The best way to learn about wine is to taste it. Poring over magazines and books will get you started, but until you actually pull the cork and pour the wine, the learning experience is lacking.
Wine was a less complicated subject when most imported bottles came from France, Italy and Spain. But today, in even the most modest liquor stores, many bottles from a variety of locations line the shelves.
Many are labeled with names of mysterious-sounding grapes and growing regions. Who would have thought, for instance, that vineyards in Chile and Argentina would produce the latest must-try wines, or that sumptuous wine would be made in Sicily.
With so many options to explore, it’s clear why many wine drinkers get confused – and frustration and overload set in – and a quick magazine read seems an easy answer. But a better place to improve your tasting experience is with the pull of the cork. Below are two quick lessons to improve your tasting term knowledge.
SAUVIGNON BLANC: ACIDITY
When it comes to learning about acidity in wine, a good example is the crisp in-your-face freshness sauvignon blanc offers. To understand the taste of acidity on your palate, simply bite into a Granny Smith apple to experience the sourness that causes a quick burst of saliva down the inside of your gums. Acidity is what keeps a wine fresh, much like the carbonation in a soda.
New Zealand’s Marlborough region on the South Island is celebrated for its distinct green apple, vibrant, high-acid style of wine made from this grape. California and Australia also produce this grape, but not with the keen, searing acidity and grassy style of New Zealand. Sauvignon blanc grapes grown in California and Australia get more sunshine, so grapes are riper when harvested, producing a smoother, less acidic wine. Sometimes other grapes, such as semillon, are added to give these wines much less punch than the grape’s typical green crisp style.
- 2007 Rosemount Diamond Label Sauvignon Blanc, Australia (about $14, retail)
- 2007 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (about $24, retail)
CABERNET SAUVIGNON: TANNIN
Just as acidity gives a wine its youthful freshness, tannin acts as a preservative to allow great wines to age. It creates a drying sensation on the inside of the gums, much like 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 the thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon, syrah or nebbiolo, the higher the tannin content in a wine. The key to proper tannin levels is the skill of the winemaker to balance it for wines that are meant to be consumed soon after bottling and those that will be cellared for many years.
- 2007 Yali Winemaker’s Selection Cabernet, Carmenere, Chile (about $12, retail)
- 2006 Honig Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $49, retail)