Do You Know Enough About Wine to Be a Sommelier?

FOOD & DRINK

Patrick Hyde

6 Min Quiz

Image: andresr/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

When the waiter asks you if you'd prefer a glass of Sancerre or Muscadet with your oysters on the half-shell, do you have a rapid-fire response or a moment of confused embarassment? The world of wine can be intimidating even to people who have been drinking the beverage for years. That's why high-end restaurants and wine merchandisers employ sommeliers to guide customers through the daunting list of foreign names and seemingly arbitrary prices. You can give them a description of what you want and they will find something that fits your price range and preference.

This skill is no easy feat. Sommeliers spend years studying to earn their certification, tracing maps, comparing soil types, perfecting service standards and leafing through dense law books that dictate which wines can be called what. The world of wine can seem inapproachable at first, but it is a rewarding journey that will help you better appreciate wine and educate (or annoy) your friends and family about your favorite beverages. Test yourself on these tough questions to see if you really know the major wine regions, grapes, and growing practices of the world. If you ace this quiz, you are either already a somm or should seriously consider studying for your somm certification. And remember, no matter how confident you are in you wine knowledge, this quiz pairs exquisitely with a glass of wine.

Select the grape that is used in red wine.

If you want a nice spicy red wine that gives off aromas of roasted meat and black pepper, reach for a bottle of Syrah. This medium-bodied red is produced around the world, but is most famous in the Rhone valley and Washington state.

Advertisement

Which grape varietal is never used in traditional Champagne?

Champagne can only be produced with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Pinot Meunier. Winemakers can blend between a combination or produce a varietal Champagne, such as Blanc de-Blancs, a style of Chardonnay-exclusive Champagne.

Advertisement

What is the second-largest wine producing state in the United States?

Washington is the second-largest wine producer in the United States, trailing only California. Washington grows over 70 varieties and is home to over 900 different wineries.

Advertisement

This wine grape is planted more than any other in California:

There is no shortage of Chardonnay coming out of California. This popular white accounts for almost 100,000 acres of plantings in the state.

Advertisement

A guest orders a sweet dessert wine. What do you serve?

This fortified dessert wine hails from Portugal and is enjoyed at the end of heavy meals all around the world. The winemakers add brandy sometime in the winemaking process, lending richness to the beverage.

Advertisement

What do you call a legally defined geographic area where grapes are grown? (Like Napa Valley or Burgundy?)

While individual countries have their own legal qualifications for geographic areas of wine, appellation is the catch-all term that refers to a legally defined area that can bear a certain name. The first legal appellations are thought to be Chianti and Tokaji.

Advertisement

What grape varietal is not traditionally grown in Bordeaux?

Marsanne is most associated with the Rhone. Bordeaux blends include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and occasionally Carménère.

Advertisement

You're travelling to Argentina. What grape varietal is the country's most famous?

Argentina is the largest producer of Malbec in the world and makes world-class wines from this French varietal. Malbec is an intense dark color with a solid-structure and notes of black fruit and spice.

Advertisement

What wine region is famous for growing the best Riesling in the world?

The Mosel valley is the world's most renowned producer of Riesling. Located on the steep, stately hills of the Mosel River, these vineyards produce Riesling that can be bone dry and racing with minerality or sweet and decadent.

Advertisement

This wine region is home to the grape Gamay.

Beaujolais is a rustic wine-growing region in France that produces mostly Gamay varietal for its wines. Once famous for the cheap and young Beaujolais Nouveau, producers are now turning back toward higher quality wines that exhibit bright red fruit.

Advertisement

What soil type should you avoid when planting a vineyard?

Paradoxically, great soil conditions produce bad wine. Unlike most crops, viticulturists want poor soil to reduce the output of grapes on vines, leading to deeper concentration of sugar in the grapes. Soil type plays a big factor in the character of wine.

Advertisement

What mold is referred to as "the noble rot?"

Botrytis is a gray mold that affects many plants, but most notably is found in grapes. It is given the nickname "Noble Rot" when grapes contract it during a wet period followed by a drier period, leading to berries high in sugar that are ideal for dessert wines.

Advertisement

You're ordering a 1.5L bottle of wine, equal to two normal bottles of wine for the dinner table. What is the name for the extra-large bottle?

A magnum is the name for a bottle of wine that is twice the size of a normal bottle, or 1.5L. The largest wine bottle size is named after the Biblical King Solomon and is 18 L, or 24 regular bottles of wine.

Advertisement

What is the name for adding sugar to unfermented grape must after the grapes have been harvested?

Chaptalization is a technique used by winemakers in which they add additional sugar to unfermented grapes to rectify lack of natural sugar in the harvest process. This controversial process isn't to make wine sweeter, but to increase the alcohol levels in the wine.

Advertisement

Brunch time! That means mimosas. Which of the following is NOT a style of sparkling wine?

Tokaji is a Hungarian dessert wine that was once known as the "Wine of Kings," due to its favor by noble drinkers. It is reliant on the botrytis fungus, or noble rot to achieve sweetness.

Advertisement

When someone orders a bottle of Chablis, what grape varietal are they getting?

Chablis is an appellation in the Burgundy region of France that produces some of the world's finest Chardonnay. Chablis is celebrated for a tension in the wine that produces lean whites high in minerality and acidity.

