Wine Talk

Snooth User: Caroprese33

Questions to Help Beginners

Posted by Caroprese33, Jan 22, 2010.

I know there are a lot of educated wine drinkers on this website but I also think that there are many novices like myself on here trying to learn. There is soooo much good information on Snooth but much of it is too advanced for me, and others I'm sure. Basically, I am looking for an advanced wine drinker to give us some of the key essential facts which can help us become educated wine drinkers; some facts we can all bring to every dinner table conversation.

For example:
1. What are the key factors which make one vintage better than the other?
2a. What are the key varietals to know and how do they differ? Where are they from?
2. Aside from "Varietals", what goes into the wine during the fermenting process?
3. About how many grapes are used in a single barrel? If only one varietal is used, what is this called (as opposed to a blend).
4. What makes a blend successful?
5. Is it true that you shouldn't drink red wine with fish? and why?
6. Economics: what goes into the price of a bottle? How does a wine-maker judge demand before the bottle is released?
7. What are the key terms to describe a wine's taste?

These are just a few of the questions I have which can help me read some of everyone else's posts. If someone would like to enlighten us beginners, I would greatly appreciate it! Also important, if you feel there are other questions that a beginner will need the answer to please add to the discussion!


Reply by amour, Jan 22, 2010.

Your point is well taken.

What are the key terms to describe a wine's taste?

You can buy a book with a glossary of terms,

Meanwhile.......acetic aftertaste aggressive aromatic astringent
bland body breed cedarwood cat's piss character
corked crisp cruising dumb dull dusty earthy elegant gentle
gamey harsh hedonistic hollow insipid iron lanolin leathery legs
mature meaty mawkish mellow noble nutty ordinary oxidized
peppery pine plummy prickly pungent racy resinous rich

savoury scented severe silky simple soft sour spicy stringy
tactile tangy unbalanced unripe vanilla vinous watery weak wisy-wawoody yeasty young youthful zestful zing.

Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Jan 22, 2010.

Yeah, definitely pick up a book. For beginners, I like Zraly's Windows on the World course. It's easy to read and understand. Jancis Robinson is also wonderful, albeit a bit more technical.

Reply by amour, Jan 22, 2010.


Forgive the typing errors!

Reply by Gantt Hickman, Jan 22, 2010.

Yes, I have to say that if you pick up any wine book and give it a good thorough reading you will be astonished at how much you learn. The only books I read these days are wine books.

With all that said here are my answers to your questions.... if anyone disagrees please add, edit or ignore to my answers.

1. What are the key factors which make one vintage better than the other?
------ I think one of the main differences between vintages will be the weather that the vines endured before the grapes were harvested. No year is going to give the same stress, water amounts or sunlight to the vines. When dealing with Old World wines I think you can also tie in the terrior (soil and make up of the vineyards) which I wouldn't imagine changes too much.

2a. What are the key varietals to know and how do they differ? Where are they from?
------ I would say you have four white and four red. We'll start with Red: Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir. White: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauv. Blanc. Other than body and weight you will need to read and experiement with these. The differences will be endless.

2. Aside from "Varietals", what goes into the wine during the fermenting process?
------ Yeast is added to have process actually begin. Not to mention the sulfites.

3. About how many grapes are used in a single barrel? If only one varietal is used, what is this called (as opposed to a blend).
------You can get roughly 744 bottles of wine from one ton of grapes. I have never really learned that one, if there even is a name for it. I usually will just refer to it as being a 100% varietal... something of that nature.

4. What makes a blend successful?
------ This digs deep into the winemakers brain. I think whether it is 100% varietal or a Rhone Blend that it all depends on the winemaker and how he handles the process. A wine made with 100% Cabernet can be bad if it is not done correctly.

5. Is it true that you shouldn't drink red wine with fish? and why?
------ No, drink what you like. Ex. a Pinot Noir can go great with a Salmon. Also, try to put heavy dishes with heavy wines. But also don't be afraid to throw in a little contrast. A chardonnay with a butter taste can go well with lobster but so can a sparkling. (credit to KyleWolf for that one)

6. Economics: what goes into the price of a bottle? How does a wine-maker judge demand before the bottle is released?
----- Sadly, I believe a lot of this is based on cockiness. Once someone gets one good rating they will start to have prices sky rocket. Also, price will go up in the store based on demand of the wine. Some of these 2006 Cabs will be a lot more expensive as people start buying them up.

7. What are the key terms to describe a wine's taste?
------ Get a book for this one cause there are tons.... or try this link:

I really hope this helps. There is so much more that can be said to answer all these questions. Like everyone has said get a book or two or three or four. I love reading them


Reply by GregT, Jan 23, 2010.

Caroprese33 - Gantt made a good effort. I'll see if I can help.

1. See Gantt's answer except that there is no reason at all the comment regarding the old world would not apply to the new world. Soil doesn't change in either hemisphere. Otherwise, key factor is weather.

2a. Key varietals - are actually "varieties". People use the word wrong all the time but "varietal" is an adjective, not a noun. You have varieties of grapes, or grape varieties. (I'm not picking on you. It's commonly used incorrectly, but you said you wanted to be an educated wine drinker.)

Other than that, the answer is that there are no "key" varieties in a general sense, so you have to define what you mean by that term. If you go by the acreage planted worldwide, probably the most important red is garnacha, also known as grenache. The most widely planted white is arien.

If you go by popularity in California, the most widely planted red grape until recently was something like colombard. There was a lot of carignan planted too. Then when wine became chic for Americans in the 1970s, zinfandel led the way in red grapes until sometime in the late 1990s.

If you look at what people drink, you have a different definition of "key". For example, I drink hardly any pinot noir ever, so that's not key for me. However, I drink a lot of tempranillo, so that's key.

If you drink a lot of Italian wine, or Spanish wine, or wine from the Rhone Valley in France, you're not going to come across a lot of merlot. You may find some, but it's much more important or key in places like Bordeaux, much of California and Washington, Chile, and Hungary and a few other places. There is a large French influence on the wine industry in CA, so the varieties Gantt listed are grown there, but if the industry were starting today, I'm willing to bet there'd be a lot more Italian grapes grown. But because of the French influence in the US, people know the French grapes. In Australia, garnacha was the most widely planted red grape until they ripped so much up. That's of course Spanish, and they replaced it with syrah, which is French.

And that answers the second part - where they come from. Mostly where grapes are grown in Europe is a result of accident and politics. In South America, that's less the case. Grapes were brought by conquerors who brought what they knew, but more recently they were planted by businessmen who will plant whatever they think they can sell. In the US, Australia, South Africa, it's a matter of initially trying to copy certain regions in Europe and now more of an effort to find what will grow where and sell best. So there is a lot more flux in where things go because there aren't as many laws to restrict what you can do.

2. What goes into the wine at fermentation, is generally yeast. In places like Burgundy, sugar. After fermentation there are different things that may go in. Maybe acid. Maybe water. Oxygen. If it is fined with egg whites or bentonite, then those things. Some people add powder to make the wine darker. Some add flavorings. Some add powdered tannin. Sulfites occur naturally. Some people add additional sulfur to prevent oxidation. There's also stuff from the air - bacteria for example.

3 - How many grapes for a barrel - depends on the grapes and the grower and the vintage.
Check this out:

Wine from a single variety is a monovarietal wine

4. A blend successful - Gantt is spot on. The purpose of a blend isnt' just for its own sake. It's to make a better wine. If your garnacha isn't tannic enough, maybe you add some monastrell or cab or something.

5. Gantt is spot on again. The rule came from the idea that you don't want to overpower one or the other. Trout with a woody cabernet sauvignon? Maybe not. But if it's what you like, then go for it. I do.

