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Ten things that’ll change the way you look at wine

by Seth Gross and Craig Heffley



Let’s face it — the wine world can be confusing. For decades, it’s even been seen as the beverage of the elite. Plus, the term wine snob didn’t simply appear out of thin air.


There are still people who hold up their apparent wine knowledge as something to lord over others. Avoid these people. These days, there are knowledgeable folks working to demystify the confusion. The walls of the wine world are opening so that everyone can enjoy it without intimidation.


To help clear the air, here’s our list of 10 things to help you better understand wine.


1. It’s the subtle similarities that count. You’ve just seen somebody who resembles Elvis, and all of a sudden you begin humming “Hound Dog.” Maybe he didn’t have quite the same sideburns or the belly, but the comparison was evident. In much the same way, a wine can taste reminiscent of cherries but it clearly does not taste exactly like cherries. This is the nature of wine descriptions. We use our personal smell and taste memories to put words to the differences among wines instead of creating an entirely new wine vocabulary.


2. Don’t be intimidated by the world of wine. The average restaurant server or wine shop employee barely knows more than you do about wine, if at all. If you’re uncomfortable with their service, then let the manager know, or shop or dine elsewhere.


3. Know about cork taint. For wines sealed with natural corks, 5 to 10 percent are ruined by a natural chemical in the cork that gives the wines cork taint. Extreme cork taint is easily identifiable by its smell of mustiness, similar to a moldy basement. Other times, cork taint simply will make the wine taste bland. Wines that have cork taint generally are called corked.


4. It’s not always easy to know who makes the wine you drink. A handful of corporate wineries are responsible for hundreds of wine brands labeled as individual wineries, even though most are made within the same factory. There’s no simple way to find out who makes what wine without some research. If you’re uncomfortable with this deception, then shop where you’re told about the people behind the wines.


5. Not all wines are natural. Most large-production wines are fixed and adjusted using chemical additives or manipulative methods to make them taste better and maintain consistency from year to year. Conversely, most small-production wines are made without these additives. If you feel deceived that wineries don’t tell you what their wines are made from, then buy from smaller wineries.


6. Estate wine is made and bottled by the farmer who grew the grapes. It sounds fancy, but it’s just another term for farmer wine. These wines are ideal for folks who frequent farmers markets and like to support smaller-scale agriculture.


7. Points alone don’t matter. Wine critics tend to give higher point scores to wines that have more intense flavors but not necessarily for how much pleasure the wine offers, nor how well it pairs with food. Your best bet is to find a wine purveyor whom you trust — one who will learn what you like and can make recommendations based on how you plan to serve the wine. Never buy wines strictly because of how many points it has.


8. Not all small-production wines are expensive. Many unknown producers make wine to sell it, not to get rich or gain notoriety. There are hundreds of artisan wines available for less than $12 a bottle, although most are not from the U.S.


9. Local wine classes are a fun, inexpensive way to learn the basics. Shop around and find out what “Wine 101” classes are available in your area.


10. It’s always helpful to ask questions. If you don’t like a wine or don’t understand it, then ask about it. Any good restaurant or wine shop will help you find out why. 


Seth Gross and Craig Heffley are co-owners of Wine Authorities in Durham. To learn more, call (919) 489-2844 or visit



Our holiday picks


  • Daily white: Steininger Young 2009, a crisp, fruity, elegant white blend, $11
  • Weekly white: Dr. Heyden Oppenheimer Riesling Kabinett 2009, a juicy, dry, lemony variety, $13
  • Monthly white: Champagne Gronget Brut, Carpe Diem NV, a bold, rich and spicy blend, $40



  • Daily red: Domaine le Garrigon, Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge 2009, featuring smoky berries, garrigue and black tea, $12
  • Weekly red: Vinae Mureri, Garnacha Xiloca 2008, a lush, juicy, tangy blend, $13
  • Monthly red: Mitre Rocks, Pinot Noir 2006, featuring black cherries and a touch of rosemary, $22