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WineGuy: Wine information 101

Updated on December 31, 2012

Wine Basics 101. Answering questions that new wine lovers may have about wine varietals, food pairings, gift ideas and more!

This is not a site for wine snobs/experts, just for those learning about wine or those who want to know the basics. Monthly I will spotlight a great wine to try. Also, there will be more wine information updates as the questions roll in. On the site there are great wine gift ideas, breakdown of the most common wine varietals, and suggestions on what wine goes best with food! Salud!

January Wine of the Month

Kestrel Winemaker Select Estate Malbec 2005

I have had a couple of Kestrel wines in the past, both their Cab and Merlot, which were great. However, I had not tried their Malbec until a friend brought a bottle over, and i was blown away. The Kestrel 2005 Malbec was full bodied, with a very rich, dark color. The wine had a plum, blackberry and mocha flavors, with a complex spicy mineral undertone. Absolutely fantastic finish. Price is around $30 (US)

Kestrel Vintners started in 1999, the winery is located in the Prosser Wine and Food Park (Washington State). Kestrel is predominately a red wine producer; their wines are aged one-to-two years in the finest French, American and Hungarian oak barrels.

Check them out here:

Decembers Wine of the Month

Lockwood 2007 Pinot Noir Block 7

Lockwood makes some good wines, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the 2007 Lockwood Pinot Noir. This Pinot is extremely smooth and well rounded. The wine has a fruity and floral aroma, with notes of cherry, blueberry and cranberry on the palate. Try this Pinot Noir with salmon, chicken or with a "light" pasta dish. I picked it up for $14 us.

Red wine tips!

Wine Pick of the Month

Mollydooker the Boxer (2008)

Mollydooker is a great winery in McLaren Vale, Australia (this region is producing some of the best wines in the world right now). Mollydooker has been producing some great and highly scored wines for the past few years. The 2008 Boxer Shiraz (rated a 91 from Wine Spectator, priced around $25 us) is a great big mouthful of spice and fruit, which will go great with almost any Holiday dinner. I shared this wine with some friends who were not "wine fans", and they were quickly "knocked out" by the Boxer (pun intended). This is by far my favorite wine in this price range.

Check this winery out at:

Food and Wine pairings.

Just the basics, so you aren't embarrassed at a restaurant or dinner party.

Here is the basic rule of thumb:

White goes well with chicken, fish, seafood, pork, salad, and vegetables.

Red pairs with red meat, bbq, heavy-tomato sauces on pasta or pizza.

Here are some variations, specifications and clarifications of the basics:

Spicy Asian food: Gewurztraminer (best choice), Merlot or a Pinot Noir would work nicely.

Thanksgiving dinner: Any White would work. You could also try a Rose if you feel daring. I prefer a Pinot Noir or even a Shiraz.

Turkey or Wild Game: Pinot Noir or a Syrah/Shiraz.

Steaks: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec (the best), or Zinfandel.

Sushi: Gewurztraminer or a Pinot Noir.

Salmon: I love a Pinot Noir, but most White Wines or even a Rose would work.

Other Fish/Seafood: I would choose a Riesling or Chardonnay.

Lamb: Pinot Noir

Mediterranean-style dishes: Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot or Pinot Noir.

Mexican Foods: This is a tough one. You could try a Gewurztraminer or a Pinot Noir with light, spicy ingredients (that include chicken, pork or seafood). For more hearty dishes, with beef (or a tomato sauce), a Merlot, Shiraz, Sangiovese or even a Malbec could work.

Lastly, here are some recommendations on what to AVOID at all costs:

1. Red meat with white wines or sweet wines.

2. Pungent/strong cheeses and dessert foods with cabernet sauvignon, rose or chardonnay.

3. Chilling Red Wines.

The ONE wine book you MUST have.

Learn everything you want or need to know about wine. Excellent book for the new wine lover!

The Wine Bible
The Wine Bible Review

Though it drinks deep of its subject, Karen MacNeil's Wine Bible deftly avoids two traps many wine books fall into: talking down to wine novices or talking up to more experienced enophiles. The book avoids these traps through MacNeil's obvious, and infectious, love of her subject, which comes out in almost every sentence of the book, and which lets her talk about wine in a way that combines the good teacher, the trusted friend, and the expert sommelier. As director of the wine program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California, MacNeil is one of the world's true experts on wine. After reading a chapter on the Burgenland, for example, you've learned about the region's sweet wines while feeling like you're actually there, toasting a glass of Cuvee Suss with the author. It is this passion that leads to describing an Italian riservas as "mesmerizing" and a Cabernet Sauvignon as having "texture like cashmere."

The Wine Bible is broken into countries, hitting all of the major wine producers and most of the minor ones. Each section gives detailed descriptions of the country's wines (with chapters on individual regions when necessary), highlighting specific wine producers and individual wines, as well as talking about local foods, customs, and other tidbits that add to the reading experience. MacNeil begins her journey through the world's wine with an invaluable section on "Mastering Wine," which lets a reader get ready before uncorking separate sections. --A.J. Rathbun


Red, white or something in between?