6. Economics - what goes into the price is whatever goes into any price. Part of it is cost. Part is handling. Part is marketing. A wine that costs less than $20 to produce, like most Bordeaux, may go for hundreds of dollars. The wineries price them like that because they know you'll buy them. Another wine that costs $20 may go for $20 because people can't sell it. As a general rule, figure in the US an imported wine is on the retail shelf at three to four times what it cost at the cellar, depending on how many people had to handle it.

Look at the chart I linked to. Figure how many bottles you get from a barrel. A barrel costs nearly $1000 these days if it's French oak from an excellent cooper. You don't put cheap grapes in that. In CA you may pay $4000 - $5000 a ton for top cab. Elsewhere you can get it for much less. Winemakers have absolutely no way to judge demand before making the wine, but they can judge demand before a bottle is released by the demand from their distributors, importers, and press. if they had great press and people pounding on their doors, they may raise their bottle price. This is not the case for most wine producers however, and they make the product based on hope.

7. Key terms for taste are whatever you use to describe any taste. Wine is no different. Drink a cup of coffee. How do you describe it other than to say "coffee"? Same thing. Also keep in mind that 90 pct of what people write about their flavor discoveries is pretty much nonsense. If you drink a lot of wine, you eventually meet people who claim to taste a million different things in the glass you're having. But can they identify that wine a week later, even after all those detailed descriptions that seemed so precise? Most of the time the answer is no.

Reply by Gantt Hickman, Jan 23, 2010.

Thank you GregT. I knew someone would come fill in the holes. I will say though, that in regards to the key varieties, I was referring to wines I thought a beginner would have easy access to and in plentiful proportions. But, needless to say everyone has their favorites. I am still not even sure I've found mine yet.

As always, love learning on this site.


Reply by dmcker, Jan 24, 2010.

Good job, Greg. Saw this earlier but didn't have time to answer. Glad you did...

Reply by amour, Mar 2, 2010.

So, how are our beginners doing?

Anything to teach us old hacks??

Reply by Cathy Shore, Mar 2, 2010.

Fish cooked with red wine and then served with the same wine is excellent. However, try a bottle of full bodied red with a plate of smoked salmon and you might want to think again. It's a good one to try yourself. Food and wine matching is very subjective and essentially you do what pleases you. It's a relatively modern concept as in the past people didn't have the option of choosing from a vast array of flavours and wines - they were dicated by what was produced locally.
Just as an intro you should try and match your food and wine with each other in terms of weight, acidity, sugar, body and intensity so that neither overpowers the other and both complement each other. So, you would match something sweet with something sweet, something robust with something robust etc. Then there are some classic combinations such as sweet with salt (blue cheese and sweet wine).
Experiment, see what you think and above all enjoy it.

Reply by madroon, Mar 2, 2010.

This is good info.
Thx for that.
Anybody lives in Canada ?
Looking for some good inexpensive reds which might be at a trial run(In our state owned stores) and is a very good wine.
If they keep it usually goes up in price

Reply by dmcker, Mar 2, 2010.

Here's a past thread with several suggestions regarding combinations where red wine *does* work with seafood:

Reply by ragu, Mar 2, 2010.

come to my FREE wine tastings in Vermont. They are fun, informative and no judgmental thoughts. i want to teach you. Next one is next Saturday, March 6,  2-6pm. here's my letter to my email fans. Come on and have fun!!!!!!


Hello all. We have a super duper wine tasting coming up this Saturday, March 6 from 2-6 pm. It's great for 2 reasons.

First; it's the only "no tax day" that Vermont is having this year. That means 7% off of all wine AND antiques. And if you buy a case, you save 17%!!!!! Can't beat that even with a corkscrew!

Second; the theme for this FREE wine tasting will be "bizarr-o grapes" (my word, don't try looking it up). I want to introduce you to grapes that you probably have not had before. Maybe some Bonarda or Grignolino, we'll see. Come expand your taste buds and wine knowledge.


This is a REALLY good deal for these no tax savings. Stock up for parties while you save 17%. Think of this as my "wine incentive program". I'm my own little government.

Comollo Antiques and Fine Wines

4686 main St.

manchester Ctr., Vt 05255


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