Learn About Wine

Learn About Wine

What is Wine?

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermentation of unmodified grape juice. The natural chemical balance of grapes is such that they ferment completely without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes or other nutrients. Although other fruits like apples and berries can also be fermented, the resultant “wines” are normally named after the fruit (for example, apple wine or elderberry wine) and are generically known as fruit or country wine. Others, such as barley wine and rice wine (e.g. sake) are made from starch-based materials and resemble beer more than wine, while ginger wine is fortified with brandy. In these cases, the use of the term “wine” is a reference to the higher alcohol content, rather than production process. The commercial use of the English word “wine” (and its equivalent in other languages) is protected by law in many jurisdictions.
The History of Wine

The earliest evidence suggesting wine production comes from archaeological sites in Georgia and Iran, dating from 6000 to 5000 BC. The archaeological evidence becomes clearer, and points to domestication of grapevine, in Early Bronze Age sites of the Near East, Sumer and Egypt from around the third millennium BC. In Egypt, wine became a part of recorded history, playing an important role in ancient ceremonial life. Traces of wine were also found in China, dating from the second and first millennium BC

Wine was common in classical Greece and Rome. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and revelry, and wine was frequently referred to in the works of Homer and Aesop. Many of the major wine producing regions of Western Europe today were established by the Romans. Wine making technology improved considerably during the time of the Roman Empire. Many grape varieties and cultivation techniques were known. Barrels were developed for storing and shipping wine.

In medieval Europe, the Christian Church was a staunch supporter of wine which was necessary for the celebration of the Catholic Mass. In places such as Germany, beer was banned and considered pagan and barbaric while wine consumption was viewed as civilized and a sign of conversion.
Wine Production

Wine grapes grow almost exclusively between thirty and fifty degrees north or south of the equator. The world’s most southerly vineyards are in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island near the 45th parallel, and the most northerly is in Flen, Sweden, just above the 59th parallel.
Wine Exporting Countries

The 14 largest export nations (as of 2005) – France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, the United States of America, Germany, South Africa, Portugal, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Croatia and Argentina. California produces about 90% of the wine in the United States. In 2000, Great Britain imported more wine from Australia than from France for the first time in history.
Grape Varieties

Wine is usually made from one or more varieties of the European species, Vitis vinifera. When one of these varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Merlot, for example, is used as the predominant grape (usually defined by law as a minimum of 75 or 85%) the result is a varietal, as opposed to a blended wine. Blended wines are in no way inferior to varietal wines; some of the world’s most valued and expensive wines from the Bordeaux, Rioja or Tuscany regions, are a blend of several grape varieties of the same vintage.

Wine can also be made from other species or from hybrids, created by the genetic crossing of two species. Vitis labrusca, Vitis aestivalis, Vitis rupestris, Vitis rotundifolia and Vitis riparia are native North American grapes, usually grown for eating in fruit form or made into grape juice, jam, or jelly, but sometimes made into wine, eg. Concord wine (Vitis labrusca species).

Hybrids are not to be confused with the practice of grafting. Most of the world’s vineyards are planted with European vinifera vines that have been grafted onto North American species rootstock. This is common practice because North American grape species are resistant to phylloxera. Grafting is done in every wine-producing country of the World except for Chile and Argentina, which have yet to be exposed to the insect.

The variety of grape(s), aspect (direction of slope), elevation, and topography of the vineyard, type and chemistry of soil, the climate and seasonal conditions under which grapes are grown, the local yeast cultures altogether form the concept of “terroir.” The range of possibilities lead to great variety among wine products, which is extended by the fermentation, finishing, and aging processes. Many small producers use growing and production methods that preserve or accentuate the aroma and taste influences of their unique terroir.

However, flavor differences are not desirable for producers of mass-market table wine or other cheaper wines, where consistency is more important. Producers will try to minimize differences in sources of grapes by using wine making technology such as micro-oxygenation, tannin filtration, cross-flow filtration, thin film evaporation, and spinning cone.
Classification of Wines

Wine experts generally classify wine into categories, with the distinctions among the classes based primarily on major differences in their manner of vinification.

* Table wines may have an alcohol content that is no higher than 14% in the U.S.. In Europe, light wine must be within 8.5% and 14% alcohol by volume. As such, unless a wine has more than 14% alcohol, or it has bubbles, it is a table wine or a light wine. Table wines are usually classifed as White, Red or Rosé, depending on their color. In Europe ‘vins de table’ (in French), ‘vino da tavola’ (in Italian) or ‘vino de mesa’ (in Spanish), which translate to ‘table wine’ in English, are cheaper wines that often on the label do not include the information on the grape variety used or the region of origin.
* Sparkling wines such as champagne, are those with carbon dioxide, either from fermentation or added later. To have this effect, the wine is fermented twice, once in an open container to allow the carbon dioxide to escape into the air, and a second time in a sealed container, where the gas is caught and remains in the wine.[20] Sparkling wines that gain their carbonation from the traditional method of bottle fermentation are called ‘Bottle Fermented’, ‘Méthode Traditionelle’, or ‘Méthode Champenoise’. The latter designation is considered wrong by those who hold that Champagne refers to the origin as well as the method of production. Other international denominations of sparkling wine include Sekt or Schaumwein (Germany), Cava (Spain), Spumante [[Italy). ‘Semi Sparkling wines’ are Sparkling Wines that contain less than 2.5 atmospheres of carbon dioxide at sea level and 20 degrees C. Some countries such as the UK impose a higher tax on fully sparkling wines. Examples of Semi-Sparkling wines are Frizzante Italy, Vino de Aguja Spain, Petillant France.
* Dessert wines range from slightly sweet (with less than 50 g/L of sugar) to incredibly sweet wines (with over 400 g/L of sugar). Late Harvest Wines such as Spätlese are made from grapes harvested well after they have reached maximum ripeness. Dried grape wines, such as Recioto and Vin Santo fron Italy, are made from grapes that have been partially raisined after harvesting. Botrytized wines are made from grapes infected by the mold Botrytis cinerea or noble rot. These include Sauternes from Bordeaux, Numerous wines from Loire such as Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume, Tokaji Aszú from Hungary, and Beerenauslese from Germany and Austria. Eiswein is made from grapes that are harvested while they are frozen.
* Fortified wines are often sweeter, and generally more alcoholic wines that have had their fermentation process stopped by the addition of a spirit, such as brandy, or have had additional spirit added after fermentation. Examples include Port, Madeira and Banyuls.
* Cooking wines typically contain a significant quantity of salt. It is a wine of such poor quality, that it is unpalatable by itself and intended for use only in cooking. (Note, however, that most cooking authorities advise against cooking with any wine one would find unacceptable to drink. A recent study, however, has found that inexpensive wine works as well as expensive wine in cooking.)

The color of wine is not determined by the juice of the grape, which is almost always clear, but rather by the presence or absence of the grape skin during fermentation. Grapes with colored juice, for example alicante bouchet, are known as teinturier. Red wine is made from red (or black) grapes, but its red color is bestowed by a process called maceration, whereby the skin is left in contact with the juice during fermentation. White wine can be made from any color of grape as the skin is separated from the juice during fermentation. A white wine made from a very dark grape may appear pink or ‘blush’.
Wine Vintages

A vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown in a single specified year, and are accordingly dated as such. In the United States for a wine to be vintage dated (and labeled with a country of origin or AVA, such as “Napa Valley” or “New Zealand”) it must contain at least 95% of its volume from wines harvested in that year. If a wine is not labeled with a country of origin or AVA, such as “Napa County”, it must contain at least 85% of its volume from wines harvested in that year. Many wines, particularly good quality red table wines, can improve in flavor with age if properly stored. Consequently, it is not uncommon for wine enthusiasts and traders to save bottles of an especially good vintage wine for future consumption. Most countries allow a vintage wine to include a portion of wine that is not from the labeled vintage. Recent research suggests vintage year may not be as significant to wine quality as currently thought.

For some types of wine, the best-quality grapes and the most care in wine-making are employed on vintage wines and they are therefore more expensive than non-vintage wines. Whilst vintage wines are generally made in a single batch so that each and every bottle will have a similar taste, climatic factors can have a dramatic impact on the character of a wine to the extent that different vintages from the same vineyard can vary dramatically in flavor and quality. Thus, vintage wines are produced to be individually characteristic of the vintage and to serve as the flagship wines of the producer. Non-vintage wines, however, are blended from a number of vintages for consistency, a process which allows wine makers to keep a reliable market image and also maintain sales even in bad vintage years.[citation needed] Superior vintages, from reputable producers and regions, will often fetch much higher prices than their average vintages. Some vintage wines are only made in better-than-average years.
Wine Tasting

Wines may be classified by their primary impression on the drinker’s palate. They are made up of chemical compounds which are similar or identical to those in fruits, vegetables, and spices. The sweetness of wine is determined by the amount of residual sugar in the wine after fermentation, relative to the acidity present in the wine. Dry wine, for example, has only a small amount of residual sugar.However, a technically dry wine might taste sweet when it is not. For example, fennel might taste sweet, but it isn’t.

Specific flavors may also be sensed, due to the highly complex mix of organic molecules such as esters and terpenes that grape juice and wine can contain. Tasters will also distinguish between flavors characteristic of a specific grape (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon and blackcurrant) and flavors that are imparted by other factors in wine making, either intentional or not. The most typical intentional flavor elements in wine are those that are imparted by aging in oak casks, and virtually every element of chocolate, vanilla, or coffee are actually a factor of oak and not the native grape. Banana flavors (isoamyl acetate) are the product of yeast metabolism, as are spoilage aromas such as sweaty, barnyard, band-aid (4-ethylphenol and 4-ethylguaiacol), and rotten egg (hydrogen sulfide). Some varietals can also have mineral flavour, due to the fact that some soils are soluble in water (as limestone), and thus absorbed by the vine.

Wine aroma is the result of the interaction between components of the grapes and those produced during winemaking process, fermentation and aging. Being served at room temperature increases the vaporization of aroma compounds, making the wine more aromatic. For some red wines that are already highly aromatic, like Chinon and Beaujolais, the volatility of the wine makes it better served chilled.
Wine Collecting

At the highest end, rare, super-premium wines are amongst the most expensive of all foodstuffs, and outstanding vintages from the best vineyards may sell for thousands of dollars per bottle. Such wines are considered by some as Veblen goods. The most common wines purchased for investment include Bordeaux, cult wines and Port. The reasons for these choices over thousands of other products and regions are:

1. They have a proven track record of holding well over time.
2. Their plateau drinking window (the period for maturity and approachability) is of many, many years, where the taster will be able to enjoy the wine at its best.
3. There is a record of quality and consensus amongst experts as to the uniqueness of the wines.

Investment in fine wine has attracted a number of fraudsters who play on fine wine’s exclusive image and their clients’ ignorance of this sector of the wine market. Wine fraud scams often work by charging excessively high prices for the wine, while representing that it is a sound investment unaffected by economic cycles. Like any investment, proper research is essential before investing. False labeling is another dishonest practice commonly used.
Naming Wines

Wines are usually named either by their grape variety or by their place of production. Generally speaking, European wines are named both after the place of production (e.g. Bordeaux, Rioja, Chianti) and the grapes used (e.g. Pinot, Chardonnay, Merlot). Wines from everywhere except Europe are generally named for the grape variety. More and more, however, market recognition of particular regions and wineries is leading to their increased prominence on non-European wine labels. Examples of recognized locales include: Napa Valley, Barossa Valley, Willamette Valley, Cafayate, Marlborough, Walla Walla, etc.

Some blended wine names are marketing terms, and the use of these names is governed by trademark or copyright law, rather than a specific wine law or a patent on the actual varietal blend or process used to achieve it. For example, Meritage (pronounced to rhyme with “heritage”) is generally a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and may also include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, while the dôle is made from the Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes. Use of the term Meritage is protected by licensing agreements by The Meritage Association.
Wine Appellations

The taste of a wine depends not only on the grape species and varietal blend, but can also depend on the ground and climate (known as terroir) where it is cultivated. Historically, wines have been known by names reflecting their origin, and sometimes style: Bordeaux, Rioja, Mosel and Chianti are all legally defined names, reflecting the traditional wines produced in the named region. These naming conventions or “appellations” (as they are known in France) dictate not only where the grapes in a wine were grown, but also which grapes went into the wine and how they were vinified. The appellation system is strongest in the European Union, but a related system, the American Viticultural Area, restricts the use of certain regional labels in America, such as Napa Valley, Santa Barbara and Willamette Valley. The AVA designations do not restrict the type of grape used.

The inconsistent application of historical European designations offends many producers there. For example, in most of the world, wine labeled Champagne must be made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and fermented using a certain method, based on the international trademark agreements included in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. However, in the United States, there exists a legal definition called semi-generic that enables U.S. winemakers to use certain generic terms (Champagne, Hock, Sherry, etc.) if there appears next to the term the actual appellation of origin in order to prevent any possible confusion.
Uses of Wine

Wine is a popular and important beverage that accompanies and enhances a wide range of European and Mediterranean-style cuisines, from the simple and traditional to the most sophisticated and complex. Wine is important in cuisine not just for its value as a beverage, but as a flavor agent (primarily in stocks and braising) in which its acidity lends balance to rich savory or sweet dishes. Red, white and sparkling wines are the most popular, and are also known as light wines, because they only contain approximately 10-14% alcohol. (Alcohol percentages are usually by volume.) The apéritif and dessert wines contain 14-20% alcohol, and are fortified to make them richer and sweeter than the light wines.

The labels on certain bottles of wine suggest that they need to be set aside for an hour before drinking to breathe, while other wines are recommended to be drunk as soon as they are opened. Decanting is controversial subject in wine. In addition to aeration, decanting removes some of the bitter sediments from the bottle. Sediment is more common in older bottles but younger wines benefit more from the aeration.

During aeration, the exposure of younger wines to air often “relaxes” the flavors and makes them taste smoother and better integrated in aroma, texture, and flavor. Wines that are older generally fade (lose their character and flavor intensity) with extended aeration. Breathing, however, does not benefit all wines, and should not therefore be taken to the extreme. In general, wine should be tasted as soon as it is opened to determine how long it may be aerated, if at all.
Religious uses of Wine

The use of wine in religious ceremonies is common to many cultures and regions. Libations often included wine, and the religious mysteries of Dionysus are usually thought to have used wine as an entheogen. Wine plays an integral part of Jewish laws and traditions. The Kiddush, a blessing said before starting the first and second Shabbat or festival meals and Havdallah, a blessing said after the Shabbat or festival are required to be said over wine if available. On Pesach (Passover) during the Seder, it is also required to drink four cups of wine. In the Tabernacle and in the Temple in Jerusalem, the libation of wine was part of the sacrificial service.

In Christian services wine is used in a sacred ritual called Communion or the Eucharist, which originates in Gospel accounts of the Last Supper when Jesus blesses the bread and wine and commands his followers to “do this in remembrance of me.” Wine was used in the rite by all Protestant groups until an alternative arose in 1869 when Methodist minister-turned-dentist Thomas Bramwell Welch applied new pasteurization techniques to stop the natural fermentation process of grape juice. Some Christians who were part of the growing temperance movement pressed for a switch from wine to grape juice, and there remains an ongoing debate between some American Protestant denominations as to whether wine can or should be used in moderation for the Eucharist or for merriment. Outside the United States, most Protestant groups use wine. The use of wine is forbidden under Islam. Iran used to have a thriving wine industry that disappeared after the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Health Effects of Wine Consumption

The health effects of wine (and alcohol in general) are the subject of considerable ongoing study. In the USA, a boom in red wine consumption was initiated in the 1990s by ’60 Minutes’, and other news reports on the French paradox. The French paradox refers to the lower incidence of coronary heart disease in France than in the USA despite high levels of saturated fat in the traditional French diet. Epidemiologists suspect that this difference is attributed to the high consumption of wines by the French, however this suspicion is based on limited scientific evidence.

