The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Enjoying Wine at Home

The ultimate guide for wanna-be wine-afficenad-os who don’t know where to start.

People are picky about what they like, and not afraid to brag or sneer depending on any number of elements. Wine is a touchy subject and it can feel almost impossible to navigate – so sit back and take advantage of the beginner’s guide to enjoying wine at home. 

enjoying wine at home

Just because other people are wine snobs, it doesn’t mean that you should feel intimated or scared to try new wines. Sometimes though, it’s hard not to think about what others may be thinking about what we’re trying or saying. Especially when the wine has a language all of its own!

How to Choose Wine as a Beginner 

Wine is generally divided into Red, White, Rose, Sparkling, and Fortified. Phew – exhausting already! So if in doubt – cheat! 

  • Pretty much all wines taste even better with cheese and really bad with apples – so get out the cheese and crackers!
  • There are some classic food pairings if you’re nervous about matching food and wine without some ground rules – Champagne and Food pairing is a great place to start
  • If you’re feeling a tiny bit adventurous read the label on a wine that you already know that you like for its suggestions
  • Get a recommendation at your favourite restaurant and if you like it there – recreate it at home
  • Join a wine club that will push your boundaries – Wine52 gives you the choice of Red or White (or Both) – so that’s easy on the decision making front. We reviewed the Wine52 subscription so you know what you’re getting.

Choosing wine can be a real ritual (for this I’d recommend a visit to an independent wine merchant), down completely to luck (the corner off-license in the rain when you’re already running late), a mesmerizing hour wandering up and down the grocery store aisles or a magic box that turns up on your doorstep.

Regardless of your path to wine acquisition – there are a few things to consider to make your choice easier:

  1. Know what (and who) you’re buying for – Special occasions require a bit more planning and consideration of others!
  2. If you’re buying for yourself – consider what you’ve tried before (and liked, or disliked) – colour, grape, region are all good things to note when you particularly enjoy a wine.
  3. How is it going to be drunk? (please note – fast is not the right answer here!). Consider if it’s to go with a meal, a particular dish, or for sipping by itself.

Once you’ve made note of your answers – take a wander through our introductions to the various colours of wine, and choose one that tickles your fancy. Once you’ve tried it –  make note of what it was, and how you felt about it. Wine is very personal – just because I like a particular bottle or varietal, it doesn’t mean you will too.

If you still don’t know where to start – I’d recommend starting your journey in this order – with our useful guides:

Opening Wine (with flare) as a beginner

Have you ever seen the movie Chalet Girl? If you have, I’m sure you recall the scene where the main character (Kim) opens a champagne bottle for the first time and gets herself in the face with the popping cork in the middle of serving at a party? Well, this is exactly what I’m sure you want to avoid.

While most things about wine are divided by colours or wine types – this section is actually divided by the type of closure on the wine bottle.

Screwcap

wine with a screwcap

It’s a (supposedly) easy twist of the wrist to get this one-off – however if you’ve got a particularly stubborn top don’t be tempted to use a knife (I’ve had reports of this going very wrong).

  1.  Grip the bottle with both hands (yes, both hands!)
  2.  Hold the bottom of the capsule (the coloured element of the screw cap below where you’d expect it to screw off) still with your non-dominant hand
  3. Using your dominant hand, twist the top of the screw cap counter clockwise while resisting the bottom of the capsule moving with your other hand.

Mushroom Cork

Used for sealing sparkling wines where the pressure inside the bottle is likely to push out a regular cork.

