How to become a Wine Expert

To become an expert in winery, you first need to understand what wine is and where it comes from, as this has a big influence on the types of wine produced and their flavours.

Most people will know that wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grape juice, and this is usually where their knowledge ends. To add to this simple, but accurate statement, any fruit can be used to make wine, but grapes are best due to their rich juice content. The grapes used to make wine are not your average table grape that you find at the supermarket but a wine grape. These are much smaller in size, with thick skins and riddled with seeds. They are preferred to tables grapes because of their sweetness.

Table grapes have a sugar content level of 17-19g, wine grapes are closer to 24-26g at harvest. The most commonly used grapes for wine are Vitis vinifera, also known as the Common Grape Vine. 90% of cultivated grapes in the world come from this species, although there are thousands of different varieties of grape within the Vitis vinifera family. For example, a bottle of Riesling is made from Riesling grapes.

Different types of wine

Wine can be split into several different categories. First, let’s start with Vintage and non-vintage wines, and single-varietal and blended wine.

Vintage wine is wine that was made from grapes which were all harvested in the same year. “Vintage” originally came from the Latin word vinum, meaning wine. It wasn’t until the 17th century that vintage was applied to wine from a particularly good harvest. So, when you see a vintage year listed on the label, that’s the year the grapes were picked and made into wine. Non-vintage wines will always be labelled with “NV.” This usually mean they’ve been mixed with other vintages or contain grapes which were harvested in different years.

Single-varietal wine is wine made primarily from the same type of grape, and these are typically displayed on the label. Some popular wine examples include Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Merlot. Wines which display the names of two or more varieties are blends of several types of grape.

Blending is a traditional method of winemaking which can create many different types of wine. Port wine, for example, is made from what’s called a field blend, where the different grapes have been blended and fermented together.

Now that this primary wine category has been established, it’s time to move onto the five main types of wine, which you’re probably more familiar with. These five basic groups are only umbrella terms, there will also be hundreds of different types within those too!

  • Red Wine

    Tuscan Red Wine

    Made from black grapes, the colour of red wine can vary from an intense violet, typical of young wines, to a deep red for mature wines, and a dark brown for older red wines. The colour doesn’t actually come from the grape juice itself, which is a greenish-white colour, but from anthocyanin pigments present in the grape skin.

  • White Wine

    A still white wine is produced from white and occasionally black grapes and fermented without skin contact. White wines tend to be lighter in both style and taste than red wine and are often considered more refreshing.

  • Rosé

    Rosé or rosato in Italian, incorporates some of the colour from the grape skins, but not enough to qualify it as a red wine. Rosé is also made by blending red and white wine together.

  • Sparkling Wine

    This means wine with bubbles! It is a style of winemaking that involves secondary fermentation that creates significant levels of carbon dioxide, making it fizzy. Most sparkling wines tend to be white or rosé, although it can be done with red wine too.

  • Dessert Wine

    Dessert wines contain high levels of both sugar and alcohol, and as the title implies are typically served with dessert. This is achieved by fortifying the wine with spirits, making them sweet in taste but high in alcoholic volume. Fortified simply means adding spirits to wine before the fermentation process is complete. Sherry for example is a well-known dessert wine.

The Taste of Wine

Now you know, the different wine categories and the main five wine groups, it’s time to talk you through the taste of wine. There are many different terms used to describe a wine’s unique flavour, which include acidity, sweetness, tannin and aroma compounds, which are all produced in the fermentation process. The acidity of a wine will vary depending on where it sits on the pH scale and is often balanced with the wine’s sweetness, which ranges from no sugar at all to a high sugar content. Dry wine for instance, refers to wine which has no sweetness to it.

Another element that impacts how wine tastes is its volume of alcohol, with most ranging from 10% – 15%. Alcohol has a strong, almost spicy taste to it that hits the back of the throat, some people enjoy this sensation, whilst others prefer something more subtle. Red wine can also be impacted by tannins, plant derived polyphenols, found in the skins, stems and seeds of the grapes. They give the wine a textual component that dries the mouth, which is why red wine is often described as being bitter. Aroma compounds influence our expectations of the wine before we taste it. This is why some people smell wine before drinking it, to try and distinguish the different compounds that may be present. Although this can give an idea to the type of wine, it would be impossible to identify all the compounds in a wine, as they are very complex! Each grape variety exhibits aroma compounds at different levels, which can in turn, be affected by oxidation and the aging process.

So, next time you’re with you friends, at a party or sitting in a restaurant, remember to take into account what the different types of wine mean and how this impacts their taste. Smell the wine beforehand and drop in a bit about the wine’s texture and you’re good to go. You’ll be a sommelier in no time!

Related article: What is the history of Wine in Tuscany?

Language »