The best way to learn about wine is to taste it. Scouring through magazines and books will get you started, but until you pull the cork and taste the wine, the learning experience is lacking. Even the most modest of retail stores carry numerous offerings, many from unfamiliar grapes and growing regions.
One way to improve your buying and tasting skills is to get to know a couple of key grapes.
Acidity: When it comes to learning about acidity in wine, there’s no need to go further than the crisp, direct-in-your-face freshness sauvignon blanc offers. To understand the taste of acidity on your palate, bite into a Granny Smith apple and experience the sourness that causes a quick burst of saliva down the inside of your gums. Acidity is key in a wine’s refreshing makeup.
New Zealand’s Marlborough region, located on the South Island, is the most celebrated for its distinct green apple, vibrant, high-acid style. California and Australia also produce this grape, but those don’t have as keen a flavor as the searing acidity and grassy style of New Zealand grapes. California and Australia styles tend to be much riper, sometimes adding a bit of other grapes such as semillon, giving it less punch from sauvignon blanc’s typical green crisp style.
- 2010 Rosemount Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Australia (about $10, retail)
- 2010 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough New Zealand (about $18, retail)
Tannin: Just as acidity gives a wine its youthful freshness, tannin acts as a sort of preservative to prolong great wines for aging. It creates a drying sensation on the inside of the gums, much like that produced by cold tea. Tannin is developed from the grape skins, stems or pips (bitter seeds of the grape) or by aging in wood. The thicker the skin of the grape — such as cabernet sauvignon, syrah or nebbiolo — the higher the tannin content.
The key to tannin is the skill of the winemaker in balancing the flavor for wines that are consumed soon after bottling and that of wines to be cellared for many years.
- 2009 Estancia Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $17 retail)
- 2008 Franciscan Vineyards Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $30, retail)