A Beginner’s Guide to Wine


Sit down for dinner and the first question your waiter will ask is, ‘wine?’ followed by ‘red or white?’. Wine is a dreamy accompaniment to any meal, and when paired properly can draw out mystery flavours in your dish and enhance your culinary experience. As we know, wine is also delicious with a bowl of nuts or a cheeseboard! If you’re planning a hotel and spa London city break in London, sipping a glass of your favourite type after a treatment is the perfect way to round off the experience.

During your stay at the Montcalm Hotel educate yourself on the essentials of the nation’s favourite drink by reading our beginner’s guide to wine, preferably whilst you cradle a glass at the bar.

Red, white or rosé?

You probably guessed that red wine comes from black grapes, and white from green skinned ‘white’ grapes. Rosé wine is also produced using black grapes, rather than a combination of the two as is sometimes thought.

Red, white or rosé

Wine gets its colour from the skin of the grapes used in the process, and most specifically, from the tannins found in the skin. Tannins are naturally occurring substance found in a number of different fruits, as well as tea. As the skin sits in the juice during the fermentation, the wine takes its colour. This process is called maceration.

A wine that ferments with the grape skin for a longer period of time will become a red wine, with a higher content of tannins. White wines also have tannins but a lower amount, and it’s the level of acidity that gives a white its characteristic flavour.

Rosé is only briefly in contact with the grape skin during its production, which is why it turns out pink rather than red.

What about sparkling wine?

Sparkling wines have significant levels of carbon dioxide in them, making them fizzy. The finest sparkling wines achieve their bubbles naturally through fermentation, whereas cheaper wines receive their carbonation artificially. It’s usually made from white or rosé wine although there are a few examples of red sparkling wines, such as Lambrusco (Italy) and sparkling Shiraz (Australia).

Most sparkling wines are named for the region they were produced in. For example, Champagnes come from the Champagne region of France. The lion share of Cavas are produced in the Catalonia region of Spain. Prosécco, the most common bubbly to be poured in afternoon tea London deals, originates from two of the most northeastern regions of Italy; Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto. Prosécco tends to be slightly sweeter than other varieties, perhaps why it goes so favourably with cakes and clotted cream scones!

How to serve wine

White and rosé wine should always be served chilled, whilst red wine is poured at room temperature. This is because the tannins can result in a more bitter colour when they are cold, and the wine simply won’t taste at its best.

Red wine should be served in a larger glass to enable to bolder aromas and flavours to flourish. White and rosé comes in smaller glasses so that it doesn’t get warm. We allow red wine time to ‘breathe’ before it’s served as the oxidisation allows the flavours from the high levels of tannin to soften. Swirling your glass of red also helps with this, and releases those sensual aromas.

Popular types of wine

Full-bodied, bold, leathery, earthy, crisp, fruity, dry, sweet, floral; there are so many adjectives attributed to wine. The ‘body’ of the wine refers to how the wine feels in the mouth. Consider it similar to milk; full fat, half fat and low fat milk will all have a different texture.

Some of the most common types of wine which you can in fact sample on the Montcalm Hotel wine list are as follows.


Cabernet Sauvignon – this is one of the most common wines we consider as full-bodied red. A Cabernet Sauvignon contains the highest number of tannins and will result in a higher alcohol percentage, usually at least 13.5%. The grapes used will have the thickest skins and are usually fermented twice. Storing the wine in wooden barrels can further develop the fullness. Cabernet Sauvignon and fellow full-bodies wine develop evocative aromas which may be described as woody. Other full-bodied wines include Syrah and Shiraz.

Merlot – Merlot is a medium-bodied wine, which means it has a medium level of tannin and some acidity. Sweeter than Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot may have have a peppery flavour, and often the texture is considered velvety. Merlot does not dry the mouth in the way that fuller-bodied wines do, and is a red wine perfect for drinking on its own or paired with a meal. When you dine in Marble Arch restaurants, you will note that many opt for a Merlot as their house red. Carménère and Malbec offer are comparable wines.

Pinot Noir – Pinot Noir is the lightest-bodied type of red wine, made from the most thin-skinned black grapes with the lowest count of tannins. You’ll see that the colour is significantly lighter and has aromas of fruits like red cherries and raspberries. Pinot Noir one of the oldest species of grape in the world, and often these varieties are some of the priciest reds.


Chardonnay – Chardonnay often produces hints of vanilla or tart, zesty fruits like pineapple or lemon. It is the perfect example of a dry, full-bodied white wine, and when stored in wooden barrels it will muster an oaky flavour. The longer a Chardonnay is aged for, the richer the flavour and the costlier the price tag.

Sauvignon Blanc – this a crisp, dry wine with high acidity that is refreshing in hot climates or on a warm, sunny afternoon. Typically a Sauvignon Blanc will taste at its best whilst it is young, they are rarely aged. With a light-body, Sauvignon Blanc varieties can be enjoyed as a meal accompaniment to something light, such as seafood. Comparable wines include Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio.