Wine for Beginners Guide: how to become a superstar wine drinker

Wine for Beginners Guide - how to become a superstar wine drinker by BoozingAbroad

Are you looking for a wine for beginners guide? Pro tip: the best way to learn about wine is to drink it!

Whether you’re just starting on your wine journey or you’ve been traveling for some time, you may not actually know all the ins and outs of wine (and we don’t blame you!). It’s a delightfully complex beverage, one that some people miss out on by grabbing a wine because the label is pretty, it’s on sale, or they just panicked and chose the one on display.

Not all wines are created equal (despite its universal drinkability), but each has its own qualities that make it special. From how wine is made to an overview of wine types to the basics of wine tasting, there’s a lot to take in about wine.

This wine guide for beginners (with your own wine tasting guide) is a perfect place to learn the basics. That way, you can really appreciate what wine has to offer and make sure you’re not missing out.

Join us as we take you through the world of wine for beginners, highlighting all of its wonders and, of course, deliciousness!

Table of Contents

Intro to Wine for Beginners – history and how it’s made

wine for beginners italy wine barrels

While it might seem like wine just magically ends up in your restaurant, local liquor store, or glass, there’s a lot more to this delectable beverage. Here’s a wine for beginners take on what you should know.  

Officially, wine is fermented grape juice. Yes, kind of like the grape juice you used to drink as a kid, but this version is so much better

If any other fruit is included, it gets another name, like peach wine or blackberry wine. 

But hold off before running to the produce section and stocking up on grapes to make your own wine (trust us – buying a bottle is faster). Wine grapes are a little different — they’re sweeter, smaller, have thick skins, and contain seeds. 

Though the exact date of the first glass of wine is unknown, the oldest known fermented beverage is a 9,000-year-old rice and honey wine, seen on shards of pottery from a village in central China.

So, it’s safe to say that drinking wine is not only a historic tradition, but an easy way to connect with a local culture.

Heck, that’s the whole reason we started Boozing Abroad in the first place, to connect with local cultures around the globe. 

wine for beginners harvesting

Today, it’s one of the most popular alcoholic beverages around — and there’s a lot involved in making it to your dinner table. 

There are 6 main steps to making wine: 

  1. Harvesting: Winemakers collect grapes — either by hand or machine — to bring from the vineyard to the winery. 
  2. Grape-crushing: Grapes are crushed (or pressed) and then moved into a tank. 
  3. Fermentation: The process of combining yeast with sugar to produce alcohol and CO2. This is done with either native yeast (already found on grape skins and in a winery’s environment) or cultivated yeast (done with purchased strains of yeast).
  4. Aging: Wine ages in a vessel — like steel, cement, oak, or even terra cotta — in an environment that is not exposed to oxygen. 
  5. Fining/Filtering: Some winemakers fine or filter wines to get rid of any residual sediment by adding something to the wine, like egg whites or gelatin. 
  6. Bottle: Wine is bottled, labeled, sealed (with corks, screw caps, or other closures), and sent to stores and restaurants. 

Oh, there’s one more important step — you choose a bottle of wine to bring home and enjoy!

Check out our buying guide for wine: How to Choose the Best Wine for a Beginner – a quick and easy guide

Overview of Wine Types 

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This wouldn’t be a wine guide for beginners if we didn’t go through what kinds of wines are out there. While there are a number of complex avenues to journey down in the wine world, we’ll stick to the basics — reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines.

While this knowledge is important when you’re out to dinner or picking up a bottle from the store, it’s also helpful for the basics of hosting your next wine tasting, too.

The Romantic Red

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*enter music* Red, red wine goes to my head, Makes me forget…

Red wine is, like its name suggests, red. (Bet you didn’t see that coming.)

It’s made — and gets its color — by fermenting the juice from dark-skinned grapes. During the production of red wine, winemakers allow the grape juice to ferment with the dark grape skins, adding color, flavor, and tannins (see the Wine Tasting Notes below for the definitions). 

The tannins in red wine are what give it its texture and structure. They’re also what makes your mouth feel a little dry after taking a sip (something most people either love or hate). For what it’s worth, we personally love this. It’s why it’s often paired with juicy foods, like a steak. 

Red wine has a wide range of flavors, from fruity to spicy to earthy, which is maybe why it’s our favorite of all the wine types. 

Lastly, red wines are acidic, which also can make your mouth water, literally. Without going too in depth, just know that acids are naturally occurring in grapes and help to balance out flavors when paired with foods.

This is more important in white wines than red wine. Keep reading to find out why. 

Because this is wine guide for beginners, here are a few popular types of red wines to know — Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec. These wines are produced globally and have deep roots (wink wink) in both the New and Old World wines

The Wonderful White

Scoria Vineyards idaho wineries

If red wines are red, then the obvious difference is that white wines are white and made with “white” wine grapes (which are actually greenish-yellow). While that’s the general idea behind this, there’s a little more to it though. 

