Wine 101: A few basics to help you savour while you sip

Understanding which wine is suited to which dish can take your dinner party to the next level.

With terms like bouquet, brix, and cuvé, the world of wine can seem dizzyingly complex. Some people might be tempted to throw up their hands and keep things as simple as “red” and “white.” But with a corkscrew and a little guidance, learning about wine can be a fun and fascinating adventure.

“The whole world of wine can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Lisa Giovanella, assistant to the buyer at Everything Wine, B.C.’s largest wine store. “There’s a lot of vocabulary that people may be wary of using or that’s tricky to grasp. But that shouldn’t deter people. Even for experts it’s a journey of constant learning.”

While you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy wine, acquiring some basic knowledge is easier than you may think, and it may help you savour what you’re sipping even more. At the very least, you’ll be able to hold your own at dinner parties when the glasses are being filled.

Wine 101 – A few key terms

    • Tannins – Naturally occurring compounds found in fruit skins, seeds, leaves and plants. They create the dry sensation you feel in your mouth after taking a sip of wine.

    • Body – Whether it’s light, medium or full, this describes the way a wine feels in your mouth. Also referred to as “weight,” it can range in texture from water to milk to cream.

    • Acidity – Defines a wine’s tartness or “pucker.” “It’s the same sensation you feel in your mouth when you bite into lemon or green apple, that fresh or crisp mouth-watering sensation,” says Giovanella, who has her Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) diploma.

Common red grape varieties

    • Pinot Noir – A lighter-bodied wine with raspberry and red-berry flavours.

    • Malbec and Merlot – Medium-bodied, these typically have dark fruit flavours, such as plum and cherry with a smooth finish.

    • Cabernet Sauvignon and ShirazTypically full-bodied and on the drier side with dark fruit flavours such as blackberry and blackcurrant. Shiraz tends to have peppery, spicy notes.

Common white grape varieties

    • Pinot Grigio – This light, crisp variety has mellow, easily identified flavours like apple, pear and lemon.

    • Sauvignon Blanc – A bit more intense than Pinot Grigio with tropical fruit flavours; some, such as those from New Zealand, can be grassy and herbaceous.

    • Chardonnay – a dynamic white grape that can do anything. It can be fuller-bodied, with a vanilla, buttery texture and ripe-fruit flavours; often aged in oak barrels. Or it can be more crisp and clean, with notes of citrus and green apple.

 There are thousands of varieties of grapes found all over the world to make the perfect glass of wine.[/caption]

Age is often considered a sign of a “good” wine, but if you’re just beginning to discover wine, younger bottles allow for easily identifiable, fresh, fruity characteristics to shine through. “When wine ages, it develops more dried-fruit flavours, as well as earthy, rustic and nutty characteristics,” Giovanella says.

Price is another indicator of a wine’s calibre, but it can be misleading; a higher price doesn’t necessarily guarantee a superior bottle. Chile and Spain, for example, offer some top-quality wines at a lower price point than some from California. Different varieties of grapes yield varying prices as well; Pinot Noir can be more challenging to grow than hardier Shiraz, for instance.

If you’re still not sure what kind of wine to pick up, Everything Wine can suggest some safe bets. Among them:

Tolten Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile ($12.99) “Chile offers really good value for its single-varietal wines,” Giovanella says. “This is a classic style of Cabernet Sauvignon: nice and fruity; dark fruit flavours with a nice, smooth finish; not too dry.” Goes well with roast beef, stew or other hearty dishes.

The Shy Pig Shiraz, Australia ($13.99) Well known for its dark-fruit style and black-pepper notes, this Shiraz would pair nicely with lamb or anything barbecued.

Santa Rita Winemaker’s Lot Sauvignon Blanc, Chile ($12.99) “This is a lighter wine but intensely flavoured,” Giovanella says. “It has tropical fruit flavours and an herbaceous style; its nice and crisp and refreshing.” Pair it with seafood or poultry.

Il Padrino Pinot Grigio, Italy ($12.99) Smooth, crisp and dry, this is one of Everything Wine’s top sellers, with lemon, apple and pear flavours. A neutral wine, it would suit seafood or anything light, like an appetizer.

Santana Rosé, Spain ($13.99) “Rosé is making a comeback,” Giovanella says. “It’s nice for summertime, but it’s also a good year-round option because it tends to have a little more strawberry, red-berry and raspberry flavours but still has a nice and crisp balance with lemon or citrus flavours.” Serve it with ham, pork tenderloin or roast chicken.

The best way to learn more is to talk to Everything Wine’s approachable, friendly staff, who are eager to answer any questions and can suggest wines to suit every taste, occasion and budget. Samples are available at the tasting bar daily from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Visit in person at 998 Marine Dr. in North Vancouver, 112-15735 Croydon Dr. in Surrey, 31-2401 Millstream Rd. in Langford on Vancouver Island or shop online at

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Everything Wine and first published on Vancouver Sun.