Beverage Basics: Wine

Beverage Basics: Wine offers a basic overview of wine that every Two Roads Event Designer should know. These include common terminology used to describe wine, and an short description of several common varietals of white and red wines. It also includes a brief section on sparkling wine and champagne. 

Introduction

Welcome to Beverage Basics: Wine

Thank you for participating in the Beverage Basics: Wine training module. 

'Wine' is an incredibly broad topic, as immersive wine knowledge reaches across the disciplines of world history, politics, geology, ecology, chemistry and many others. Those who reach the pinnacle of the profession, master sommeliers, will have spent up to several hundreds of thousands of hours studying-and they will be the first to admit that they can always learn more! This course is designed to ensure that Two Roads Event Designers have the basic wine knowledge to understand the difference between the most common wines that your clients will ask for. If the subject interests you, you are encouraged to continue seeking out knowledge on your own, and some resources to do so will be provided at the end of this training module. Increasing your wine knowledge can only help to further your career in hospitality!

TRAINING FORMAT

This training module has 3 sections--one for red and white wine, and one for sparkling wine. Each section covers some of the most common varietals of wine, and is then followed by 1 or 2 short quizzes on the knowledge that was presented. Completing these quizzes completes the training module. 

If you would like to learn more, there is an appendix with further resources.

 

Before you begin the training module, it is important to cover some basic terminology that will be used repeatedly throughout this course. Press "Next" to advance to a list of commonly used terms.

Commonly Used Terms

Wine: An alcoholic beverage made from fermented grape juice

Fermentation: The chemical process of converting sugar into alcohol

Varietal: The type of grape used to make the wine

Vintage: The year the grapes were harvested

Producer: The winemaker or estate that makes the wine

Appellation: A specific geographical area that grapes come from (such as Napa in California)

Terroir: A tasting term for a wine that reflects the geographical characteristics of where its grapes were grown

Body: A tasting term that describes the weight and feel of a wine. Ranges from light bodied to medium bodied to full bodied.

Big: A full bodied wine with lots of ripe fruit tasting notes; typically high in alcohol

White Wine: Basic Varietals

Chardonnay

Where is it grown?

Chardonnay is most famously grown in the Burgundy region of France. Many popular Chardonnays also come from California. Finally, Australia produces many Chardonnay wines. 

Additionally, almost every other wine producing country in the world grows some Chardonnay. This is because the varietal is very adaptable to varying climates, and also because name-recognition makes it an easy sell worldwide. 

Characteristics:

Chardonnay is typically dry with medium to high acidity and a full body. It often has fruity aromas that vary by where it is grown (in cooler regions, think apples; in warmer regions, think tropical fruits). 

French Burgundies and Italian Chardonnays will typically not have oaky tendencies. Chardonnay from nearly everywhere else, however, will be typically be oaky. California chardonnays in particular will be extremely oaky. 

Chardonnay & Food: 

When pairing wine with food, choose dishes with a similar weight and texture. For example, Chardonnay has a fuller weight and is rather rich, so it complements food like lobster particularly well. 

Pinot Grigio

Where Is It Grown?

Pinot Grigio is widely grown in Northeastern Italy, in a cluster of 3 regions known collectively as the Tre Venezie. It is also widely grown in California, Oregon and Alsace, France (where it is called Pinot Gris). 

Italian Pinot Grigios are extremely popular amongst US wine consumers, as it is the largest selling imported wine in the US. 

Characteristics:

Pinot Grigio is typically a crisp, highly acidic, light-bodied wine that makes for easy drinking. It has neutral aromas and tends to not be very oaky. There are regional differences between Italian and Californian Pinot Grigios, described on the chart below:

California Italy
Fruit-forward Crisp & Acidic
Fuller body Light body
Slightly sweet Minimal sweetness

 

Sauvignon Blanc

Where is it grown?

Sauvignon Blanc is grown in New Zealand, California, the Loire Valley in France (Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume), South Africa and Italy. 

Characteristics:

Sauvignon Blanc is highly acidic with a light-medium body. It is often very grassy or herbaceous in taste, although it can have also have a pronounced minerality flavor. 

New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs differ slightly from others, in that they have a highly pronounced flavor of grapefruit or tropical fruits. They are also very rich in texture. Like other Sauvignon Blancs, however, they remain highly acidic. 

Riesling

Where is it grown?

Riesling is grown all over the world, perhaps most famously in Germany, where it represents around 25% of the country's vineyard plantings. It is also grown in France (Alsace), Austria, California, Washington state, New York (Finger Lakes) and Australia.

