Tips on Buying Wine, Part 1

Many people find choosing wine and getting to grips with the myriad of styles available a difficult task. There are no hard and fast rules; wine is all about personal preference. The following is just a few pointers to get you started and will hopefully make buying wine easier and more fun.

1.) Basic wine styles

While there are thousands of wines to choose from, the first easy step is understanding the six basic wine styles:

Red Wine: Made from red grapes, there are over a 1000 different grape varieties. However, only about 12 or so are found across the word. Red wines vary from light, refreshing wines to full-bodied rich wines.

White Wine: Made from white grapes, generally lighter and more refreshing to drink then red wine.  Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are two famous white wine grapes.

Rosé: A rosé wine has some of the color typical of a red wine, but only enough to turn it pink. It can be made from a blend of white and red grapes or just from red grapes. A light refreshing wine perfect for summer drinking.

Sparking Wine: A wine with significant levels of carbon dioxide in it making it fizzy. Champagne and Cava are two famous examples. Good party wine!

Fortified Wine: Wine to which spirits, usually brandy has been added. The end result is a wine that is both sweeter and stronger, normally containing about 20% alcohol by volume. Port is a classic example.

Dessert Wines: These are Sweet white wines typically served with dessert, such as Sauternes from the Bordeaux region in France. Many people prefer dry wines but sweet wines have there place with some foods.

2.) What is the wine for?

A lot of people buy wines to serve with a particular food.  When pairing wines with food, you don’t need to drill down to the level of the fine nuances to make an informed choice. All you need are a few simple pairing rules.

The most important thing to remember is to pair light wines with lighter foods, such as fish, chicken and creamy sauces, and match full-bodied wines with bolder foods, such as beef, game or pasta sauces.

Traditionally, this rule has been simplified: white wines with fish and chicken and some pork, and reds with beef and game. That’s a good rule of thumb to follow for the beginner, but with a bit of experience, you’ll find you can break the mold a little! — some nice light-bodied reds go well with chicken or fish.

3.) Narrow down to a grape variety

There are many different white and red grapes available and it can be confusing for the buyer. Below is just quick glossary of the main varieties.

A quick glossary:

  • (Red) Cabernet Sauvignon is a full, rich red wine that goes well with heavier foods such as red meats, game and tomato-based pasta sauces;
  • (Red) Pinot Noir is usually softer than Cabernets, with similar characteristics;
  • (Red) Merlot is one of the lighter reds, and it’s very popular;
  • (Red) Syrah is one of the biggest reds, and the best are French and Australian;
  • (White) Chardonnay is an elegant white with a nice buttery taste, and pairs well with chicken and creamy pasta sauces;
  • (White) Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp white, great for sipping on summer days and pairing with fish;
  • (White) Viognier is an aromatic white – strong smells and crisp tropical fruit.
  • Don’t expect that all wines are made from a single grape variety. It’s not uncommon to find, for example, Cabernet-Merlot blends.
James Lawrence

James Lawrence is a self confessed wine obsessive, passionate about discovering and promoting the lesser known wines and wine regions of the world. He is a frequent contributor to and runs an interactive, community led wine forum, In 2004, he went to study in Bilbao, Northern Spain. Luckily for him, the famous wine region of Rioja was just over an hour away by car. He began to spend a great deal of time there, visiting the wineries in Rioja and speaking to local wine makers. Their passion for the subject and their pride in the wines was infectious. He began to realise what an amazing subject wine is and how wide and complex the world of wine could be. Subsequently James moved into wine retail while finishing his degree, and was hooked. James also enjoys food and travel writing - he lives for Italian and Thai cuisine!

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