10 Questions About Wine that you Always Wanted Answered, but were Afraid to Ask


This article has been re-published from it’s original at Wine Library.

Does this wine really taste like it says on the label?

Will you really get delicate notes of white flower, bergamot, and under-ripe apricot? That’s really up to you. At the end of the day, you’re drinking fermented grape juice, but there is an incredibly complex soup of various chemical compounds floating around in that glass of Reserve Kadarka. Some of them we’ve established as directly responsible for certain notes (2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine, for example, gives many Sauvignon Blancs their vegetal characteristics), some of them are still mysteries (like what causes minerality). What’s important to remember is that tasting notes on labels are often written years before the finished wine will be released, so take them with a grain of salt.


What do the points mean?

As the last question made clear, wine is a pretty subjective experience. The problem is that as much as we all enjoy subjectivity, we tend not to enjoy it as much when we’re paying for it. As with art, cars, beer, and adult fiction on Amazon, people feel more comfortable making a purchase if they can base their decision on the opinion of someone who’s already tried the product. And as with those industries (ok maybe all but one), over time, subject matter experts will arise, and their opinions will become widely followed and respected. Kinda like that one Gary Vaynerchuk guy.

So ratings are important, but also important to remember is that they’re all just some dude’s opinion. You have an opinion too. Don’t forget that!

Why does this wine have a screw cap?

Screw caps are cheaper, more reliable, and can’t succumb to cork-taint. The only real downsides are 1. Screw caps don’t yet accurately replicate the gas exchange caused by traditional corks, so wine in a screw cap likely won’t age the same way as it would in a corked bottle. 2. More importantly, popping a cork is more fun! The act of extracting a cork holds an enormous amount of significance for wine drinkers, and many simply won’t accept a wine that doesn’t allow them that experience.

Will this give me a headache?

This can/should/will be its own article. The short answer is “yeah, if you drink a ton of it.” The long answer is “You probably don’t have a sulfite sensitivity, no matter what you read on WebMD that one time, so just relax.” Of all the stuff in wine that might cause a headache, the alcohol leads that charge by a pretty wide margin.

What’s a tannin?

Awesome question! That feeling you get after sipping red wine like all the spit’s been sucked out of your mouth? Tannins do that!

Tannins are a kind of chemical compound produced by plants (polyphenol, if you want to be all technical about it) found in the skin and the seeds of the grape. They get extracted into the wine along with the color while the crushed grapes soak, or macerate, during the winemaking process. Tannins impart structure on the wine, in essence making a liquid feel like more than just a liquid. As the wine ages, these big long chemical chains break down and the tannic effect softens. That’s why really high-quality wines with long cellar lives can be serious tongue-smashers in their youth; they need to be able to soften over a long time period.

What are the legs and what do they mean?

Legs are a pretty basic effect that comes from the fact that alcohol and water have different surface tensions. What do they tell you? That there is, indeed, alcohol in your wine. Hooray! Seriously that’s it. If you think you can look at legs and determine the difference between 12.3% and 13.7% abv, you clearly have better eyesight than I do.

How do I know if my wine is “dry?”

In winemaking, dry just means that all of the grape’s sugars have been fermented into alcohol and that there’s no more sugar left over. That basically covers the vast majority of wine you’re likely to consume. A lot of people confuse “tannic” with “dry”, but as you just learned earlier, that’s a totally different phenomenon. When you’re unsure, look for words like Kabinett (in German wine), or Brut (in Champagne and other sparkling).

Is more expensive wine always always better?

No. This is an $11 wine that is totally fucking brilliant.

There are a ton of factors that go into the price of a wine, and while there may be a relatively predictable correlation between production quality and price, we’ve still had tons of $11 wines that taste better than $50 wines, or $30 wines that are showing better now than $150 wines. But maybe those $150 wines aren’t meant to be consumed for 15 years. Bottom line: No. More expensive doesn’t automatically mean better, but it doesn’t mean nothin’ either.

Is older wine always better?

No. In fact most wines do not age gracefully. It takes a special combination of tannins, acid, alcohol, fruit, and sometimes sugar in order for a wine to truly be age-worthy.

Why do people collect wine?

Oh boy. How long do we have? Why do people collect stamps? Why do they collect vintage videogame cartridges? It comes down to a combination between the way wine ages, and some kind of basic, primal human urge to collect stuff. But think about it this way, collectable wine goes beyond simple monetary appreciation. The item itself actually becomes better over time. That is something few collector’s items can boast.

Steve Unwin (call him Stunwin) cut his teeth in the Washington Wine industry working in tastings rooms on the Red Mountain AVA. In NYC he became an early employee of the wine startup Lot18, where he would eventually earn his Advanced WSET cerification with distinction. Currently, he works with internet wine legend Gary Vaynerchuk creating awesome content all over the internets.