Understanding Wine: A Beginners Guide
A Brief History Of Wine
Grape growing and winemaking spread throughout Europe in the Greek and Roman times. Wine became such a valued trade item that the Romans, in 97BC, ordered the known world to pull out all vines in an attempt to protect their wine industry.
Wine began to spread throughout the world through the religious orders. One of the more famous was a monk named Dom Perignon, c1638 - 1715AD, who was a competent viticulturist/winemaker and is credited with the discovery of Champagne.
Since these early times, the vine can be found growing in many countries in a wide variety of climates. The primary species is Vitis vinifera, and of the thousands of cultivars only around 30 are regularly cultivated, of these only a dozen or so are considered to be premium.
Today, we have a new wine order with the up-and-coming (and already arrived!) New World, which has begun to dominate the traditional, older producing areas such as France, Italy and Spain in popularity.
The major producers are:
Australia, Argentina, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and USA.
Image by kind permission: 'Wine & Art' by Linda Paul
What Is Wine?
I think we all know what it is, nevertheless, here's a bit of extra info
Wine is an alcoholic beverage produced through the fermentation of fruits, mainly grapes, containing natural sugars. Then during fermentation, yeasts will convert the sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohols, primarily ethanol, and other chemicals that add to the character of the wine. Many different flavours are produced depending on:
- the colour of the grapes
- the variety of the grapes
- the ripeness of the grapes
Grapes are also high in fermentable sugars making them ideal for producing wines.
Wine is a complex integration of:
- Grape varietal aromas and flavours
- Fermentation bouquets and flavours
- Additional wine treatments such as oak fermentation or addition of oak products
- Ageing in oak and/or bottle
Wine can be:
- Enjoyed now - a young and refreshing style
- Collected for future enjoyment - a mature and heavy-bodied red
The Colour of Wine
Red grapes and white grapes can produce white wines
The colour of wine comes from the skin of the grapes. The juice that comes from most varieties of grape when pressed is white or clear. This is true of red grapes as well. The colour or pigments of red grapes are found in the skins of the grapes. In order to make a red wine from red grapes, it is necessary to leave the skins in contact with the juice during fermentation, this is called maceration. When the skins are placed in the fermenting 'must', the pigments leech out of the skins and colour the wine. When red grapes are pressed and the skins are kept out, the colour of the wine remains white and is considered a 'blanc de noirs' (a white wine from red grapes).
White wines do not usually have the skins left in the must while fermentation takes place. If the wine is being made from white grapes, there is no benefit to the colour and if the wine is being made from red grapes, the skin contact would give an undesirable red colour to the wine. Rose or blush wines can be made with 'limited' skin contact (leaving the skins in the fermenting juice for only a short period of time) but this method is unreliable in obtaining consistent tinting from vat to vat.
Rose wines are more often produced by adding a specific amount of red wine to an already finished white wine.
Favourite Wine Colour and Style - Which style is your #1 choice?
What is your most desired wine colour and style
The Ideal Wine Glass
Red wine glasses have a wider bowl than white wine glasses
The shape of the glass is all important for wine tasting
[ the international XL4 tasting glass is the standard ]
The shape is the classic tulip with a wide deep bowl and narrow opening to contain the wine while swirling and trap the vapours. The hand should hold the stem and the glass should be clear (complete absence of colour) so that the colour and clarity of the wine can be assessed.
"The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make."
Robert M. Parker Jr., The Wine Advocate
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Appraising the Wine
This is where you have to look for those wine adjectives to describe what you taste
When assessing or appraising a wine we use four of our five senses:
- Vision (sight)
- Olfaction (smell)
- Degustation (taste)
- Tactile (feel)
You make two judgements when you look at a wine.
- One is the colour, both the hue (the colour of the horizon of the wine) and the intensity. The other is its appearance. From this it is possible to make some judgements about the condition and the age of the wine. The colours of a white wine may be water white, yellow, gold, straw yellow, amber, brown, golden yellow, pale gold or other. Aged white wines will have typically deeper yellows and golds. Red wines may be pink, orange, light red, tile red, brick red, ripe plum and many other descriptions. Ageing will show orange and browns.
- The wine clarity is essentially how clear the wine is (brilliant, clear, transparent, cloudy, dull, hazy, turbid or other). Naturally the wine should be clear and brilliant.
The smell of the wine can be divided into its aroma, grape derived odours, and the bouquet, odours derived from the winemaking process.
During the fermentation of the grape many chemical compounds are made which produce odours that can be recognised and described, eg. apple, melon, blackcurrant, blackberry, licorice etc. The maturation of the wine in oak may also add to the smell of the wine through vanilla, caramel and creamy type smells.
The list of perceived smells is endless and unfortunately not all are pleasant. Good winemaking endeavours to avoid those unpleasant odours like mousse, foxy or musty type odours.
Taste and Tactile sense
Of the four primary tastes three are predominant in wine tasting: sweetness, acidity and bitterness.
Associated with the sense of taste is the feeling produced in the mouth. Alcohol in moderate concentrations can be perceived as sweet. High alcohol wines may produce a warm or hot sensation. Dissolved carbon dioxide can be felt as a fizz or spritz, and astringent wines can cause dryness or puckering in the mouth. Wines high in glycerol appear viscous and give a fatter or thicker feel in the mouth.
All of these sensations will lead to the overall mouth feel. A balanced wine is one without holes or gaps where all the components fill the mouth with a uniform smooth enjoyable feeling. Balance is what the winemaker strives to achieve.
We are now ready to taste the wine.
Hailed by critics worldwide as "extraordinary" and "irreplaceable", there are few volumes that have had as monumental an impact in their field as Hugh Johnson's The World Atlas of Wine: sales have exceeded four million copies, and it is now published in thirteen languages.
Authors Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson once again combine their unrivaled talents to enhance this masterpiece of wine knowledge.
New World coverage has been extended for both Australia and South America; some New World regions even have their own entries for the first time, including Rutherford, Oakville, and Stag's Leap from California; Mendoza (Argentina); Limestone Coast (Australia); Central Otago and Martinborough (New Zealand); and Constantia (South Africa). And Old World coverage has grown too, with the addition of Toro (Spain), the Peleponnese (Greece), and Georgia. It's a truly incomparable book.
How to Taste Wine
This is always the best bit, I think we know how to do this, but here goes...
Before you can taste anything, you need to open your bottle with
the best wine bottle opener you can.
There are so many good ones to choose from.
- To appraise the wine, the glass should be clear and one third full.
- Tilt the glass on a 45-degree angle away from you with a white background so the visual assessment can be made.
- Swirl the wine in the glass several times so the volatile chemicals, those that give rise to the wine's aroma and bouquet, can collect in the glass.
- Smell the wine with 2-3 full quick sniffs. If you continually sniff the wine the smells will become confused. Most people can only detect 3-4 different smells at one time.
- Make a written or mental note of the smells and your assessment.
- Now take a generous mouthful, suck air through the wine (try not to dribble), swirl it around the mouth so as to cover the mouth with the wine, spit out the wine and record your impressions - (at a formal tasting, a spitoon will be provided).
- Predominant tastes and odours are best detected with the mouth empty as the volatile chemicals will rise through the retronasal passage. As the wine warms when swallowed vapours will rise up through to the nose, for further smell detection. Many perceived tastes are indeed a smell. Try to taste the same wine while holding your nose closed and you will find the tastes you were able to detect difficult to find.
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Why Are We So Fascinated With Wine?
It gives us much pleasure and happiness as well as helping us to relax
The mystery and fascination for wine has existed for centuries, and it is this fascination that has become a passion for those genuinely interested in viniculture. Many of these wine lovers, take the next step to turn their passion into a career such as a sommelier or even working in the wine industry.
Higie and Feick's (1989) paper defined this fascination as one of enduring involvement (EI), which suggests that it is "a stable trait that represents an individual's degree of interest or arousal for a product on a day-to-day basis; an ongoing, long-term interest".
