101.6 European and New World Wines

Wines were originally made only in Europe. As wines began to emerge from non-European countries, a distinction had to be made. Today, we refer to wines from France, Portugal, Germany, etc. as Old World Wines. Correspondingly, wines from countries such as New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, etc. are known as New World wines.

Generally speaking, Old World wines styles are identified by their generic names, whilst New World wine styles are identified by the grape variety used to produce the wine. Generics usually refer to Old World wines whilst varietals are New World wines.

A generic name is derived from the region in which the wine is produced, and refers to its style . Chambertin and Montrachet, a red and white wine from Burgundy, are generic names. A varietal name on the other hand, simply refers to the type of grape used to make the wine. Chambertin, an old world wine, uses the Pinot Noir grape. Montrachet, also an old world wine, uses the Chardonnay grape.

So if you are a fan of Chambertin and Montrachet, and you seek something similar from the New World, you would raise eyebrows endlessly if you asked for Californian Montrachet or Australian Chambertin. Instead, you should look for Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from these New World countries. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are really the red grape and white grape variety used to make red and white Burgundies.

Here is a table which enables you to determine the different wine styles, whether you purchase Old World or New World wines.

OLD WORLD (generic)
NEW WORLD (varietal)
Medoc, Pauillac, St. Emilion, Pomerol & Others
(Bordeaux or Claret)
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Sauternes Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Botrytised Semillon (Sweet style)
Pommard, Nuit St. Georges,Vosne Romanee & others
(Red Burgundy)
Pinot Noir
Chablis, Macon, Montrachet
(White Burgundy)
Beaujolais Gamay
Crozes Hermitage, Cornas
(Northern Rhone Valley)
Rioja Tempranillo
Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Chateauneuf de Pape (Southern Rhone Valley) Grenache and blends of other varieties
Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, Touraine & others
(Loire Valley et environs)
Sauvignon Blanc
Rheingau Trocken Riesling
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling and Muller Thurgau
None Zinfandel
Chinon, Bourgueil Cabernet Franc
Barolo, Barbaresco Nebbiolo
Brunello de Montalcino Sangiovese
Vouvray, Savennieres Blanc Chenin/Chenin Blanc

101.5 Recognising the Bottle

Although French wine regions maintain different kinds of bottle shapes that provide the consumer with clues to the style of wines, it is slowly changing. In the New World, there are no hard and fast rules as to which style of wine can be identified by the bottle shape. See European & New World wines to find out the differences as well as the similiarities between styles of wine made in the Old World (Europe) and the New World (USA, Australia, Chile, etc.)

With German Riesling bottles, it is interesting to note that, usually, Rhine Rieslings come in brown bottles whilst Mosel Rieslings come in green ones.

101.4 Selecting your Glass

For the beginner, it is sufficient to know that there are three basic kinds of glasses.

There is the Champagne flute, which is a tall narrow glass that slows the dissipation of the bubbles while at the same time enabling one to enjoy looking at them rising up the glass. The top may be straight or flared in slightly to accentuate the aromas. Do not make the mistake of buying the flat, open bowl champagne glasses. While rumor is they were modeled after Marie Antionettes’ breast, they allow the bubbles to dissipate too quickly and tend to spill easily.

Still wine glasses should have a stem that supports the bowl. The bowl should be round but tapers a little at the top so that as one swirls the glass, the wine does not spill. In addition the taper enables the aromas to be channeled towards the nose for sniffing. The white wine glass that is about the same shape as the red wine glass only it is slightly smaller. If you are serving white and red wines, then you should have both the white wine glasses and red wine glasses on your table. If you are only serving only a white wine or red wine, it does not matter which glass you use.

When both a red and white wine are served, the reason why the red glass is larger is because red wines are often served later on with the 2nd or 3rd course. It enables the waiter to distinguish which glass to serve the wine in. More importantly, the red wine is usually an older wine with more complex aromas and flavours. The larger glass is used as it enables these aromas and flavours to develop, since the surface area contact with air is larger.

101.3 Drawing the Cork

There are different kinds of corkscrews, each designed for a purpose, featuring two basic types of screws; the Helix and the Auger.

The Helix spiral is a rounded open spiral that grips well allowing the cork to be extracted cleanly.
The Auger spiral has a solid core and sharp edges that do not grip the cork well, often boring a hole through the cork instead.

The Winglever corkscrew has been around a long time. You insert the screw and twist the bottle-opener to thread it into the cork. As the screw goes down, the winglevers go up. Once the winglevers are all the way up, pushing them down is supposed to extract the cork. Because most of these corkscrews are cheap, they often have a solid core; an Auger spiral, that does not grip the cork well and the result is boring a hole through the cork leaving cork debris in the wine. Often the spirals of these pullers are not long enough and only half the cork is extracted.

The waiter’s friend is the most commonly used corkscrew. It is named thus because it folds up and the waiter can whip it out of his waistcoat pocket when required. The standard version often has a small blade that can be used to slice off the capsule of the bottle. Once done, insert the screw then place the metal lever at the mouth of the bottle and gently leverage the cork out. It is also great to take along  for a picnic. However, you won’t be able to take this on board so don’t forget to check it in.

The corkscrew that is the easiest to use is the Screwpull®. You insert the screw, then turn the tap handle and the cork is extracted 99% of the time, clean from the bottle. The Screwpull® uses a helix spiral, the best type of screw for extracting the cork. It is more expensive than the Winglever corkscrew but this is an investment you will not regret if think you are going to be opening bottles of wine for the next 10 years.

101.2 Handling the Glass

a. The pour should fill only a third of the glass so you will be able to swirl it without messing up the table or your clothes from spills.

b. First, hold the glass by the stem instead of cradling the bowl of the glass in your hand. By holding the stem, you will not warm the wine in the glass and also be able to swirl the wine around.

c. Swirl the wine to oxygenate the wine and to break the meniscus of alcohol. This enables the release of aromas. Practice swirling the glass in a counter-clockwise direction with your right hand.

d. Put your nose into the glass and take a sniff of the wine.

e. Finally, taste the wine by taking a sip of it, keep it in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. You may repeat step c. and d. in order to enjoy the aromas of the wine before taking another sip. At this stage, it does not matter if you do not detect any aromas and flavours besides that of grape and wine. With practice (and working through the modules),  your nose and palate will become accustomed to detecting aromas and flavours.

101.1 Basics of Tasting

Tasting wine is made up of 3 elements.

We taste wines to help us differentiate between what we consider better wines from the mediocre ones. Tasting also enables us to enjoy the differences amongst wines that appeal to us.

Things you should know:
Tasting is a total experience involving the use of your eyes, nose and the mouth. The eyes enable you to ‘classify’ a wine by its colour.

The tongue and mouth detects saltiness, sweetness, bitterness and sourness; and textures

Recall that food is tasteless when you have a cold. The nose enables you to detect aromas.

Let’s put theory to practice. Take a sip of  a generic white wine, say an inexpensive Chilean Chardonnay

  • The colour will usually be of hay/light gold.
  • On the nose, it smells of tropical fruits and perhaps some citrus.
  • On the palate it is medium bodied, smooth and clean with a medium length finish.