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The CWB Guide to wine

Yes, there is such a thing as too much information. If you want a compendium on wine or all things oenological, try wikipedia or buy a hard-backed coffee-table wine book.

Here is a quick 'n' dirty (and none-too-serious) summary of the main things you need to know.

Wine Styles - the basics

Red wine - dark in colour, made from crushing whole bunches of grapes - skin, pips and stalks included. Doesn't match well with salty foods.

White wine - pale in colour, made from the juice of pressed grapes, greater variety of styles than red wine.

Dessert wine - wine with deliciously high levels of natural sugar

Fortified wine - wine with added spirit, a higher alcohol content and sometimes (but not always) sweetness, such as sherry, port or Madeira

Sparkling wine - wine with bubbles in, can be achieved by various methods

Rosé- a pink wine for poseurs, swings in and out of fashion as wildly as flared-trousers and Latino music; currently the insta-generation's bottle shot of choice

New World - 1) anywhere that is not in Europe 2) ripe, fruity, easy-drinking style of wine

Old World - opposite of new world

Grape Varieties

Cabernet Sauvignon - tough and tannic, like stewed tea, in its youth, it usually needs food, especially roast red meat. Oh and it's possibly the greatest red wine grape in the world. Don't try calling it "Cab" unless you are a professional wine writer or a sommelier.

Chardonnay 1) character in TV series "Footballer's Wives" 2) neutral grape variety with an affinity to oak aging, but can also be produced unoaked

Gewürztraminer - only if you like the flavour of lychees and rose petals; its origin is northern Italy, its spiritual home Alsace

Pinot Gris / Grigio - actually, the same grape; Pinot Gris is rich, aromatic and fat when produced in Alsace; Pinot Grigio is crisp and minerally when from Italy

Pinot Noir - thin-skinned, hedonistic, elusive people tend to like this grape variety; was the star of 2004 film, Sideways

Riesling - ancient and vastly-underrated late-ripening Germanic grape that makes crisp, aromatic, complex wines - Austrian versions in particular are full-bodied, food-friendly and completely dry. Can be petrolly, but not in the way that cheap lager tastes like aviation fuel.

Sauvignon Blanc - bit of a one-trick pony, this was the first really popular grape in the backlash against oaky Chardonnay, rapidly followed by Pinot Grigio; comes in ripe, tropical versions (new world, think Marlborough) or lean and steely (e.g. Loire) - in either case, it should taste of freshly cut grass, gooseberries, nettles but, if underripe, cat's pee

Syrah / Shiraz, the same grape - produces a few rarified bottles in the northern Rhone and a lot of less elevated stuff in Australia


Australia - ripe, fruity bruce juice from down under; often branded, frequently discounted, can be enjoyable but generally about as subtle as Hugo Weaving in a dress; occasionally as serious as Mel Gibson in Hamlet (e.g. Penfold's Grange, Hunter Valley)

Austria - reinvented itself in the mid-80s following a typically Balkan scandal involving tax and anti-freeze as a producer of top-notch dry whites, superb dessert wines and some decent reds

Italy - produces wine like they drive cars; idiosyncratic and chaotic, but like an Alfa Romeo, capable of greatness

France - frankly, the starting point for learning about wine; you cannot consider yourself in any way a wine enthusiast if you don't have at least a nodding acquaintance with French wines. France is to wine what the electric guitar is to rock music or the internal combustion engine to motor sport.

Key France Sub-regions:

Alsace - Franco-German region with identity crisis but producing great rich, dry wines. And lots of timbered cottages with neat hanging baskets.

Bordeaux - produces more wine than Australia; most famous for its reds and dessert wines, but you will also find whites, rose and even fizz

Burgundy - the spiritual home of Pinot Noir; also produces Chardonnay

Champagne - expensive, over-hyped sparkling wine, but anything else doesn't quite make the same statement, though, does it ?

Languedoc - the new kid on the French wine block, this southern region makes exciting and often good-value wines

Loire - northerly wine region producing crisp Sauvignon, light Muscadet and the occasional red

Rhône - southerly region divided into Northern Rhone (rarified and expensive Syrah) and Southern Rhone (ripe, fruity stuff)

Germany - hideously unfashionable wine-producing country yet capable of greatness; it's time to forgive and forget Blue Nun

New Zealand - cooler climate, smaller vineyard sizes and high technical standards mean it's rarely cheap, but quality can be very good

Portugal - produces port, which everyone has heard of, plus a load of table wines from obscure indigenous grapes

Spain - forget Rioja, inland Spain is the place for good, value wines; also produces the ultra-unfashionable but wonderful fortified wine, sherry, as beloved of your Auntie; comes in a range of styles from bone-dry fino and tangy manzanilla to rich, nutty, raisiny dry oloroso and deliciously sweet stuff

USA - basically, California; wines can be a bit textbook - well-made but without a huge amount of individuality, but that has not stopped them beating the Frenchies in competitions

Food and wine - wine and food

Wine matching - the complex and sophisticated art of having a glass of wine with your food and seeing if both taste better as a result

Food-friendly wine - a wine with the body, tannin and acidity to be enhanced and not overpowered by food

Wine-friendly food - food that tastes better with wine; generally, does not include take-aways, kebabs and pot noodles, but this does rather depend on the wines you drink

Air - wine's frenemy, if you will; in the right quantities, it opens up full-bodied young reds and whites, enhancing the aromas and softening the mouth-puckering tannins; too much air, however, leads to complete loss of flavour (see also oxidisation)

Balance - 1) what wine companies do to their books to see how much profit they've made 2) the amount of cash in your bank account that could theoretically be spent on wine 3) of wine, harmonious, where no single characteristic (such as acidity, sweetness, tannin and alcohol) dominates to the detriment of others

Cava / Prosecco / Sekt - better-value alternatives to Champagne

Elevation - nothing to do with U2 or Trumpton; vineyard elevation gives cooler nights, a longer growing season, more colour extraction and more complex flavours (see Chile, Greece and Styria in southern Austria in particular)

Oxidisation - a fancy way of saying too much air (see also air), but can lead to white wines acquiring a golden hue and tasting of nuts and figs if done properly. When erroneous, leads to flabby whites.

Robert Parker - former lawyer who is now hugely influential in scoring and rating wines with his modestly-named Parker Points

Terroir - 1) quintessentially French concept of the unique combination of soil type, exposure, aspect and climate 2) the reason why French wines are named after places rather than grape varieties (i.e. Bordeaux, not Cabernet Sauvignon)

Varietal - 1) wine that is from a single grape variety and not blended 2) naming convention used by New World producers to put a familiar name (e.g. Chardonnay, or Shiraz) on the front of a bottle of wine, thus making it easy for consumers to recognise

Wine blogger - a wine enthusiast with too much time on their hands who writes about wine instead of getting on with some real work