Three specific components of the wine lifestyle, winery visitation, wine drinking and wine club participation, were chosen as the means of measuring an individual's EI.
The higher the wine knowledge a person has, tends to lead to a higher spend on wine per month, larger wine cellars, and were more likely to drink on a daily basis. Gathering this knowledge is what it is all about.
How big can a wine bottle get?
Capacity (Litres) followed by the number of standard size bottles contained:
Standard (.75) 1
Magnum (1.5) 2
Jeroboam (3) 4
Rehoboam (4.5) 6
Methuselah (6) 8
Salmanazar (9) 12
Balthazar (12) 16
Nebuchadnezzar (15) 20
What's Your Favorite Drink?
What is your favorite tipple whenever you go out?
Annual Wine Production of World's Largest Producing Countries
Based on 2011 production...
Annual Wine Production in mhl*
France - 49.633 mhl of wine
Italy - 41.580 mhl of wine
Spain - 34.300 mhl of wine
United States - 18.740 mhl of wine
Argentina - 15.473 mhl of wine
China - 13.200 mhl of wine
Australia - 11.010 mhl of wine
Chile - 10.572 mhl of wine
Germany - 9.611 mhl of wine
South Africa - 9.336 mhl of wine
Russia - 6.353 mhl of wine
Portugal - 5.925 mhl of wine
See the full report of WORLD VITIVINICULTURE 2012 here...
*1 mhl is 1,000,000 hectolitres
1 hl (hectolitre) is 1,000 litres = 264.17 US gallons
To convert litres to gallons or vice versa use go to calculator-converter.com
Image: Rob Hemphill
What's Your Opinion on Wine?
Do you find wine fascinating?
Some of the best known varietals and their characteristics
Sauvignon Blanc - Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine best known for its grassy, herbal flavours. Sauvignon Blanc is also called Fume Blanc, and is a popular choice for fish and shellfish dishes.
Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) - The low acidity of this white varietal helps produce rich, lightly perfumed wines that are often more colourful than other whites. The best ones have pear and spice-cake flavours.
Chardonnay - Chardonnay is a white wine which can range from clean and crisp with a hint of varietal flavour to rich and complex oak-aged wines. Chardonnay typically balances fruit, acidity and texture. This varietal goes well with everything from fish and poultry to cheeses, spicy foods and nut sauces.
Muscat - The white Muscat grape produces spicy, floral wines that often do something most other wines don't: they actually taste like grapes. Muscats can range from very dry and fresh to sweet and syrupy. This varietal is often served with puddings and chocolate desserts.
Gewurztraminer - Gewurztraminer is a white wine that produces distinctive wines rich in spicy aromas and full flavors, ranging from dry to sweet. Smells and flavours of litchi nuts, gingerbread, vanilla, grapefruit, and honeysuckle come out of this varietal. It is often a popular choice for Asian cuisines and pork-based sausages.
Riesling - Rieslings are white wines known for their floral perfume. Depending on where they're made, they can be crisp and bone-dry, full-bodied and spicy or luscious and sweet. The flavour is often of peaches, apricots, honey, and apples and pairs well with duck, pork, and roast vegetables.
Pinot Noir - Pinot Noir is a red wine of light to medium body and delicate, smooth, rich complexity with earthy aromas. They are less tannic than a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot. Pinot Noirs exude the flavour of baked cherries, plums, mushrooms, cedar, cigars, and chocolate.
Zinfandel - Primarily thought of as a Californian varietal (though recently proven to have originated from vineyards in Croatia), Zinfandel is a red wine with light to full body and berry-like or spicy flavours. The Zinfandel grape is also widely used in the popular off-dry blush wine known as White Zinfandel. The Red Zinfandel pairs well with moderately spicy meat dishes and casseroles.
Syrah (Shiraz) - Syrah can produce monumental red wines with strong tannins and complex combinations of flavours including berry, plum and smoke. It's known as Shiraz mainly in Australia and South Africa.
