Lets start with the really basic lessons.

1. Categories: by usage:

To make it easy to remember let’s put them into classes by usage. Later we can categorise by varieties and regions.

      For all the thousands of names wines have around the world, all of them
      fit usefully into just four classes:
      1.  Appetisers
      2.  Table – reds and whites
      3.  Dessert
      4.  Sparkling

      Appetizers - Sherries, white Vermouths, flavoured wines - lead into a meal
      just as hors d'oeuvres and soups do.

      Table wines - the white Chablis and Rieslings, the pink Roses and blanc de
      noirs, the red Burgundies and Cabernet Sauvignons- go with the main dishes.

      Dessert wines - Ports, Angelicas, Cream Sherries, Muscats-accompany the
      sweet.. Sometimes they are the dessert. :-)

Sparkling wines ( or “bubblies” what a detestable word, trust the British).  Can do duty on  all of these fronts because they are made in so many styles. I’ve never figured out why wines need to sparkle but there is no accounting for tastes.

The art of tasting:

The difference between drinking and tasting is the same as between hearing and listening.

      First, look

The important thing to look for is appearance.  Young wines should be brilliantly clear.  Older ones may be expected to have some sediment.  In addition, each type has a normal colour range.  Experience teaches which hues are right for each type.  Young wines should not have tawny or brown tones, but those same hues do belong in older wines.

      Second, smell

The nose can distinguish several thousand odours.  The complex beverage that is wine contains an amazing number of them.  A very substantial part of the pleasure of wine is in its aromas or  bouquets.

      Fruit aromas

Part of what we smell in wine is the fresh grapes from which it was made. Some - the ones called varietals-may smell quite specifically of one particular grape variety.  Muscats, Gewurztraminers, and Sauvignon Blancs have some of the most distinctive aromas.  Others, such as Barbera, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir are very subtle.

      Winemaking bouquet

Everything that is done in a winery cellar adds bouquet to the aromas inherited from the grapes.  The most exaggerated bouquets are in the appetizer wines-the "nutty" flavours that come with warm aging for Sherries, the herbal flavours of Vermouths.  Sparkling wines often have a "toasty" flavour from the yeasts that bring about the bubbles.  Many red and some white table wines have a noticeable flavour from aging in new oak barrels.

      Finally, taste

Technically, there are but four tastes: sweet, tart, bitter, and salty. However, odours carry over to the palate, and wine also has important tactile sensations in the mouth.

      Sweetness (or its absence, called "dry")

Stopping a fermentation early leaves some natural grape sugar in the finished wine.  Wines without any residual sugar are dry.  Most reds and some whites fall in the dry category.  So do some appetizer and sparkling wines.  Wines with perceptible amounts of residual sugar range from slightly to super sweet.  Many white table wines, Roses, and sparkling wines fall in the slightly sweet category.  Some whites and most dessert wines are super sweet.


Grapes, and thus wines, have a natural proportion of fruit acids ... about the same levels as pears and apples. Too tart is sour.  Not tart enough is flabby, or cloying.  In many wines, residual sugar and acid play against each other to establish a pleasing balance.  As a rule of thumb, sparkling wines and whites have the highest levels of acidity, but by a very narrow margin over reds.  Appetizer and dessert wines are typically lower.


 The skins and seeds of grapes contain tannins, the same mouth-puckering  compounds found in tea, spinach, and other plants.  Also a source of colour in fruits and flowers, tannins are strongest in red wines, least strong in whites.  They are also low in appetizer, dessert, and sparkling wines. One of the reasons for the old rule, red meat/red wine, is the ability of tannin to counter the taste of fat.  The reverse of the coin holds when we serve Cabernet Sauvignon  with Sole, a delicately  textured fish.


Alcohol is the chief preservative of wine, the factor that turns it from. A quickly perishable fruit juice to a long-lived, storable food.  The levels range from as low as eight percent in very sweet white table wines to 21 percent in Ports and other dessert wines.  Most California table wines range from 12 to 13.9 percent.  Alcohol is mostly recognizable as a little warming sensation at the back of the throat.  The more alcohol, the warmer things get there.

 Using these categories, taste a wine, any wine at all.  If it is too sweet, ask a  knowledgeable friend to name a drier one ... or
 vice versa.  If it is too tannic, get one that is a less dark red.  If everything else is all right, but the grape flavour is not quite pleasing, try a different type within the same class.  If the point of disappointment is even subtler than that, try the same type by a different producer.

   Regions and varieties

2. Classifying by Appellation:
It is traditional in France to use the name of the Region in which the grapes are grown. Examples include Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Chianti, Champagne, Loire, Pies porter, Rhone  etc.

3. Classifying by Variety.
Wines labelled by the kind of grape are termed " varietals" ... Outside Europe, it is usual to use the name of the grape variety that the wine is made from (i.e. Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc.)

