are famously full-bodied red wines.
Some wine history travels through periods of time when sweet flavors were championed over dry profiles, for example in the mid-1800s. This period led to the popularization of dessert wines. Today, these wines can be either dry or sweet, but are always incredibly rich and aromatic. Port is a great example of a classic dessert wine.
Now, knowing which bottle of wine to get is a big part of the battle, but it isn’t the only thing to worry about when you’re bringing a bottle with you somewhere. For example, which wine glass do you choose?
Why does the Wine Glass Matter?
Did you ever wonder why Champagne is served in a thin flute while red wine is served in glasses with almost obnoxiously large bowls? Is there a technical reason to vary these glasses so much? Should you just pour all of your wine into a mason jar instead?
Actually, there is a real and scientific reason for choosing the glasses we choose, and it has everything to do with how the ethanol vapors from the wine interact with the shape of the glass. These vapors are what lift the aroma of the wine into your nose and, seeing as the majority of taste comes first from smell, the shape of your glass can literally make your wine taste better. Here’s the basic rundown.
- White wines are typically served in glasses with much smaller bowls. This is because these smaller glasses tend to better express the floral aromas to be enjoyed from these wines. These glasses also maintain the wine at lower temperatures while helping to bring out the acidity in each sip. In a sense, small glasses help accentuate the flavor and help every detail stand out.
- On the other hand, something with a more aggressive flavor profile like full-bodied red wines benefit from glasses with larger bowls. This is because these large bowls have the opposite effect—they help smooth out the flavor and make it a tiny bit less aggressive. This is important since, otherwise, the huge flavor profile of red wine can make it downright difficult to drink in a smaller glass designed to bring aromas out.
There are worlds of information on the history and culture of wine to explore before proclaiming yourself an expert “oenophile.” That said, this wine guide for beginners will hopefully help you decide which bottle to get for the next occasion, why to get it, and how to serve it. And that is a huge first step in the right (and delicious) direction. At Zipps, we stock all of these different types of wine in our liquor stores. The next time you need a bottle of wine, whether it’s for a celebration or for yourself, stop by Zipps and browse our selection, and be sure to have this wine guide for beginners available to pull up on your phone. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff can recommend a bottle of wine that’s perfect for a celebration, or recommend a bottle of wine you yourself might like!