Last Updated on February 5, 2021 by Bill Allen
My Comprehensive Wine Guide for Beginners and Connoisseurs
The long history of wine is heavily intertwined with that of human civilization itself. This alcoholic beverage, typically made from fermented grape juice, dates as far back as 6000 BC. It is believed to have first been created in the area that is now Iran and Georgia.
There are other types of wine that exist beyond those made from grapes, but those tend to be specifically named after the type of fruit or grain that was fermented (such as plum wine or apple wine).
Today, there are an almost mind-boggling variety of wines available for purchase at all price points; the diversity stems from using different strains of yeast to ferment different varieties of grapes. With a higher alcohol content than beer and lower than “hard liquors” such as tequila or gin, wine is a popular choice among drinkers on its own and even as a component in some upscale mixed drinks.
A wine bottle can say much about the wine inside; such as where it came from and what kind of wine it is. Although recently some producers are coming up with more decorative wine bottles, specific wine regions have their own classic bottle shapes that have been used for generations.
For example, the green-cast bottle of the Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot is referred to as the Red Bordeaux or Claret classic bottle. This typically square-ish shape is widely associated as the staple wine bottle for these wines around the world.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are typically released in a bottle known as the Burgundy in a dark green or yellow green hue. The yellow color is referred to as “dead leaf.”
The Champagne bottle has a distinctive heft to it as well as a typical dark green coloring. Sparkling wine bottles have a classically deep punt and are a bigger version of the Burgundy bottle.
The Alsace or Riesling bottle has a distinctively narrow form and ranges in color between faint green to brown. This is a popular bottle shape for most white wines around the world.
The White Bordeaux bottle is similar to the Bordeaux or Claret bottle in shape but comes in clear glass.
Sweet and dry Bordeauxs are traditionally released in this bottle. Although recently, more and more white wines are being released in the White Bordeaux.
The Sherry bottle is as distinctive for its broad shoulderline and longer neck as it is for its brown coloring.
The Port bottle is shorter than most of the others and has a graceful curvature to its neck shape.
These bottles come in deep green or nearly black hues. Although these bottle shapes are unique in themselves, the most distinctive wine bottle shape belongs to the Bocksbeutel.
Short, green, and round in shape, the Bocksbeutel is a traditional aspect of the German Franken area.
The label on a wine is an important aspect of the wine itself. Meant to inform the consumer, wine labels are a serious, and even legal, aspect of winemaking.
Every label includes at least four essential facts that should be taken into consideration when purchasing a wine. These facts involve the region or country the wine was made in, the types of grapes used, the name of the producer, and the harvest year.
Legal considerations include alcoholic content, volume of the liquid, and health warnings.
Although not all this information is included on labels from every country, many producers include a back label to offer more information.
American wine labels offer no information of wine quality, whereas French and German labels do. French labels center around information on where the wine was made and German labels focus around the quality of the grapes used.
To ensure quality of the wine, major growing areas include a classifications guarantee which ensures that the label is true to the wine inside the bottle.
These classifications follow the French model of Appelation Controlee, which involves guarantees on the origin of the wine, requirements to certain grape assortments, alcohol levels, and production ceilings.
This strict requirement system is followed in Italy, Spain, Portugal and most other countries of the European Union.
Germany and Austria have their own quality system and guidelines.
The rest of the world, including the United States, follows a slightly less formidable qualifications system.
AVA’s or American Viticultural Areas leaves grape quality and variety up to each winery. However, some guidelines that involve specific regions of the world must be followed strictly.
For example, a Cabernet Sauvignon labeled wine must include at least seventy five percent of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety.
Beware of phrases on labels such as “Proprietor’s Reserve,” “Barrel Select,” or “Cellar Selection” which are just terms put on there to create a sense of esteem for the wine.
If you are looking to purchase a real quality wine, make sure you are familiar with the producers and aren’t just going by what the label says.
Opening the Wine Bottle
Opening a bottle of wine or champagne is coated in as much history as the drink itself. This is such a vital part of enjoying the drink of the gods that there is actual consumer resistance to improvements in caps and corks. Understanding how to serve wine correctly is a key aspect of the whole “experience”.
Throughout the olden days, the foils used to cover the cork on the bottle was made from lead and essential for keeping mice and other critters from chomping away at the cork.
Today, although mainly for decoration, these plastic, tin, or paper foils can help differentiate between bottles on a rack. Some wine producers have even turned to capping the cork with a blot of wax.
