Your Top Questions Answered
How do you taste wine like a pro? What exactly is craft beer? And why is vodka distilled so many times? We’ve answered all of your most pressing questions — and then some! — in this roundup. Whether your passion is wine, spirits or beer, here’s some serious know-how.
There are many reasons to learn how to taste wine like a pro: you’ll start to really understand your personal wine likes and dislikes, you’ll develop your ability to appreciate the taste complexity of wine, you’ll be much better at pairing so that both the wine and your food taste better — and you’ll be opening yourself up to the fascinating world of wine, its history, culture, science and craft. On the most basic level, there’s also much to be said for being in the moment and mindfully tasting your wine versus simply drinking it.
Tasting starts with your eyes. Appearance-wise, note the wine’s clarity (how clear or dull it is in the glass), intensity (is it pale, medium or deep in hue?) and colour (for whites, colour ranges from straw and lemon through gold and amber; rosé can be more pink or orange; and red wines run from purple and ruby to garnet and tawny red). Tip: try using a white tablecloth or napkin as a backdrop for assessing colour.
Next, sniff the wine in your glass. You’re getting a gauge on its condition, the intensity of its aromas and the nature of that wine’s bouquet — is it fruity, floral, spicy, vegetal or oaky? Now take a sip. What’s your impression of the wine in your mouth? Is it dry, sweet, crisp, acidic? Does it have great body? Do its many flavours linger on the tongue long after you’ve swallowed? There’s so much to experience, and you’re just getting started!
Dry whites (especially oaked and rich-textured wines like Chardonnay or Viognier) shine at 10°C to 13°C. That’s 60 to 90 minutes in a typical 4°C refrigerator or 20 minutes in ice water or the freezer. Sparkling wines and very crisp, light whites are best at 7°C to 10°C, requiring at least two hours in the fridge or half an hour in the freezer or ice water. If your white wine is refrigerator-cold, leave it at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes and see if you notice more flavours and aromas emerging!
Fun fact: light reds (think Gamay-based wines like Beaujolais), Corvina varietal wines (such as Valpolicella) or even Pinot Noir can be chilled to 12°C — that’s about 30 minutes in the fridge — to enhance their fruity, floral notes. For more information, consult our handy serving guide.
The LCBO has helpful guidelines that assist you in purchasing the right quantities. For instance, there are five 5-ounce (approximately 150 mL) glasses in a standard 750-millilitre bottle of wine. Larger one-litre bottles will yield seven glasses, and 1,500-millilitre “magnum” bottles pour 10 to 11 glasses.
The average glass of wine contains about 110 calories. Calories in wine come from the amount of sweetness left after the grape juice is fermented (sugar has four calories per gram) and the amount of alcohol the wine contains (alcohol has seven calories per gram). Dry and lower-alcohol wines have the fewest calories. Dry Champagne and Pinot Grigio have about 100 calories, while off-dry whites and heavier reds, including Malbec, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, can have around 120 calories per glass, and sweet table wine, up to 200 calories.
Classic mulled wine starts with a full-bodied red wine or red blend and a combination of aromatic citrus and spices. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, simmer a 750-millilitre bottle of wine, one clementine (or orange), eight whole cloves, one cinnamon stick and one star anise. Stir and sweeten with ¼ to ½ cup (to taste) of either honey or maple syrup. Heat to steaming, without simmering, until hot, about 10 minutes. Serve in mugs, garnished with cinnamon sticks and orange slices. Makes eight servings.
Fortified wine is wine to which a spirit, usually distilled from grapes, has been added. Examples include Port, Madeira, Marsala, Moscatel, Sherry and vermouth. They range in style from dry to sweet and can be bottled young or barrel-aged to develop delicious, complex flavours over time. For more information about fortified wines and what to serve with them, read more.
A classic Whisky Sour recipe calls for 2 ounces Bourbon (or substitute a blended Irish or Canadian whisky). Add it to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and ½ ounce each fresh lemon juice and simple syrup*. Shake until thoroughly chilled (at least 20 seconds) and then strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lemon slice and maraschino cherry. Watch our how-to video here.
* To make simple syrup, in a small saucepan, boil 1 cup water. Add 1 cup granulated sugar, stirring until dissolved. Let cool. Store in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Tequila must be distilled in one of five regions of Mexico from a species of agave plant called Weber Blue. It can be made of 100 per cent agave (always indicated on the label) or “mixto,” meaning it includes both agave and other fermentable sugars.
Blanco, or silver, is a tequila that is bottled shortly after distillation. Reposado tequila is aged in oak vessels for two to 12 months. Gold tequila can be oak-aged to obtain its colour and flavour but may also be a blend of aged and unaged tequilas. Anejo tequila ages in oak for one to three years, and Extra Anejo spends more than three years in oak barrels.
Visit our Tequila Shop for everything you need for sipping, and learn how to craft the best tequila cocktails.