Petite Sirah - Petite Sirahs are red wines with firm, robust tannic tastes, often with peppery flavours. Petite Sirahs may complement meals with rich meats.
Merlot - Merlot is a red wine with medium to full body and herbaceous flavours. Merlot is typically softer in taste than Cabernet Sauvignon. It's flavours and aromas include blackberry, baked cherries, plums, chocolate, and mocha.
Cabernet Sauvignon - Cabernet Sauvignon is a red wine known for its depth of flavour, aroma and ability to age. It is full-bodied and intense, with cherry, currant and sometimes herbal flavours. Cabernet Sauvignon may have noticeable tannins.
Champagne/Sparkling Wine - These wines are made effervescent in the wine-making process.Champagnes and sparkling wines range in style from very dry (natural), dry (brut) and slightly sweet (extra Dry) to sweet (sec and Demi-Sec). Many sparkling wines are also identified as Blanc de Blancs (wines made from white grapes) or Blanc de Noirs (wines produced from red grapes).
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5 Reasons Why Red Wine is So Good For You
See what the health benefits of drinking red wine are
Many of us have heard about red wine being good for our health, but do we know why? Here are some tips which may help you appreciate your glass of wine more, knowing that it is actually doing you some good.
- Drink in moderation.
To benefit from drinking red wine, it must be drunk in moderation. Studies have shown that it helps in the prevention of heart disease. In fact, these studies also show that for middle aged people, one glass of wine for women and two glasses for men will actually lower the risks involved with heart attacks by between 30 and 50 percent.
- Lowers cholesterol.
Some of the benefits are the ability of lowering LDL or bad cholesterol within the body. This means that, again by drinking in moderation, the body's cholesterol level will be reduced, so reducing the risk of having blood clots due to fatty deposits in the blood vessels.
It is important to know that these benefits only come from red wine that is drunk in moderation, and not by drinking too much. Just because it is good for you does not mean you can drink more than is actually recommended. Drinking too much wine puts you more at risk of certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, stroke, obesity, cholesterol build-up and cardiac arrest.
- Source of antioxidants.
Being a good source of antioxidants which cleanses the human system, red wine is indeed beneficial to the body. Other substances found in red wine include Resveratrol, which is a substance know to help increase the levels of HDL or good cholesterol, and various other antioxidant properties that assist in the prevention of blood clot and plaque formation within the arterial walls of the veins and arteries, as shown by medical studies.
- A healthy lifestyle.
It should also be importantly noted that in order to make use of the benefits red wine provides, a healthy lifestyle must also be maintained in conjunction with drinking red wine. By having a body that is generally in good shape overall, the ability to make use of the red wine benefits is much easier to achieve and prosper from.
- Scientists say red wine can stop you going deaf.
Moderate amounts of red protects the delicate hairs in the inner ear, according to Dr Jochen Schacht in America. He told New Scientist magazine that experiments found antioxidants in red wine neutralised chemical agents that attack the hairs.
Red wine has similar protective properties to green tea, he said, after conducting tests on two sets of patients.
So you know that red wine is good for you, but what are the best foods to accompany your wine? In general they say that red wine goes with red meat - this is true - but if you prefer your red wine with, say chicken, then go ahead, after all it is your personal preference.
Some of the varieties of red wine I would recommend are Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz.
Got a Headache? Try a Wine Facial
Many people complain of headaches caused by wine. Often these headaches are attributed to sulfites in the wine, though there is some debate among doctors and wine lovers as to whether this is really the cause.
But no matter how you get them, now it seems that their cure may be found in the same glass they came from.
At least that's what a growing trend among Indian women might lead you to believe. Apparently wine-based spa treatments are all the rage in the city of Jaipur, one of the larger cities in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Jaipur is known as the "pink city" after the predominance of the color in much of its stucco exteriors, but it may soon earn that name from the rosy cheeks of its women who seem to be enthusiastic adopters of the wine facial.
"After the facial, I felt very relaxed, and it is only with this facial, that I get the maximum glow on the skin", says one of the regular customers to the city's wine spas, where the treatment is offered not only as a skin tonic but also as a way of relieving anxiety, stress, and yes, headaches.
So next time you feel one of those wine headaches coming on, you've got two options, you can either stop drinking, or you can splash the contents of your glass onto your face and see if someone else is willing to rub it in for you while you relax for a few moments.
A few important questions on wine facials come to mind:
- How long does it take for the wine facial to begin its miraculous work?
- What happens to the wine after the facial? Can it be reused on another customer?
- If this works so well for one's face, might it work even better for the whole body?
Wine Videos on YouTube
How to Match Wine With Food
Practice makes perfect!
The matching of a wine to a particular food is quite a skill, but once your palate develops - all it takes is practice - the task will become easier.
Food matching tips from the experts (http://www.winedirect.co.uk/foodmatching.php) is a great place to start, and get a feel of wine-tasting terminology. An accurate description of a wine will make it much easier to match it up with a food.
We have some delicate fish like trout, what's the wine going to be?
- Trout is a delicate white meat ...
- So, we need a delicate wine.
- A red wine is not a delicate wine - so it's going to be a white.
- Why is red not delicate? Well, it is a fuller, heavier in body and contains tannins (which are bitter to the taste) - not what we want with trout.
- Now we are searching for a style that will enhance but not overpower the fish.
- Something fresh with a citrus flavour would be good - we often add a squeeze of lemon onto the fish.
- We now look for a wine that is young and fresh, with a citrus or herbaceous character (apples/pears/melons/grass, etc.)
- The wine could easily be a young Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc which both have these characteristics. An older wine has lost it's freshness and some acidity, so the age is important - that is why white wines don't age as well as reds.
- So there we have it, we have made our first match.
I'm sure you are familiar with all those adjectives, used by professional wine tasters, when describing a wine they are tasting. Here are some examples:
"Clean and fresh on the nose with hints of apples and pears."
"Tight marmalade and apricot nose which is complex but a touch closed. Great concentration on the palate which is rich with a fat texture: lovely plump apricot and lemon fruit.""Fresh, fine nose, with some rich coffee-like notes. The palate is a bit gravelly with pure, intense fruit.""Opaque red/black colour. Tight nose with complex tar, black fruit and spice notes. Massively tight on the palate with firm tannins dominating. Lots of spicy richness here and a firm core of minerally, tarry fruit."
The more wine tasting you do, the more acute your palate will become - practice makes perfect! With the help of Food matching tips you will be tasting and spitting like a pro in no time at all!
If you are tasting a lot of wines, you need to spit out for obvious reasons, the professionals spit into a spitoon.
Some General Wine Trivia
A few wine facts that could be useful for the pub quiz!
- In Greek mythology Bacchus was the god of wine, Bacchus is also a grape variety.
- 1 tonne of grapes will make approx. 800 bottles of wine.
- Italy is the world's largest producer of wine producing 5,877 million litres of wine in 2006. (most recent figures available)
- There are some 10,000 varieties of wine grapes which are grown across the world.
- It takes some 3 years before a newly planted grape vine will be ready to be harvested and the grapes made into wine.
- The longest recorded champagne cork flight was 177 feet and 9 inches, four feet from level ground at Woodbury Vineyards in New York State.
- Foot treading of grapes is still used in producing a small quantity of the best port wines.
- There are about 400 species of oak, though only about 20 are used in making oak barrels. Of the trees that are used, only 5% is suitable for making high grade wine barrels. The average age of a French oak tree harvested for use in wine barrels is 170 years!
Questions & ...
- How many acres are planted to grapes worldwide?
- Among the world's fruit crops, where do wine grapes rank in number of acres planted?
- How many countries import California wines?
- What was the primary fruit crop in Napa Valley during the 1940's?
- How many gallons of wine were lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake?
- When was phylloxera first discovered in California?
- How many acres of Napa County vineyards have been replanted in the last 15 years because of phylloxera?
- How many more acres of Napa County vineyards will need replacement?
- How long does it take to harvest a commercial crop from newly replanted grape vines?