Tools:

A small knife (optional)

A linen napkin or clean tea towel

  1.  Remember – the wine is trying to push the cork out, expect a dramatic exit at any time. Removing a mushroom cork is more of an exercise in managing the cork’s desire to exit the bottle than anything else.
  2. Remove the foil covering the cork, a small knife may make this easier – but remember to be careful, it’s usually just as easy to use your fingers.
  3. Find the point where the wire cage around the cork has been twisted closed. From the point that you start to remove this cage, the cork could exit the wine bottle forcefully.
  4. Check that no one has shaken the bottle!
  5. Point the wine bottle away from people and delicate objects (including away from yourself), while holding the bottle at 45 degrees. 
  6. Hold the wine bottle by the neck while untwisting the wire cage, but leave it covering the cork. Be prepared to hold the cork in the bottle with your hand while you loosen the cage – this can almost feel a bit like juggling (but don’t – that will shake the bottle!).
  7. Drape your tea towel or linen napkin over the top of the bottle (still holding in the cork and keeping the bottle at 45 degrees – this should work even if someone has given the bottle a cheeky shake!).
  8. Grip the cork from the outside of the towel, and hold it still while twisting the bottle with your other hand. Your goal is to ease the cork out with a tiny pop and small hissing noise – the towel is there to contain both the cork and the wine spray if something goes wrong.
  9. Once the cork is out the 45 degree angle on the bottle helps prevent the wine from rushing out of the bottle. Carefully (and slowly) start pouring the sparkling wine into flutes. There is very little less impressive than getting the cork out of the bottle with grace, but then overflowing the first wine glass by pouring too quickly!

Natural Cork

Tools:

Corkscrew

A good corkscrew that you get on with is a key wine purchase, and there are so many different styles to choose from.

  1. Using a small knife remove the plastic / foil cover from the cork. Cut around the bottom of the lip and then peel up to remove the top of the covering.
  2. Center the screw of the corkscrew in the middle of the cork and wind it in until it goes at least three quarters of the way through the cork.
  3. Ease the cork out without jerking it from side to side (jerking the cork can result in it breaking into pieces and landing in the wine – not a good look if anyone is watching with a wine glass at the ready!

Synthetic Cork

  1. Using a small knife remove the plastic / foil cover from the cork. Cut around the bottom of the lip and then peel up to remove the top of the covering.
  2. Center the screw of the corkscrew in the middle of the cork and wind it in (trying not to go all the way through the cork)
  3. Ease the cork out – synthetic corks are usually easier to remove than natural corks.

Capped Cork

Usually found on bottles that you’d be expected to reseal – such is fortified wines (Port, Sherry, etc). These can be identified because once you’ve removed plastic / foil capsule cover you’ll see a plastic cap, not the top of the cork.

  1. Remove the plastic / foil cover – usually easily done with your fingers but a small knife might be helpful
  2. Grip the plastic “cap” on the cork and gently pull and twist to remove it from the bottle – the cork element will be shorter than a standard cork, so don’t be surprised if it comes out quicker than you expect.

Next Steps

You’ve selected a bottle chosen something to nibble, successfully got into it – with flare, so now enjoy!

Don’t forget to make a note if you particularly liked it (or disliked it) and take that into account next time you’re choosing a bottle. You can even leave your recommendations in the comments below!

Key Wine Terms to Keep you in the Know

Wine lovers often use a lot of different terms – so here’s a shortlist for you to refer back to (and here is the full list of our wine definitions for your reference):

ABV:

Alcohol by Volume, or how much alcohol is in your wine of choice. Some countries/varietals of wine are known for being particularly high or low in ABV

Breathing:

Not breath in and breath out exactly… rather the process of exposing the wine air once the container has been opened to enhance its flavours. This is usually controlled through decanting rather than just opening a bottle and waving it around in the air for a bit (or leaving the top off for a few days… which often results in Off wine)

Corkscrew:

a tool for getting corks out of wine bottles, not to be confused with the pilates abdominal exercise – although it may be advised to help combat the stomach thickening effects of wine consumption…

Decanting:

removing the wine from its bottle (with only the necessary amount of force) to expose more of the wine’s surface to the air. It can lead to the purchase of pretty decanters or decanting devices to assist (but devices aren’t necessary).

Dry:

Rather than lacking in liquid (a bad trait for a wine), it refers to a wine not containing much sugar.

