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3 Home & Garden Cooking and Food- Wine General

Great Wine Made Simple


Great Wine Made Simple Cover




Chapter one

The Big Six Wine Grapes

Where do you look to start learning about wine? The label. Given that it contains everything you need to know to confidently choose a bottle, I think it is some of the most important real estate in the entire wine world. In this chapter, I'll show you how to navigate it easily.

What you find on the label of most quality wine sold in this country is the name of the grape variety used to make it. Wines labeled with the grape are called "varietal wines." They are most common in the United States and in Southern Hemisphere wine countries (such as Australia and Chile). You have seen many of the popular ones — Chardonnay, Merlot, and so on — so it is a familiar place to begin our tasting lessons.

The "Power Elite" of the Wine World--The Big Six Wine Grapes

There are hundreds of wine grapes, but we're going to focus on just a handful of them, the white and red grape types that I call the Big Six. The white grapes are Riesling (Rees-ling, not Rise-ling), Sauvignon Blanc (Sow-veen-yone blahnc), and Chardonnay (Shahr-duh-nay). The reds are Pinot Noir (Pee-no nwahr), the partner grapes Merlot (Murr-low or Mare-low, your choice) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab-uhr-nay Sow-veen-yone), and Syrah (aka Shiraz).

What's so big about the Big Six? They are the guts, literally, of about 80 percent of the quality wine sold in this country. Learn what these wines taste like in just one easy tasting lesson, and you will have mastered most of your wine world. The Big Six are everywhere, from Napa to Nuriootpa (an Australian wine region), because they can be grown successfully in almost every winemaking country in the world. They are good — consistently good. And often great. And they offer something for everyone in terms of style.

In short, these grapes are to wine drinkers what "please" and "thank you" are to a toddler's vocabulary. The sooner you get them down, the better off you will be for the rest of your wine-buying and -drinking life.

What If the Grape Name Is Not on the Label?

The Big Six have you covered there, too. One of the biggest things about the Big Six is that they really get around, turning up all over the world in some of the greatest, most famous nonvarietal wines. There are two main categories of these:

Regional wines  These are named not for the grapes used to make them but for the region where the grapes are grown. These regional, or appellation, wines are most common in traditional European wine countries — France, Italy, and Spain. The idea is that regional factors like climate and soil are what make each wine's style distinctive. Once you taste them, it is easy to see the logic, which applies to other products as well: Dijon mustard (named for its hometown in France), the famously sweet Maui onions from Hawaii, and the famous cheese from the French region of Roquefort, to name a few.

Brand-name wines  These are simply made-up names or trademarked names, and they range from the most basic of wines to the very top of the quality chain. Most people have heard of at least a few of them — Manischewitz, Mateus, Blue Nun, Opus One, and Sassicaia are some examples.

Now look at the most famous of these categories, the regional wines — Champagne, Bordeaux, Chablis, and Burgundy — and the top brand-name wines — Opus One and Sassicaia, for example. All are based on the Big Six. Once you know the grape identity behind the famous names, you'll have no problem deciding which to buy, because you will know the wine's style based on your Big Six tasting.

Screw-Cap "Chablis" and Jug "Burgundy"

These may sound like famous regional wines, but they're not. They are from the category of wines known as generics. Generic wines are usually jug or bulk wines packaged and sold under a classic European wine name, such as Rhine (from Germany) or Chablis and Burgundy (from France). Generics aren't made in the named region, but they do trade on the region's fame, making this category confusing for consumers. Many large American wineries use generic wine names. It's a sore point with European wineries, which are not allowed to use generic names in order to protect the quality image of the real wines from those famous European regions.

Tasting the Big Six

Tasting the Big Six grapes has two purposes. First, you get to know what the wines made from these important grapes taste like. When you taste the Big Six grapes side by side, you will see they are quite distinctive from one another, just as a pear tastes different from an apple. While it is true that a varietal wine will vary from one region and winery to the next — wine would be quite boring otherwise — the signature character of the varietal is still there, in the same way that chicken is recognizable whether it's the Kiev, chow mein, or barbecue version.

Second, you get to experience body, whether light, medium, or full. Body is the first, and most important, term in the Wine Buyer's Toolbox and it's interesting that this crucial wine-tasting term has nothing at all to do with taste. "Body" is a textural sensation, the feeling of weight, richness, and thickness in the mouth. As I tell the waiters I teach, this is one of the most important points about wine. In fact, I require new hires to understand body before their very first wine class on their very first day of training. And to help them grasp the concept, I use something my mentor Kevin Zraly taught me — milk. That's right, milk. You should do this comparison, too, because it is the perfect way to learn the meaning of body.

