A clueless student’s introduction to wine

Learn how to impress and intimidate your friends with the basics of wine

Some of us came to university from boring suburban high schools, with little drinking experience under our belts. Our frosh weeks were full of poorly mixed screwdrivers, frat house basement kegs, and shots of whatever our friends had lying around. It was overwhelming, but we learned.

As the years go by, some of us will start to think about the intricacies of what we’re putting down our throats. We’ll have the hip and bearded friends who turn to craft beer as a mistress, and maybe we’ll have that one friend who spends her whole paycheck on scotch. Some of us will even turn to wine. In our opinion, this is the next step up in the world. Knowing a little about wine can help you find a high class, quality drink without emptying your pockets, impress or intimidate friends and dates, and prepare you for a variety of situations (see our recommendations).

First, the basics: red wine is made from grapes fermented with the skins on, while the skins are removed to make white wine.  Popular red varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon (strong), Shiraz (strong), Merlot (medium), and Pinot Noir (very light). Popular white varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Usually, wines made in the “old world” (Europe) are made from a blend of grapes, while “new world” wines (everywhere else) are made almost entirely from one variety. Traditionally, the best wines come from France and Italy, but for more accessible quality, more and more wine lovers on a budget are turning to Australia, South America, and even Canada. Some of the world’s best whites and Pinot Noirs are made around Niagara.

Next, come s tasting  the wine, a favourite hobby of rich aunts everywhere. In recording our tasting notes below, we’ve used terms like “dry” and “smooth” to describe how the wine feels in the mouth, and described the taste with other flavours that came to mind. If or when you’re sitting at the grown-up table, just speak along these lines and you should come out fine. Most of this is bullshit, but it’s important to figure out what you like.

For a good bottle, one should expect to spend around $15, so don’t choose lightly. Some real gems can be found for $10, and when you really want to turn it up, look to $20. You never really need to spend more than that, despite what the LCBO “Vintages” section will tell you. Here are our four favorites in that price range to suit four kinds of nights.  Happy drinking.


A wine for any time

Thursday night

Wine: Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhone

Origin: Rhone, France

Year: 2011

Price: $14

Tasting Note: Wet and sleek mouthfeel; peppery; crisp red apples; cassis

The only “old world” wine on our list, this is a classic Rhône blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre grapes.  This is one you can bring to parties or dinners where you won’t know many people but you want to make a good impression. People will think you spent more than $14 because the wine looks nice and it’s French. It’s approachable, a “crowd-pleaser.”


Study night (or day)

Wine: Peller Estates Riesling

Origin: Niagara, Ontario

Year: 2012

Price: $11.95

Tasting Note: Light, clean; green apples, citrus, pear; dryness that lingers in aftertaste

This is a wine for hunching over your kitchen table, laptop and books spread out below. It’s a pleasant drink that you don’t really have to think about, and won’t distract you. Maybe you’ll feel a little more mature for drinking wine while working. Anyway, for these reasons, it’s our favorite cheap wine. It’s great for cooking, too — add a splash to fish or chicken recipes.


Treat yourself

Wine: Crios Syrah/Bonarda

Origin: Mendoza, Argentina

Year: 2011

Price: $14.95

Tasting note: Cherries, oak, vanilla, black fruits; medium-dry sappy mouthfeel

Hard day?  Failed a test?  Homesick?  This will get you drunk and make you feel a little better, we promise. It’s our favorite high-tannic South American wine. It pairs well with solitude, Netflix, pyjamas, and a bucket of Häagen-Dazs. Trust us — even if you’re feeling fine, use it to celebrate.


Date night

Wine: Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon

Origin: Margaret River, Australia

Year: 2012

Price: $19.95

Tasting Note: Tannic and heavy but smooth, chocolate and dark red fruits

This one feels and tastes like a hundred dollar bottle for a fifth of the price (still, it’s the most expensive wine on our list, so use it well). It goes down warm, heat imbued by the southwestern corner of Australia where its grapes hail from. This is a reliable classic for a romantic night in — whatever the weather, whatever the itinerary, wink, wink.

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