All you need to know about wine: for students, from an expert


Grace Clift speaks to certified wine expert Catherine Fielden about all the most important things to know, to enter the world of wine lovers

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Image by Unsplash, Kelsey Knight

By Grace Clift

Understanding wine can sometimes feel like understanding a complex mathematical equation; there seems to be endless rules, with a tone of exclusion to each one. But this doesn’t have to be the case – enjoying and understanding wine can be a great way of gaining a new hobby, learning new things, and socialising. I’ve spoken to certified wine expert Catherine Fielden, Content and Communications Manager at Slurp and WSET Certified Educator, to clear up all of the mysteries surrounding wine.

Firstly, what’s a note? Well, Catherine defines them as ‘aromas and flavour characteristics’, and there’s three types. Primary notes come from the grape type and fermentation process (e.g. floral, green fruit) and secondary notes come from the post-fermentation process – for example, the effect of putting wine in an oak barrel. Tertiary notes come from the ageing process, and can be anything from dried fruit to leather. There’s an element of subjectivity to determining notes – if you just feel like it tastes “tropical”, that’s okay!

When trying to buy wine in a store, it can be difficult to know what you’re choosing between. Catherine went through each of the most popular types of wine in the UK, and how to distinguish them:

Pinot Grigio – neutral, white grape, straightforward
Chardonnay – white grape, can be made in so many styles and regions (Chablis is Chardonnay in an unoaked style!)
Sauvignon Blanc – white grape, aromatic, herbal, pungent
Merlot – great starter wine, medium body/intensity/acidity
Cabernet Sauvignon – high acidity, blackcurrant, high tannin (which comes from the skins of grapes, and causes a furry feeling in your mouth after drinking)
Pinot Noir – red fruit, earthy flavours (one of Catherine’s personal favourites!)
Malbec – black fruit, oaky

Once you’ve picked your wine, there’s lots of guidance surrounding how best to drink it. This is, of course, only a suggestion, based on what brings the flavours out the best according to the experts. For white wines, roses and sparkling wines, it’s best to chill the bottle before drinking. You can do this in an insulated container or in an ice bucket, but if doing so in an ice bucket, make sure to add cold water as well as ice to ensure it’s chilled slowly and correctly. Red wines can be served at room temperature or slightly chilled – the light reds, like a light Pinot Noir, can be lovely chilled. The best type of glassware is narrow at the top with a bowl base, to keep the aromas contained within the glass, and holding by the stem of the glass prevents body heat from altering the temperature of the wine.

One of my personal biggest questions was about swirling – what’s it for? Is it just to seem fancy? Catherine had the answer: swirling wine releases the aromas, and allows one to ‘assess the nose’ – basically, smell the aromas and find the notes. Swirling can give a lot of information about a glass of wine: you can detect the condition of the wine (whether it’s faulty or not, if it smells faintly of cardboard), intensity (a light wine “lifts out of the glass”, and the other types are medium or pronounced), development (either youthful, developing, developed, past its best – fresh and fruity wines tend to be youthful, whereas older wines may have notes of mushroom or dried fruit), and characteristics (notes).

Pairing wine with food may seem like a maze of rules, but Catherine says that ultimately, it’s up to personal preference. There’s no point having a drink you don’t enjoy to fit in the rules! Generally, her recommendations are that high acidity wines go well with salty foods (much like putting lemon on fish and chips), and spicy food tends to make alcohol more noticeable, so go for a lower alcohol wine. Sweet foods work best with an even sweeter wine, and deep flavoured foods like curry or casserole should be matched with a highly concentrated or intense wine.

In conclusion, Catherine recommends Pinot Grigio or Merlot for a first time wine-drinker, and notes that if you already like Champagne, Spanish Cava is made in the same way and tends to be a lot cheaper. New tax rules mean that lower alcohol wines are going to become slightly cheaper, so that’s a good place to start too. Wine is supposed to be savoured, can be a great way to make new friends, and tends to taste delicious!