After the foil is cut, it is necessary to remove the cork. Corkscrews come in many sizes, shapes and varieties. Although the type of corkscrew that is used is not important, it is imperative that the worm of the corkscrew be at least 5 centimeters or 2 inches long.
Having a worm shorter than this specified length might cause breakage and other damage to the cork. The worm should also be round with an open spiral and sharp tip. The most common type of corkscrew has two winged on each side that pull the cork up as they push down.
Popular models include the “waiter’s friend,” which uses the bottle as leverage to secure and pull out the cork, and the “butler’s friend,” which avoids inserting a worm into the cork and instead grips the cork at its sides with two prongs while it is twisted out.
One of the most frustrating aspects of opening a bottle of wine is having the cork break off, leaving part of it still in the bottle. Although having the cork floating around inside the wine will not effect taste or quality, it makes the bottle a bit less presentable.
Hence, pulling out the cork slowly and securely is a good way to ensure it comes out undamaged. However, even the best corkscrewer can have an off day. If a bit of the cork is left in the neck after the first attempt, carefully re-inserting the corkscrew at an angle is the best bet on removing it completely.
If this fails, then gently nudging the cork into the bottle is a good idea. If the cork has split into many pieces, decanting the wine into another bottle can make it more enjoyable.
Opening the Bottle – Champagne or Sparkling Wine
Opening a bottle of Champagne can be a tricky and dangerous task considering the jolt of force that is released when the cap is undone. Using a corkscrew for this operation will bring nothing but bad news, so avoid it at all costs. Holding the bottle at a 45 degree angle and away from people at all times during the opening process can help ensure that a celebration doesn’t turn into tragedy.
Even while removing the foil and the wire, keep a thumb securely over the cork. Establish a good grip on the cork and twist the bottle, not the cork, open. Champagne pliers are a safety tool that help you hold onto the cork while twisting the bottle.
Keep in mind that corks have been known to burst once the foil is removed and be cautious at all times.
The soft cork inside vintage port can present a problem during the opening process. To solve this, heat port thongs to a very high temperature and close them around the neck of the bottle for half a minute.
After removing the thongs, swipe a wet cloth over the same area and gently break off the neck.
Cooking with Wine
Cooking with wine has been a tradition of many cultures for generations but it’s about more than just deciding whether to use red or white. The nutty, fruity, dry, or sweet nuances in wine can really make or break your dish.
Although certain food and wine pairings have been well established, it’s always a good idea to experiment on your own.
When cooking with wine, the alcohol evaporates while the flavor concentrates, making it a delicate process.
Do your homework and find out the basics of using wine in food before you branch off and experiment on your own.
Wine has been an essential component in cooking for centuries. Vital considerations involved with cooking with wine involve quality, quantity, timing, and temperature. Also, knowing which wines to use for each type of dish can considerably help or hinder your meal. First and foremost, always cook with a wine of good quality.
Cooking with a wine you wouldn’t enjoy drinking will result in a meal you wouldn’t enjoy eating. Cooking with wine imparts and magnifies all the small nuances of flavor in the wine to the food.
When considering quantity, realize that less is more. Overpowering the meal with lots of liquid will not help anything.
Try substituting wine for another liquid a recipe may call for.
Adding wine at the beginning stage of cooking will result in a more subtle flavoring to the meal. The longer the wine stays on the burner, the more the flavors will become infused in the other ingredients. Adding wine at a later stage of cooking will have bolder results since reduced wine will have more concentrated flavors.
The temperature during cooking can also destroy aromatic flavors present in the wine if heated at high temperatures.
Also, the alcohol content of the wine will be preserved, to some extent, after all the cooking has been completed.
For all dishes except desserts, it is often best to use dry wine as to avoid altering the natural flavors of the ingredients.
For desserts, a port or sweet sherry as well as Madeira and Marsala are common. Poached fruit is also a popular treat.
Dry red wine works well with poached strawberries and pears. The tannic aspects of wine are also helpful with the softening of meats in marinades.
With meat and game, remember to use a powerful red wine to cut through the strong flavors associated with these dishes.
Poultry dishes require dry wines. Keep in mind that red wines will slightly tint this meat.
White and red wines can also be used to make wine sauces.
Overly tannic and acidic wines should be avoided in reduced sauces.
Seafood dishes are best prepared with dry white wines.
Soups benefit from dry to medium sherries and white wines. Adding these towards the end of the cooking process creates a bold flavor and splash of pizazz.
