Wine for beginners- The Basics, food pairing, pronunciation and some notes on tasting

If you are a complete troglodyte when it comes to wine, then this is for you. We’ve all overheard an order for ‘Peanut Gregory’ and sniggered a little laugh to ourselves, or nodded and said, ‘I’ll have the same’. Some of us know a little more and inquire as to the country of origin, aware that New Zealand, namely Malbourough is a safe bet for a good Sauvignon Blanc, or Argentina for a smooth and silky Malbec. Whatever your level of Knowledge the one thing we can all agree on is that we know what we like. Whether you know a little, or nothing at all, Suburbia Online has put together a basic introduction for beginners as the perfect initiation into the wonderful world of wine. Learn how to pronounce, describe and pair your favourite wines with food.

The Basics

  • Wine is made from grapes. Grapes are grown on vines(a type of small tree) in vineyards(fields full of Vines) in mainly warm, but sometimes cooler climates. Climate has an affect on the grapes and consequentially the taste of the wine.
  • Grapes similar to berries have different names, as there are many different types of grapes.
  • When ordering wine, people usually ask for their wine of choice by the grape’s name and not by the name of the company on the specific bottle.

Example:    “Do you have a Merlot?” or “Do you have a Sauvignon Blanc?”

Wine is identified by the particular grape which made it. Note: Rioja is a famous region in Spain known for cultivating great Tempranillo grapes. Rioja is pronounced (RIO-KA)


Note: People might refer to Old World Wines and New World Wines.


General Rule:

  • Old World Wine is wine from Europe- where wine originated.
  • New World Wine is wine from USA, OZ, South America/Africa
  • Red grapes make red wine and rose.
  • White grapes make white wine, sparkling, Cava, Prosecco & Champagne.


Note: Prosecco, Cava and Champagne are basically sparkling wines (wine with bubbles/fizz)

  • Prosecco is a village in Italy and also the name of a grape which is also known as Glera that became particularly famous for good sparkling wine- Spumante, or semi sparkling Frizante. For a sparkling wine to be called prosecco, it must be from one of the nine provinces known for prosecco production in Italy only.
  • Champagne is an area in France that became particularly famous for good sparkling wine.
  • Cava is a grape from Spain- usually cultivated from the Catalonia region. Yes, you guessed it, Catalonia became particularly famous for good sparkling wine which people would call Cava.

Note: Some grapes are mixed together. These mixtures create wine that can be referred to as blends. Certain grapes are well known and accepted to blend very well together.

Example: One very common blend is the grape Merlot mixed with the grape Cabernet Sauvignon.

  • There are common grapes, that most people are familiar with, such as, the grape merlot, malbec, carbernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo for red wine and Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay for white wine. Some Grapes are common, or associated with specific countries, such as Tempranillo & Spain(Rioja is the region), Malbec & Argentine. Note: This doesn’t mean that grape is only grown there. Example: Malbec originated in France and is grown there and in other countries too.
  • Different grapes make wine taste differently. Even the same grapes can taste different when made into wine, if they are grown in different countries, or even different areas of the same country.
  • There are too many factors, reasons and influences that causes wine to taste the way it does, but there are a few well known and accepted influences that have a major effect on how wine tastes.


General Rule

The flavour of wine is effected by:

    1. The type of grape. Remember grapes differ just the same as berries differ. A blueberry tastes different to a raspberry. A Merlot grape will taste differently to a Malbec grape.
    2. The Climate will have a big effect on the grape. A grape grown in a hot climate will taste different to the same grape type grown in a cooler climate. Note: Generally grapes grown in hot climates taste fruitier and sweeter with higher alcohol (Example: A Tempranillo grape from Spain) and grapes grown in cooler climates will be more simple and elegant.
    3. The soil that the vines are grown in will effect the taste of the grapes too.
    4. The age of the Vine and the age of the bottled wine affects the wine taste too. Note: Some grape types age better than others.
    5. The oak from barrels that are sometimes used to store wine can have an effect on the taste too.
    6. The winemakers method in producing the wine can have an effect on the taste of the wine. Remember wine makers could mix grapes to create a blend, that would effect the taste.



Image above of a wine maker at his vineyard in Montalcino introducing a group of beginners to wine


Wine Vocabulary


  • Round A wine that is well round has a good sense of body and is not overly tannic.(Merlot is mixed with Cab Sav to make it a more round wine as Cab Sav has a lot of Tannins)
  • Soft Also describes a wine that is not too tannic
  • Notes refers to the individual Flavours and Smells/Aroma of wines
  • Tannin (Phenolic compounds that exist in most plants; in grapes, tannins are found primarily in the skins and pits; tannins are astringent and Harsh and provide structure to a wine )
  • Full-bodied– (The impression of weight on the palate, light, medium, full-bodied)


By @EdwardSmithIRL  WSET certified, originally written for Suburbia Online 

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