Just like everyone enjoys certain types of foods more than others, we all have different wine tastes. Without a doubt, wine is complex. There are hundreds of different grape varietals and a range of wine making styles. With so much variety in wine, there’s certain to be something for everyone! But how can you discover the type(s) that pleases your palate? Here are several tips:
Get an understanding of the basics. There’s white wine and there’s red wine, but what makes each different (and what else is there)? Here’s a rundown of the five main “categories” of wine:
- Red: Made from purple or blue grapes. More tannins (the naturally occurring polyphenol in fruit skins, leaves, and other plants, which add bitterness and complexity like you might find in walnuts, almonds, or tea leaves).
- White: Made from green grapes, sometimes black grapes. Low on tannins, which means whites are more acidic and crisp than reds.
- Rosé: Made from black grapes, but the skins of the pressed grape are removed before the wine becomes dark in color. Some rosés are a blend of red and white.
- Sparkling: Bubbly wines are made from red and white wine grapes, and the bubbles come from the fermentation process. They can be red, white, or rosé.
- Fortified: Think dessert wine! Fortified wines are made from wine mixed with alcohol. Made from both red and white wines.
Learn the winemaking styles. Heard people proclaim wine to be “dry,” but not exactly sure what that means? The style of how a wine is made can produce wine that ranges from dry to semi-sweet to sweet.
- Dry wines are produced when almost all the sugars from the grape are fermented into the alcohol.
- Semi-sweet wines leave some sugars in the wine to add acidity and aromatics.
- Sweet wines leave a lot of sugars in the wine after fermentation and have less alcohol.
Of course, there are all different types of wines along the spectrum, from the very sweet tawny port (red) and muscatel (white) to the bone-dry French Malbec (red) and Albarino (white).
Identify the characteristics. Being able to find a wine you love requires that you know how to recognize and describe what you do and don’t like. The pros will tell you there are five main characteristics of wine:
- Sweetness: Sweetness in wine often feels like a tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue or leaves an oily sensation in the middle of the tongue.
- Tannin: As mentioned, tannins in wine are the phenolics, which come from grape skins or could be added with aging in wood oak. Some describe tannin as tasting astringent. That might not sound like a positive, but tannin has a drying sensation that gives wine its bitterness, complexity, and structure.
- Acidity: Think tart or zesty. Acidity in wine feels light or even spritzy. Some describe wine with acidity as having a “lighter” taste. Unlike tannins, acidity makes your mouth feel wet afterward.
- Fruit: This one gets a little confusing, because many confuse fruit essence with sweetness, but the key to understand is that different wines have fruit flavors and notes (but aren’t necessarily sweet). Knowing those flavors will help you choose wines you like. Different wine types exhibit different fruit flavors. For example, Chardonnay is known for citrus-like flavors, while pinot noir is known for red fruit flavors.
- Body: Body is the way a wine feels in your mouth. Many factors contribute to a wine’s full- or light-bodiedness, but alcohol is one of the main ones. A wine with less alcohol (under 12.5%) is generally considered light-bodied, while 12.5-13.5% is considered medium-bodied and 13.5% and higher is considered full-bodied. On your palate, wines with more alcohol feel fuller or heavier.
Terminology aside, the best way to learn what kind of wine you like is to taste a lot! Make notes of wines you enjoy and why (The aroma? The bold flavor? The sweetness? The “pop” to it?) and keep exploring. The great thing about wine is that there are seemingly endless types, regions, and styles. Your tastes might vary or evolve too, which means you’ll never grow bored of the discovery. So, have fun—and cheers!