Beginner’s guide to tasting and buying wine
All you need to know about serving, tasting and buying wine. Corkscrew not required.
December 10, 2020
There’s a LOT to know about wine. Each variety has so many characteristics, facts and regions. Within this guide, we’re focusing on how to drink and buy wine. But fear not, if you’re curious about specifics with wine, or have other wine-related questions, we have guides aplenty:
The beginner’s guide to red wine The beginner’s guide to white wine Beginner’s guide to champagne and sparkling wine Beginner’s guide to dessert wine How to serve wine Your guide to rhone wine Your guide to burgundy wine Your guide to german riesling Your guide to Italian wine The difference between chardonnay and sauvignon blanc The difference between port and sherry Easy wine and cheese pairings
*Silent cheers* If you’re reading this, you’ve decided you don’t want to view any of those guides right now and just need to know the ins and outs of drinking and buying wine. For that, we’ve gotcha. Before you pop the cork, there are a few things we’re going to break down.
What is the right temperature for wine?
Have you ever heard of that old adage, “serve red at room temperature” and “chill white wine for hours” funny business? It’s not entirely true - we’ll explain.
The right temperature for red wine
There’s this rumor that you’re not supposed to refrigerate red wine. Sorry to shatter any illusions - but that’s not true. The idea around this notion is that red wine should be enjoyed at room temperature. Though with things like central heating, your glass of red may be above room temperature. This could make your wine go from a great pairing to tasting like a cup of pennies. We’ve been there.
Red wine, generally speaking, should be served between 60 and 65 degrees (except light reds like pinot noir - they do best between 55 and 60 degrees). If you don’t have a wine thermometer to check the exact temp of your wine (we’re not assuming you do,) we have a little trick. If you’re heating your house over 65 degrees, put your red in the fridge for 15 minutes or so to chill it. From there it should be good to drink. If your AC is on blast, put the wine in a container of warm water for a bit to warm it up. Boom. Done. Easy.
The right temperature for white wine and rosé
As you may know, white wine and rosé is typically served cold. But there’s a catch. You don’t want to serve white wine too cold, as it may limit the aromas and taste of the wine. This could be the difference between your unoaked chardonnay tasting nice and fruity, or like some icy lemon water. The temperature to serve will depend on the type of white wine, but the general guidance is to serve between 45 and 50 degrees for lighter whites and rosés, and between 55 to 60 degrees for heavier wines (oaky chardonnays). For an easy temperature trick, you can keep your wine in the fridge for a while and take it out about 20 minutes before serving.
The right temperature for sparkling wine and champagne
Same temperature as white wine goes for sparkling wines. If you serve your sparkling wine or Champagne too cold, you lose bubbliness.
The right glass for your wine
If you need a little guidance on the proper glass to serve your wine, we’ve looked into it for you. There’s more specifics here than you would think but here’s the basics.
TLDR; there’s a wine glass for every kind of wine. If you’re looking to just have one wine glass that does it all though, there is that option. There’s a glass labeled as a “universal” wine glass which is designed to work for all wine types. If you find that you dabble in a few varieties and don’t want to use your cabinet real estate for multiple glass types - this option is for you. It’s also much better than drinking it straight from the bottle - so another plus. But, let’s say you are a pretty devout cabernet sauvignon drinker. In that case, you may want to consider getting more specific with your glass.
Red wine or rosé
Red wine glasses are pretty identifiable since they tend to have a wider mouth to make the wine smoother. There are three main red wine glasses, and you pick the glass based on the bitterness of the tannins or the spicy flavors of the wine. The first glass is called a large “Bordeaux” glass. It’s used for bolder reds like a cabernet sauvignon. These are the ones with large, tall snifters and shorter stems. The second is a standard red wine glass which is used for medium to full bodied reds with spicy notes or higher ABV. This glass has the smallest bowl of all the red wine glasses and the longest stem. Finally, there’s the aroma collector glass. This is the one that kind of looks like a fishbowl on a short stem.
White wines are usually served in glasses with smaller bowls because smaller glasses help preserve and flaunt the floral aromas, keep the wine cooler and express acidity. There’s two different kinds of white wine glasses: one is taller and thinner than the other. The taller thinner glass is for light bodied white wines and the shorter wider glass is for more full bodied whites.
Champagne or sparkling wine
When you think of a glass for champagne or sparkling wine, we’re guessing the classic champagne flute comes to mind first. Though that is a great glass for a few sparkling wines, there’s actually a few glasses to keep in mind depending on the variety you have. A flute glass is a great option for bone dry sparkling wines because it helps preserve their bubbles. If you’re drinking something more floral like a prosecco, we’d recommend a tulip glass. This glass, you guessed it, is shaped like a tulip. It’s ideal for these aromatic wines because the bowl shape is wider which brings out their aroma. There’s also a wide tulip glass, which is meant for aged sparkling wines to help connect the flavors. Finally, there’s the couple glass. These are short bowled, long stem glasses that are also used for cocktails sometimes. In these glasses, the bubbles disperse quickly which makes wines taste fruitier and softer.
Dessert wine and port
There’s a lot of variety in the shape and sizes for dessert wine glasses. The classic dessert wine glass that may come to mind is the port glass. It’s small and narrow which helps reduce evaporation (because of the high alcohol). There’s also the sherry glass which looks like a V and is used for sherry because the small and narrow sherry glass helps the flavor not be too overwhelming. Finally, there’s the Sauternes glass which is used for Sauternes and helps emphasize the acidity in the wine, which balances the sweetness.
How to taste your wine
After you pour your wine, look at it under natural light. You don’t have to spend much time doing this. After that, swirl it in the glass to release the aromas. By swirling your wine, the aromas in your wine attach to oxygen and make identifying their scents easier.
Smell your wine to get a sense of the wine's aroma. Do you notice hints of fruits? If you do - are they citrusy? Or maybe they’re tropical? Try thinking about this from the big picture and then narrowing down.
It’s time. Take a sip of your wine and assess the taste. Is it sour? Bitter? Fruity? If you’re drinking red - is there a sense of drying in your mouth after you tasted your wine? That’s the tannins. What’s the texture of the wine? Is it rich like an oaky chardonnay? Or crisp like a sauvignon blanc? How long does it stay on your palate for?
How to buy wine
When you’re thinking of which wine to buy, there’s four things we want you to keep in mind: occasion, budget, preferences and food. The wine you buy when you’re celebrating something is different from the wine you want to have with your pasta this weekend. So keep what you’re up to in mind. Secondly, there’s no reason to spend out of your price range. There are excellent options in each wine variety that don’t break the bank, so try a few new brands of varieties you like within your price range to discover different wine brands. Preference is a given - if you don’t like sauvignon blanc, don’t buy it. If you’re looking for a new red and you know that you like cabernet sauvignon, look for other bolder reds. Finally - food. If you need some help pairing wine with different foods, we recommend checking our red and white wine guides for some assistance. If you don’t have the time, here’s some advice: cabernet sauvignon doesn't go with pasta sauce and chardonnay will never be good with spicy foods.