5 Secret Tips to Understand Wine

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Up close image of grapes on a vine.

It can be very overwhelming to understand wine. You walk into the local wine shop to buy wine for your dinner party. You want to impress your friends with a wine that pairs deliciously with the meal, but where do you start?

Most of the time if we’ve found 1 or 2 wines we know and love, we stick with those tried and true wines. It’s just not worth the risk of branching out for our dinner party that we’ve worked so hard to prepare. We promise ourselves to try something different on a low-key night in, but it doesn’t often play out that way.

It can be expensive and time consuming to truly understand wine, right?! And, again, where do you start? With thousands of grape varietals and even more wine producers no wonder the biggest issue the wine industry faces is that consumers are overwhelmed! It doesn’t help that the tasting notes are ridiculously confusing either.

So what to do? The only thing we can do is simplify by focusing on a few grape varietals and putting a few foundational elements into place. This will help us pull back the curtain and reveal our own Wizard of ‘Wine’ Oz …er something like that.

Tip #1: Focus on a Few Grape Varietals

Here at Common Grape, we focus on the 7 Noble Grape varietals. These are called Noble Grapes because they are the most produced grape varietals around the world while keeping their core characteristics. This means when you try a Pinot Noir from anywhere, regardless of how it’s produced, it will maintain its core taste profile. Some may be richer than others and some may be lighter, but its core essence (flavor, aroma, body, color) is consistently Pinot Noir.

Another reason to focus on these top 7 is that you can easily find wine made from these 7 in your wine shop or grocery store and on restaurant menus. And these 7 will cover you for any type of food pairing.

What are they? Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz.

Tip #2: Know the Best Regions

Knowing the top regions will help you select a good wine. Wine shops can be organized by country and region (France, Italy, California, etc) and/or by grape varietal (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, etc). So, when you know Willamette Valley, Oregon produces some of the best Pinot Noir, you can go straight to the Pinot Noir section and look for a wine from Willamette Valley, Oregon.

This also helps at restaurants. Say you want a Cabernet Sauvignon and you know the best Cabs come from California’s Napa Valley. Keep in mind that Napa Cabs come with a big price tag, but you know you won’t go wrong by selecting a Napa Cab. The dirty secret is you really don’t have to know the names of the wineries, because if the region is known for that style of wine, then just pick the wine based on the region and you’ll be set. Keep it simple!