Red grapes are used to make red, rose, and sparkling wines and can be known by different names in different countries. The Cabernet Sauvignon variety is a popular choice for California wines as well as the star grape in many French Bordeauxs.
Italy, Washington, Australia and even Chile are also places where this grape is adored and crafted into fine wines. From this grape arises wines that are both complex and aromatic with deep flavors that can be absorbing yet fruity.
Often a good choice for aging, the Cabernet Sauvignon is a favorite for wine drinkers around the world. Around 2000 bottles of the exceptional Napa Cabernet Sauvignon are produced by the Bryant Family Vineyard in Napa Valley every year.
The Gamay variety grape has caused some controversy in California. Originally from the Beaujolais district of France, Californians mistook their Valdiguie grape for the Gamay.
The Gamay variety grape produces wines with a good balance of acidity and cherry or berry flavors. Usually light, the French versions of these wines are mostly deep and complex.
The Grenache variety of grape are common in the south of France. By itself, the variety produces a wine with thorough fruit flavors and good potential for aging. Often, this variety is blended with other varieties around the world.
In France, the Grenache wines are blended with with wine from the Rhone Valley and the Banyul regions.
Spain blends the Grenache, or “Garnacha,” with wines from the Priorato regions. These wines tend to age well over decades. Rioja regions blend the Grenache variety with Tempranillo to bring out intense fruitiness in the wines. Merlot grapes are the most extensively planted variety in the Bordeaux region.
Merlots have been used in the past only for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and have only recently come to stand on their own in the wine world.
The best Merlots are found in the Pomerol and St-Emilion areas of the Bordeaux region in France.
These wines are velvety smooth with tendencies towards fruity cherry and blackberry flavors. Hints of spice can also be detected throughout the Merlot varieties.
Other areas that excel in Merlot making include California, Washington State, Chile, and South Africa.
The Italians have the standard when it comes to the Nebbiolo grape. Nebbiolo variety grapes are used to make some of the worlds best red wines including Italian wines such as the Barolo, Barbaresco, and Gattinara.
The variety bestows these wines with high levels of acidity and good tannic structure, which makes them great candidates for aging. Northern Italy has prime conditions for growing this variety as it prefers hilly areas with cool temperatures.
The Nebbiolo variety is also grown in California and South America although the grapes are not as high quality as their Italian counterparts.
Pinot Noir wines involve smooth textures and vibrant fruity flavors. One of three varieties, Pinot Noir wines are perfect for aging because they develop richer and more complex characteristics with time.
The red wines of Burgundy use the Pinot Noir grape. Oregon and California, as well as other cool climates like New Zealand, Australia and Chile, fare well with the Pinot Noir variety and produce exceptional wines.
Sangiovese red wine grapes is mostly grown in the Tuscany, Chianti, and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano regions of Italy. This versatile variety is responsible for both young, vibrant wines with fruity tendencies as well as sophisticated, older wines with powerful, deep flavors. Sangiovese grapes are sometimes blended in California and Tuscany with Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots.
The Tempranillo Spanish grape is a popular variety in areas such as Rioja, the Penedes region, Ribera del Duero, and Castilla-La Mancha. The Tempranillo grape leans towards strawberry and raspberry flavor tendencies with light textures and full body. The wine from this variety is often blended with the Grenache in areas like the Ribera del Duero and Rioja. This adds to the aging properties of both wines.
Finally, the Zinfandel variety of wine grape is a popular favorite among beginners to the wine craze.
In its light, spicy, and berry flavored form, Zinfandel wines attract drinkers of all ages. Bolder wines of this variety involve deep black cherry and blackberry flavors.
Zinfandel does well in areas with hot afternoons and cooler nights.
Be sure you understand the differences between red and white wine glasses with our article here.
Most beloved in the Burgundy region of France, the Chardonnay variety offers flavors anywhere from buttery, smooth oaky tendencies to green apple, melon, pear and tropical fruit flavors.
Cold regions tend to produce crisp acidic Chardonnays while warmer regions produce fruitier flavors with high levels of alcohol.
White Burgundys become increasingly riper and richer with the use of oak.
Oaked Chardonnay is a popular wine in California.
Another wine grape variety is the German Gewurztraminer. Best known for its distinguishing spicy flavors and bouquet, this style is best in its dry versions from France’s Alsace region. The flavors and texture combine to give an unusual full bodied heft to white wine.
Sometimes referred to as the Gewurz, this variety prefers cooler climates and has a naturally high sugar content that can give off an aroma of roses and passion fruit. Difficult to grow, wines from regions other than Alsace lack the complexity that truly sets it apart.
