Wine 101: Look Like an Expert Without Looking Like a Snob

The Mohegan Sun Winefest has many people fired up to taste new wines. Speaking from experience, it's a great date. 

But whether you're hitting this event, a tasting at a local vineyard or just looking to impress at the restaurant - there are some things you need to know.

Lucky for you, I used to run wine tastings. Before I could do it, I had to study all sorts of different books, magazines and wines. Chances are, you don't have time for that. So here's a crash course.  Below are the very basics you need to know to look like an expert without coming across like a snob.

Here's What You'll Hear and Here's What It Means

Body: How it feels in your mouth. Think milk in comparison to water. One is heavy and creamy. One is, well, not. 

Fruit: Wine is made of grapes. But where a grape is grown and how it's made can give it subtle flavors and aromas that have the quality of different fruits.

Dry or Sweet: This is based on how much sugar is left after fermentation. Little to no sugar will mean it's a dry wine - it won't taste sweet. Off-dry wine will taste a little sweeter. Sweet wine is typically more of a dessert wine, like a moscato. Want a neat trick? Serve a moscato with a spicy food. It will cut the spice and bring out the real flavors of the meal. Boom. You're well on your way to being an expert.

Tannin: What the heck is this? Tannins are typically found only in red wines. Low tannins can give your mouth a scratchy feel when you drink the wine. We know, it's weird. High tannins can make it feel like the moisture has been sucked out of your mouth.

Acidity: Think of sipping lemon juice. A wine with too much acidity can almost make it tart or sour. A little acidity could make the wine taste crisp. 

Reds: Cliff Notes

  • Red wine is red because of the grape skins. The skins are left in contact with the juice during fermentation. 
  • There are more than 50 different varietals of red wine. 
  • Red wines are sometimes served in a decanter, which allows the wine to "breathe." That's also why red wine is often served in bigger glasses - you want the wine to open up its aromas -- something it does when exposed to the air.
  • Red wine is best served between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Too warm, and you taste more alcohol. Too cool, they tend to taste more bitter and astringent.

Most Popular Reds

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Syrah / Shiraz
  • Zinfandel

Whites: Cliff Notes

  • White wine typically isn't white. It's more of a golden color because of the different kind of grapes it comes from.
  • White wines tend to be much lighter in style and taste than red wines. They tend to be more popular in the spring and summer.
  • Unlike red wines, you want to concentrate the "aromas" of white wines. That means narrower glasses.
  • White wine is best served between 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most Popular Whites

  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Riesling
  • Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris

Some Cool Tips

  • Many beginners to wine like white zinfandel. It's light, it's sweet and it goes down easily. For an upgrade or a change of pace, people who like white zin will often like a rosé or a moscato. 
  • Ice wines are amazingly sweet dessert wines. The grapes are generally harvested after the first frost, which concentrates the sugars. These wines also tend to be much more expensive.
  • When you buy a bottle of wine at a restaurant and the waiter or waitress pours a little in your glass and asks you to try it, this is NOT the time to decide you don't like it. The reason they do it is to make sure the wine isn't "corked." If it's corked, it will smell kind of like cardboard. That's the only time you should refuse the wine. 
  • Smell the wine before you sip it - each time. Not just to make sure it's OK, but to really appreciate it. That's because your senses of smell and taste are directly tied together. Don't believe me? Hold your nose before eating something and see how it tastes.  We can detect hundreds more scents than we can taste - so a good sniff will help you really appreciate what it has to offer.   
  • White wine is often paired with lighter fares like fish, chicken and pork. Red wines match up better with red meats.  The reason is simply because you don't want the wine to overpower the food or vice versa. But ultimately - wine is meant to be enjoyed - so there's really no right or wrong way to drink it. 

If you are going, you can find what you need to know on the Sun Winefest  Web site.

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