The world of wine can often be stuffy and a bit too “fancy dahhling”, but the demographics of those who consume wine are changing. Whether it’s a new generation coming of age, or a changing global landscape pushing people towards a slower lifestyle in which they have the time to really appreciate good food and wine, there are a lot of wine newbies on the scene who are thirsty to get the low down on Wine 101 and get a handle on Australian wine basics. These wine basics are useful, not only so you sound brilliant at dinner parties, but so you can learn what you enjoy the most. When you get to know your wine, you learn what works for you and what doesn’t and can enjoy all those exciting new wine moments, in your own way.
The first grapevines arrived in Australia with the First Fleet, and by 1890 wines were being manufactured in the Hunter, Barossa, and Yarra Valleys. And now with over 2000 wineries to its name, Australia is world-famous for its consistently fresh, fruity wines with our number one grape being Shiraz, closely followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot. Australia showcases over 60 wine regions producing more than 100 wine varieties, with South Australia producing more than 50% of the country’s wines.
Buying wine can be an overwhelming experience for a beginner, but it’s all about trying everything you can get your hands on and getting to know your wine. With hundreds of different types of wine to choose from, where do you start?
Local bottle shops will usually be staffed with knowledgeable, passionate wine connoisseurs who will be only too pleased to impart their own specific wine 101 on you. Not only should this make for good ice-breaking fodder when you arrive equipped with all the facts on your purchase at the dinner party you’re headed to, but it will also help you choose the right wine for you.
A good shortcut to discovering what wines you may like while still getting to know your wine is speaking to someone who has similar tastes to you. If you’re both into the same desserts or you both always reach for a fresh, zingy seasonal salad over a rich, meaty dish, chances are when it comes to drinking wine, you’ll be compatible too.
Just like fresh produce, wines have new seasonal releases which pair well with the season. Whether it’s warm summer barbeques or sumptuous dinner parties in the depths of winter, drinking wine seasonally can help you expand your horizons, trying new wines you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
If you have only just dipped your toe in the wine world and only just getting to know your wine, it's a great idea to try everything. Wine 101 dictates that you should try a new type of wine every month or so. Have a go at choosing a wine based on the beauty of the bottle, or a recommendation in the paper, or even if you just like the name! This will expose you to drinking wines that are different to your habitual varietals and you may surprise yourself with what appeals to you.
This can be a really fun way to get to know your wines. Not only can you see what people are buying and read their reviews, but you can contribute as well which is a great way to grow your vocabulary as you get to know your wine and how to talk about it.
After going through the rigmarole of choosing a wine, the next step is how to open and pour it. This may seem like a simple task, easily done whether or not you know your wine, but there are a few little nuances that can make opening and pouring wine that much more fluid.
Serving wine from foil that’s been cut incorrectly can look like a blood bath. If you slice the foil below the lip of the wine bottle, however, you make for a less messy pour, ensuring every drop makes it into the glass.
Now that you’ve mastered the wine chilling, opening, and decanting you don’t want to risk spilling wine everywhere, which is much more likely to happen if you hold the wine glass in your hand as you pour. Place the wine glass on a steady surface, aim for the wall of the glass and pour slowly. As the wine hits the side it will create a wave into the bowl, aerating the wine and looking dramatic (there’s no harm in having a bit of flair as you pour!).
Serving wine in the right portions is surprisingly important. Red wines need the depth and width of a red wine glass to gather and deliver their aromas. In contrast, sparkling wines appreciate a champagne flute filled to the top of the glass to avoid their bubbles disappearing too soon and an excess of carbon dioxide building up.
And the most important part… the tasting. The sweet anticipation, followed by that first sip of wine is the pinnacle, the moment that we all look forward to. And in order to ensure the perfect second when that well-chosen drop hits your lips, there are a few small tips that can make the moment all the more memorable.
Wine can enhance any experience, be it a dinner with friends or a Friday night drink after a long week. Being in a setting that is not too loud, without overwhelming smells or in a room that’s too bright means that you’ll be able to concentrate on the flavours and aromas of the wine. Being in good company when you try a new wine too, can be a great way to cement the flavour in your mind as a happy and positive flavour.
Half the flavour of a wine is in its aroma, and smelling wine is an important part of drinking it. Taking in a series of short sharp sniffs with your nose hovering over the top of the wine glass builds anticipation and makes your mouth water while letting you experience the different nuances and interesting notes hidden inside the glass.
Once you’ve sniffed wine, don’t be too quick to sip it. Sit and meditate on what you’ve just smelt. Think broadly at first (did it smell fruity or earthy) and then drill down (were the citrus or berries of the fruit). Consider as well if you liked the smell, or if you detected a note of something in there which didn’t inspire you and what those aromas reminded you of.
The moment is finally here! Once you’ve immersed yourself in the ritual of opening, pouring, gazing at and smelling your wine, you’re ready to complete the experience by letting it roll onto your tongue. There are three things to consider when tasting wine and these are; taste, texture and length.
While learning all about wine basics can seem overwhelming, keep in mind that drinking wine is an enjoyable activity. Above all we drink wine to have fun, so feel free to break with “tradition”. Your wine moments should be enjoyed in your own unique way; whether that’s out of the finest crystal paired with a Michelin Star meal, or from a plastic cup, sitting on a milk crate surrounded by new friends.