Basic description of popular wines.

The most common wines are red and white. However, there is a large market for "something in between" - better known as Rosé. Rosé wines are produced by removing the skins of the wine grapes, not by combining the red and white wines. Rosé is served chilled (like white). The other "in between" wines are white zinfandel and white merlot. These wines are not technically Rosé, as the grape skins are not removed, but rather the grape is "bled" to remove the color, and create a sweet wine with a blush tone. In most "wine circles" white zin and white merlot are not believed to be real wines, but their popularity is growing worldwide.

There are hundreds of red wine grapes and varietals, the most popular are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, Shiraz, Sangiovese, and my "new" favorite red, Malbec. Merlot has been the "favorite" red for years, however Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Shiraz and Malbecs have gained in popularity and quality over the past decade. "Flavors" in red wine grapes vary, but here are common "nuances" found: Cinnamon, Coffee, Cocoa, Leather, Licorice, Toast, Smokey, Cherry, Plum, Strawberry, Blackberry, Raspberry, Currant, Fig, White or Black Pepper, Clove, Anise and Tobacco.

The better known white wine varietals include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Gewürztraminer and my favorite Viognier. Like red wine grapes, there are hundreds more that I did not include because they are less common to the average consumer. Common white wine "flavors" are often described as: Apple, Pear, Melon, "Mineral", Lime, Lemon, Passion Fruit, Grape Fruit, Floral, Honey and Citrus.

Skip the cake, and try a Dessert Wine!

Unlike your average table wine, dessert wines have an extremely high sugar content (or residual sugar). The residual sugar in dessert wines varies from 3 percent to 28 percent. Because of the sweet nature of these wines, many "new" wine consumers find these easier and more enjoyable to drink. There are essentially four different varietals of dessert wines:

1. Madeira: A fortified wine produced on an island of the coast of Portugal called....Madeira (surprise). Well known for its dark color, rich texture, and nuances (varies) of coffee, hazelnut, caramel or raisin. The best Madeira's can be aged up to 100 years. As a side note, Madeira was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, and was used to toast the Declaration of Independence. Try Blandy Madeira Malmsey Rainwater for around $18us.

2. Ports: A fortified wine traditionally produced in Spain and Portugal, that has a higher alcohol content then other dessert wines (as high as 19%). Two primary types of Port are Tawny (my favorite) and Ruby. Tawny Port has a rich golden brown color, and often a nutty flavor (and sometimes a hint of spice). Ruby Port is more common, has a rich red color and is known for more a fruitier flavor.

I recommend Warre's Otima 10 Year Tawny (Portugal) for about $26us.

3. Late Harvest Wines: Most common of the dessert wines, the grapes are left on the vine until they begin to rot (called Botrytis or the "noble rot) and "raisin", producing a very sweet, rich wine. Late Harvest Rieslings (often with honey and citrus flavors) are common, but I had a Late Harvest Zinfandel that was fantastic. Try Hogue Cellar's Late Harvest Riesling 2005 a great buy for around $10 us.

4. Ice Wines: These wines are often called "liquid gold" because of the color and the cost to harvest and produce. Because they are left on the vine longer (and essentially after they freeze) they are super sweet, and almost looks likes syrup when poured. Most commonly produced in Germany and Canada. Try King Estate Domaine Vin Glacé Pinot Gris 2005 (from Oregon) for around $18 us.

Great wine gifts.

Great birthday or christmas gifts for the wine lover!

Vinturi V1010 Essential Red Wine Aerator Pourer and Decanter Includes Base Enhanced Flavors with Smoother Finish, Black
Vinturi V1010 Essential Red Wine Aerator Pourer and Decanter Includes Base Enhanced Flavors with Smoother Finish, Black

Wine needs to breathe to allow it to open up, release its intended aromas, and of course, make it taste better. Vinturi's patent pending design speeds up this process by instantly aerating with ease and convenience. The perfect aeration in the time it takes to pour a glass of wine.

Oster 004207-0NP-000 Electric Wine Bottle Opener, Black
Oster 004207-0NP-000 Electric Wine Bottle Opener, Black

At the touch of a button, the Oster Wine Opener easily opens up to 30 bottles on a single charge. The stylish and ergonomically designed soft-grip handle will fit into the palm of your hand for a firm grip. Also includes a foil cutter to remove wine seals and a recharging base for convenience.

Winerd Wine Trivia and Blind Tasting Board Game
Winerd Wine Trivia and Blind Tasting Board Game

Our Winerd game is the perfect way to turn your passion for wine into laughter with friends. Creator Tamara Leigh Murphy paired fun wine trivia questions with an innovative spin on blind tasting to create a wine trivia board game that is a HUGE hit and has been featured on the Today Show and on the Wine Spectator Gift Guide.

