The Basics of Wine: Part One

One of the most interesting classes I took many years ago was about wine. Yes, my university had one of the most interesting food and wine science departments, but unfortunately there was a lot of chemistry and math involved. I decided in order to be more cultured it would be important to at least have a basic understanding of wine. I stumbled upon my old college book and through well why not share some of what I learned so many years ago.


Overview of Grapevine Structure and Function
Image from eVineyard

Wine predominately comes from grapes, though you can find variations. In Hawaii for example, you may find pineapple wine. There are two different colored wine grapes: red and white. Wine grapes are smaller than your average store grapes in addition to being sweeter, smaller and having a much thicker skin.

Common Grape Types

The Worlds Most Important Wine Grapes Part I - Red Wine | Lazenne

Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Malbec, Grenache, Syrah

Whites: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling

These are just some of the more common grapes used in wine. Wine is often labeled by the grape type, but it may also be labeled by the region it is produced in.

Common Grape Regions

Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Chianti, Rioja, Napa (more than half of US wine actually comes from California.)


Grapes are typically picked when they have a pH of approximately 3.2-3.4. The acidity of the grape is what gives the wine its flavor.


When appraising wine, it is labeled in one of three types of sweetness: dry, semi-dry, sweet

Grape Growing Regions

Wine is primarily grown in a climate between 30-50 degrees latitude

• 50 degree – cool climate wine is more acidic, take 6-7 months to ripen and are lighter in color. It requires less sugar than warmer climate wine.

• 30 degree – warm climate wine takes 4-5 months to riper and are darker in color. When they are turned into wine it requires more sugar.


On each wine bottle label, there is either an abbreviated or full place name of where the wine was produced. If the wine is of European origin it may say Chianti, Burgundy, Chablis. If it is from the US it may say CA (California), OR (Oregon), WA (Washington.) Some continents use abbreviations too (ie: SA South America–> Chile, Argentina)

Other Items on the Wine Label

It is mandatory that wineries label the year the vintage was bottled, name of the wine type, alcohol content, pure/blend varietal and any government warnings. Most wineries also have their own logo design on the label