Muscat variety of white wine grapes are popular in the Mediterranean region of the world. However, the sheer number of varieties of this grape suggest that it was the first domesticated grape variety, if not one of the oldest.
Muscats yield both dry sweet wines including Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat a Petits Grains and Moscato Bianco. The sweeter wines in this variety are sometimes fortified and all Muscat wines are known to be good heart disease preventers.
Pinot Gris grape varieties is named so because of the gray coloring of the grape skin. Wines in this variety can range from the spicy and full bodied Alsace flavors to the refreshing and easy-appley flavors of Italian wines. Regional distinctions in this variety are broad and some Alsatian Pinot gris age well while most are meant for early consumption.
Germany produces the most full bodied versions of wine from this variety. Oregon is somewhere in the middle while California and Italy are on the lighter bodied end of the spectrum.
Rieslings are the other white grape variety, rivaling Chardonnay in popularity and quality.
Flavors and wines from this grape can range from elegant and aromatic to bold honeyed bouquets and finishes. Styles of wine also range from dry table wines to sweet desert wines from Germany.
Alsace, California and Australia make both dry and semi-sweet styles.
The Sauvignon Blanc variety of white wine grape produces a slightly more assertive and peppery flavored white wine than usual. Although the dry and sweet white Bordeaux made with Sauvignon Blanc ages exceptionally well, many wines made with this variety of grape are best consumed young.
Good Sauvignon varieties come from the Loire Valley and Pouilly-Fume of France, California, New Zealand, Chile, and Australia.
Semillon varieties are often blended with the Sauvignon Blanc to increase its acidity. This variety produces deeper flavors with hints of fig and melon and makes a good dry, unoaked wine that ages well. Many sweet wines are made using Semillon because its thin skin makes it so susceptible to noble rot.
Viognier has recently exploded onto the wine scene much thanks to the explosion of fans in the US in the mid 1980s. Originally from the Rhone Valley in France, Virginia and California as well as Tuscany and Australia have begun growing this variety.
The Viognier grape produces a wine with accomplished flavors of apricot and pear with a honeyed finish as well as floral aromas. Although usually meant for immediate consumption, wines from older vines and late harvests are suitable for aging.
Old world wine preparation has been built on centuries of classification systems and a passed down knowledge of which grape varieties grow best in which areas.
Without this knowledge, new world growers have turned to innovations in irrigation and oak aging in order to bring their wines into the international market.
This “war of the worlds” has introduced a diversity into the wine market that can only benefit wine lovers everywhere.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine and Champagne are essentially the same drink, but the label of “Champagne,” exclusively belongs to that wine which has been made from grapes grown in the Champagne region in France.
The three grape varieties grown in this region are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier and the process they go through to become champagne, known as the “Traditional Method,” is a long and expensive one.
After the still wines are tasted and mixed into a final blend, the concoction is bottled with liequeur de tirage, or small mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast.
The entire bottle is sealed and set aside for anywhere from around two weeks to around three months to undergo a second fermentation that creates carbon dioxide.
After the carbon dioxide has diffused throughout the wine, it is further set aside for any desired amount of time.
This step in the champagne making process turns the mixture into remuage and gives the Champagne its fizz.
These bottles are then stored in pupitres, tilted at sharp angles. This angle and a regular turning of the bottles at different intervals allows all the settlement to gather in the neck of the bottle.
Then, in a process called degorgement, the neck of the bottles are emerged into a solution of chilly brine that forms a block of ice around the sediment. This makes removing the sediment simple, as the ice pops out when the bottles are turned over and uncapped.
The bottle is further sweetened with a mixture of wine and sugar called the dosage, and kept corked up until release.
This traditional method can take up to a year from start to finish while cheaper methods involving the pumping of carbon dioxide into still wines are less expensive and less time consuming.
Other processes, such as the Charmat process, of making sparkling wine involve a period of second fermentation where the yeast is left to react with the wine and create bubbles.
This method ferments the wine in large tanks whereas better wines are fermented in the bottles.
Fortified wine is wine that has had additional alcohol incorporated to it. First developed as a wine preservation technique, fortified wines now have their own category and fans. Brandy or some other grape spirit as well as additional sweetness is added, giving the fortified wine an alcohol content between wines and spirits.
One type of fortified wine is port. The higher alcoholic content in port is achieved through adding grape spirit to stop the fermentation process. This also maintains a higher sugar content.
Vintage ports are made only during excellent seasons and left in wood to mature for two years. Other ports are matured in wood for different time spans.