The Original Vacu Vin Wine Saver with 2 Vacuum Stoppers and 2 Wine Servers - Stainless Steel
The Original Vacu Vin Wine Saver with 2 Vacuum Stoppers and 2 Wine Servers - Stainless Steel

The Wine Saver is a vacuum pump which extracts the air from an opened bottle and reseals it with a reusable rubber stopper. It slows down the oxidation process and keeps the wine fresh for 7 to 10 days.


Does the Wine glass make a difference? Yes it does!

Pick the right wine glass for your wine, and be amazed how much it improves the wine drinking experience! Riedel is by far the best wine glass maker available today.

Riedel Ouverture Magnum Red Wine Glass, Set of 8
Riedel Ouverture Magnum Red Wine Glass, Set of 8

Perfect for everyday use and an amazing value at 8 glasses for the price of 6, the eight extra-large red-wine glasses in this set are part of the moderately priced Ouverture series offered by world-renowned wineglass maker Riedel Crystal. Made of lead-free crystal and machine blown, these glasses are dishwasher-safe. Their thin rims are cut and polished to Riedel's exacting standards, so wine flows easily onto the palate. Each glass stands 7-7/8 inches high, and their large bowls help release the wine's aroma for full enjoyment. Though glasses shaped and sized for different types of wine seem a tradition today, Riedel was the pioneer of this revolutionary concept, which has created a lasting effect on the globe's wine culture.

Riedel O Wine Tumbler Viognier/Chardonnay, Pay for 6 get 8
Riedel O Wine Tumbler Viognier/Chardonnay, Pay for 6 get 8

Is this a bargain, or what? This new freebee pack gets you eight ( yes, 8.) Riedel O Viognier/Chardonnay stemless tumblers for the price of six. Designed by 11th generation, Maximilian Riedel, these Riedel O Viognier/Chardonnay tumblers are reminiscent of the vinum bowls, only without the stem. Trendy and sophisticated, these tumblers will perform much like Riedel's preceding wineglass creations, but will also fit easily into the dishwasher or cupboard without the worries of breaking the stem. For those who would like to experience the concept of matching the shape of the glass to the grape without the traditional stemmed glass, these Riedel O wine tumblers are the answer.

Riedel Ouverture White Wine Glasses, Set of 4
Riedel Ouverture White Wine Glasses, Set of 4

Introduced in 1989, Riedel's Ouverture collection is an uncomplicated beginner series for customers who appreciate good, reasonably priced wine. You needn't have an encyclopedic knowledge of varietals or wine-growing regions to appreciate this fine stemware.


March Wine of the month: Desert Wind 2007 Ruah

A great blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc

A very nice wine from Eastern Washington, priced from $16-$20 U.S.

Here are the winemaker's notes:

Desert Wind's signature blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot embodies our commitment to the "spirit" of classical Bordeaux red winemaking. Each lot that comprises the Ruah was personally selected by the winemaker as best showcasing the quality of fruit from Desert Wind Vineyard. The nose of the wine is intensely aromatic, with Bing cherry, cinnamon, and toasted walnut in the forefront. On the palate, flavors of cherry, raspberry, and clove mingle harmoniously with supple tannins ending in a long finish. Enjoy with a ride array of foods.

90 points - Wine Spectator

"Firm in structure, with refined tannins around a sweet, generous core of currant and blackberry fruit, lingering on the long, expressive finish. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Best from 2011 through 2015."

Silver Medal - 2009 San Francisco International Wine Competition

Bronze Medal - 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

Check out the winery here:

February wine(s) of the Month Bonus!

Top 10 American Wines at or under $20

1. A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir, Produced in: Oregon : Price $20

2. Château St. Jean Chardonnay, Produced in: California : Price $15

3. Cline Cellars Zinfandel, Produced in: California : Price $12

4. Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc, Produced in: California : Price $15

5. Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Produced in: California : Price $13

6. Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon, Produced in: Washington : Price $10

7. Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Produced in: California : Price $11

8. Benziger Chardonnay, Produced in: California : Price $17

9. Clos du Bois Merlot, Produced in: California : Price $20

10. Dr. Frank Dry Riesling, Produced in: New York : Price $15

Wine Poll

Wine Question of the month:

Would you buy wine in a box?

See results

A great inexpensive wine for Thanksgiving

Frei Brothers Reserve 2007 Syrah Russian River

Just had this great wine that would REALLY go well with Thanksgiving day dinner. The Frei Brothers Reserve Syrah is from the Russian River (probably my favorite region for Pinot Noir's), and was a shockingly great wine. I loved the spice notes, and pepper and berry nuances. You will like this wine, and it was a pretty good price, about $14 us.

What is a great wine people should try? - Share your favorites!

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      8 years ago

      Viognier is a must! Most people haven't heard or tried it, but once you do, you may never drink chardonay again!


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