The Europeans have had hundreds of years to determine which grapes grow best in which regions, and they often have regulations controlling their labelling. For example, Pinot Noir is the only red grape allowed to be grown in most of the Burgundy region. As non-European countries establish reputations for the wines of certain regions, they often add the region's name to the varietal name; for example, Napa Valley Cabernet, Russian River Pinot Noir.

Serious wine-producing countries and states regulate the amount of a particular grape that must be present before the wine can flaunt that grape's name. In California and Washington any wine referred to by the name of the grape (Chardonnay, for example) must be at least 75% of that grape; most varietals in Oregon must be 90% of the named grape; and Alsace requires 100 %.

The types of grapes used to make a wine are probably the single most important factor in the taste of the wine. However, the flavours of a wine are also affected by how old the vines are, what types of soils the vines are grown in, exposure to sunlight, climates and microclimates, how the grapes are handled and fermented, types of yeast used, whether the wine is aged in wood, etc. Therefore, the same grape types can be grown in France, Australia, California and Chile, but various factors result in wines that taste different. Half the fun of experiencing wine is the incredible array of flavours available!

Many of the world's finest wines are a blend of varietals: almost all Bordeaux red wines contain Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Almost all Champagnes contain Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

A wine which is a blend of Cabernet and Merlot, for example, is often more complex than a wine which is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Exploring varietal characteristics makes for a richer wine experience. To that end, given below are descriptions of the varietals you are most likely to encounter.

There are about 40 important red grape varietals grown in the world today. The major ones are listed below. Generally speaking, as you go down the list the grapes will go from light to full-bodied in texture; low to high in tannin level; lighter to deeper in colour (which generally corresponds to perceived acidity); younger to older in ageability.  In truth the redness of a wine depends on contact with the skin of the grapes: separate the grape from its skin soon enough after picking and you can make a very white red. For example, most wines made in Champagne are white wines made with a significant proportion of red grapes.

As already mentioned, European wines will usually be identified by their appellation; elsewhere wines will be identified by varietal.

Grapes   =  I have listed the red and the white grapes separately.

Below is a list of red grape varieties and where they grow best

Beaujolais, France

Pinot Noir=
Burgundy, France;
California; Oregon;
Champagne, France

Cabernet Sauvignon=
Bordeaux, France
California; Chile

Bordeaux, France
Washington State

Tuscany, Italy


Piedmont, Italy

Rhone, France;

Other red vine varietals you might hear of are :

Italian Red
Petite Sirah
Red Bordeaux
Red Burgundy (easy to guess that its Red and from Burgundy huh? :-)

White grape varieties:

There are 50 major white grapes grown in the world today. The three most important grapes are listed here, ranked by texture from lightest to most full-bodied.

 Germany; Alsace (France); New York State

Sauvignon Blanc=
Loire Valley France; Bordeaux  France; New Zealand; California (Fumé Blanc)

Burgundy France; California; Australia; Champagne France

Some of the other types of whites you may hear about are:

Chenin Blanc
Italian White
Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris
Sauvignon/Fume Blanc
White Bordeaux
White Burgundy

Dessert Wines:
These are wines made with addition of spirits to raise the alcohol content. The most famous  are Port from the Douro region of Portugal, and Sherry from Andalusia in Southern Spain. Since wines in other countries are labelled as port, true Portuguese is now labelled differently ( forgotten what ).

Types of Dessert/Fortified Wines



Port = the best are Portuguese (traditionally accompanies stilton cheese)
Sherry  = the best are Spanish:

Even though Vermouth is practically married to Gin, Vermouth is a fortified wine and not spirit. Because Vermouth is flavoured with herbs, it is often not necessary to start out with fine wine. But some producers do use good quality wine as a base. It is made in as many different styles as there are producers.

Cheeses can similarly be classified into simple categories:

Fresh: Uncooked and unripened cheeses such as Italian Mascarpone, cream cheese, and French Fromage Blanc made right after the milk has turned to curd.

Fresh Ripened: The easiest cheeses to make, they are fresh, white, and have no rinds. Examples are Chèvre, Boursin, and Ricotta Salata.

Soft-ripened: These "bloomy rind" cheeses are inoculated at the curd stage. Examples include Brie and Camembert. Simply great to taste.

Washed Rind: The outside rind of these "smelly cheeses" has been wiped with a liquid such as wine, beer, or brandy. They can be up to 3 months old and are wonderful. Examples are Pont le Vec, Liverot, and Gorgonzola.

Semi-soft: Chaume and Fontina are examples of this variety.

Semi-firm: Appenzella and Swiss cheese are included in this variety.

Hard: These cheeses are generally aged for 2 1/2 to 4 years and are pressed with weights during the aging process to extract the whey. Common examples include Parmigiano-Reggiano and aged Cheddars.

Another classification easier to remember is:
Soft (Brie, Camembert, Feta, Ricotta)
Semi soft (American, Blue, Muenster, Monterey Jack)
Firm (Edam, Gouda, Provolone)
Hard (Cheddar, Colby, Romano, Swiss)
Lets not mention processed cheeses please.