Wine Basics for the Bartender


For the restaurant server or wine bar employee, knowing a little bit about the basics of wine will go a long way in educating your guests and offering them the best experience possible. Drinking wine is one of the best ways to learn about wine, but this guide serves as an accompaniment as you taste and learn.

In This Article You Will Learn:

Wine Basics for the Bartender Part 1: Wine Terminology

Wine has a special niche within the world of alcoholic beverages. Produced from grapes, fermented in cellars and sipped for its intricate flavors and food pairing characteristics, wine is in a league of its own. One does not need to be a scholar in order to talk about wine Just knowing a few basic wine terms can assist bartenders or servers when speaking to dinner guests. Check out the following wine-specific vocabulary for a good start on the basics:


The acid naturally found in grapes contributes to its overall acidity. Low acid wines are described as “smooth” or “round” while high acid wines taste more “crisp.” Acidity is essential and natural in wine, but too little will make the wine taste dull, and too much can make the wine bitter or sour.


A wine’s aroma refers to individual smells a wine emits, such as fruits, spices or floral flavors.


Balance refers to the taste of the wine with regard to characteristics like acidity, sweetness, tannin and alcohol content. A quality wine is typically described as well-balanced, meaning no one dominates the others.


The wine’s body is the impression the taster gets from feeling the wine in the mouth. Light-bodied wines feel lighter in the mouth, while full-bodied wines might feel heavy, or big, when tasted. Medium-bodied wines are somewhere in between.


The bouquet refers to the combination of aromas a wine produces, usually noticed by smelling the wine just before tasting.


Complexity is a term used to describe the depth of a wine, or the characteristics produced by the flavors and aromas in combination.


Depth is a term often used when referring to the complexity, or multi-dimensional flavors of wine.


Fermentation is the process by which natural grape juice sugars are converted to alcohol by wild or cultured yeast. Fermentation usually takes place in a barrel or tank.


The wine’s finish is the aftertaste, or the residual flavors and impression after tasting a wine.


Lees refers to the sediment that often forms in the bottom of a barrel after fermentation. This sediment is composed of particles of grapes and leftover yeast cells from the fermentation process.


The dripping lines on the inside of a glass after a wine has been swirled. Legs indicate viscosity or thickness of a wine, and more legs typically indicates a higher alcohol content.


The texture of a wine when sensed on the mouth and tongue. For example, a sparkling white wine will have a much different mouthfeel than a still red wine.


When talking about wine, the nose refers to the bouquet, or the aromas present when smelling a wine.


Tannin refers to the bitter, acidic substance found in grape seeds and stems. Tannin is a preservative, so wines with more tannin can generally be stored, or aged, much longer before it is opened and enjoyed. Red wines are typically higher in tannins than white. Tannins contribute smooth and mellow flavors to aged red wines, but harsher, puckery aftertastes to younger reds.


The varietal refers to the type, or variety, of grape used to make a wine.


A wine’s vintage means the year that the grapes were harvested for making wine.

Wine Pairings

Due to the subtle aromas and complex flavors presented by many wines, they are often paired with certain foods to create a first-rate dining experience. However, everyone has a different palate and appreciates different tastes. When it comes to serving wine in a restaurant, the best thing is to find out what your customers enjoy the most. A happy customer will likely leave a healthy gratuity and plan to dine at the restaurant again. It is important to know about basic wine pairings so you can offer suggestions, but remember that the customer should make the final call.

A bartender or server does not need to be an expert in order to talk about wine, but some basic terminology can help one become more articulate when doing so. Understanding these wine terms can help you effectively describe wines you enjoy, or wines on your restaurant’s wine list. Guests trust an unpretentious, educated take on wine, and will likely trust your recommendations. Learn More About Wine and Food Pairing

» Next…Wine Basics for the Bartender Part 2: Major Types of Red and White Wine


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