A series of population studies have observed a J curve association between wine consumption and the risk of heart disease. This means that abstainers and heavy drinkers have an elevated risk, whilst moderate drinkers have a lower risk. Population studies have also found that moderate consumption of other alcoholic beverages may be cardioprotective, though the association is considerably stronger for wine. These studies have found a protective effect from both red wine as well as white wine, though evidence from laboratory studies suggests that red wine may posess superior health benefits.

A chemical called resveratrol is thought to be at least partly responsible for red wines’ health benefits, as it has been shown to exert a range of both cardioprotective as well as chemoprotective mechanisms in animal studies. Resveratrol is produced naturally by grape skins in response to fungal infection, which includes exposure to yeast during fermentation. As white wine has minimal contact with grape skins during this process, it generally contains lower levels of resveratrol. Other beneficial compounds in wine include other polyphenols, antioxidants, and flavonoids.

Whilst evidence from both laboratory studies as well as epidemiology (observational studies) suggests wines’ cardioprotective effect, no evidence from controlled experiments – of which long-term studies are still ongoing – currently exists to determine the specific effect of wine or other alcohol on the risk of developing heart disease or stroke. Moreover, excessive consumption of alcohol including wine can cause some diseases including cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholism. Also the American Heart Association cautions people “not to start drinking … if they do not already drink alcohol. Consult your doctor on the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation”.
Packaging of Wine

Most wines are sold in glass bottles and are sealed using a cork. Recently there has been an increase in the number of wines being sealed with alternative closures such as screwcaps or synthetic plastic “corks”. This is due to that fact that while cork is a sustainable harvest, it may only be procured from trees once a decade; therefore making the volume of cork available relatively fixed. In addition, the use of alternative closures prevents incidence of cork taint, a phenomenon imparting spoilage to the wine after bottling (although alternative closures can also cause other types of wine spoilage).
Wine Proffessionals

* Cooper: Someone who makes wooden barrels, casks, and other similar wooden objects.
* Négociant: A wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers, and sells them under his own name. Sometimes, this term is simply a synonym for wine merchant.
* Vintner: A wine merchant or producer.
* Sommelier: A person in a restaurant who specializes in wine. They are usually in charge of assembling the wine list, staff education and making wine suggestions to customers.
* Winemaker: A person who makes wine. May or may not be formally trained.
* Garagista: One who makes wine in a garage (or basement, or home, etc.) An amateur wine maker. Also used in a derrogatory way, when speaking of small scale operations of recent inception, or without pedigree(ie. small scale winemakers of Bordeaux).
* Oenologist: Wine scientist or wine chemist. A winemaker may be trained as oenologist, but often instead uses a consultant oenologist.
* Viticulturist: A person who specializes in the science of the grapevines themselves. Can also be someone who manages a vineyard (decides how to prune, how much to irrigate, how to deal with pests, etc.).

Learn About Wine


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Learn About Wine

What is Wine?

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermentation of unmodified grape juice. The natural chemical balance of grapes is such that they ferment completely without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes or other nutrients. Although other fruits like apples and berries can also be fermented, the resultant “wines” are normally named after the fruit (for example, apple wine or elderberry wine) and are generically known as fruit or country wine. Others, such as barley wine and rice wine (e.g. sake) are made from starch-based materials and resemble beer more than wine, while ginger wine is fortified with brandy. In these cases, the use of the term “wine” is a reference to the higher alcohol content, rather than production process. The commercial use of the English word “wine” (and its equivalent in other languages) is protected by law in many jurisdictions.
The History of Wine

The earliest evidence suggesting wine production comes from archaeological sites in Georgia and Iran, dating from 6000 to 5000 BC. The archaeological evidence becomes clearer, and points to domestication of grapevine, in Early Bronze Age sites of the Near East, Sumer and Egypt from around the third millennium BC. In Egypt, wine became a part of recorded history, playing an important role in ancient ceremonial life. Traces of wine were also found in China, dating from the second and first millennium BC

Wine was common in classical Greece and Rome. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and revelry, and wine was frequently referred to in the works of Homer and Aesop. Many of the major wine producing regions of Western Europe today were established by the Romans. Wine making technology improved considerably during the time of the Roman Empire. Many grape varieties and cultivation techniques were known. Barrels were developed for storing and shipping wine.

In medieval Europe, the Christian Church was a staunch supporter of wine which was necessary for the celebration of the Catholic Mass. In places such as Germany, beer was banned and considered pagan and barbaric while wine consumption was viewed as civilized and a sign of conversion.
Wine Production

Wine grapes grow almost exclusively between thirty and fifty degrees north or south of the equator. The world’s most southerly vineyards are in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island near the 45th parallel, and the most northerly is in Flen, Sweden, just above the 59th parallel.
Wine Exporting Countries

The 14 largest export nations (as of 2005) – France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, the United States of America, Germany, South Africa, Portugal, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Croatia and Argentina. California produces about 90% of the wine in the United States. In 2000, Great Britain imported more wine from Australia than from France for the first time in history.

The leaders in export volume by market share in 2003 were:

flag of france France, 22%
flag of italy Italy, 20%
flag of spain Spain, 16%
flag of australia Australia, 8%
flag of chile Chile, 6%
flag of united states United States, 5%
flag of portugal Portugal, 4%
flag of germany Germany, 4%

The leaders in terms of volume in 2005 were:

1 flag of france France
2 flag of italy Italy
3 flag of spain Spain
4 flag of united states United States of America
5 flag of argentina Argentina
6 flag of china China
7 flag of australia Australia
8 flag of south africa South Africa
9 flag of germany Germany
10 flag of chile Chile
11 flag of portugal Portugal
12 flag of romania Romania
Grape Varieties

Wine is usually made from one or more varieties of the European species, Vitis vinifera. When one of these varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Merlot, for example, is used as the predominant grape (usually defined by law as a minimum of 75 or 85%) the result is a varietal, as opposed to a blended wine. Blended wines are in no way inferior to varietal wines; some of the world’s most valued and expensive wines from the Bordeaux, Rioja or Tuscany regions, are a blend of several grape varieties of the same vintage.

Wine can also be made from other species or from hybrids, created by the genetic crossing of two species. Vitis labrusca, Vitis aestivalis, Vitis rupestris, Vitis rotundifolia and Vitis riparia are native North American grapes, usually grown for eating in fruit form or made into grape juice, jam, or jelly, but sometimes made into wine, eg. Concord wine (Vitis labrusca species).

Hybrids are not to be confused with the practice of grafting. Most of the world’s vineyards are planted with European vinifera vines that have been grafted onto North American species rootstock. This is common practice because North American grape species are resistant to phylloxera. Grafting is done in every wine-producing country of the World except for Chile and Argentina, which have yet to be exposed to the insect.

The variety of grape(s), aspect (direction of slope), elevation, and topography of the vineyard, type and chemistry of soil, the climate and seasonal conditions under which grapes are grown, the local yeast cultures altogether form the concept of “terroir.” The range of possibilities lead to great variety among wine products, which is extended by the fermentation, finishing, and aging processes. Many small producers use growing and production methods that preserve or accentuate the aroma and taste influences of their unique terroir.

However, flavor differences are not desirable for producers of mass-market table wine or other cheaper wines, where consistency is more important. Producers will try to minimize differences in sources of grapes by using wine making technology such as micro-oxygenation, tannin filtration, cross-flow filtration, thin film evaporation, and spinning cone.
Classification of Wines

Wine experts generally classify wine into categories, with the distinctions among the classes based primarily on major differences in their manner of vinification.

* Table wines may have an alcohol content that is no higher than 14% in the U.S.. In Europe, light wine must be within 8.5% and 14% alcohol by volume. As such, unless a wine has more than 14% alcohol, or it has bubbles, it is a table wine or a light wine. Table wines are usually classifed as White, Red or Rosé, depending on their color. In Europe ‘vins de table’ (in French), ‘vino da tavola’ (in Italian) or ‘vino de mesa’ (in Spanish), which translate to ‘table wine’ in English, are cheaper wines that often on the label do not include the information on the grape variety used or the region of origin.
* Sparkling wines such as champagne, are those with carbon dioxide, either from fermentation or added later. To have this effect, the wine is fermented twice, once in an open container to allow the carbon dioxide to escape into the air, and a second time in a sealed container, where the gas is caught and remains in the wine.[20] Sparkling wines that gain their carbonation from the traditional method of bottle fermentation are called ‘Bottle Fermented’, ‘Méthode Traditionelle’, or ‘Méthode Champenoise’. The latter designation is considered wrong by those who hold that Champagne refers to the origin as well as the method of production. Other international denominations of sparkling wine include Sekt or Schaumwein (Germany), Cava (Spain), Spumante [[Italy). ‘Semi Sparkling wines’ are Sparkling Wines that contain less than 2.5 atmospheres of carbon dioxide at sea level and 20 degrees C. Some countries such as the UK impose a higher tax on fully sparkling wines. Examples of Semi-Sparkling wines are Frizzante Italy, Vino de Aguja Spain, Petillant France.
* Dessert wines range from slightly sweet (with less than 50 g/L of sugar) to incredibly sweet wines (with over 400 g/L of sugar). Late Harvest Wines such as Spätlese are made from grapes harvested well after they have reached maximum ripeness. Dried grape wines, such as Recioto and Vin Santo fron Italy, are made from grapes that have been partially raisined after harvesting. Botrytized wines are made from grapes infected by the mold Botrytis cinerea or noble rot. These include Sauternes from Bordeaux, Numerous wines from Loire such as Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume, Tokaji Aszú from Hungary, and Beerenauslese from Germany and Austria. Eiswein is made from grapes that are harvested while they are frozen.
* Fortified wines are often sweeter, and generally more alcoholic wines that have had their fermentation process stopped by the addition of a spirit, such as brandy, or have had additional spirit added after fermentation. Examples include Port, Madeira and Banyuls.
* Cooking wines typically contain a significant quantity of salt. It is a wine of such poor quality, that it is unpalatable by itself and intended for use only in cooking. (Note, however, that most cooking authorities advise against cooking with any wine one would find unacceptable to drink. A recent study, however, has found that inexpensive wine works as well as expensive wine in cooking.)

The color of wine is not determined by the juice of the grape, which is almost always clear, but rather by the presence or absence of the grape skin during fermentation. Grapes with colored juice, for example alicante bouchet, are known as teinturier. Red wine is made from red (or black) grapes, but its red color is bestowed by a process called maceration, whereby the skin is left in contact with the juice during fermentation. White wine can be made from any color of grape as the skin is separated from the juice during fermentation. A white wine made from a very dark grape may appear pink or ‘blush’.
Wine Vintages

A vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown in a single specified year, and are accordingly dated as such. In the United States for a wine to be vintage dated (and labeled with a country of origin or AVA, such as “Napa Valley” or “New Zealand”) it must contain at least 95% of its volume from wines harvested in that year. If a wine is not labeled with a country of origin or AVA, such as “Napa County”, it must contain at least 85% of its volume from wines harvested in that year. Many wines, particularly good quality red table wines, can improve in flavor with age if properly stored. Consequently, it is not uncommon for wine enthusiasts and traders to save bottles of an especially good vintage wine for future consumption. Most countries allow a vintage wine to include a portion of wine that is not from the labeled vintage. Recent research suggests vintage year may not be as significant to wine quality as currently thought.

For some types of wine, the best-quality grapes and the most care in wine-making are employed on vintage wines and they are therefore more expensive than non-vintage wines. Whilst vintage wines are generally made in a single batch so that each and every bottle will have a similar taste, climatic factors can have a dramatic impact on the character of a wine to the extent that different vintages from the same vineyard can vary dramatically in flavor and quality. Thus, vintage wines are produced to be individually characteristic of the vintage and to serve as the flagship wines of the producer. Non-vintage wines, however, are blended from a number of vintages for consistency, a process which allows wine makers to keep a reliable market image and also maintain sales even in bad vintage years.[citation needed] Superior vintages, from reputable producers and regions, will often fetch much higher prices than their average vintages. Some vintage wines are only made in better-than-average years.
Wine Tasting

Wines may be classified by their primary impression on the drinker’s palate. They are made up of chemical compounds which are similar or identical to those in fruits, vegetables, and spices. The sweetness of wine is determined by the amount of residual sugar in the wine after fermentation, relative to the acidity present in the wine. Dry wine, for example, has only a small amount of residual sugar.However, a technically dry wine might taste sweet when it is not. For example, fennel might taste sweet, but it isn’t.

Specific flavors may also be sensed, due to the highly complex mix of organic molecules such as esters and terpenes that grape juice and wine can contain. Tasters will also distinguish between flavors characteristic of a specific grape (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon and blackcurrant) and flavors that are imparted by other factors in wine making, either intentional or not. The most typical intentional flavor elements in wine are those that are imparted by aging in oak casks, and virtually every element of chocolate, vanilla, or coffee are actually a factor of oak and not the native grape. Banana flavors (isoamyl acetate) are the product of yeast metabolism, as are spoilage aromas such as sweaty, barnyard, band-aid (4-ethylphenol and 4-ethylguaiacol), and rotten egg (hydrogen sulfide). Some varietals can also have mineral flavour, due to the fact that some soils are soluble in water (as limestone), and thus absorbed by the vine.

Wine aroma is the result of the interaction between components of the grapes and those produced during winemaking process, fermentation and aging. Being served at room temperature increases the vaporization of aroma compounds, making the wine more aromatic. For some red wines that are already highly aromatic, like Chinon and Beaujolais, the volatility of the wine makes it better served chilled.
Wine Collecting

At the highest end, rare, super-premium wines are amongst the most expensive of all foodstuffs, and outstanding vintages from the best vineyards may sell for thousands of dollars per bottle. Such wines are considered by some as Veblen goods. The most common wines purchased for investment include Bordeaux, cult wines and Port. The reasons for these choices over thousands of other products and regions are:

1. They have a proven track record of holding well over time.
2. Their plateau drinking window (the period for maturity and approachability) is of many, many years, where the taster will be able to enjoy the wine at its best.
3. There is a record of quality and consensus amongst experts as to the uniqueness of the wines.

Investment in fine wine has attracted a number of fraudsters who play on fine wine’s exclusive image and their clients’ ignorance of this sector of the wine market. Wine fraud scams often work by charging excessively high prices for the wine, while representing that it is a sound investment unaffected by economic cycles. Like any investment, proper research is essential before investing. False labeling is another dishonest practice commonly used.
Naming Wines

Wines are usually named either by their grape variety or by their place of production. Generally speaking, European wines are named both after the place of production (e.g. Bordeaux, Rioja, Chianti) and the grapes used (e.g. Pinot, Chardonnay, Merlot). Wines from everywhere except Europe are generally named for the grape variety. More and more, however, market recognition of particular regions and wineries is leading to their increased prominence on non-European wine labels. Examples of recognized locales include: Napa Valley, Barossa Valley, Willamette Valley, Cafayate, Marlborough, Walla Walla, etc.

Some blended wine names are marketing terms, and the use of these names is governed by trademark or copyright law, rather than a specific wine law or a patent on the actual varietal blend or process used to achieve it. For example, Meritage (pronounced to rhyme with “heritage”) is generally a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and may also include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, while the dôle is made from the Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes. Use of the term Meritage is protected by licensing agreements by The Meritage Association.
Wine Appellations

The taste of a wine depends not only on the grape species and varietal blend, but can also depend on the ground and climate (known as terroir) where it is cultivated. Historically, wines have been known by names reflecting their origin, and sometimes style: Bordeaux, Rioja, Mosel and Chianti are all legally defined names, reflecting the traditional wines produced in the named region. These naming conventions or “appellations” (as they are known in France) dictate not only where the grapes in a wine were grown, but also which grapes went into the wine and how they were vinified. The appellation system is strongest in the European Union, but a related system, the American Viticultural Area, restricts the use of certain regional labels in America, such as Napa Valley, Santa Barbara and Willamette Valley. The AVA designations do not restrict the type of grape used.

The inconsistent application of historical European designations offends many producers there. For example, in most of the world, wine labeled Champagne must be made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and fermented using a certain method, based on the international trademark agreements included in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. However, in the United States, there exists a legal definition called semi-generic that enables U.S. winemakers to use certain generic terms (Champagne, Hock, Sherry, etc.) if there appears next to the term the actual appellation of origin in order to prevent any possible confusion.
Uses of Wine

Wine is a popular and important beverage that accompanies and enhances a wide range of European and Mediterranean-style cuisines, from the simple and traditional to the most sophisticated and complex. Wine is important in cuisine not just for its value as a beverage, but as a flavor agent (primarily in stocks and braising) in which its acidity lends balance to rich savory or sweet dishes. Red, white and sparkling wines are the most popular, and are also known as light wines, because they only contain approximately 10-14% alcohol. (Alcohol percentages are usually by volume.) The apéritif and dessert wines contain 14-20% alcohol, and are fortified to make them richer and sweeter than the light wines.

The labels on certain bottles of wine suggest that they need to be set aside for an hour before drinking to breathe, while other wines are recommended to be drunk as soon as they are opened. Decanting is controversial subject in wine. In addition to aeration, decanting removes some of the bitter sediments from the bottle. Sediment is more common in older bottles but younger wines benefit more from the aeration.

During aeration, the exposure of younger wines to air often “relaxes” the flavors and makes them taste smoother and better integrated in aroma, texture, and flavor. Wines that are older generally fade (lose their character and flavor intensity) with extended aeration. Breathing, however, does not benefit all wines, and should not therefore be taken to the extreme. In general, wine should be tasted as soon as it is opened to determine how long it may be aerated, if at all.
Religious uses of Wine

The use of wine in religious ceremonies is common to many cultures and regions. Libations often included wine, and the religious mysteries of Dionysus are usually thought to have used wine as an entheogen. Wine plays an integral part of Jewish laws and traditions. The Kiddush, a blessing said before starting the first and second Shabbat or festival meals and Havdallah, a blessing said after the Shabbat or festival are required to be said over wine if available. On Pesach (Passover) during the Seder, it is also required to drink four cups of wine. In the Tabernacle and in the Temple in Jerusalem, the libation of wine was part of the sacrificial service.

In Christian services wine is used in a sacred ritual called Communion or the Eucharist, which originates in Gospel accounts of the Last Supper when Jesus blesses the bread and wine and commands his followers to “do this in remembrance of me.” Wine was used in the rite by all Protestant groups until an alternative arose in 1869 when Methodist minister-turned-dentist Thomas Bramwell Welch applied new pasteurization techniques to stop the natural fermentation process of grape juice. Some Christians who were part of the growing temperance movement pressed for a switch from wine to grape juice, and there remains an ongoing debate between some American Protestant denominations as to whether wine can or should be used in moderation for the Eucharist or for merriment. Outside the United States, most Protestant groups use wine. The use of wine is forbidden under Islam. Iran used to have a thriving wine industry that disappeared after the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Health Effects of Wine Consumption

The health effects of wine (and alcohol in general) are the subject of considerable ongoing study. In the USA, a boom in red wine consumption was initiated in the 1990s by ’60 Minutes’, and other news reports on the French paradox. The French paradox refers to the lower incidence of coronary heart disease in France than in the USA despite high levels of saturated fat in the traditional French diet. Epidemiologists suspect that this difference is attributed to the high consumption of wines by the French, however this suspicion is based on limited scientific evidence.

A series of population studies have observed a J curve association between wine consumption and the risk of heart disease. This means that abstainers and heavy drinkers have an elevated risk, whilst moderate drinkers have a lower risk. Population studies have also found that moderate consumption of other alcoholic beverages may be cardioprotective, though the association is considerably stronger for wine. These studies have found a protective effect from both red wine as well as white wine, though evidence from laboratory studies suggests that red wine may posess superior health benefits.

A chemical called resveratrol is thought to be at least partly responsible for red wines’ health benefits, as it has been shown to exert a range of both cardioprotective as well as chemoprotective mechanisms in animal studies. Resveratrol is produced naturally by grape skins in response to fungal infection, which includes exposure to yeast during fermentation. As white wine has minimal contact with grape skins during this process, it generally contains lower levels of resveratrol. Other beneficial compounds in wine include other polyphenols, antioxidants, and flavonoids.

Whilst evidence from both laboratory studies as well as epidemiology (observational studies) suggests wines’ cardioprotective effect, no evidence from controlled experiments – of which long-term studies are still ongoing – currently exists to determine the specific effect of wine or other alcohol on the risk of developing heart disease or stroke. Moreover, excessive consumption of alcohol including wine can cause some diseases including cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholism. Also the American Heart Association cautions people “not to start drinking … if they do not already drink alcohol. Consult your doctor on the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation”.
Packaging of Wine

Most wines are sold in glass bottles and are sealed using a cork. Recently there has been an increase in the number of wines being sealed with alternative closures such as screwcaps or synthetic plastic “corks”. This is due to that fact that while cork is a sustainable harvest, it may only be procured from trees once a decade; therefore making the volume of cork available relatively fixed. In addition, the use of alternative closures prevents incidence of cork taint, a phenomenon imparting spoilage to the wine after bottling (although alternative closures can also cause other types of wine spoilage).
Wine Proffessionals

* Cooper: Someone who makes wooden barrels, casks, and other similar wooden objects.
* Négociant: A wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers, and sells them under his own name. Sometimes, this term is simply a synonym for wine merchant.
* Vintner: A wine merchant or producer.
* Sommelier: A person in a restaurant who specializes in wine. They are usually in charge of assembling the wine list, staff education and making wine suggestions to customers.
* Winemaker: A person who makes wine. May or may not be formally trained.
* Garagista: One who makes wine in a garage (or basement, or home, etc.) An amateur wine maker. Also used in a derrogatory way, when speaking of small scale operations of recent inception, or without pedigree(ie. small scale winemakers of Bordeaux).
* Oenologist: Wine scientist or wine chemist. A winemaker may be trained as oenologist, but often instead uses a consultant oenologist.
* Viticulturist: A person who specializes in the science of the grapevines themselves. Can also be someone who manages a vineyard (decides how to prune, how much to irrigate, how to deal with pests, etc.).

Decanting

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Decanting

Decanting a wine may be done for several reasons. However, the most common are to remove sediment (filtration), aerate the wine and for presentation.

Aeration: A young tannic red tastes better once it has been given time to ‘breathe’ – the exposure to air softens the tannic bite allowing the wine’s complexity to show through. Although this can be done simply by removing the cork, the exposed surface area of wine is minimal so it may take several hours. The preferred method to improve the wine’s taste is to decant the wine into a wide decanter. The decanter’s shape exposes more of the wine to air, which reduces the need for aeratation (recommended times vary from 10 minutes to an hour).

Filtration: Aged wines, primarily reds, may have some sediment which should be removed before serving. The actual process here is the same, although some preparation is needed. First, the wine bottle itself should have been stored on its side, and not rotated or agitated for some time: this causes the sediment to collect along one side of the bottle. Then 24 hours before serving the bottle should be stood upright allowing the sediment to collect around the punt at the base of the bottle. Once opened the wine should be decanted (carefully) in the same method as above, stopping, however, the wine before any sediment drains into the decanter. It’s often useful to remove the entire capsule from the bottle before decanting and to do so under good light. This allows you to decant as much of the wine as possible by pouring until the sediment just reaches into the neck of the bottle. One caveat is that the wines that most need decanting (fine aged wines) are often also the most delicate and thus susceptible to rapid oxidation. In this case you should decant to remove the sediment, but you don’t want to let it stand (decant and serve immediately). An extremely delicate old wine may oxidize only 10 minutes after decanting.

Presentation: Put simply, wine looks more elegant when poured from a fine decanter!

Most whites do not need decanting as they don’t have the tannin of a young red nor do they undergo much bottle aging. However, certain whites may have sediment or wine making faults and could benefit from the aeration provided by decanting.

The Wine Messenger

Grapes & Wine

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Grapes & Wine

The grape variety used to make wine is the single most important factor in how the wine ultimately tastes. After that, climatic factors and winemaking practices also impact the style of the finished wine, so a single grape variety can taste wildly different depending on where it’s grown and what happens to it in the winery. The choice of grape variety is inextricably linked to where it is grown, since different types of grapes have different needs. Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, for example, prefer cool climates, therefore they can be grown successfully in Germany and Northern France. Syrah, on the other hand, likes the heat and, in fact, wouldn’t ripen at all in a cool, northerly climate. The following is a short list of some of the main grape varieties and the styles of wine you can expect from them.

Red Grape Varieties

Cabernet Sauvignon

Perhaps the noblest of them all, Cabernet Sauvignon makes big, dense, structured red wines capable of long aging. It forms the backbone of the top red wines of Bordeaux, where it is usually blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, among others. But Cabernet also travels well and great examples are found the world over, most notable in California, Australia and Chile. Both its aroma and taste are reminiscent of ripe blackcurrants with, often, a hint of chocolate, cedar or mint.

Merlot

Where Cabernet Sauvignon is structured and firm, Merlot is more fleshy and lush. Again, it produces wonderful wines in Bordeaux and the south of France, but also in California, Washington State, Australia, Chile and many others. It can taste of ripe plums and chocolate and feels like velvet.

Syrah/Shiraz

Wonderfully rich and spicy, Syrah is responsible for the great wines of the northern Rh?ne and many southern French wines. In Australia, where it known as Shiraz, it produces rich, ripe voluptuous wines. It seems very much at home in Washington State and parts of California. It can display a range of flavors from leather to pepper and from violets to chocolate. Always a crowd pleaser.

Pinot Noir

Smooth and silky Pinot Noir impresses with elegance rather than power. It’s the grape behind the great red wines of France’s Burgundy region. Flavors of strawberry, raspberry and cherry are common in young wines, becoming earthy and gamey as the wine matures. Outside of Burgundy, Pinot Noir does very well in cooler climate areas of New Zealand, Australia, California and Oregon.

Zinfandel

A native of California, Zinfandel is a big, heartwarming wine with full flavors of blackberry, blueberry and spice. The wines tend to be ripe and high in alcohol, but very easy to drink.

 

White Grape Varieties

Chardonnay

Chardonnay grows successfully practically everywhere wine is made, so it’s no surprise that it’s so abundant and popular. The grape itself is relatively neutral and takes on its individual character from the climatic conditions where it is grown and from winemaking techniques. In the cool, northerly region of Chablis in France, the white wine can be steely and lean. Here it traditionally sees no oak, but that has been changing in recent years. Further south, in Burgundy, Chardonnay makes some of the finest and longest-lived white wines in the world. Flavors range from light, floral and lemon through to hazelnut, butter and toast. Oak plays a large role in how chardonnay tastes as the grape has a particular affinity for it. Warmer climate Chardonnays from Australia and California can display lush, tropical fruit. How do you like your Chardonnay?

Sauvignon Blanc

A very distinctive grape variety giving very zesty, grassy, refreshing wines. Traditionally, the best examples have always come from the Loire region in France, where they are labeled by location (Sancerre and Pouilly Fume) rather than by grape variety, but in recent years New Zealand has earned quite a reputation with this grape. Here the wines are riper, more pungent and thoroughly irresistible. The above examples are pure, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc, but other areas use a little oak to soften the edges a little bit. California often does this, as does Bordeaux, where the Sauvignon Blanc is often blended with another variety: Semillon.

Riesling

An aromatic grape variety reminiscent of peaches and flowers in its youth, developing weight and an almost kerosene quality with age. Germany makes the variety in all styles from bone dry all the way through the spectrum to late harvest dessert wines. What the Germans do so well is achieve a delicate balance between sweetness and refreshing acidity. Australia produces wonderfully refreshing Rieslings bursting with lime-juice.

Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris

A very popular grape variety known as Pinot Grigio in Italy and Pinot Gris elsewhere. Its popularity is due in part to its essentially neutral character, giving it wide appeal and making it easy to sip and match with food. In the Alsace region of France and in Oregon, Pinot Gris tends to be weightier with more smoke and spice than the simpler Italian versions.

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Tasting Wine

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Tasting Wine

You don’t need to analyze wine to enjoy it, but if you pay attention to what you’re tasting you’ll find that you’ll be better able to identify what you like or don’t like in a wine. It’s a bit like languages: You don’t have to speak Italian to visit Italy, but if you know a few words, your enjoyment can be greatly enhanced.

Before you taste make sure there are no distracting odors in the room, like cooking smells or perfume. The only thing you should smell is the wine in your glass.

Glasses should be clean and dry and filled with only a small sample of wine (about a quarter of the glass). Wines all have certain components and characteristics in common. When we taste, we use sight, smell and taste to recognize the above various components and to assess the quality and health of the wine. So let’s give it a go.

Appearance

A good look at the wine can tell us about the condition and even age of the wine.

Clarity: is the wine clear and bright (as it should be) or is it hazy or murky?

Intensity: is the color pale or deep?

Color: hold the glass at an angle against a white background (table cloth or sheet of paper) and assess the color in the middle of the bowl of the glass and at the rim. White wines start life pale and darken with age. Red wines out a deep, bright purple and gradually turn ruby, mahogany and eventually brown as they age.

Smell or “Nose”

Swirling the wine in the glass allows its aromas to be liberated into the air, so give your glass a whirl and then take a deep sniff. What are you looking for?

Condition: does it smell clean and attractive or is there any mustiness or off-odor?

Intensity: is the nose faint or pronounced?

Character: what does it smell like? This may seem difficult initially, but you can do it. Just as you can tell the difference between the smell of bacon and coffee, you can also identify some of the possible smells in wine. Here are some things you may smell: fruit, grapes, lemon, grass, peaches, raspberries, blackcurrants, flowers, apples, vanilla, oak, smoke, plums and many, many more. Remember that there are no right or wrong answers, here. It’s simply an exercise in thinking about what you’re drinking.

Taste or “palate”

Now the fun part — you actually get to drink the stuff! Take a sip of wine and swirl it around the mouth so that the wine is in contact with all parts of your mouth: tongue, gums, soft palate. Even better, tilt the head forward so that the wine is behind the front teeth and then slurp air into the mouth over the wine. This seems weird at first, and goes against everything your mother taught you to do at the table, but it’s worth it. You can taste much more of the wine if you aerate it in this way.

So what are you looking for?

Sweetness: an easy one. Sweetness is immediately noticeable on the tip of the tongue. If there’s no apparent sugar the wine is called “dry”.

Acidity: very important if the wine is to be refreshing and balanced. Lemon juice and vinegar are acidic. Too much and the wine tastes too tart; too little and the wine is known as “flabby”, tasting heavy and just not refreshing.

Alcohol: a vital component in wine, but one that shouldn’t stand apart from the other elements if the wine is to be balanced. When the alcohol is too high, there will be a bit of a burning sensation after the wine is swallowed.

Tannin: a natural preservative found in grape skins and stalks, tannin is the stuff that makes young red wines seem harsh and leaves the mouth feeling dry. If you want to know how tannin feels when it’s not in wine, brew some very strong black tea and you’ll soon know! Tannin’s role as preservative is extremely important in high quality red wines that are made to age for many years.

Body: an indicator of how the wine feels in the mouth. Pinot Noir or Beaujolais tend to feel quite light in the mouth while Bordeaux or Australian Shiraz tend to be full and dense. So, the progression for both reds and whites is light-bodied, to medium bodied, to full-bodied.

Fruit: the taste and intensity of the fruit in the mouth; generally, the better the wine, the more evident the fruit. Also, younger wines will often display more fruit than mature wine. Length: how long the taste of the wine lingers in the mouth after swallowing is a good indication of the wine’s quality: the longer the better.

Conclusions

Having considered the above elements, what did you think of the wine?

Quality: you might think it’s obvious to say that a $100 bottle of wine is likely to be high quality and a $5 wine low quality, but the assessment of quality goes beyond this. A wine that looks clear and bright, has a pronounced, intense nose, shows good fruit and balanced acid, sweetness and alcohol, and has a long finish might be an inexpensive wine. It would be classified as good quality, though, because it is a good example of its type. So as your tasting progresses, question the wine. Is it a good example of its type?

Maturity: this is a measure of the wine’s readiness to drink, which is not the same thing as its age. Many wines are made to be drunk as soon as they are bottled while others require years (or decades) of maturation in bottle to reach their optimum state. Simple wines, which are designed to be drunk young, will not improve with age. Rather they will deteriorate and be over the hill if kept too long.

Faults: Thankfully, modern winemaking practices have reduced most of the problems we used to commonly find in wine, but there’s still one which affects around a small percent of bottles: bad corks. “Corked”, the term used to describe the affliction, has nothing to do with cork floating in the wine, but rather (not to get too technical) a condition in which the wine has reacted with a substance in the cork, producing a musty, corky smell and taste, reminiscent of wet cardboard. The wine should always smell clean and appealing. The cork problem is the reason behind many wineries switching to synthetic closures or screw caps, which are now widely used with aromatic varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. So don’t be put off is you see a screw cap on your wine. It doesn’t mean cheap wine, it means the winemaker is sick of cork problems and wants to preserve the freshness of the wine.

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Wine Buying Tip

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Wine Buying Tip

This is the only Wine Buying Tip you ever need to know!!!

1. Know your store

Every wine shop is different. Different focus, different selections, different pricing structures. Choose the one that works best for you. If you are new to the wine game and every bottle on the shelf is over $50 then you are probably in the wrong place. Look for stores that have either organized wine tastings or have wine available by the glass. What better way to know if you like a wine before buying than to taste it?

2. Have a plan

Have in mind what the wine is for before you are bogged down by numerous regions, prices, etc. Are you looking for a simple wine to serve with dinner or planning a party for twenty? Knowing what you are looking for before you are in the store will help you to make better selections than just walking in and browsing until something strikes your fancy.

3. Don’t be afraid to bring resources

There is a myriad of different sources of information on wine out there and bringing some with you to the store can only help in making an informed decision. Books, magazines, brochures and even, ahem, websites provide valuable information on producers and vintages that it is impossible to keep track of. The difference between a good vintage and a so-so vintage can be the difference in a wonderful wine and a so-so one. Resources such as The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate and even yours truly at winegeeks.com offer ratings of individual wines that can be extremely useful when selecting a wine, but remember: just because a wine isn’t rated or has a mediocre score doesn’t mean it is a bad wine. These are guidelines and someone else’s opinion.

4. Survey the land

Don’t get caught in one section of the wine store. While some locales are very well organized, many are not, and the best bargain of the day may be just around the aisle. A quick trip around the shop to gain your bearings might be a good way to make sure that nothing is missed.

5. Develop a relationship with the owner/salesperson

Never be afraid to ask for help or a recommendation. Running into the pushy salesperson may be inevitable, but usually anyone working in the store will share your enthusiasm for the grape and asking what they like may get you a great bottle of wine. Also any salesperson worth their salt can get a feel for what you enjoy after a few trips to the store or even after answering just a few well-placed questions. Return trips and evaluations of what you tried last week can help the salesperson to judge your tastes.

6. Price does not equal quality

While a monstrous price tag may be well deserved for that bottle of 20-year-old Bordeaux, wines today are increasingly priced according to start-up costs for the winery or even the level of investment from outside sources instead of quality or reputation. In fact, wines from the traditional wine growing regions are sure to be higher in price than something from a less known vineyard area regardless of how good the wine is. Use your resources!

7. Look for value regions and 2nd labels

Many wine regions are known for their ability to produce very nice wines at still reasonable prices. Spain, Australia, Argentina and Chile are just a few countries to try. Another option is to try wine from areas just outside of more well known wine growing regions. Instead of the pricey Pomerol in Bordeaux, try Lalande-de-Pomerol. Same grape (Merlot) from just down the road at a much lower price. Also, look for the 2nd labels of more established wineries. These are wines sold under a different label from a quality winery sold at a lower price, a practice quite common in Bordeaux and gaining steam in California.

8. Be willing to experiment

Trying something new can be a great way to learn about new wines and new countries. Try a recommendation from someone at the shop, sample a new region, or even go with the advice of the shelf talking card pinned next to a wine. It may be the best wine that you have ever had!

9. Buy discounted wine

Most shops offer a 10% discount on wine sold by the case, mixed or not. Look for any close-out specials or wines on sale. Because it is half-off doesn’t mean it is terrible. Wines are often sold at what the state dictates, and it may be more than what the market will bear. These may be marked down significantly before the next vintage arrives, and can offer significant savings to the consumer.

10. Buy wine online

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There are numerous sites that offer online sales of wine. These sites can offer wines at considerably less than your local store or have hard to find rarities. Be forewarned: Many states do not allow point-to-point sales of wine or alcohol. Most sites will list which states they can ship to. This is a contentious issue soon to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, but until then make sure you read the fine print.

Well, there you have it. This is by no means all you need to know when buying wine but it will certainly help you along your way. Use these ten points and the trepidation of wine buying should fade to the bottom of your stomach like the tannins of an old port. It should be loved and looked forward to like shopping for any thing of beauty, like going to the car parts store for your ‘67 Chevy or to the jewelry store on Valentine’s Day. The best part is how much do they have at the jewelry store for less than ten dollars?

 


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Wine Guide: Tasting Wine

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Tasting Wine

You don’t need to analyze wine to enjoy it, but if you pay attention to what you’re tasting you’ll find that you’ll be better able to identify what you like or don’t like in a wine. It’s a bit like languages: You don’t have to speak Italian to visit Italy, but if you know a few words, your enjoyment can be greatly enhanced.

Before you taste make sure there are no distracting odors in the room, like cooking smells or perfume. The only thing you should smell is the wine in your glass.

Glasses should be clean and dry and filled with only a small sample of wine (about a quarter of the glass). Wines all have certain components and characteristics in common. When we taste, we use sight, smell and taste to recognize the above various components and to assess the quality and health of the wine. So let’s give it a go.

Appearance

A good look at the wine can tell us about the condition and even age of the wine.

Clarity: is the wine clear and bright (as it should be) or is it hazy or murky?

Intensity: is the color pale or deep?

Color: hold the glass at an angle against a white background (table cloth or sheet of paper) and assess the color in the middle of the bowl of the glass and at the rim. White wines start life pale and darken with age. Red wines out a deep, bright purple and gradually turn ruby, mahogany and eventually brown as they age.

Smell or “Nose”

Swirling the wine in the glass allows its aromas to be liberated into the air, so give your glass a whirl and then take a deep sniff. What are you looking for?

Condition: does it smell clean and attractive or is there any mustiness or off-odor?

Intensity: is the nose faint or pronounced?

Character: what does it smell like? This may seem difficult initially, but you can do it. Just as you can tell the difference between the smell of bacon and coffee, you can also identify some of the possible smells in wine. Here are some things you may smell: fruit, grapes, lemon, grass, peaches, raspberries, blackcurrants, flowers, apples, vanilla, oak, smoke, plums and many, many more. Remember that there are no right or wrong answers, here. It’s simply an exercise in thinking about what you’re drinking.

Taste or “palate”

Now the fun part — you actually get to drink the stuff! Take a sip of wine and swirl it around the mouth so that the wine is in contact with all parts of your mouth: tongue, gums, soft palate. Even better, tilt the head forward so that the wine is behind the front teeth and then slurp air into the mouth over the wine. This seems weird at first, and goes against everything your mother taught you to do at the table, but it’s worth it. You can taste much more of the wine if you aerate it in this way.

So what are you looking for?

Sweetness: an easy one. Sweetness is immediately noticeable on the tip of the tongue. If there’s no apparent sugar the wine is called “dry”.

Acidity: very important if the wine is to be refreshing and balanced. Lemon juice and vinegar are acidic. Too much and the wine tastes too tart; too little and the wine is known as “flabby”, tasting heavy and just not refreshing.

Alcohol: a vital component in wine, but one that shouldn’t stand apart from the other elements if the wine is to be balanced. When the alcohol is too high, there will be a bit of a burning sensation after the wine is swallowed.

Tannin: a natural preservative found in grape skins and stalks, tannin is the stuff that makes young red wines seem harsh and leaves the mouth feeling dry. If you want to know how tannin feels when it’s not in wine, brew some very strong black tea and you’ll soon know! Tannin’s role as preservative is extremely important in high quality red wines that are made to age for many years.

Body: an indicator of how the wine feels in the mouth. Pinot Noir or Beaujolais tend to feel quite light in the mouth while Bordeaux or Australian Shiraz tend to be full and dense. So, the progression for both reds and whites is light-bodied, to medium bodied, to full-bodied.

Fruit: the taste and intensity of the fruit in the mouth; generally, the better the wine, the more evident the fruit. Also, younger wines will often display more fruit than mature wine. Length: how long the taste of the wine lingers in the mouth after swallowing is a good indication of the wine’s quality: the longer the better.

Conclusions

Having considered the above elements, what did you think of the wine?

Quality: you might think it’s obvious to say that a $100 bottle of wine is likely to be high quality and a $5 wine low quality, but the assessment of quality goes beyond this. A wine that looks clear and bright, has a pronounced, intense nose, shows good fruit and balanced acid, sweetness and alcohol, and has a long finish might be an inexpensive wine. It would be classified as good quality, though, because it is a good example of its type. So as your tasting progresses, question the wine. Is it a good example of its type?

Maturity: this is a measure of the wine’s readiness to drink, which is not the same thing as its age. Many wines are made to be drunk as soon as they are bottled while others require years (or decades) of maturation in bottle to reach their optimum state. Simple wines, which are designed to be drunk young, will not improve with age. Rather they will deteriorate and be over the hill if kept too long.

Faults: Thankfully, modern winemaking practices have reduced most of the problems we used to commonly find in wine, but there’s still one which affects around a small percent of bottles: bad corks. “Corked”, the term used to describe the affliction, has nothing to do with cork floating in the wine, but rather (not to get too technical) a condition in which the wine has reacted with a substance in the cork, producing a musty, corky smell and taste, reminiscent of wet cardboard. The wine should always smell clean and appealing. The cork problem is the reason behind many wineries switching to synthetic closures or screw caps, which are now widely used with aromatic varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. So don’t be put off is you see a screw cap on your wine. It doesn’t mean cheap wine, it means the winemaker is sick of cork problems and wants to preserve the freshness of the wine.

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Wine Guide: Serving Wine

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Serving Wine

There’s really no mystery to serving wine as most of us can manage to get the wine out of the bottle and into our glass without too much trouble, but here are a couple of things that may help the wine show its best:

Temperature: In general, white wines should be served chilled and red wine at room temperature. For whites, a couple of hours in the fridge will do just fine. If you’re pushed for time, then put the bottle in an ice bucket filled half with ice and half with cold water. This will bring the wine down to the desired temperature in about twenty minutes. For most reds, room temperature is ideal, unless the room is a balmy 80°F, of course. We’ve all had warm red wine served to us in restaurants and, frankly, it does the wine no favors. Light, fruity reds, like Beaujolais, are best served a little cool, especially on a warm summer day. Champagne, dessert wine, most sherry and rosé should be treated as white. Red port should be served at room temperature but tawny port can be chilled.

Decanting: This is the process of pouring off any sediment that has been deposited in the bottle over time to create ‘clean wine’. It is frequently done with vintage port or older red wines that have spent many years in a bottle. The vast majority of wines do not need to be decanted at all, but if you do need to do it, simply pour the wine slowly into a glass decanter or jug keeping an eye on the neck of the bottle. When you see sediment in the neck, it’s time to stop. Decanting can also help the wine “breathe”.

Breathing: If a wine has spent many years locked up in a bottle, away from the air, it will benefit from a little breathing time. This can take place in the glass or in a decanter and twenty to thirty minutes should suffice. Even young wines can benefit from a little breathing time as it allows the wine to open up and really show what it’s made of. You can test this by tasting a wine immediately after opening it and then see how your second glass tastes some twenty minutes later. There’s often quite a difference. That’s also why, if you’re opening several reds, open them all at once. You give your next bottle a chance to breathe, while you are enjoying the current one. On the other hand, whites generally don’t need to be opened ahead of time, as the goal is usually to retain their freshness.

Glassware: The best glasses for appreciating wine are made of plain, thin, clear glass. Heavy, cut glass makes it difficult to see the wine properly. The glass should have a wide bowl tapering to a narrow opening; a tulip shape, in other words. This allows room for the wine to be swirled in the glass while concentrating the aromas at the rim. Champagne should be served in tall flutes or tall, thin tulip-shaped glasses. Today there are many specialty glasses designed to be used with different grape varieties. While these may, indeed, enhance the attributes of the different wines, they really aren’t necessary. A good, all purpose glass like Riedel’s “Ouverture” series red and white wine glass, is a simple, elegant solution for about $7/glass.

Fill level: The glass should never be filled more than about half full. This allows room for swirling the wine around in the glass to release its aromas without splashing it all over the table. A good way to achieve this is to leave the glass on the table, hold the stem at the base and make small, quick circles with the base. Try it!

Always taste the wine yourself before serving it to guests in case it’s faulty (see “faults” below).

If you don’t finish the bottle, most wines will keep quite happily for a couple of days with the cork stuck back in the bottle, keeping the air out. You can even buy vacuum pumps in wine shops to remove the air altogether, which will buy you another day or two. Whites are better off in the fridge and reds left out at room temperature. It’s impossible to say exactly how long a wine will keep once open because each wine is different, but in general the higher quality the wine, the longer it will keep.

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Wine Guide: Storing Wine

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Storing Wine

Many people think that if they’re going to store wine at home then they need a cellar. But the word “cellar” conjures up images of dark, cavernous chambers cut out of bedrock, or slick, temperature and humidity-controlled rooms lined with mahogany wine racks. All very nice, but not at all necessary. We recommend you interpret “cellar” somewhat loosely.

There are four main things to consider when storing wine: temperature, light, vibration and keeping the cork wet.

Temperature: Both red and white wine likes to be kept cool. 55°F is ideal, but more important than this magic number is that the temperature doesn’t fluctuate. Better a constant 65°F than 40° one day and 80° the next.

Light: Bright light and sunlight can damage wine as it ages in bottle, so the darker the room, the better. Total darkness is easily achieved by simply closing the lid of the case or the closet door.

Vibration: Areas subject to heavy foot traffic (or vacuum cleaners) should be avoided as wine, unlike martinis, should be neither shaken nor stirred.

Keep the cork wet: Laying your bottles down on their sides keeps the wine in contact with the cork, which in turn prevents the cork from drying out. Dry corks contract, allowing air to pass into the wine and wine to leak out. If air gets in, it renders the wine dull and lifeless and it will taste more like old sherry than wine.

If you keep these basic requirements in mind, you’ll find it remarkably easy to find a place to store your wine, and you won’t need a cellar at all. A corner of the basement, a closet in a spare bedroom, your shipping box or the cupboard under the stairs will all do nicely. And remember, the longer you plan to store your wine, the more important these factors become. If a newly-purchased wine is to be drunk in a day or two, it really doesn’t matter too much where you keep it, but if the wine is to be kept for weeks or months then find it a nice cool, dark spot.

Now, some wines require not months but many years, even decades, of bottle aging before they’re ready to drink. This is a small percentage of all the wines made, but nonetheless, it is an important one. Where you store these high quality (and often expensive) wines designed for long aging takes on a special importance if your investment is to be protected. In this case you may want to consider one of the commercially available wine storage units, which come in a variety of sizes and finishes. Another alternative is off-site storage, where you rent a locker in a temperature and humidity-controlled wine storage facility. This option is great for wines that you don’t plan to drink for some years and has the added advantage of being out of reach; a real bonus during those weak moments.

As your collection of wine grows you’ll need to keep track of it. An old-fashioned cellar book where you record each new wine that goes into your cellar and cross them off as you take them out, works just fine. These days, however, there are also numerous cellar software programs that make it easy and fun to manage your wine collection.

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