Where to start with wine – an expert’s guide for beginners

If you’re anything like us, you love wine. But aside from your tried and tested few brands or varieties of grape, you don’t know too much about it. Or at least not yet!

To help you (and us!) explore more of the wonderful world of wine, we’ve enlisted the assistance of brilliant sommelier Helena Nicklin, aka Winebird, as our new wine columnist! (Read our interview with Helena here.)

And to kick off, Helena has penned a brief introduction to the four things you need to know to get started as an amateur wine pro.

Want to know more about wine?

Wine is a sexy, sociable subject. Millions of us love drinking it and most would like to know just a little more, but without getting bogged down in unnecessary (at first) winemaking detail. After all, did you ask who made the hubcaps on your stunning, convertible TVR? Didn’t think so.

This column will offer you tonnes of take home, bite-size, wine basics to help highlight the differences between key styles and help you pick wines that you know you’re going to like. Then, if you want to go deeper, you’ll have the tools to know how to do that.

Four steps to follow to get started

So, first things first. Where do you start when you want to learn about wine? Here are Winebird’s four steps to follow in order to achieve wine knowledge nirvana:

Think of a bottle of wine as a person:

  1. Grapes – if a bottle of wine is a person, the grape is the raw DNA; the most important ingredient for style by far. Get to know the specific characteristics of the world’s most famous grape varieties. They all have a particular personality, no matter where in the world they come from.
  1. Hot or cold? – think clothes. Think climate; the next most important thing to affect a wine’s style. Very generally, a grape grown somewhere warm and sunny will be a more fruity, bold, alcoholic and generally more in-your-face version of the very same grape grown somewhere cooler. Try a Chilean Pinot Noir against one from Germany.
  1. Vineyard – think haircut. Think pruning. There are many thing you can do in the vineyard to subtly affect style such as removing some bunches and managing the leave for shade. The soil also has an effect. Come to these after nailing steps 1 and 2 though.
  1. Winemaking – think make-up. Smoothing out the flaws and enhancing the best features of the wine happens last of all, in the winery. There are lots of choices a winemaker can make but a good wine will always enhance the grapes best features, not cover them up.

Want to know a bit more? Here’s a short video explaining this  ‘Vinalogy’ in more detail.

Winebird is a freelance writer, presenter and author of VINALOGY: wine basics with a twist! You can follow her on Twitter, and find her on YouTube.