Sara Harrison is the founder and owner of Circle Wine, a family fun wine merchant based in Fulham, delivering fine wines direct to your door.
Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Wine
“I don’t know much about wine but I know what I like” is the familiar refrain of the drinking classes, underlining the universal truth that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to wine. Thankfully, it also avoids references to wet blankets, pencil lead or any of those other bizarre taste descriptives that tend to get bandied about.
However, in order to take the next step up the drinking ladder it helps to understand some basic wine facts to assist you in your quest to find good wine rather than paint stripper!
The world of wine is fundamentally defined by the three W’s; WHAT, WHERE and WHEN.
The WHAT is the grape that makes the wine. There are over 10,000 grape varieties but only around 90 of them are used regularly in modern winemaking. Within that 90 a handful stand out so the start point is to master those:
In the red camp:
- We start at Pinot Noir, the lightest of the three, making for elegant, fresh wines that can be enjoyed equally as an aperitif or pairs well with white meats or roasted vegetables
- move on to Merlot, medium bodied and fruity, for meatier dishes
- and finish with the mighty Cabernet Sauvignon sitting at the top of the hearty tree with bold flavours that can take on pungent cheeses and cured meats.
In the white camp:
- we see Pinot Grigio at the light end of the scale,
- moving to dry, flavoursome Sauvignon Blancs
- and on to the richer, more complex Chardonnays.
However, just like their red counterparts, it is important not to confuse these grapes with sameness. The country, region or even the specific vineyard itself will give a further sense of being to the wine depending on the soil, the direction of the vineyard to the sun or the quality with which the grapes are tended. This then is the WHERE of which we speak.
And finally comes the WHEN, which is the year of production. Of all the contributing factors to the quality of a wine, the most important remains Mother Nature, so the year is always worth looking out for. It’s too long and varied a list to commit to memory so the choice is simple; carry an extensive vintage chart or go with 2010 which seems to have been excellent just about everywhere. But remember, not all wines are made for aging, so best to apply that rule to Old World Reds (France, Spain and Italy) plus California.
So that’s lesson number one in the pocket book of wine knowledge. If confusion still reigns, call me and we can talk. Someone once said, that “great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things and small people talk about wine.” I say power to the little folk!