Sherry is another type of fortified wine that comes as either a deep Oloroso or light Fino. Sweetness is added to either style before bottling for sweet sherry.
Sherry is aged in wooden casks or butts and blended in a system called a solera.
This system involves adding older wines to younger wines over a period of several years which allows the younger ones to become more like the older ones in flavor.
The intensity of the fortification in sherries depends on whether they develop a yeast bloom called a flor while in the butts. Those that do, become Fino sherries and are fortified with brandy. Olorosos are fortified more intensely than Finos.
Madeira is a dry and sweet fortified wine that was sent on sea trips to the tropics. During these long durations, its flavors were softened by the warm temperatures.
Today, heat is a key factor in the aging process of the wine. Expect the cheaper wines to have been heated only for about three months while the expensive madeiras are heated less intensely for almost a year.
Origins of Wine
Celebrated as the nectar of the Gods by the Greeks and Romans, traded as a valuable commodity throughout the Mediterranean, and held to high esteem by drinkers all over the world today, wine is the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world.
It is believed that wine could have first been discovered around 4000 BC when grapes were accidentally left in a clay or wooden pot for a period of several days. The naturally occurring yeast on the skin of the grapes would have begun the fermentation process and created a primitive version of the delectable drink.
Evidence for wine’s ancient origins also includes the fact that the Egyptian God Osiris was also referred to as “The God of Wine.”
With the discovery of the New World in the sixteenth century, winemaking was proliferated throughout Mexico, as well as South America, Texas, California and New Mexico largely due to the efforts of Spanish missionaries.
By the 1830’s, commercial winemaking was well underway in the United States as well as in Australia. The scientific work of Louis Pasteur on yeast and its processes gave winemakers control over fermentation and consistency. Grape growers also improved pest control methods while developing resistant rootstock.
Although European countries, such as France in particular, are traditionally known for fine wines, today, wine is grown on every continent.
Recently, wines from North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Africa are giving the Europeans a run for their vines by matching and even surpassing them in quality.
The basic components of good wine are good grapes.
Different trellis systems, different types of soils, and knowing when to pick the grapes are all important factors in the art of winemaking.
After these are established, the winery commences the winemaking process by first crushing the grapes.
Regardless of color, all grapes produce clear liquid. Whether the wine will be red, white, or something in between, is decided by the color of the skin on the grapes.
Different colors of wine are created by either leaving or discarding the skins.
White wines are pressed to separate them from their skins before fermentation whereas red wines are left to ferment in their skins before pressing.
After pressing, the wines are left in oak or steel canteens to mature then are clarified and bottled.
Red wine is famous for its tannin quality which gives it a sharp taste and allows the wine to mature.
To achieve this desired characteristic, red wine is fermented at much higher temperatures than is white wine and can be aged in wood or stainless steel.
The taste of white wine is enhanced by fermenting it just after crushing in stainless steel at low temperatures. This combination of steel and less heat allows the fruit flavors of the wine to emerge. Since the skins of the grapes in the white wine making process are discarded, either red or white grapes can be used to make white wine.
Sometimes white wine is moved to oak barrels at a later period during its maturation process. Red and white wine’s bitter taste is subdued through a process known as “racking.” As the wine is moved from barrel to barrel, oxygen is incorporated to the mix while the fermentation sediments are removed.
Rose wines are achieved by allowing contact between the juices and the skin of the grapes for only a period of several hours. This short time span allows the wine to develop slight coloration while resisting tannin. Another, less expensive, method of making rose wines involves mixing amounts of red and white wine together.
Dessert wine is characteristic of its sugary taste. To achieve this quality, the grapes are left on their vines for longer periods of time in order to encourage the concentration of sugar within them.
The process of aging is critical for any fine wine. Types of storage systems, such as wood or steel barrels, can have major effects on the final taste of the wine.
Wood barrels allows more oxygen to seep through and soften tannin qualities but can also impart wood tannin flavors to the wine. Wines in new wood barrels develop sharper qualities than do wines in older, softer barrels.
Red wines come in four basic styles; Bordeauxs, red Burgundys, juicy reds, and warm, spicy reds. Bordeaux styles range from tannic Cabernets to deep, velvety Merlots.
While Cabernets from Australia and California regions are perfect compliments to meals with roast beef, leg of lamb, or steak, duck and fish dinners are best complimented by Merlots from the Bordeaux regions of France.