- How many varieties of wine grapes exist worldwide?
- How much does it cost per bottle to age wine in a French oak barrel?
- How much does it cost per bottle to age wine in only new French oak barrels?
- How much white zinfandel is consumed in the USA?
- 20 million
- 30 million
- August 19, 1873
- 4-5 years
- 90 cents
- Too much!
Final Fun Facts
The Home Winemaker's #1 Resource...
Have a go at making your own wine, it's not difficult with a little help!
Inside Making Wine, you'll get over 160 pages of detailed and easy-to-follow instructions for dozens of wine recipes, including:
* Fruit wines: raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, grape
* Dried fruit wines: currant, apricot, date, sultana
* Stewed fruit wines: elderberry, prune, raisin, crab-apple.
* Root wines: parsnip, potato, sugar-beet, beetroot.
* Flower and sugar wines: clover, dandelion, elder-flower.
* Favorites: carrot whisky, Westcott Schnapps, wheat wine, orange wine, peach brandy, ginger wine, and more!
Wine Cellars - How to Care for your wine
Wine can so easily deteriorate after you have bought it, so why not get the right mini cellar then you need never worry about temperature fluctuations again. Find a wide selection of wine cellars to suite any size or budget.
With just one unit, the 170-Bottle or 50-Bottle N'FINITY Wine Cellar,
you can now...
- Store and Serve reds and whites from the same cellar using two temperature zones.
- Place in Any Room of your home, freestanding, recessed, or built into cabinetry.
- Shelve Larger-Than-Average Bottles such as Pinot Noir and Champagne.
- Open the Door Left or Right depending on your space and preference.
Enjoy your Wine
Good grape growing, good winemaking and good storage means good wines
- Next time you are out with friends for a meal and are offered the wine to taste, you now have the skills to make an informed judgement.
- Be brave and don't be intimidated by the waiter, refuse a wine if you don't like it, after all you are paying a good whack for it in a restaurant! If it tastes corked, the chances are that it is.
Happy wining and dining!
Get this book immediately if you are tired of reading the same old stuffy wine guides. Gary has written a fun yet informative book that offers insight to many of the hidden gems that Gary has stored in his memory banks.
This will bring thunder to your world!
How About Having Your Own Wines Personalised?
This is a great way of celebrating any special occasion
I have found a good site for anyone wanting to have their own wine label - it's at CustomWineSource.com. This is your best place for custom labeled wine and wine gifts with numerous templates to work from.
The personalized wine service allows individuals, corporations, wineries, and restaurants, among others, to create their own unique custom wine bottles. Choose from a variety of custom wine label options guaranteed to meet your requirements.
Personalized wine makes a beautiful, unique wine gift, so try it for those special occasions such as weddings, anniversaries, parties or any grand opening.
There are quite a few biographies and histories of the California wine industry, and this certainly ranks as the most accurate describing the Mondavis. The story of the Mondavis is both a classic and a soap opera. I indulge both kinds of stories, so I was fascinated by the rise of the wine empires of the Mondavi family, and enjoyed the cold detail of cheating spouses, wayward children, and family fights and lawsuits.
Julia Flynn Siler has written a tight, well researched book that will keep most readers turning each page - particularly those interested in behind the scenes business stories, entrepreneurs, large family-run businesses, Napa Valley and its wine industry, and/or Robert Mondavi the person.
WINE IN ART - Lens all about 'Wine in Art ' - click on featured lens below
'Wine and Art'
Limited Edition Giclee Canvas Art Prints.
Art by Linda Paul www.lindapaul.com
Please Come and See Us! - Loads of detailed wine and winemaking info
If you're looking for more in depth wine stuff, or want to learn how to make wine, see plenty of topics, like:
- what yeast to use
- the fermentation process
- what is eiswein?
- varieties of red and white wine grapes
- what is the aroma wheel?
- glossary of wine terms and winemaking terms
- finding the right wine book for you or a friend
- and so much more...
Please pop over to http://www.winesandwinemaking.com to have a look!