Characteristics:

Rieslings tend to be fresh, vivid, crisp light-bodied wines. Their taste ranges from fruity to flowery to having pronounced minerality. Riesling can be very sweet, especially German rieslings (with the exception of those classified as 'Kabinett') and those from the Finger Lakes of New York. 

French rieslings on the other hand, are usually dry and steely despite having a fruit-forward aroma. 

Dry Riesling & Food: In Depth

Dry Rieslings are less flamboyantly aromatic and fruity than those with sweetness, and their higher alcohol gives them a big, full-bodied structure. This is what makes them well-suited to traditional European-style cuisine.

Pure, “stony” fruit. Dry-style Rieslings have a fruitiness that can be described as “stony.” It is not as overtly fruity as with sweeter Rieslings.  The wines have a sappy, spicy texture and density that gives them the body and power to pair well with full-flavored foods and classic sauces.

Unoaked flavor. The absence of oak in these wines enables them to bring out the subtle flavors in fine cooking, rather than smothering them with wood or tannin. Classic preparations of fish, poultry and pork all benefit from this.

Firm structure. Dry Rieslings have a clean, focused structure and a fine mineral edge that can cut through the heaviness of classic reductions and cream sauces. The wines brighten the flavors of the food and refresh the palate.

Match the wine with the region it is MOST associated with

  • Sancerre
    Loire Valley, France
  • Pinot Gris
    Alsace, France
  • Chardonnay
    Burgundy, France or California
  • Pinot Grigio
    Northeastern Italy
  • Riesling
    Germany or Finger Lakes, New York

True or False

  • Sauvignon Blanc is often very grassy in taste
  • Italian Pinot Grigio is fuller bodied with more sweetness than California Pinot Grigio
  • Chardonnay is the largest selling imported wine in the United States
  • When pairing wine with food, you should seek a wine that has a similar weight and texture as the food
  • Riesling is always sweet

Red Wine: Basic Varietals

Cabernet Sauvignon

Where is it grown?

Cabernet Sauvignon is most famously grown in Bordeaux, France (the Left bank) and in California (especially Napa Valley). It is also grown in Chile, Australia and other regions.

Characteristics:

Cabernet Sauvignon is a highly tannic, dark, big, medium to full bodied wine. The classic tasting note for Cabernet Sauvignon is black currants. When it is oaked, toasty and smoky often come into play as well.

Food Pairings:

Cabernet Sauvignon pairs very well with any rich meat, such as steak, braised beef, lamb, duck and venison. The tannins in the wine actually have a chemical reaction with proteins and fat, leading to a better taste of both the wine and food when consumed together.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Fun Facts!

  • Despite its prominence in the industry, the grape is a relatively new variety. It’s the product of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc during the 17th century in southwestern France, most likely in the Bordeaux region. 
  • The 1976 “Judgment of Paris” was a famous blind wine tasting event where esteemed wine experts unknowingly chose a California Cabernet over several French producers, thus catapulting New World Cabs onto the international stage.
  • For most of the 20th century, Cabernet was the world’s most widely planted premium red wine grape until it was surpassed by Merlot in the 1990s.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon makes equal appearances as a single varietal and in blends such as Bordeaux (French), Meritage (American), and Super Tuscan (Italian.)

Merlot

Where is it grown?

Merlot is grown in Bordeaux, France (the Right Bank), California, Washington state, New York, Chile and other regions. 

Characteristics:

Merlot tends to be very dark in color, full-bodied with high alcohol and soft tannins. It often has a plummy taste, and sometimes can have some notes of chocolate as well. 

Food Pairings:

Merlot goes very well with pâtés or other charcuterie, pork or veal roasts, rich, cheesy gratins and even hamburgers. As you think about pairing wine and food, you can also consider pairing the wine to a dishes sauce instead of the protein. For instance, merlot pairs very well with tomato-based sauces. 

Pinot Noir

Where is it grown?

Pinot Noir is grown in Burgundy, France, Oregon, California, New Zealand and other places.

Characteristics:

Pinot Noir is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine. The grape's tendency to produce tightly packed clusters makes it susceptible to several viticulturally hazards involving rot that require diligent canopy management. The thin-skins and low levels of phenolic compounds lends Pinot to producing mostly lightly colored, medium bodied low tannin wines that can often go through dumb phases with uneven and unpredictable aging. When young, wines made from Pinot noir tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wines age, Pinots have the potential to develop vegetal and "barnyard" aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine.

