3 Things You Need to Know to Talk Like a Sommelier

I freely admit that I know next to nothing about wine, but last fall I had the chance to go on a trip to Napa Valley, the wine-making capital of the United States. Included in my trip was a tasting event, with 30 or so different vineyards touting their wares. I had dozens of sommeliers talking to me about a wine’s notes of chocolate or berry, how rain changes a flavor profile, and why they only used bourbon barrels.


Apparently Millennials like myself are buying and drinking so much wine, we are completely changing the market. But even though we’re consuming wine, plenty of us have no idea how to talk about it! If you want to impress your friends at your next dinner party here are 3 things you need to know about wine:

What are tannins?
Tannin is a naturally occurring polyphenol found in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves, and fruit skins (like grapes)! Those tannins help keep the hungry caterpillars at bay so you have enough grapes to make wine! A wine that is “tannic” is going to be sharp and even slightly astringent tasting. Have you ever brewed a cup of tea for too long and it’s a little sharp and bitter? That’s the tannins at work! Red wines tend to have higher tannins than white wines, so red wines are often “dryer” tasting. However, “dry” means to a wine professional that the wine is not sweet and has no residual sugar, not one that is free of tannins.

Warm climate = sweet wines.
As a general rule, grapes grown in warmer climates ultimately produce a sweeter, fruitier wine. Warm climate regions (think California, Argentina, Southern Spain, and Southern France) tend to have more consistent temperatures throughout the season. Italy, France, and Spain are the top three wine producing countries in the world. The less drastic temperature and weather changes from summer into fall in these regions gives the grapes ample opportunity to become fully ripe before they are picked. Grapes that are more ripe when they are picked tend to make the wines taste sweeter.

Know your numbers.
Want to really impress your number-centric friends? Check out these grape-to-bottle conversions:

· 75 grapes = 1 cluster
· 1 grape cluster = 1 glass
· 4 clusters = 1 bottle
· 40 clusters = 1 vine
· 1 vine = 10 bottles
· 30 vines = 1 barrel
· 1 barrel = 60 gallons
· 60 gallons = 25 cases
· 400 vines = 1 acre
· 1 acre = 5 tons
· 5 tons = 332 cases

There are 9 major styles of wine (Full Red Wines, Medium Red Wines , Light Red Wines , Rosé Wines, Rich White Wines, Zesty White Wines , Sweet White Wines, Dessert Wines, and Sparkling Wines), each with their own unique flavor profile and pairing suggestions. There are 12 categories of wine descriptions used to describe the entire experience of a drinking a glass.

Keep in mind that most wines are meant to be drank the same year they are bottled (only a few should be aged), so if you’ve got an older bottle kicking around in the back of your cabinet it might not taste so good anymore!