Enjoy Your Date with This Wine Guide for Noobs | campus.sg

wine beginner
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When it comes to dates, most people would see a bottle of wine as a perfect accompaniment to the evening’s food and company. But if you’re not at all used to drinking it, or are confused by the myriad options available, we have a simple guide to help you along your evening.

Wines generally have 120-ish calories per serving, and are fat- and cholesterol-free. If you’re ordering a bottle, you’ll get about 6 servings out of it.

The basics

Wine is made from fermented grapes, and you can generally get them in either red, white, or rosé (pink); additionally, there’s also sparkling wine and dessert wine. They all generally contain about 12% to 14% alcohol volume, and are generally best paired with a meal.

If you’re having a fancy 3-course meal, you’d normally start with a sparkling wine or rosé wine as an appetiser, before moving onto either red or white wine depending on your main meal (see below), and finally end with a dessert wine.

Sparkling wine

Here’s where people often get confused: sparkling wine is an umbrella term for any wine that has bubbles in it (from the carbonation). The most common is white wine, but you can also find sparkling rosé and red wines.

Common types of sparkling wine: All champagne, cava, and prosecco are sparkling wines. However, the difference between the three are geographic: it’s called ‘champagne’ only if it’s produced in the Champagne region in France, while ‘cava’ refers to sparkling wine produced in Spain (mainly in the Catalonia region), and ‘prosecco’ is the Italian version, mainly produced in the Veneto region.

Flavours: The sweetness level is indicated on the bottle; the most common designation is brut (dry), although you’ll also get demi-sec which is sweet.

Red wine

It’s made with red or black grapes, and the skins remain on the grapes during the fermentation process which gives it the darker colour. The skin also gives the wine more tannins, which leave a drying sensation on the tongue and are celebrated for their health benefits. Unlike other wines, red wines benefit from ‘breathing’ – either swirling in the glass or decanting it before drinking – as most wines will improve with about 15 to 20 minutes of airtime to soften the wine’s strong tannin flavour.

You’ll also find port wine, which is Portuguese red wine fortified by the addition of a grape spirit known as aguardente to stop the fermentation, which not only increases the alcohol content (20% compared to wine’s 12%) but also makes it sweeter. It’s usually consumed after dinner.

Common types of red wines: Red wines are made from a wide variety of grapes, and many winemakers blend their grapes. Some grapes are only available in a certain country or region (ie. Touriga Nacional is Portuguese, grown primarily in the Douro region). Some of the most common grape varietals, each with their characteristics, include Cabernet Sauvignon (earthy), Shiraz (spicy), and Merlot (easy, fruity).

Flavours: Red wines generally come in two ‘flavour profiles’: fruity (they remind you of red fruits like berries as well as vanilla) and savoury – or ‘oaky’ – which is a ‘woody’ or earthy taste and is generally drier on the tongue. However, the flavours all depend on the region and the winemakers, so experiment!

Body: Red wines can be broken down into light-, medium-, and full-bodied. This just means how ‘thick’ a wine feels on the tongue – like the difference between drinking Teh-O (light) and Teh (full). Also, the darker the wine and the higher the alcohol content, it’s usually fuller bodied.

Pairing: Because of its richer flavours, red wine is often paired with red meats or richly-flavoured dishes like duck or strong cheeses. You can also pair them with Asian dishes – thick curries can be matched with a spicy Shiraz wine, for instance.

White wine

White wine is primarily made with white grapes, and the skins are separated from the juice before the fermentation process. They’re usually slightly lighter in alcohol content, but not in calories. White wines are generally more varied, because white grapes are also used in the production of sparkling wines as well as dessert wines.

Common types of white wines: Like reds, white wines are also quite varied and have localised grape varietals (ie. Chasselas is a Swiss grape). Unlike reds, flavours of white wine tend to be on the lighter side. The drier Chardonnay and fruitier Sauvignon Blanc are the two most popular types, alongside Pinot Grigio and Riesling.

Flavours: White wine flavours also fall into two general categories: fruity and dry. Fruity wines will have hints of mandarin, pear, or melon, while drier varieties will have a mineral or spicier taste. Again, the flavour profile depends as much on the grapes as well as the winemaker.

Body: White wines can be categorised into light-, medium-, and full-bodied wines. For instance, Chardonnay (particularly those from warmer climates like California) are full-bodied, while Pinot Grigio and Riesling are lighter.

Pairing: Classically, white wine is paired with seafood dishes, white meat (like pork and chicken), as well as those with lighter flavours. But this doesn’t mean some can’t be paired with heavier meals – white wine is a classic pairing for spicy Asian foods.

Rosé wine

Contrary to popular belief, rosé wine has been around for a very long time, and is especially famous in Provence (France) and Portugal where they produce a lot of them. Despite its colour, the wine isn’t sweet – its flavour profile is quite varied, and can be semi-sweet to dry. It’s produced similarly to red wines, but with a shorter ferment time which gives rosé its signature pink colour. 

Common types of rosé: Rosé can be made from any red grape, the most common being Grenache, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Pinot Noir.

Flavours: Rosés tend to be fresh and fruity, but depending on the grapes, it can range from sweet (more common among New World wines which use Zinfandel or Moscato grapes) to dry (more common with Old World wines), which is more widespread.

Body: They’re halfway between red and white, and are considered mainly medium-bodied.

Pairing: This is where rosé shines – because it can be paired with almost anything, from spicy foods to salads, seafood, and barbecued meats. There are also sparkling rosés which are delicious with desserts.

Dessert wine

As mentioned, white grapes are not just used for white wines – they’re also the main grapes for dessert wines (there are also sweet red dessert wines, though less common). These wines are ideal for accompanying desserts because they’re sweeter (obviously) – when you pair a wine that isn’t sweet with a dessert it’ll taste bitter.

Common types of dessert wine: Dessert wines can be sparkling but they’re generally less sweet than the still ones. The most common sweet wine varieties include Riesling and Gewürztraminer which boast sweet fruit flavours. Then there are even richer sweet wines like Moscato or Moscato d’Asti (which is slightly sparkling). You’ll also find Sauterne, which is a French style of dessert wine using ‘noble rot’ grapes (it sounds gross but the flavour is divine), as well as Late Harvest which use grapes harvested later (they contain more sugar). The most expensive is Ice Wine (a Canadian specialty), which is rare because the grapes are harvested and processed when the grapes are still frozen.

Flavours: They’re generally either sweet (Gewürztraminer) or very sweet and almost syrupy (Moscato, Late Harvest), containing anywhere from 3 to 28g of sugar per serving. This is why the bottles are smaller, as are the serving glasses.

Body: As they’re rich and sugary, dessert wines tend to feel heavy on the tongue.

Regions they come from

Most wines produced are referred to either Old World or New World wines. Wines from European countries you normally associate with wine – from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Portugal – are considered Old World thanks to its long heritage of producing the stuff. This also includes countries like Lebanon, Georgia, Romania, Hungary, and Switzerland.

New World wines are produced everywhere else, from Australia to the USA (in California and New York), South America (mainly Chile and Argentina), South Africa, and New Zealand. You’ll also find those produced in countries like Japan, Thailand (called ‘new latitude’), and China.

Old World wines tend to be lighter-bodied, lower in alcohol, with more earthy flavours, while New World wines tend to be fuller-bodied, higher in alcohol, and much riper on the palate. Then again, these are not set in stone: it’s not difficult to find a Chilean wine that’s lighter bodied than an Italian one.

Now that you know the basics, go forth and sample the great world of wines! Remember to drink in moderation.