Red Burgundy is a style of wine made from the Pinot Noir grape. Similar to the Merlot in velvety, deep textures, the French red Burgundy has a somewhat smooth flavor.
Other Burgundys such as the Pinot Noir from the Oregon region can be more subtle in flavor. These go well with rabbit and salmon dishes.
The California versions of these wines tend to have fruitier aspects to their flavors and go well with Asian food as well as grilled fish. Juice red wines are increasingly becoming popular choices for wine lovers everywhere because of their immediate satisfaction delivery capabilities.
This style of wine includes the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Merlot, Spanish Tempranillos, French Crus Beaujolais, and Italian Bardolino and Dolcettos. Juicy red wines are great for everyday drinking and go well with anything from barbecue to grilled steak.
Spicy red wines come from regions such as the Rhone Valley of France, Nebbiolo in Italy, and the northern regions of Australia, California and Spain. Stylistic elements are further enhanced by grapes from the Sangiovese, Grenache, Syrah, and Zinfandel varieties.
Spicy red wines have rich, heavy, and very fruity flavors which are sometimes complimented with spices. They go well with game and many stews.
Generally, it is good to keep in mind that the more alcohol content a wine has, the heavier it will feel on the palate.
Rose wines are consideredlightweights by true wine connoisseurs but continue to gain fans around theworld. The best roses are found in Portugal, France, Spain, Canada, Australia and the USA. Although the White Zinfandels is often considered a rose wine, it is, in fact, a blush wine.
True roses are actually made during the winemaking process and acquire their flavor through maceration.
Cheaper wines carrying the rose name are often blends of red and white wines. Great for hot summer days and spring picnics, rose wines follow the wine flavors more so than white.
Low tannin and refreshing crispness makes rose wines suitable for when a red is too strong and a white is too light. Foods that go particularly well with roses are white, sauteed or roasted meats as well as Mediterranean cuisine. Their ability to be enjoyable at low temperatures makes rose wines great aperitifs as well.
Champagne A good Champagne or sparkling wine is difficult to achieve, but the best ones are often wonderful companions to oysters and caviar. Sushi and soy sauce as well as spinach, feta and fried dishes also work well with this style of wine.
Wasabi, however is a key ingredient to avoid.
Good sparkling wines will have a good balance of acidity and fruity flavor as well as bubbles. The best bottles, usually from France, also have a buttery or creamy texture. Sparkling wines like white wines should be served chilled and are best when kept in a wine cooler at their optimal temperatures.
Sparkling wines and Champagne are also famous for lazy Sunday morning memosas. This wonderful breakfast drink is made of one part Champagne and two parts orange juice.
This style of wine is so versatile and delicious that it is easy to get creative with.
Tasting the Wine
Tasting wine is an artform in itself. Wine should first and foremost be poured into a clear glass with a wide brim so that the full color and aroma can be examined. Or better yet a crystal wine decanter so it can breath for a bit.
Placing the glass in front of a white background can help deduce the clarity and color of the wine.
Young red wine should appear luminous and clear while white wines are more transparent and bright.
Other attributes such as age and place of origin can also be deduced by looking at the depth of color.
Older wines and wines from cool climates have a less vibrant hue than their counterparts.
Some very old wines can even appear brown at the rim of the glass.
Beware of any murkiness or blotching in the color of the wine as these can be indicators of wine defects.
After the eyes have done their part, the nose takes over.
Smelling the wine is an important part of understanding its richness.
Young wines are usually swirled around more rigorously than older wines in order to incorporate the oxygen more thoroughly.
Swirling can be accomplished easily by holding the glass by its stem and making small circular motions with the wrist and hand.
The smell of the wine can open up stored memories of youth or joy and finding the vocabulary to describe this is a key aspect of professional wine tasters.
Younger wines have more vibrant redolence while older wines are usually calmer and complex aroma.
Tasting wine is such an involving experience that it is sometimes referred to as chewing.
To taste the wine, take in about half a mouthful of wine and let it run across your taste buds for a while.
This allows even more aromas to escape into the nasal cavity and expands the tasting experience. After letting the wine coat the tongue and mouth, one can either spit or swallow.
During a wine tasting tour, it is usually imperative to spit while enjoying a cup of wine must involve swallowing.
After swallowing the wine, it is important to note how well the flavors and alcoholic content balanced in the mouth. The wine should be a good blend of flavor, tannin, and acidity.
A burning sensation after the wine goes down can indicate a flaw in this balance. Some people take notes on the images and terms the aroma, texture, and taste of the wine conjured up for them.
A wine notebook is a great way to test the consistency of a palate and to record how ones tastes can alter over the years.
Although modern technology has wiped out many of the wine fault problems of the past, the modern consumer should still be aware of possible defects that can ruin any bottle of wine. This is especially true if you are thinking about starting a wine collection.
One of the oldest and most common problems with wine surprisingly involves the cork.
Corked wine is wine which has been sealed with a cork contaminated with cork mold.
Although certain light levels of corkiness can remain undetected even by professional tasters, corkiness is widely considered a fatal flaw which ruins the flavor and aromas in the wine.
Heavy corkiness is easily detectable by the mildewy, damp cardboard like smell and flavor it imparts to the wine. Although the problem is not as grave as it used to be and producers are coming up with new ways to prevent it, about 4 percent of wines still become corked.
Another fault that wine can develop, although a less common one, is known as oxidization.
Oxidized wines have been exposed to air for a greater period of time than desirable. Although some oxidization is necessary to develop a mature and aged wine, oxidized wines develop a sour apple taste and a brown coloring. Oxidization can occur when a faulty cork allows air into the bottle or when air reacts more quickly than usual with the wine after the bottle is opened.
Vinegary wine is another fault that can develop from an overabundance of the bacteria that make vinegar are present in the wine.
Although very small amounts can be used in some wines, this defect causes a piercingly irritating smell and taste. In the past, vinegary wine has a sign of bad quality but has become less and less a problem for today’s wines.
Making a good bottle of wine becomes more than just a matter of good grapes when considering all the things that can go wrong.
Other wine defects include an infection of Brettanomyces or “Brett,” a wild yeast that gives wine a leathery, metallic aroma and flavor.
In small amounts, Brett is considered by some as a characteristic of complex and rich aged red Burgundies, Rhones, Bordeaux and Italian wines. Sometimes, Brett infections are a result of bad sanitary conditions in a winery.
Other defects, such as marcaptan, evolve during the fermentation process and produce a putrid odor that makes the wine completely unsuitable for drinking.
Too much sulfur dioxide in a wine produces a burnt smell and stinging aftertaste.
Although some sulfur is used in the winemaking process as a sterilizing agent and antioxidant, many people are allergic to sulfur.
On top of the added sulfur, some sulfur is also produced during fermentation.
Technology is working to eliminate the need for the added sulfur and allow more people the chance to enjoy wine.
Along with note taking, many professional and amateur wine tasters enjoy scoring the wines they try. A scoring system is more of a systematic approach to note taking and can help wine lovers compare notes with each other. The scoring system can rely on a simple 10 point scale.
However, the 100 point scale is the most popular method.
In a scoring system, numerical values are assigned to each category in the tasting process. “Look,” “smell,” and “flavor” all receive scores as the taster proceeds.
The widely used 100 point system is also followed by many wine magazines and involves a scoring style often used in school.
In the 100 point system, wines scoring 90 and above are deemed of excellent quality, 80 to 89 are average, 70 to 79 are alright, while scores of 69 and below are considered unfit for purchase.
Knowing these numbers can be a great help in choosing your next wine.
Wine Tasting Terminology
Becoming a part of the wine craze demands a great amount of self education. Wine is taken seriously by wine lovers around the world and getting involved at any degree often requires getting to know some of the general terms associated with the industry.
Professional wine tasters and connoisseurs use a certain vocabulary when talking about wine.
For example, the term “acidity” refers to the wines tartness. When the balance is just right, acidity can give the wine a good sense of body and structure.
Chardonnays and cheaper sparkling wines often have an “appley” taste associated with the malic acid present in grapes. Oaked Chardonnays do not usually possess this quality.
“Balance” is the term used to refer to how well all the key aspects of the wine, such as fruitiness, tannin, and alcoholic content, harmonize with one another.
“Berrylike” is a term used to describe wine with a distinct berry taste.
“Body” is used to refer to the full texture and weight of the wine in the mouth. The body is formed from a combination of factors such as alcohol, sugar, and tannin.
The term “aroma” is used to refer to the fruit smells coming from the wine while the term “bouquet” refers to older wines which have developed distinct smells in their bottles.
Wine lovers will also throw around the term “complex” to identify vibrant wines. This term refers to a deep, rich fruit flavor that also involves acidity and oakiness.
An “earthy” flavor or aroma conjures up images of the forest and other organic elements of nature. Although highly admired by some drinkers, the element remains controversial.
After swallowing, the lingering aftertaste that remains on the tongue is what is referred to as the “finish.” Although it is after the fact, this is still an important aspect of wine flavor.