Unlike with red wine, winemakers usually ditch the grape skin and seeds while making white wine so it’s fermented with no skins or seeds. The result is a juice with little color and no tannins. 

White wines rarely get the respect they truly deserve.

What white wines lack (usually tannins or high alcohol content), they make up for with clean, crisp flavors that are floral and fruity — making them a perfect beverage for a hot summer day or a boozy brunch.

White wines aren’t meant to have a shelf life and many are crafted to be consumed quickly without aging. Be sure to chill before serving and buy the most recent vintage you can find.

Popular white wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris (the Italians call it Pinot Grigio), Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.

The Radical Rosé

wine for beginners rose

First things first: Rosé is French for “pink”

If you were of drinking age during any recent summer, you know the ever-popular pink drink, rosé. The phrase “rosé all day” became just as common as did the drink itself, with sales rising more than 40% each year. 

But rosés date back way before these social media-crazed days to the 1700s when French wines were imported to England and called “Claret” — a nod to their pale red color.

This wine was invented from leftover grapes that didn’t make it to the red wine! We’ve always appreciated winos who use what they have to feel tipsy.

Rosé wine is made from red grapes where the juice comes in contact with the red skins on the grapes for a short period of time – anywhere from a few hours to 1-2 days. After that, the juice is separated and a beautiful pink liquid remains. 

It’s important to know that rosé originated in and comes from France, but with the recent surge in popularity in the U.S., many winemakers are dipping their red grapes in the rosé deep end. 

They vary widely in style from sweet to dry, but they are always some shade of that pretty pink — and very photogenic — hue.  Even though they have both tannins and acidity, the flavors can disappear quickly which is why you should always buy the most recent vintage available. 

They also have next to no shelf life, so cool that bottle down and drink it quickly!

The Spectacular Sparkling Wine

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Bubbles make all the difference! 

Whether you are ringing in the New Year, toasting newlyweds, or celebrating a life event (or recovering for a night of drinking with a mimosa), chances are you’ve had sparkling wine aka Champagne.

Champagne is used casually to reference sparkling wine, but true “Champagne” can only appear on a bottle if it meets specific criteria (see below). 

Sparkling wine starts out as regular wine, but during the second fermentation, the CO2 that is released is captured in the bottle. This carbonates the wine, giving it that delightful fizziness. 

Despite how easy it is to enjoy, it’s fairly complex to produce. There are six different methods, but the traditional method is the one mentioned above. 

The most infamous sparkling wine is Champagne, which must hit very specific criteria below to earn this coveted title:

  1. Wine must be produced in the Champagne region in France
  2. Wine must include grapes grown in that specific region AND be a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and/or Pinot Meunier grape
  3. Wine is carbonated via the Champagne method 

The Champagne method is labor-intensive, making it expensive, which is why French Champagnes tend to be at a higher price point for bottles. There are many varieties of sparkling wine including Spain’s Cava or Italy’s Prosecco. 

Overall, the cheaper the bottle, the cheaper the carbonation method. Cheap sparkling wines are great mimosa bottles where the more expensive bottle should be enjoyed straight. 

Basics of Wine Tasting 

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This wouldn’t be wine for beginners if it didn’t include a wine tasting guide.

Though grabbing a few bottles from your local grocery store and giving each one a swirl before sipping is fun (no judgement, we do that too), there’s a bit more to the basics of wine tasting.

Wine tasting involves the senses — in particular, sight, smell, and taste. Whether you’re in the wine for beginners stage or much further along, sticking to your senses will help you appreciate the many wonders of wine.

Sight

We know it’s tough, but wait just a moment before taking that first delicious sip. 

First, check out the hue and intensity, and try to identify the most prominent color. Go beyond red, white, and rosé into more specific hues like pale gold, deep pink, and medium purple.

Then, give your glass a swirl and watch the streams of liquid slowly move down your glass. These tears (also called “legs”) develop on the sides. The longer the legs, the higher the alcohol level. Oh Malbec, what nice legs you have!

Smell

Next, take a whiff of your glass of wine. Try to identify smells like: 

  • Intensity (how strong it is) 
  • Fruit, including type (like strawberry) and condition (like ripe)
  • Herb/other, such as floral or even black pepper
  • Oak, such as vanilla, coconut, or chocolate
  • Earth, including organic (like mushroom) or inorganic (like dried clay)

Taste

Finally, the time has come to taste your wine.

This wine for beginners overview focuses on the basic flavors: 

  • Sweetness
  • Tannin (for red wines), felt by the drying sensation on your tongue
  • Acidity (sourness)
  • Alcohol, felt by the warming sensation in your throat
  • Overall body (how bold it tastes)
  • Any additional flavors you can identify 

A Foolproof Wine Tasting Guide 

When you’re ready to put your senses to work, it’s time for a wine tasting. The basics of wine tasting wouldn’t be complete without an overview on how to actually go through the process — while also looking like you know what you’re doing. 