Burgundy, France:

Monks and monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church have had an important influence on the history of Burgundy wine. The Cistercians created Burgundy's largest wall-surrounded vineyard, the Clos de Vougeot, in 1336. There are 5 notable districts in Burgundy for Pinot Noir:

  • Chablis
  • Cote Chalonnaise

  • The Maconnaise

  • Cote d’Or & Beaujolais

    • Of the red grapes, the majority of production in the Côte d'Or is focused on the Pinot noir grape, while the Gamay grape is grown in Beaujolais. In the Côte de Nuits region, 90% of the production is red grapes

Oregon Pinot Noirs

Oregon’s most important grape is Pinot Noir, then Pinot Gris, and finally Chardonnay as a fast 3rd in terms of production. Despite what you may hear whispered about Oregon wine, it makes up less than 1% of volume compared to California, but it’s growing. The focus in Oregon will be Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sparkling wine — it’s practically a spitting image of Burgundy, France. 

What does Oregon Pinot Noir taste like?

If I had to pick only two words to describe Oregon Pinot Noir it would be ‘cranberries’ and ‘earth’. The rustic quality of Oregon Pinot Noir doesn’t always appeal to California wine enthusiasts who enjoy fruit-forward wines. Oregon red wines are nuanced, subtle, with high acidity that don’t always explode with lusty fruit.

Why does Oregon Pinot Noir have such a wide range of tastes?
Oregon is dank and highly dependent on weather year in and out. So where the grape grows really matters. There are three major influences on the taste of Oregon Pinot Noir:

  1. Vintage Variation: Inclement weather in the spring and fall each year greatly affect the taste of that year’s wine. Examples of warm vintages include: 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013. Cool vintages where wines are lighter and have higher acidity are: 2010 and 2011
  2. Vineyard Location: Morning fog in the Willamette Valley means south facing slopes are ideal. See below for an understanding of the subregions in the Willamette Valley.
  3. Complexity and Body from Oak Aging: Certain winemakers focus on fancier oak programs with high quality French oak barrels and longer aging. In Oregon Pinot Noir, French oak adds cinnamon, clove and vanilla notes in the wine. Wines with less oak often get their body and tannin from grape skins and tend to be slightly more bitter. This is an important factor to pay attention to when searching for the style you like.

True or False

  • Merlot has high alcohol but soft tannins
  • Pinot Noir is popular because it is easy to grow and turn into wine
  • The tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon make it ideal to pair with high protein & high fat meals
  • Oregon Pinot Noirs have very earthy flavor profiles
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is never found in blended wines

Sparkling Wine

Introduction

Champagne can only come from Champagne France and be created using the méthode champenoise. Champagne is the most famous sparkling wine in the world.  Even non-wine drinkers will know the Champagne name.

All other bubbly's are simply "Sparkling Wine."

Prosecco is perhaps the most-popular non-Champagne sparkling wine. It comes from the grape Glera and is typically drank prior to a meal as an aperitif.

Champagne, Sparkling Wine, and Prosecco are drank as a sign of celebration, whether it is a toast at a wedding or just a cleberatory glass pre and post dinner with friends. 

The Méthode Champenoise

Process of méthode champenoise:

The wine is fermented once on the barrel and then undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle after the addition of yeast, nutrients for the yeast, and sugar, tirage. The second fermentation results in a natural sparkling wine. Yeast precipitate (lees) must then be removed. This begins with riddling (remuage in French), which means that the bottles are turned with the neck downwards and lightly shaken to move the lees to the neck of the bottle. This is done in small steps where the bottle orientation gradually changes. Finally the inverted bottle necks are cooled so that the precipitation freezes to a small block of ice, the bottles are turned upright and the temporary closure (normally a crown cap) is opened so that the precipitate is pushed out by the pressure in the bottle. Then the bottle is filled to replace the missing volume, and fitted with a plain Champagne cork and halter. The process to remove lees is called "disgorging."

Prosecco

Prosecco became popular because it was commonly sold in Italian Restaurants by the glass. Veneto and Friuli are the common regions to produce Prosecco. Prosecco typically only produces alcohol levels around 12% abv. It can be obtained in different styles of sweetness; dry, off-dry, and sweet. 

Prosecco also has different style of bubbles:

  • Frizzante = Slightly Sparkling
  • Spumante = Fully Sparkling
  • Nonsparkling = No Bubbles

Food Pairings: Antipasto, Pickled Vegetables, Calamari, Anchovies, Spicy Salami

True or False

  • Champagne MUST come from Champagne, France
  • Prosecco MUST come from Prosecco, Italy
  • In the méthode champenoise, the last stage of fermentation occurs in the bottle
  • 'Spumante' means a type of Prosecco that is not sparkling
  • Prosecco is a classic digestif

Appendix: Further Information

A History of Wine

A History of Wine

This is part 1 of a great 21 part series on the history of wine, delivered in 10 minute segments. 

How To Taste Wine

New World vs. Old World Wine

The Keys to Wine Service

How to Open a Bottle of Wine