A Basic Wine Guide for Your Enhanced Enjoyment

Allow me to offer you this basic wine guide to help you better enjoy the fermented nectar we obtain from grape vines. If you're going to enjoy a luxury, you might as well enjoy it to its fullest, and that's what I'm hoping I can help you do.

One of my favorite cartoons depicts a wine tasting class where students are asked: "What goes good with white wine?" A clever and enthusiastic student stands up and declares: "Red wine!" I agree, and generally you taste them in that order too.

Here I would like to give you a few insights about wine in the event that you aren't too familiar with it. I ask your forgiveness if I inadvertently insult your knowledge or experience with my suggestions, but I'm always amazed at how many people put a dry red wine in the refrigerator. And, invariably, there are those who enthusiastically order Zinfandel and then appear confused and disappointed when what they're served turns out to be a dark red wine instead of the White Zinfandel they thought they had ordered.

I suspect many people aren't enjoying wine to the fullest because they haven't had a proper introduction to it. I don't claim that this is a proper introduction, but please allow me to highlight the basics in this wine guide.


In America we tend to refrigerate nearly everything, but not all wines belong in the refrigerator. As bizarre as it might seem, temperature affects flavor, so be mindful of which ones you chill.

  • Nearly all whites should be chilled before serving.
  • If you're trying to quickly cool a wine, you can use the freezer, but never leave a bottle in there for more than 30 minutes.
  • Only sweeter reds should be chilled, all other reds should remain at room temperature.

Food Selection

One of the greatest pleasures is enjoying wine with food. Use this portion of my wine guide to help you pick the right wine as a complement to your meal.

  • Hardy dry reds like Cabernet Savingnon are great with steak or chocolate.
  • Dry whites like Savingnon Blanc are wonderful with chicken or fish.
  • Intensely sweet late harvest whites are good with fruit or chocolate.
  • Medium body reds like Pinot Noir are good with salmon.
  • Zinfandel is red (unless called White Zinfandel) and it is wonderful with pastas that have a hearty red sauce.
  • Use a white wine like Chablis for pastas with a white sauce.
  • White Zinfandel is a "picnic wine" that is sweet and light in taste, and suitable for casual dining and snacks like apples, grapes and slices of cheese.

Storage and Aging

Many popular wines don't age well. They're meant to be consumed young. Knowing what should and should not be aged will help keep you from spoiling a perfectly good wine -- either by opening it up too soon, or mistakenly setting it on the shelf for years to age.

  • Bottled red wine aged in oak, like Cabernet Savignon will mellow out over several years and is a good keeper in cool conditions like the basement. If you open a bottle and it appears "fuzzy" to your taste, that's a sign that it's too young and it should be allowed to mellow for at least a year.
  • Bottled white wine aged in oak can last a year or so in cool conditions, but it is intended to be consumed soon after purchase.
  • Bottled wine not aged in oak, but rather in stainless steel vats, and all box wine should be consumed soon after purchase. Trying to age this wine will only ruin it.

Sweet or Dry?

You don't have to taste a wine to determine whether it's sweet or dry, just look on the label.

  • The percentage of alcohol in wine is inversely proportional to its sweetness because it is sugar that converts to alcohol during fermentation. High alcohol content such as 14% is a dry wine. Low alcohol content like 9% is a sweet wine.

Wine Guide Tasting Tips

It's a great advantage when you get to taste a wine before purchasing it. Use this portion of my wine guide to get the most out of your opportunity to taste.

  • Sample the dry whites first, working your way along to the dry reds, saving the sweeter whites and sweeter reds for later, and the dessert wines for last. The idea is to get bolder and sweeter as you go along. If you reverse the order, you won't enjoy the lighter and dryer wines nearly as much because they'll be disguised and overpowered by the darker and sweeter tastes left on your tongue.
  • Taste the wine by first swirling it in your glass so you can enjoy the aroma. Do this several times before tasting and you'll have a better sense of flavor of the wine.
  • When tasting, take a sip and draw a little air across the wine as you let it flow over the entire surface of your tongue before you swallow. Your tongue senses different tastes in different areas so let the wine go everywhere across your tongue, including the back of your tongue where bitter flavors register.
  • Make your judgement of the wine on your second or third taste. This allows the previous wine to get out of the way and also allows plenty of time for enjoying the aroma as well.
  • To heighten your sense of taste and overall enjoyment, think of the food you might have with the wine while you're tasting it. After all, for many wines, you'll have them with food, so simulating it accompanying food will help you judge whether it's a wine you'd like to have with that food. For picnic or party wines, forget imagining food and just enjoy the wine.

There you have it, a basic wine guide to help you enhance your enjoyment of bottled poetry. Regardless of whether your wine is bottled or boxed, it should be treated and tasted in a similar manner for maximum enjoyment.

Done with Wine Guide, back to Box Wine