Wine 101

Wine 101

Wine For Everyone

Krystal Kakimoto | Jun 1, 2017

Wine 101

For many people, the wine list at most restaurants can seem overwhelming and daunting…as if it were written in another language! A safe bet might be to order the house red or just get whatever your dinner partner is having, but being able to navigate a wine list and choose the right one will allow you to elevate any meal to extraordinary- with just a few sips. Here we have gathered some basic terms to help you begin your adventure into the fabulous world of wine.

The Breakdown

The first step to reading a wine list is to understand that all wines are made from grapes (visit vinifera to be exact). There are over a thousand different types of grapes used to make wine, but by understanding some of the most popular grape varietals, you can break down the wine list into more manageable, smaller categories to choose from.

By understanding some of the most popular grape varietals, you can break down the wine list into more manageable, smaller categories to choose from.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Pronounced "ka-ber-na-so-ve-nyo"
Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red wine that originated in France, and over time has become one of the most popular wines in the world today. Grown everywhere from California to New Zealand, "Cabs" feature the rich flavors of black cherries and currants, as well as a good amount of tannins—an organic substance that makes your mouth feel dry—which can offset a dish with more fat, such as steak or lamb dishes.


Pronounced "zin-fen-del"
Zinfandel is a medium-bodied red wine whose origins lie in Croatia. Today, many "Zins" come out of California. This zippy red wine has vibrant flavors such as ripe strawberries, blackberries, and a spice finish on the palate. The flavors of this wine make it a great pairing for pork and beef dishes—especially barbecue!


Pronounced "shar-den-a"
Chardonnay is a fuller bodied white wine with the crisp flavors of green apples, lemon and orange flesh, and butter. Originally from France but now grown internationally, Chardonnays are aged in two ways: with Oak and without. Oak-aged Chardonnays tend to be creamier with butter and baking spice flavors, while unoaked versions are crisper, with plenty of citrus and apple notes. Chardonnay is a great pairing for seafood—lobster, shrimp, crabs, fish—as well as chicken, pork, and any dish topped with cream sauces (the bright acidity will cut through the fat, making the dish less heavy).


Pronounced "rez-lin"
Riesling is an aromatic white wine originally from Germany. Rieslings tend to have delicate bouquets of limes, apples, and honeysuckle, as well as a bright acidity which makes your mouth water. The touch of sweetness in the wine makes it a great option for an aperitif!

Other Terms

Red Wine: Red wine is made from dark-colored or black grape varieties. The actual color of the wine can range from intense violet, typical of young wines, to brick red for mature wines, and brown, for older red wines.

White Wine: White wine is made from the non-colored pulp of grapes, which may have skin of any color. Colors range from straw-yellow to yellow-gold, or yellow-green.

Full Bodied & Medium Bodied: In wine, body is not describing the shape, but rather the way a wine feels inside your mouth. Wines range from light to full bodied. A helpful way to think about the differences is like comparing the feel of skim milk, whole milk and cream in your mouth.

Tannins: Tannin is a naturally occurring compound found in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves, and fruit skins. About 50% of the dry weight of plant leaves are tannins. 

Oak-Aged & Unoaked: Oak is used in wine making to produce variety in color, flavor, tannin and texture profile. Oak-aged typically means Oak is introduced by fermentation in an oak barrel, while unoaked usually means free-floating chips or staves are added into fermentation in a vessel of stainless steel or non-oak material.

Acidity: Acids give wines their characteristic crisp, slightly tart taste. Some acids are naturally present in the base ingredients of wines, while others are byproducts of fermentation.

Apertif: An apéritif (whether wine or not) is a drinkable appetizer meant to stimulate the appetite before a meal.