Wine’s such a vast and fascinating world—touching on chemistry, history, gastronomy, anthropology, etc.—that it can be easy to get a little lost among all the details. That’s why we pulled together this Q&A, so you can learn while you sip (and impress all your friends with your new wine savvy, of course).
Q: Which country consumes the most wine per capita?
A: Vatican City. This small Italian enclave is considered its own country. And on average, they tip back about 70 bottles per person every year.
Q: What’s cork made from?
A: Natural corks are actually made from bark that’s harvested from a unique kind of tree that grows mainly in Portugal (in fact, more than half of all corks in the world come from Portugal!).
Q: What makes a wine red or white?
A: Wine gets its color—and much of its flavor—from grape skins. Crush red/dark grapes and ferment them into wine with their skins on and you’ll wind up with a red wine; same holds true for white/light grapes. But sometimes, a winemaker will crush red grapes and “bleed off” the clear juice before the skin has a chance to color the liquid, creating a white wine from red grapes (in Champagne, they call this a Blanc de Noirs).
Q: What is the most popular wine in the world?
A: Wine’s very much like the fashion scene—new trends are always emerging and often fads take hold (blue wine, anyone?). But classics remain timeless for a reason. The most recent figures put Cabernet Sauvignon, famed grape of Bordeaux and Napa, at the top of the list of ‘Most Planted’ variety; but, Chardonnay and Spain’s indigenous Airén are always close on its heels, vying for that No. 1 spot.
Q: What’s the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold?
A: Back in October 2018, a bottle of 1945 Burgundy (Romanée-Conti grand cru, of which only 600 bottles were reportedly produced) sold at auction for a jaw-dropping $558,000. Now that’s a dinner party/tasting we want to be invited to …
Q: If a wine is described as “dry,” why does it still taste sweet to me?
A: You’re most likely tasting the fruity or oaky characteristics, rather than actual sugar content (which should be low for a dry wine). Think about flavored seltzers. They taste super fruity, but there’s no sweetener present—it’s the essence of the fruit that’s merely giving you the impression of sweetness.
Q: How many calories are in a glass of wine?
A: According to figures from the USDA, a ~6 oz. glass of dry white wine contains around 146 kcal; for the same amount of dry red wine, it’s about 153 kcal.
Q: Can only red wines go with red meats?
A: Nope! Food and wine matching is all about what you enjoy eating and drinking. There are plenty of red wines that match up deliciously with chicken or fish (Pinot Noir is one of them). Same can be said of white wines and red meat—for instance, one of our experts swears by Champagne with sizzling ribeye. There are some classic examples of things to avoid, such as a heavily tannic Cabernet or Barolo with delicate oysters (to most, this combo produces an unpleasant metallic taste). But the bottom line is: Drink what tastes good.
Q: How many bubbles are in a bottle of Champagne?
A: Scientist Bill Lembeck calculated that an average bottle of Champagne contains 49 million bubbles!
Q: Where does the vanilla flavor in some wines come from?
A: If you’re picking up hints of vanilla or other baking-spice flavors, that usually means your wine’s seen some time in oak. (Wines from Spain’s Rioja region are a great example.) There are many different kinds of oak that impart different spice flavors, too. American oak tends to give wines a sweeter note of vanilla bean, whereas French oaked wines are often a bit more savory. Think: smoky clove and nutmeg.
Q: How many grapes does it take to make a bottle of wine?
A: It depends on the size of the grapes, which varies, but generally speaking, winemakers need to squish 600-800 grapes to make one standard (750 ml) bottle of wine.
Q: Do winemakers really stomp grapes with their feet?
A: Most modern wineries, from the huge operations to smaller, boutique outfits, have specialized machines that crush grapes for them. But tradition still holds firm in many places like Portugal where yes—they do still tread grapes by foot, especially during production of the famous dessert wine, Port. Believe it or not, the shape of a human foot is ideal for gently crushing grapes without also crushing the seeds (which can release undesirable amounts of bitterness and tannins to the wine).
Reminder to all you Zagat Wine Club members out there: Head to your tasting notes (you get one for every wine!) for even more fun facts, food pairing tips and tricks and background info. Cheers!