Terms such as “flowery” or “floral” are often associated with white wines and refer to a blossom aroma.
The term “nose” is used as both a noun and a verb in the wine industry. As a noun, it refers to the smell of a wine.
Used as a verb, the term means to smell the wine. It is also an overarching term that includes both the aroma and bouquet of the wine.
“Oaky” wines tend to have too much of the aroma and flavoring of the oak barrels that they were stored in.
Lastly, the term “tannin” is a wine taster’s best friend when in perfect harmony with the body of the wine.
However, this acidic texture can ruin a tasting and be considered a flaw.
White wines range from classic to hard Chardonnays, dry to sweet Rieslings, to ambrosial and vibrant whites. Classic
This gives the classic Chardonnay a fruity yet intricate flavor that goes best with roast chicken and dishes with creamy sauces.
Flinty Chardonnay is a bit more abrupt with its flavor and involves an unoaked fruit flavor that is crisp and rich.
These wines are best suited with dishes involving oysters, white fish and sea food stews.
Steak and game will overwhelm the buttery, light flavors in Chardonnay and are best avoided.
Spicy Chardonnay incorporates subtle oakiness with a tropical and citrus twist to create a flavor that is becoming more and more popular.
Often drank before a meal to get the appetite going, the spicy Chardonnay is best paired with pasta and light meats.
Appreciating the full complexities associated with the Riesling wines may take some time for many wine lovers. The dry Riesling offers tasters the succulence and aroma of lime-fruited flavors. It is paired well with many foods but is best enjoyed by itself.
Sweeter Rieslings are made with grapes which have been shriveled and their sugary flavors condensed by a benevolent rot.
These wines involve a slight honey flavor that adds richness to their overall complexity. Sweeter Rieslings go best with blue cheese, Asian influenced meals and many chili dishes.
White wines can range from aromatic to fruity styles. Especially fragrant white wines include the Gewurztraminer, the Pinot Gris, and the Viognier.
These wines originate from France, Oregon and California and each come with subtle hints of their regions. The Gewurztraminer is known for its acute spiciness and lemony flavors that go best with spicy dishes from Asia as well as smoked meats and fish.
The hints of apricot and pear in Viognier and the more subtle spiciness of the Pinot Gris make them a more downplayed perfumy white wine than the Gewurztraminer.
More vibrant white wines include the Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux or the Loire Valley, the lighter Rieslings from Germany, Albarino from Spain and the Soave from Italy. These wines exhibit dynamic acidity mixed with earthy fruit flavors and are often best with fish dishes and tomato sauce based dishes.
The Sauvignon Blanc, especially, is a favorite compliment with most fish dishes.
Dry white wines that go well with other foods include the Trebbiano, the Pinot Grigio, the Muscadet and the unoaked Sauvignon Blanc from California among others. These wines are usually underwhelming, crisp, and have high acidic contents.
The very sweet white wines, otherwise known as dessert wines, not only go splendidly with deserts but also with many cheeses and nuts.
A good Sauterne from France, for example, can be deliciously paired with aged blue cheese. These sweet wines involve honey flavors and abundant aromas which please the palate immediately.
Wine as Medicine
The health benefits of wine have been widely understood from ancient times. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek now known as the “father of modern medicine,” encouraged wine consumption on a daily basis. The drink of the gods was both a preventative and a truly remarkable answer to many diseases that afflicted mankind over the centuries.
Wine was also a life saver when water supplies became infected and unsafe to drink. Regions throughout the world have considered and still consider moderate wine consumption to be an overall healthy habit.
The antioxidants, anticoagulant properties, potential to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol found in wine reduce heart disease and make for a very beneficial drink.
Scientifically, these results were first noticed as a relatively low rate of heart disease in the wine loving people of southern France.
Although prohibition and anti-alcohol attitudes resulted in a decline in wine consumption in the nineteenth century, regulations, a better understanding of alcoholism, and further scientific research have helped return wine to its medically beneficial status.
Along with grains, dairy, protein, fruits and vegetables, the U.S. government has recently listed wine in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This listing states that one, 5 fluid ounce cup of wine for women, and two cups for men, per day is considered part of a healthy diet.
Producers are encouraged to list a phone number and website referring consumers to the guidelines.
Although high consumption of alcohol and its potentially detrimental effects on pregnant women and drivers is warned against on all American wine labels, the listing offers Americans a good reason to begin a love affair the rest of the world has shared for centuries.