Wine 101: Learn About Wine

Does wine intimidate you? It shouldn’t.  There are some wine basics you should know. Once you’ve reviewed this page, you’ll be in a better position than ever: enjoying wine rather than worrying about your lack of wine knowledge. If you live in the Philadelphia area, you can learn about wine the fun way. We offer several introductory wine classes.

woman tasting wine

Upcoming Wine 101 Classes

NEW! Wine 101: Learn About Wine

Saturday, January 29 from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

Limited Seating

If you are new to the study of wine — or simply new to the Wine School of Philadelphia — this cl...

Wine 101: Learn About Wine

Saturday, February 12 from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

Limited Seating

If you are new to the study of wine — or simply new to the Wine School of Philadelphia —...

Wine 101: Learn About Wine

Saturday, April 2 from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

Limited Seating

If you are new to the study of wine — or simply new to the Wine School of Philadelphia —...

Our Beginner Wine Classes

  • Discover Your Wine Style
    Learn what you like and why
  • Wine 101: Learn About Wine
    The classic intro class
  • Sommelier Secrets
    Tricks of the trade
  • Great Wine Made Simple
    Learn to read wine labels
  • The Wine Trials
    Learn about wine ratings
  • Wine Smarts
    A primer on wine language and terms
  • World Atlas of Wine
    The eight essential wine regions
  • The Essential Grapes
    The most important wine grapes

The Wine 101 Guide

Learn About Wine

A handy guide to all things wine.  Enjoy and never drink boring wine!

Decode the Wine Label

Wine labels have a lot of information on them. Some of it is critical to understanding what is in the bottle, and some of it is just blowing smoke. There are five basic elements to a wine label.

Wine 101
  • Winery Name (Producer)
  • The region:  where the grapes were grown.
  • The grape varietal, usually
  • The vintage  year: The year the grapes were harvested.
  • Alcohol by Volume (ABV)

There is a major difference between OLD WORLD and NEW WORLD wine labels.  Countries producing wine for centuries (the Old World) don’t tend to put the name of the wine grape on the label. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, you can assume that wines from Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal won’t list the grape on the label.

The Major Wine Grapes

Did you know there are over 10,000 different types of wine grapes? Even one of our Master Sommeliers can’t memorize them all. Good thing you don’t have to. There are only ten grapes you really need to know. Why? Because over 95% of wines are made from these grapes.

Remember that the grape names aren’t always listed on the label, especially wine from Europe.

  • Riesling
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chardonnay
  • Sangiovese
  • Pinot Noir
  • Grenache
  • Syrah
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon

Don’t worry about buying a ton of wine books just yet. If you’re serious about wine, it’s better to taste a lot of wines. We aren’t suggesting binge drinking: Wine groups, tastings with friends, and (most importantly) wine classes are your best avenue to learning about wine. You can also read on about all the major grape varietals.

Tricks of the Wine Trade

wine corks

There are a few tricks sommeliers do to make sure any wine tastes better when it’s served. Try them at home.

  1. Decant Red Wines. Giving wine some air is going to increase the flavor.
  2. Serving temperature is key: Serve reds at 70 and Whites at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Wine always tastes better with cheese and worse with fresh fruit.
  4. Throw in some snob appeal. Studies show people like wine more when they think it’s expensive. Tsk, tsk: that’s cheating!

Want to be a sommelier? It doesn’t really matter what sommelier certification program you sign up for. The three major ones are the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, the Court of Master Sommeliers, and the National Wine School. All three offer the same certification and qualifications. They use different trademarked terminology. Master Sommelier? Master of Wine? Master Diploma? They are all equal to the same level of federal certification. Want to learn how to become a sommelier?

The 411 on Wine Ratings


Ever wonder how some wines get 84 Points, and some get a 92? Ever wonder if wines taste better if they have a higher rating? Here are a few sobering pointers on wine ratings:

  • Four of the six major wine publications use the 100 point scale.
  • The scale judges correctness, not tastiness.
  • Ratings for the same wine are often wildly contradictory.
  • The lowest rating possible is 50 points; very few earn over 94 points.
  • The majority of people prefer wines that are rated between 74 & 89 points.
  • Several critics have been accused of trading good ratings for payoffs.

Did you know that over 80% of wine drinkers prefer lower-rated wines?  High ratings don’t mean a wine is more delicious;  A 90+ rating doesn’t mean the wine tastes better. Ratings are designed to reflect if a wine is varietally and regionally correct. This is really important for sommeliers and the wine trade but not necessarily great for a person simply looking for a tasty bottle. For the full scoop, check out our post on wine ratings.


The Important Wine Regions

Know you know the major grapes? First, let us talk about wine regions. There are thousands of places where wine is grown, but the current top ten wine regions are here.  We’ve included the top grape varietals grown in each place. For an in-depth read, check out our wine regions of the world article.

  1. Bordeaux, France (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot)
  2. Tuscany, Italy (Sangiovese)
  3. Rioja, Spain (Tempranillo)
  4. Burgundy, France (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay)
  5. Piemonte, Italy (Nebbiolo)
  6. Napa Valley, California (Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah)
  7. Rhone, France (Grenache and Syrah)
  8. Southern Australia (Grenache and Syrah)
  9. Mendoza, Argentina (Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon)
  10. Mosel, Germany (Riesling)

Not enough? To test your wine knowledge, you can check out our sommelier quiz and see how you stack up.

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