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Wine Basics: What You Should Know - Quicken Loans Zing BlogA lot of people waste money buying wine that either isn’t good or doesn’t suit their tastes because they don’t know how to select the right bottle. I am experienced with wine from a few years in the business and taking advantage of summer and winter vacations (with wine, of course). Make no mistake, wine is kind of my thing.

So, when all my friends ask me about wine, I can point them here and save my breath for the aroma of a good Pinot. If you’re looking for a way to choose wine right now, look no further, otherwise, here’s what you need to know:

White Wine

These wines range from very dry to extra sweet. Some white wines are made from white grapes and some are made from red grapes with the skin removed.

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot grigio, White Zinfandel, and Riesling  are all varieties of white. There’s also Moscato wine, which shares similar color characteristics to white wine, but is actually from a different grape family altogether. Riesling is sweet, but Moscato is sweetest. Those are both generally after-dinner wines which means they have a heavy alcohol content, so be careful.

Generally, white wine is chilled while red is not. If wine is exposed to heat, it can ruin the controlled oxidation, spoiling the bottle.

Red Wine

These wines range from light to full-bodied (which has nothing to do with caloric intake). Blush wine is included here because it’s made with red grapes and has partial removal of grape skins.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz/Syrah, Pinot noir, Red Zinfandel, sherry and port are all red wine varietals. Malbec, a red wine, is smooth, coming from France and Argentina. Meritage is a fancy word for blending of any two or more wines (i.e. Merlot and Cabernet).

Shiraz (Australia) and Syrah (France) are the same variety and are usually spicy or peppery, which is influenced by the amount of rain in the area and the dirt the grapes grow in. Chianti is similarly medium-bodied, but can definitely range in fullness.

Port wine has a higher alcohol content for dessert time and is almost always served in smaller glasses.

Wine Is Subjective

A Merlot for one brand may be different for another company. Many times, wine is branded by where the grapes are grown– like champagne or tequila sanctions– and not by the wine’s flavor. Knowing what each wine tastes like takes time because you actually have to try it! So, still not sure what kind you might like?

Look, Smell, Taste

Wine has hundreds of descriptions. Beyond that, it has three basic qualities: acidity, sweetness and bitterness. The acidity in wine comes from the tartaric or malic acid buildup, shown with a brighter wine color, and can make you feel parched. That acid is developed by wineries in regions with cold nights. The sweetness in wine comes from sugar in the grapes (dry wine typically has less sugar) or from added sugar before fermentation. Finally, the bitterness in wine comes from the fermented alcohol and tannins (which leave a film on the glass or your tongue), typically a gritty tasting wine. A good wine will combine all three qualities. And what if the wine tastes rotten? It’s not just your palate that’s disagreeing, but it could be a corked wine.

As for that film left on your tongue, that’s the fullness of the wine, or viscosity. A good analogy is that a wine’s properties can be compared to milk’s properties.

Fullness of Wine

Let’s talk red wine: Pinot noir is generally lighter (much like skim milk, it won’t leave a lasting film on your tongue). Cabernet is bolder, (think 2% milk) and has a very acidic taste, kind of a bite. Merlot is going to have the boldest and heaviest flavor (like whole milk) and will stay on your tongue longer. Port wine is dense with a higher alcohol content and is generally an “after-dinner” wine.

White: Pinot grigio is going to be lighter (like skim milk), sauvignon blancs are medium-bodied (like 2%), and Chardonnay is going to be the most full wine (like whole milk).

What Kind of Wine Goes Best with What?

Rule number one: If you hate red wine, don’t drink it! It’s nice to branch out, but some people feel obligated to drink red wine with steak and white wine with fish. Rule number one with wine is to drink what you like, not what others tell you to like. Beyond this, everyone disagrees with each other about what wine to pair with which dish. Last year, a study’s results stated that some food pairings with wine produced a better food flavor, even better than when paired with water. It’s no surprise to me, and it’s not because of the buzz. Wine gets its flavor mostly from the age and variety of the grape, which complements a dish.

Beyond that, white is recommend to go with most fish, chicken and alfredo-based dishes (for heavier or darker fish like swordfish and ahi tuna, a blush is good). A sweet white wine like Riesling or Moscato is good for cream-based desserts like cheesecake or crème brulee. Red wine is recommended with heartier proteins like steak, chicken parmesan, lamb, and chocolate-based desserts. A good rule of thumb is to pick a wine based on what you’re eating– a salad goes with a lighter wine and pasta primavera goes with a fuller wine.

Shockingly, studies have shown that even wine experts can’t tell the difference between white and red wine. And of course, most drinkers cannot tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine. It seems crazy, but it’s true.

How Much Is too Much Wine?

It’s important to note that wine is good for you (white or red, but people tend to say red more so), but if you drink more than one glass a day, it cancels out any positive benefit like antioxidants and flavonoids. Heavy drinkers risk obesity, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and fertility issues. Splitting a bottle with someone special may be worth the risk, but consult your doctor just in case.

What Are Some Good Wines to Try?

It ranges: Two- Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s is a bargain and has great flavor. I enjoy Tisdale wine (about $4) because of their chocolate red, but I’m also a huge fan of more expensive (but still affordable) wines like La Crema Chardonnay and Rosa Regale. You can never go wrong with a red Alamos Malbec and for white, I suggest Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, both of which you can find at stores for about $10-15.

You don’t have to break the bank on an expensive bottle of wine. No one will really know the difference. Studies show that experts rate a bottle of wine to be better-tasting when they know it’s more expensive. A cheaper wine does just as good, if not better than an expensive bottle of wine. Wine isn’t about judging what others like, only what you like because everyone has a different palate.

Wine is not your thing? Buy a good beer.


Want more information on wine? Take a wine tasting class to learn about the different regions, varieties, and brands of wine. Another great way to learn the basics is to check out WSET, the wine and spirit education trust. Buying a house can be stressful, relax with a glass of wine. Share your favorite wine in the comments section below!



This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. This has some terrible advice. Referring to riesling as a sweet wine shows a lack of even basic wine knowledge. Riesling can be sweet, but can also be bone dry, and it’s high acidity makes it a great wine to pair with food.

    1. Hi Chris:

      We certainly appreciate constructive feedback. Did you have any specific corrections or suggestions you wanted to make? Have a wonderful day!

  2. Please stop writing about wine. You are providing wrong info. This article lacks any substance or fact.

    First, White Zin is not wine. It’s not even a varietal of grape that even exists. It was an accident that was mass produced to compete with Bartles and James in the 70s.

    Secondly, the only true Moscato is Italian. American vintners tend to add more sweetness, unnaturally. It’s fruit juice, at best.

    And did you really mean to say, “even experts can’t tell the difference between white and red wine”? Are you seriously this ignorant? Or color blind?

    1. Hi CR:

      White Zinfandel is a wine. However, Moscato is from a different family of grape altogether. We have fixed that. Thanks for sharing your feedback!

    2. White Zinfandel is certainly a wine.
      Distinguishing between a red and white? Yeah, I thought that part was strange too.

  3. I’m making a sangria and am supposed to use moscato but I have a bottle of Riesling and am hoping I can use it instead. Any advice?

    1. Hi Amy:

      While I’m not going to claim to be an expert in sangria, this Google search seems to show a number of results for Riesling sangria, so you’re not the first to have the idea. Odds are it’s probably pretty good. Hope this helps!

      Kevin Graham

  4. Moscato and Reisling typically have a lower alcohol content, actually. Never seen either of those wines exceed a percentage of 9%.

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