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A Bartender’s Guide to Wine (Guest Post)


A Bartender’s Guide to Wine (Guest Post)

This week, we are going to deviate a little from spirits, liqueurs and tantalizing cocktails and journey to the realm of wine. Wine has always scared me because I just did not know anything about it – until now. And it is all thanks to my friends from Drunk From A Penny. You have to check out their blog here. It will not disappoint. Before I let them take it away, I’m going to include their Website and social handles below!

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Website: https://drunkforapenny.wordpress.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drunk_for_a_penny/

Now, the boys are going to take it away!

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First of all, big thanks to the Cocktailian for getting in touch. Definitely, check out the rest of his articles, they’re bound to help on your bartending journey.

Today I’ll be talking about the different kinds of wine, and the different categories they can fall under. What you see on the label is a combination of all of these categories.
The concept of wine is pretty massive, so it takes a fair bit of organizing to make it easier to understand. The good news is, most of what we discuss here, if not everything, will already be familiar to you.
There are a few ways in which we can split up the different wines, a lot of which overlap each other. Broadly speaking, they can be divided…

  • By Colour
  • By Grape
  • By Region
  • By Sweetness
  • By Vintage*
  • By the bubbles present (if any)
  • By Alcohol Content
  • Others

Now, when I said “overlap”, that means that these categories are not independent of each other. So a wine can be named based on a lot of these factors, not just one.
Now let’s break it down.

By Colour  

It’s a white wine. This is the most obvious one. Wines can be Red, White, and Pink (Rosé).

By Grape

This particular wine was made from the Chenin Blanc grape. Different grapes have their own characteristic flavors, so this is important to mention on the label.

By Region

This wine is from Nashik, in India. There are a lot of wine producing countries, like France, Germany, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand.
South America and South Africa are also coming up as quality producers of certain grapes.
(See the overlap here between grapes and regions? A lot of places produce Chenin Blanc wines – but Sula’s would have certain differences in quality and taste to another country’s.)

By Sweetness

Wines can range from absolutely bone-dry (almost zero sugar), to about 45% sugar, depending on how and where they are made.
The four basic categories are Dry, Off-Dry ( a bit of sugar, but not much), Off-Sweet (leaning towards sweet, but not quite there yet), and Sweet.
There’s no numerical standard for what is sweet and what is not, but it’s generally based on the proportion of “residual” sugar left in the wine.
Sula is a great example of this because they produce two Chenin Blanc wines – one, shown above, which is mostly dry. But they also have a Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, which is very, very sweet.

It’s marketed as a “dessert wine” – it’s that sweet.

By Vintage

Vintage here has two meanings.
It generally refers to the year of production. But a vineyard can also “declare a vintage“, which is basically them saying “this year’s harvest is of brilliant quality, so expect a brilliant wine”.
The label on the wine that year will generally have the prefix “vintage” before the year, like XYZ Producer, This Grape, Vintage 2012.

Wines can be divided into Vintage and Non-Vintage, but nobody ever openly comes out and says “non-vintage”. If it isn’t specifically mentioned on the bottle, it’s assumed that it’s a regular, non-vintage wine.
Fun fact: The word “vintage” is actually derived from the word vin – which means “wine” in French.

By the Bubbles

Again, this is fairly obvious. Wines without bubbles, or “effervescence”  are called “still” wines. If it’s got a pleasant number of bubbles, it’s called a “sparkling” wine. (the way soda is called “sparkling water”).
The two wines are easy to tell apart – the latter have thicker bottles, and differently shaped corks – mushroom shaped ones for sparkling wines, and long, cylindrical ones for still wines.

By Alcohol Content

What I actually meant to explain here is a cumulative term called Body. It not only includes the alcohol strength, but also the concentration of flavors, and the viscosity (how thin or thick it feels on your palate). Based on this, wines can be Light-Bodied, Medium-Bodied, or Full-Bodied.
You might hear people saying that a certain wine is “aggressive and robust”, or “pleasant and refreshing”. What they are trying to convey is how heavy-bodied or light-bodied the wine is.


These are significant, but not seen very often, especially in India. Things like Fortified wines would come under this category. These wines have their alcohol strength externally increased from 10-12% up to 22% or more.

Notable examples would be Port, Madeira, and Sherry (unfortunately, very few are even available here).
Aromatised wines are another example. These are wines that are infused with a lot of flavors like cloves, cinnamon, anise, and even orange peel and roasted seeds.

Vermouth is the best-known example. These are often served at the start of meals as aperitifs, or used in cocktails.

(I had a picture of all the styles of M&R’s vermouth, side by side)
All of these are Vermouth, produced in different styles and flavors.

I believe it’s important to mention the so-called “unconventional” wines, as well.
A wine can be made from any fruit – it’s not limited to just grapes. You can have cherry wine, pineapple wine, apple wine, plum wine… I’ve even tasted a ginger wine that someone made at their home. I’m hearing about a carrot wine being made by a small producer in Nashik.

And in every sense of the word, all these beverages can still be called wines.
You just have to specify what it’s made of, in the name. Nobody ever says “grape wine”, because that goes without saying. So if you’re making it with anything apart from grapes, you have to mention it clearly on the label.

Non-alcoholic wines are also becoming pretty popular right now. A lot of them have sparkling variants as well, which are a great party alternative if you’re inviting people who don’t like to drink. They’re always there whenever I throw a party, and they’re all delicious.

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More Curious Cocktailian

If you want to understand Liqueurs better, check out these posts:

Fernet Branca

Yellow Chartreuse

And here’s the cocktail basics that every bartender needs to know:

An Easy Guide To Bar Tools

The Ultimate Guide To Making The Perfect Manhattan

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The Curious Cocktailian

Joseph Plant is a blogger, bartender, musician and anthropology student living in Canada.

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