Vodka can be made from grains (including wheat, barley, corn or rye), potatoes, beets, grapes, dairy (made with dairy product solids containing lactose or milk sugar — for example, Vodkow) or virtually any agricultural product! Different base materials create subtle aroma and textural differences. Although it’s diluted and bottled at around 40 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV), vodka is distilled to a very high level of pure alcohol, typically 90 per cent ABV or more. When vodka isn’t barrel-aged or flavoured, impurities can be glaring, so vodka is typically distilled multiple times, a process meant to create a clean, neutral spirit. The water used to dilute vodka to its bottling strength can also impact its texture, aroma and character.
All rum is made from sugar cane and its by-products, including cane juice, syrup, sugar and molasses. White or light rum is unaged or very briefly barrel-aged and often used in cocktails that call for a clear spirit — hello, mojito. Gold (or amber rum), with a darker colour that traditionally comes from barrel aging, has caramel, vanilla and spice notes that are great in cocktails like a ginger ale or cola Highball. (Some producers may add caramel as well.) Full-bodied dark rum can undergo substantial barrel aging, which produces robust flavours (fig, raisin, cinnamon, butterscotch) best enjoyed by sipping it solo — like a fine cognac — neat or on ice. Spiced rums, typically gold or dark, are sweetened and flavoured with spices, making them tasty additions to seasonal drinks like eggnog and mulled wine or cider!
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Many whisky fans drink it neat and at room temperature or perhaps add a drop of water to help release aromas and flavours. While ice can mask or dilute a whisky’s flavours, enjoying the spirit over a large chunk of ice (versus cubed or crushed), or stone “whisky rocks,” lends a pleasant chill without the dilution. Whisky is also, of course, great in many cocktails. And try it in your barbecue sauce when making ribs!
Gin is a neutral spirit typically derived from grain and flavoured with botanicals, which can include spices, roots, seeds, herbs and berries, though the dominant botanical flavour must be juniper. London Dry is one style of gin, made anywhere in the world, to which no additional sugar or flavourings can be added after distillation. Visit our Gin Shop for more information, premium recommendations and delicious cocktail recipes.
Craft beer is made by small-scale breweries, often independently owned, that practise traditional artisanal brewing techniques to create authentic and uniquely flavourful beers. These craft brewers may focus on either classic or lesser-known styles of traditional beer, or create innovative new modern brews. To find a style that suits you, browse our Beer Style Guide.
A standard 340-millilitre or 12-ounce beer that has five per cent alcohol by volume has about 150 calories. Styles of beer that contain more alcohol, such as IPAs, LINK have more calories — up to 170. Light beers, which have less alcohol, have around 100 calories. While darker beers sometimes have a higher alcohol content and therefore more calories, that’s not always the case: consider Guinness Draught, a dark stout, which has just over four per cent alcohol by volume and 125 calories per 12 ounces.
Most standard North American kegs hold 58.7 litres: in terms of standard 340-millilitre or 12-ounce bottles or cans, that’s 165 servings; if you’re counting by 16-ounce pints, its 124 servings. European beers often come in 50-litre kegs, yielding 140 340-millilitre glasses or 105 pints. Smaller 30-litre kegs (sometimes called “pony kegs”) give 82 standard beers or 62 pints. Mini-kegs (Heineken, for example) hold five litres: that’s about 10 pints or 14 glasses.
All beer is made with four key ingredients: barley (or other grains), water, hops and yeast. First, barley is malted (meaning the grains are sprouted and then kiln-dried) to get ready for brewing. The malt is then mashed, or cooked with warm water, to create a sugary liquid called wort. The wort is boiled with flavouring hops, and then in the final step, it’s fermented with yeast, which creates the alcohol and finished beer.
There are many different styles and regional traditions of brewing, but to simplify, they basically fall into two categories: for ale, the beer is stored at room temperature while the yeast feeds on the sugar in the wort and produces CO2 and alcohol as by-products; for lager, fermentation is the same, but it happens at cooler temperatures so the process takes a little longer
Check for an expiry or best-before date on bottles and cans: “best” is best when consumed fresh. Bottles and cans stored at room temperature are safe to drink for at least four months after purchase and up to eight months when it’s stored in the refrigerator or a cool place. Draft or craft beer stored in a glass bottle keeps for two or three days in the refrigerator when tightly capped. And remember, keep beer away from light: it can develop a “skunky” flavour from a chemical reaction to UV light, which is why it’s usually packaged in cans or dark glass bottles.
Most beer is made from just barley, water, hops and yeast. That’s all! Each ingredient contributes to the beer’s flavour, as do the specifics of the production process. Some brewers may use other grains, such as corn, rye, rice, wheat or even oats, to produce different types of beer. Some styles even incorporate additional flavouring ingredients, including fruits and herbs.