Knowing that sight, smell, and taste take center stage during a wine tasting, you can use some of the tried-and-true wine tasting techniques to help with the basics of wine tasting. 

Swirling

If you’ve ever noticed people swirling their wine around before they drink, you might have thought they were already a little tipsy. While that certainly may have also been the case, they were also doing something called swirling.

If you’re new to swirling and/or you’re wearing white, keep your glass on a flat surface, like your countertop or the bar, as you swirl to avoid spilling. Since this is wine for beginners, we don’t recommend open-air swirling (unless you want to spill some of your precious wine). We’ve tasted wine dozens of times and there are times Sam sends wine flying. 

When you swirl, look out for those legs that indicate the alcohol content. Remember — longer legs mean higher alcohol content.

Sniffing

Now’s the time to really take a whiff of that wine. Give your glass another swirl and smell the aroma. But don’t put your nose all the way inside your glass. Not only will you look a little silly, but you’ll overwhelm your nose. 

Instead, keep your nose above the rim of the glass, take short sniffs, and then pull your nose away to let your brain process. 

There are thousands of key wine fragrances — both good and bad. For this wine tasting guide, we’ll focus on the basics. Aromas that indicate wine flaws can range from a corked smell (smells like a musty attic) and vinegar to ethyl acetate (smells like nail polish). 

Good smells, on the other hand, range from fruit to floral to leaves to herbs to spices to vegetables and so much more. 

Let your nose take you on a magnifi-”scent” journey, and have some fun with this part!

Sipping

Even though it’s tempting, make sure to take a small sip of wine when you first taste it, not a large gulp. Pretend you’re sucking on it through a straw. This aerates the wine and helps it move around your mouth.

Ignore any stares around you as you sip through your imaginary straw. Others are just not as advanced in their wine tasting as you.

Spitting

As much sh*t as beer drinkers deal with about beer not being classy, spitting is a normal practice for wine drinkers!

Possibly the strangest part of a wine tasting, spitting is the best way to keep you from getting overly intoxicated while testing — which prevents you from being able to taste your wine. 

Tasting 2 oz pours of 40 wines gets you to 80 oz of wine. That’s 16 glasses of wine. In a 2-hour tasting, that’s a recipe for not remembering your tasting (or your evening) and likely being escorted out of the winery. For the purposes of this wine tasting guide, we’ll assume you want to remember it. 

SIDE NOTE: We’ll be honest, we adopted the motto a few years ago that spitters are quitters and we never spit. With that also being said, there are several times we couldn’t taste the wine on stop 4 or 5 of a winery crawl. Had we spit, we would have been able to taste it, got our money’s worth, and also would have been able to walk around without leaning on every post/wall/chair we could find. (Super classy, we know). 

To spit wine, locate the spit bucket, take a medium size sip of your wine, and swish it around your mouth. Pay attention to what you taste. Eventually, it’ll become a little foamy, at which point you’ll want to spit out your wine into the bucket.

Some people say there’s a right way and a wrong way to spit. But in our wine for beginners version, just make it to the bucket! 

If you think a wine is particularly exceptional, go ahead and swallow it. That’ll give you the full experience.

Wine Tasting Notes 

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No wine tasting would be complete without someone jokingly saying out loud that their wine tastes “dry” or “acidic” — and then laughing because they don’t really know what that means. The goal of this wine guide for beginners is to help you understand the terms and actually use them properly. 

Here are some helpful notes to get you started: 

  • Dry: The feeling of dryness on your tongue, lips, and even teeth, which come from tannins.
  • Tannins (in red wines): The antioxidant that tastes dry, astringent (like sandpaper), and sometimes bitter
  • Sweetness: Sugar leftover from fermentation
  • Acidity: The amount of sourness in a wine, which makes your mouth water
  • Body: All the traits thrown together, boiling down to how bold the wine tastes — light-, medium-, or full-bodied

You’ll conclude your tasting with three main questions: 

  • Is the wine complex? A wine with complexity has many tasting notes. 
  • Is the wine in balance? A wine in balance means all the tastes balance with one another. 
  • Do you like the wine? Use a 3-point rating system, a check system, smiley faces, frowning faces — whatever works for you!

Put Your Handy Wine For Beginners Guide to Use

There’s a lot to wine and wine tasting, especially if it’s wine for beginners. As you explore the complex world of wine, remember that it’s meant to be enjoyable above all else. 

Whether you explore different wineries, try a wine flight at a restaurant, or host a wine tasting at home, be open to new varieties, go with the flow, and above all, have fun with your newfound wine knowledge.

Ready to dive deeper into the world of wine? 

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About Boozing Abroad

We are Samantha & Chris and we are Boozing Abroad (literally). Both stateside and overseas, we are connecting people with local cultures through local booze!

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