Advertisement

What flavor characteristic would you expect in a wine aged in new American oak?

New American oak imparts several strong flavors, such as coconut, vanilla and dill into wine aged in its barrels. Deciding on whether to use oak, and how much, is an important consideration in the wine-making process.

Advertisement

Explain what happens to the color of red wines as they age.

Red wines typically lighten in color when they age, turning a brickish-red color. This is a result of tannins interacting with red color pigments to produce something called polymeric pigments that lead to the lightening in color.

Advertisement

And what happens to the hue of white wines as they age?

White wines darken as they age, turning a rich yellow or sometimes golden hue. Older white wines lose some of the fruit characteristics that dominate the palate in their youth, giving way to more herbal and vegetal notes.

Advertisement

A customer requests a high-tannin wine. What do you serve them?

Nebbiolo is an Italian varietal that is known for producing highly structured and tannic red wines. The grape is used in Barolo and Barbaresco, two renowned wines in the Piedmont region. It has a wonderful bouquet of floral and earthy aromas.

Advertisement

The Willamette Valley, famous for its Pinot Noir, is in which US state?

The Willamette Valley is home to over two-thirds of Oregon's vineyards and is gaining a reputation as one of the world's most exciting wine regions. It has a similar climate to Burgundy, making it an ideal location to grow world-class Pinot Noir.

Advertisement

What modern-day country is the supposed first ancestral home of wine making?

The country of Georgia, located in the Caucasus mountains, is believed to be the earliest region in the world to make wine. Over 8,000 years ago, Georgians buried wine in clay pots called kvevris where it would ferment.

Advertisement

Who is the most legendary (and expensive) wine producer in Australia?

Penfolds is one of the oldest and the most prestigious wineries in Australia, founded in 1844 by Dr. Christopher Penfolds. Their iconic Penfolds Grange wine sells for over $1,000 a bottle and is one of the most celebrated wines in the entire world.

Advertisement

A guest requests a champagne cocktail. What drink do you ask the bartender to make?

The Kir Royale is a classic French aperitif that combines Champagne and Creme de Cassis. Creme de Cassis has a delightful currant and berry flavor.

Advertisement

This acidic, refreshing, fizzy Portuguese wine is great for hot summer days.

Vinho Verde is a region in northern Portugal that produces crisp, acidic white wines that are best enjoyed young. Some Vinho Verde is slightly effervescent and the two main grapes are Alvarinho and Loureiro.

Advertisement

A winemaker wants to make their wine sweeter. What should they do?

The process of fermentation converts sugar into ethyl alcohol and is how grape juice becomes wine. Stopping fermentation early will leave more of the sugar in the grapes in the final product, resulting in a sweeter wine.

Advertisement

What step should winemakers take to give their Chardonnay a buttery and creamy mouthfeel

Chardonnay is a versatile grape that can produce either dry acidic wines or creamy and buttery wines. The latter, common in Sonoma County, achieve the effect through the use of oak barrels and maloactic fermentation. Maloactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation that removes the tart-tasting malic acid and produces a compound named diacetyl that imparts a buttery flavor.

Advertisement

To what wine region does the Chateuneuf-de-Pape appellation belong?

Chateuneuf-de-Pape is one of the most famous regions in the Rhone, located in southeastern France along the Rhone River. The appellation produces Grenache-dominant blends that also feature Syrah, Mouvedre and other Rhone grapes. The characteristic taste is a balance of red fruit, earth, and spice.

Advertisement

Italy is home to many great wine varietals. Which of the following is NOT a native Italian grape?

Tempranillo is the signature Spanish grape, grown in Rioja and elsewhere in the country. Its name means early, a nod to the grape ripening earlier than other Spanish varietals.

Advertisement

What grape is most strongly associated with New Zealand?

Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand's crown jewel, accounting for more than 72% of the wine grown in the country. A typical NZ Sauv Blanc is herbaceous and features a strong acidity with wild herbaceous flavor with some tropical or citrus fruit. Drink cold on a hot day.

Advertisement

When does harvest season fall in the Northern Hemisphere?

Harvest season, or crush, is the most important time on the wine's calendar. In the Northern Hemisphere, it typically stretches from August to November, with grapes ripening at different times depending on location and varietal.

Advertisement

Which Champagne classification is the "driest" or has the least added sugar?

Champagne is classified by the amount of dosage, or extra sweetness, added to the wine. Of the answer choices, Brut is the driest with no more than 12 grams of sugar added. On the other end of the spectrum sits Doux (French for sweet) with over 50 grams of added sugar.

Advertisement

A wine has an intense vegetal aroma, like green peppers or dried herbs. What is producing this smell?

Methoxypyrazine is the compound that creates the vegetal aroma in wine. The trademark smell is common in Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Franc and some Loire Sauvignon Blanc.

Advertisement

What country is the world's leading wine producer?

Italy overtook France in 2015 for the status of world's largest wine producer. Italy, France and Spain are the three biggest wine producers in the world.

Advertisement

You're blind tasting a wine and it smells like gasoline. What grape do you guess it is?

In addition to strong acidity and minerality, Riesling is known for its gasoline-like aroma. This comes from a compound called TDA found within the grape that accompanies ripening.

Advertisement

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes