Wine Education and Tasting 101

If we had it our way, we’d meet all of you in central California every spring and travel up the coast, visiting the different vineyards, educating ourselves on the various wines, grapes and fermentation processes, and having a jolly good time. Then we’d do the same thing again in France and Italy come June. Alas, trips to the world’s premiere wine countries aren’t an option for everyone, but that doesn’t mean we don’t all deserve to know a bit more about the vino we’re so willingly drinking every weekend (or night).

We were happy to team up with Everygirl favorite, Cupcake Vineyards, to bring you all a Wine Education and Tasting 101: The Basics. An intro to wine if you will. What gives wine its color, what food to pair it with, and some of the basic trade lingo.

And if that wasn’t enough, we came up with a fun (read: tipsy) alternative to expensive weekend nights out on the town. Our advice is to host your own wine tasting! It’s much easier than it sounds.

  • Choose a brand and have each guest bring a varietal.
  • Lay out a simple spread of cheese, breads, and fruit spread.
  • Print off the winemaker’s notes from the brand’s website. (Cupcake’s site has printable PDF’s with wine tasting notes for each of their wines.)
  • Enjoy! But more importantly… learn. Compare the different whites. See which red is your favorite. Try and pick up the various flavors in the wines. See how different foods affect the taste.

An at-home wine tasting would actually be a great twist on tonight’s girls-only Valentine’s Soiree!

Have you ever been to or hosted a wine tasting? Are you a red or white girl? Does this sound like something you’d do with your friends?

Appendix: Learn the Language of Wine

a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown

the production of wine, starting with selection of the grapes or other produce and ending with bottling the finished wine.

the process of fermentation in wine turns grape juice into an alcoholic beverage. During fermentation,yeast interact with sugars in the juice to create ethanol, commonly known as ethyl alcohol, and carbon dioxide (as a by-product).

Barrel Fermentation
Barrel fermentation is the process of letting grape juice sit in a large wooden barrel (usually oak), during which time yeast turns the sugar in the grapes into alcohol and the juice is converted into wine.

Malolactic Fermentation
A fermentation used by wine-makers, usually for reds but also for Chardonnays, to change malic acid into lactic acid. This softens the acidity, and thus the taste of the wine.

Oak vs. Steel Barrel
Most wine spends at least a few weeks in a stainless steel tank. Stainless steel does not impart any flavor into a wine and is ideal for delicate, fruit forward white wine. Stainless steel also prevents oxygen exchange in wine which is how white wine is able to retain its freshness as opposed to oak which imparts flavor and allows a small amount of oxygen into the wine.

The Charmat Method
wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in bulk tanks, and is bottled under pressure. This method is used for Prosecco and Asti in particular, and produces smaller, longer-lasting bubbles. This is now used widely around the world to produce light, delicate sparkling wines

The Passito Method
Fresh grapes are partially dried on mats or by hanging them in bunches. The producer either allows them to dry directly in the sun or may place them in a cool, ventilated room.

Tannins are produced by plants, and are polyphenols, which tend to cling to proteins. The astringency from the tannins is what causes the dry and puckery feeling in the mouth following the consumption of unripened fruit or red wine.

the phenolic materials of the grape— tannins, coloring agents (anthocyanins) and flavor compounds— are leached from the grape skins, seeds, and stems into the must.

deposits of dead yeast or residual yeast and other particles that precipitate, or are carried by the action of “fining,” to the bottom of a vat of wine after fermentation and aging.

Sur Lie
‘Sur lie’ wines are bottled directly from the lees without racking (a process for filtering the wine). In the case of great Chardonnay, such as Montrachet, this adds a toasty, nutty “hazelnut” quality and additional depth and complexity, especially on the finish.

Lactic acid vs. Malic acid
Malic acid, along with tartaric acid, is one of the principal organic acids found in wine grapes. It is found in nearly every fruit and berry plant, but is most often associated with green apples, the flavor it most readily projects in wine. A much milder acid than tartaric and malic, lactic acid is often associated with “milky” flavors in wine and is the primary acid of yogurt and sauerkraut. It is produced during winemaking by lactic acid bacteria (LAB), which includes three genera: Oenococcus, Pediococcus, and Lactobacillus.

also known as rémontage, the process of pumping red wine up from the bottom of the tank and splashing it over the top of the fermenting must; the purpose is to submerge the skins so that carbon dioxide is pushed to the surface of the must and released.

SOURCES: The definitions above were taken from,  Wikipedia, and Wine Spectator.