Skim milk — Watery, runny, feels kind of skimpy on your tongue and the taste goes away fast — is light-bodied.

Whole milk — thicker, richer, coats your mouth a bit, and the flavor lingers longer — is medium-bodied.

Heavy cream-- dense, thick, really clings to the inside of your mouth, and the flavor hangs on — is full-bodied.

The difference in body is obvious both in the taste and to the eye — you can see how the texture thickens and the color deepens, and that the fuller-bodied liquid clings longer to the side of the glass.

I ask every consumer and waiter I teach to learn about wine and to talk about wine in terms of body, whether light, medium, or full. It's very easy to understand, because it's one of the few wine terms that has the same meaning to every taster. People quickly grasp differences in body, weight, and intensity in reference to wine, because they have experience in those differences. For example, they know that sole is lighter than salmon, although both are fish, silk is lighter than wool, and prime rib is fuller than chicken breast.

Also, I have found that body is a very comfortable realm for most people when it comes to talking about wine. Other descriptive terms are subjective and open to interpretation. I may think a certain Chardonnay tastes like an apple, but you may think it tastes like a pear, or just "white wine." If I describe a Cabernet Sauvignon as tasting like blackcurrants, I am likely to confuse 99 percent of my fellow tasters because so few Americans actually know what blackcurrants taste like.

How does body factor in to your Big Six tasting? Throughout the retail stores, hotels, and restaurants I consult to,  and on my Web site's food-and-wine-paring database, I work with thousands of different wines. But for me, this simple chart is the bottom line when it comes to teaching waiters and retailers. You will want to refer to it when you are tasting the Big Six:

Body Style White Red

light Riesling Pinot Noir

medium Sauvignon Blanc Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon

full Chardonnay Syrah/Shiraz

That's all there is to it. It takes, at most, five minutes for me to teach a new waiter or bartender what he or she needs to know about wine in order to sell it: the Big Six grapes, their body style, and how to pronounce the names. As far as I'm concerned, that's enough wine knowledge to handle most wining and dining situations.

Product Details

Straight Talk from a Master Sommelier
Immer, Andrea
Robinson, Andrea
Clarkson Potter
New York
Wine and wine making
Beverages - Wine & Spirits
Wine & Spirits
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.37x7.55x1.06 in. 1.66 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Cooking and Food » Beverages » Bartending and Liquor
Cooking and Food » Beverages » Wine » General
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Cooking and Food » Beverages » Wines and Beer

Great Wine Made Simple Used Hardcover
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$7.50 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Broadway Books - English 9780767904773 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , At last, a wine book that makes selecting and enjoying wine truly simple. With renowned wine expert Andrea Immer as your guide, never again will you have to fear pricey bottles that don't deliver, snobby wine waiters, foreign terminology, or encyclopedic restaurant wine lists. You'll be able to buy or order wine with confidence-and get just the wine you want-by learning how the "Big Six" basic styles taste and how to read any wine label.

Andrea Immer genuinely knows more about wine than most wine lovers could ever hope (or want) to learn. But she doesn't believe that you have to join a stuffy, exclusive wine-tasting set to become a savvy wine buyer. Unlike other guides on the market, Great Wine Made Simple makes it easy to master the ins and outs of choosing a wine that you and your guests will love-on any budget.

Shunning yesterday's 100-point scales and lectures on "bouquet," Great Wine Made Simple explains wine in commonsense terms. Featuring a core curriculum of the six grapes that comprise 80 percent of today's top-selling wines, along with a complete flavor map that explains what tastes you can expect from climates around the globe, Great Wine Made Simple uses easy and fun tasting lessons to help you identify what you like and learn how to spot it on a menu or shelf.

Immer reveals the secret weapons of wine experts and explains how to decipher those enigmatic labels. In her fresh, encouraging tones, she provides enlightening exercises (such as "milk tasting" for understanding variations in wine texture) and vocabulary sessions. On a mission to empower the everyday wine buyer, with Great Wine Made Simple Immer creates a refreshing new way to choose the perfect wine for every palate and occasion.

"Synopsis" by , Immer, the young, hip Master Sommelier and corporate director of beverage programs for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, cuts through all the winespeak to help readers learn more about wine.
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