New World:

Wine regions outside the traditional wine-making old world regions of Europe and the Mediterranean basin. With fewer constraints of tradition, new world wine often appeals to a younger, contemporary drinker – innovation in flavour and technique lives here! 

Nose:

What your nose knows, or rather the aroma or “bouquet” of a wine. Expect the nose of wine to have many facets, including things like “fresh cut grass”, “gasoline”, “red berries”, “blackberries”, “gooseberries” among many others.

Old World:

Mainly Europe and the Mediterranean area that has been making wine for thousands of years. Generally of a traditional wine style, and constrained by history and the wine-making “rules” of the area.

Port:

Not where you’d find a boat, rather a fortified wine from Portugal (Douro region to be precise). Fortified wine is when additional alcohol is added to a wine in the process of fermenting which stops the fermentation process by increasing the alcohol content so that some of the sugars remain present in the grape juice (making the resulting beverage sweeter than you would expect). Basically it’s yeast homicide – but don’t call the cops before you’ve had a taste or two.

Sparkling Wine:

Bubbles! Champagne is one of the best-known sparkling wines, but many other regions (yes Champagne is a region, and an appellation) also produce similar sparkling beverages that can’t be called champagne.

Varietal:

A single grape variety making up a wine – nothing to do with elaborate performances (although, some people do make wine tasting into one!)

Vin / Vinho / Vino:

Wine in French / Portuguese / Italian and Spanish

Wine:


Grown-up grape juice – fermented to create alcohol. 

6 thoughts on “The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Enjoying Wine at Home”

  1. Hi Lisa and thank you for the insightful article!
    I definitely did not know so much goes into choosing and enjoying a good quality wine.
    In my case I just go by whether I want a ‘light’ wine, which mostly means white, or whether I am up for something ‘heavier’ which mostly means red, rich and sweeter.
    I need to admit the pictures in the article already made me feel like a good glass of wine among good company. Surely it brings people together!

    1. Hi Tatiana,

      A good glass of wine in great company is an amazing feeling – and something that I think we’ve all missed over the last few years.

      If you enjoy a nice rich red wine, have tried a Californian Old Vine Zinfandel? It’s my go-to favourite for sipping on a cold night with a cozy log fire.

  2. Hey Lisa,

    What an insightful article on wine. I am not a huge wine drinker but I do have a few friends who are wine buffs. They’re not alcoholics, but they do love a good tipple. I am going to share this article with them and encourage them to learn from you and hopefully they can enjoy their wine in a different way.

    Keep up the amazing work and looking forward to your next inspirational article.

    All the best,

    Tom

  3. Hi Lisa,
    I think I have experienced every type of wine cap you have described. The screw top and the mushroom top are from my earlier days of wine drinking, I am not a champagne drinker. It was mostly champagne that came with the mushroom tops that I experienced. I used to try to buy wines with the cork, because they usually were wines of better quality.
    However, I discovered a wonderful wine that had a screw top, and was very pleasing to the palate and a very enjoyable drinking wine. It became my favorite wine. Needless to say, my corkscrew was retired for quite a few years.
    I did not know that the Port wines were produced by adding alcohol. I found that very interesting! I am partial to the dry white and rose wines, not so much for the sweet wines.
    The trick of eating cheese and crackers with the sweet wines will come in handy for me.
    Thank you for this ultimate beginners guide on drinking wine at home. I will have to stop back and learn more about wine!

    1. You make a great point about the quality of wine no longer necessarily being indicated by the type of closure on the bottle, and although it’s taken quite a long time for it to come about, the perception of wine with screw caps being poorer quality has finally started trickling away.

      Although screwcaps were invented in 1889 in the UK (Barnsley in fact, by a chap called Dan Rylands), they really started to gain traction in Australia and New Zealand in the late 1970s, they switched back to corks in the 80’s however, because people just weren’t accepting of them. Finally, in the early 2000’s they become so popular that the companies that make them actually had a 5-month leadtime!

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