Wine Basics

How can you appreciate great wine when you don’t know the difference between the grapes? Here is a general overview so you can better choose your wines to complement your palate and quench your desires.

Cabernet Sauvignon

This is the undisputed king of red wines. The small, thick-skinned, dark bluish grapes, give the wine the deep red color and primary taste of blackcurrant. Cabernet Sauvignon is highly suited to aging in oak barrels so the flavors of new oak – vanilla, toast, spice, chocolate and coconut are frequently part of the profile.

Key Grape Flavors – Dry Red. Mint, powerful Blackcurrant aroma, Chocolate
Food & Wine –Beef, lamb, pork and creamy pasta dishes. Great match with brie, cheddar cheese and chocolate.


As the Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red wine, Chardonnay is the king of white wines. It’s almost always easy to drink and is full, ripe, fruity and smooth; naturally low acidity means chardonnay is almost incapable of being tart. Chardonnay takes well to oak which gives a toasty- vanilla flavor.

Key Grape Flavors –Dry white, Buttery, Apple, Peach, Lime Walnut, Toasty and sometimes nutty
Food & Wine – Poultry, seafood, and creamy pasta dishes. Great cheeses to try are Gruyere, Provolone and Brie.


Merlot is similar to cabernet sauvignon, but softer, lusher and less austere. It takes well to oak but has less tannin and acidity and a more plumy, blackcurrant flavor.

Key Grape Flavors – Dry Red. Fruity with plum, black cherry and mint
Food & Wine – Beef, lamb, stews, pizza and hearty pasta. Merlot is excellent when paired with chocolate.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is difficult to grow and is generally light to medium in color with relatively low tannin and acidity. Raspberries, strawberries and cherries mingle with roses, violets, incense and hints of oriental spice.

Key Grape Flavors –Light Red. Raspberry, Wild Strawberry, Roses or Violets and Truffle.
Food & Wine – Pasta’s with red sauce and light beef dishes.


Rieslings are fabulously light and elegant, fruity and, because of their acidity, can age over many years and still taste fresh. This wine has an inherent aroma, structure and balance which do not need added flavor like oak. In fact, oak destroys Riesling’s essential integrity. The hallmark flavors in German Riesling range from floral notes, crisp green apples and riper fruit like peaches and apricots.

Key Grape Flavors – Sweet to Dry white. Apple, Lime, Honey and sometimes petrol.
Food & Wine – Poultry, pork, seafood, Oriental dishes and chocolate.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most distinctive white grape varieties. It has fresh, “green” aromas and is notable for its invigorating high acidity and herbal variety.

Key Grape Flavors – Dry White. Gooseberry, Apple, Cut Grass, Flowering Currant Leaves
Food & Wine – Seafood, vegetable dishes, salads


Deep-colored, full-bodies, spicy-toned wines are now all the rage and syrah/shiraz is the king red. The berry fruit taste is dense, inky and more herbal, the acidity is higher, and the spice is a vigorous whiff of freshly ground black pepper.

Key Grape Flavors – Dry Red. Blackberry, raspberries and blackcurrants, freshly ground black pepper and spice
Food & Wine – Beef, pork, turkey, spicy dishes


The zinfandel is aromatic with notably sweet, spicy fruit like ripe raspberries or cherries.

Key Grape Flavors – Dry red. Raspberry, blackberry
Food & Wine – Steak, poultry, pizza, burgers

Tasting Wine

To appreciate a wine, you must taste a wine!

  • Look – The color of wine can give clues to grape varieties, place of origin and age. Look down on the wine from above to check for clarity and assess the color.
  • Twirl – Swirling the wine aerates it and releases its aromas; and the way it runs back down the glass may tell you something about its alcohol or age.
  • Sniff – Inhale deeply and don’t be afraid to put your nose right down into the glass. Try to identify the aromas of the fruit, the flowers, the oak…
  • Sip – Take a generous sip, concentrating on how the wine feels in the mouth and on the tongue. Analyze the wine and search for flavors and textures.
  • Maneuver – Move the wine around your mouth to reach all of your taste buds. Draw in air to carry the aromas to the back of the throat.
  • Spit it out – If wine tasting is the aim, rather than social drinking, you need to keep a clear head. Spit out after tasting to keep your faculties at their best.

Wine an Introduction by Joanna Simon