So you want to join the worldwide cabal of wine fanatics but don’t quite know where to start? Put down that Coke and pay attention. Or at least put down that Diet Coke. That stuff will kill you. This is a complex and exhilarating transformation you are about to undergo, one destined to leave you grumbling when your friend serves you a Sauvignon Blanc that tastes of hedge clippings or crowing about a great wine BOGO deal.
Here, drinkers-to-be, are the ABCs of wine.
A is for aeration. You know how people talk about wine “opening up?” They’re not talking about busting open a box. They’re talking about making sure some oxygen hits that red wine before you pour it down your throat. That makes it taste better. You can accomplish easy aeration by swirling the liquid around your glass or get all classy and pour the wine into a decanter (ie, a vessel that makes you look like you know what you’re doing). As gadget fans, we like the aerator you pour wine through because then we don’t have to wait to drink it. But beware: Not all wines need aerating. Stick with young wines with lots of tannins and don’t mess with the Pinot Noir.
B is for “Bottle Shock.” This 2008 film about the Judgment of Paris in 1976 (when Napa Valley wines beat French wines in a blind tasting) is crucial to your understanding of the wine community. It stars Chris Pine and the late Alan Rickman plus Freddy Rodriguez from “Six Feet Under,” but the really important thing is wine lovers adore this film because they believe it gives them license to drink even more than they usually do.
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C is for cost. How much should you pay for wine? Finding a good bottle for six bucks is pretty much impossible. But you are not required to spend a fortune (though you can). A skilled shopper can track down any number of drinkable wines between $10 and $20. Just remember, when you go out to eat, that $10 bottle is probably selling for at least $30 at the restaurant.
D is for dry. If you don’t drink dry wines, some people (me) will make fun of you. But the Tribe of Moscato is still going strong. Look hard enough and you’ll find fellow sweet wine lovers hiding in plain sight.
E is for effervescence. Sparkling wines are traditionally used for celebrating: engagements, wedding toasts, “Game of Thrones” season premieres. Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, but prosecco, which does not, steps in as a less expensive substitute just fine. Add a splash of pomegranate juice and enjoy your summer.
F is for fermentation. This holy miracle occurs when the yeast in crushed grapes turns them into alcohol (and carbon dioxide, but who cares about that) and wine results. Science!
G is for grapes. Wine is made from grapes. Unless you’re visiting Schnebly Redland’s Winery in far south Miami-Dade County, where the wine comes from avocado, lychees and (shudder) mangoes. At Whispering Oaks Winery in North Florida, they make wine from blueberries. People also make wine from blackberries and elderberries. Writer Ray Bradbury used to make it from dandelions. Drink these wines at your own peril.
H is for Hell No, I’m Never Drinking Mango Wine. Need I repeat myself?
I is for ice. Don’t put it in your wine. Just don’t.
J is for Just Try It. This may be the most important part of becoming a wine fanatic: Try everything to learn what you like and what to look for. Try blends. Try things you think you won’t like. Trends don’t always last. Remember when everybody made fun of rosé? They don’t anymore.
K is for Kendall Jackson. Chardonnay is the most popular wine in America. So why are there so many haters? Because of inexpensive varietals like Kendall Jackson that define the California Chardonnay and make everybody think all Chardonnays should be oaky and buttery. They anger people. Thus I drink them and defend them to the death (although I have learned to appreciate the unoaked variety).
L is for legs. So you know how when somebody says “that wine has legs,” they mean that it is substantial? They’re wrong. Legs — the way the wine sticks to the inside of the glass after you swirl it — only indicate the alcohol content of the wine and are completely useless in predicting flavor. There. Now you can wineshame others.
M is for Master Sommelier. You think you’ve taken a hard test in your life? Imagine a blind tasting with three reds and three whites and you having to know everything about them. That’s not all you have to do for the Master Sommelier exam, but it’s the hardest part. Check out the intriguing documentary “Somm” to get a look into this high-pressure world and be glad you can drink with abandon.
N is for nose. That’s what the wine smells like. Aroma is a big thing. You don’t have to smell the cork when the waiter hands it to you, but you must smell the wine, even if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
O is for oak. Many wines are aged in oak. Many are not. Oak adds flavor to a wine and does not necessarily mean something bad the way Chardonnay Haters believe.
P is for pump. Sometimes you will open a bottle of wine and not finish it. And I do mean you. This doesn’t happen to me. In any case, investing in a wine pump is a good idea. See, exposing your wine to oxygen is only good for a little while; too much oxygen and the wine begins to taste flat. Pump oxygen out of the bottle to buy yourself an extra day or two of freshness.
Q is for quaff. You quaff an I.P.A. You quaff a stout. You guzzle a Budweiser, noting its notes of aluminum can and desperation. With wines, though, you sip, taking in a little air at the same time to further aerate the wine (see “A”) and enhance the flavor.
R is for red. The Cult of Red is huge and snobby. They sneer at white wine like they’ve never had a cold Gavi on a hot day. They laugh at the notion that tannins and sulfites might cause headaches and brag about all those glorious antioxidants. Ignore them. Who has the energy to be smug about a Malbec when it’s 98 degrees?
S is for Syrah. Or is it Shiraz? What’s the difference between Syrah and Shiraz? Not much. They’re made from the same dark grape. Syrahs tend to come from Europe while Shiraz comes from Australia or South Africa. Pour me either, and I’ll be happy.
T is for temperature. The rule is that you serve whites cool, not cold, and serve reds slightly chilled, not warm. But frankly, rules are made to be broken, and here in Florida we drink our reds too warm and our whites too cold. That’s life in the tropics.
U is for unforgettable. So somebody poured you a wine that blows your mind. How do you remember it? Install the Vivino app on your phone, take a photo of the label and let Vivino remind you what it is, where to get it and what others have said about. You can even write your own review.
V is for varietal. A varietal is made from one variety of grape: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot. But a wine doesn’t have to be a varietal to taste great. Sometimes winemakers blend grapes and it’s absolute magic.
W is for #WineWednesday. Twitter loves wine and the people who tweet about it, and a lot of them do so on Wednesdays. Well, all days really. Practice your Instagram filters, find 100 new ways to shoot a picture of a wine glass, use that hashtag and watch your number of followers grow.
X is for Xerox. Yeah, that has nothing to do with wine. I just couldn’t think of anything else.
Y is for young. What’s a young wine? One not quite ready to be opened. Can you a drink a young wine? Sure. Not every wine needs to be aged to be good. But you can drink some wines too early. Confused yet? Good. So am I.
Z is for Zinfandel. Not white Zinfandel, which is pink, because no one will respect you if you drink that. Zinfandel is red. Period.