How many times have you gone to a wine shop with the intent of buying a special wine but when you get there you are completely overwhelmed by the choices, the prices, and the different kinds? Understanding, appreciating, and selecting a good wine is a complicated process, so let's see if we can shed some light on the experience.
Red and White Wine
What is WineWine is the fermented juice of grapes. It is an alcoholic beverage that's been produced and enjoyed seemingly since the beginning of time, or more specifically for the past 7,000 years. Wine when drank with a meal can enhance the taste of certain foods, making for a more enjoyable meal.
Wine is made through fermentation, where the sugar from the grapes is converted into alcohol by the process:
Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol + Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
When the alcohol (yeast by-product) reaches about 15%, it kills off the yeast that were creating the alcohol. Most of the time the CO2 is dissipated into the air, except in sparkling wines where it is retained through a special process.
There are three main types of Wine:
- Table Wine: 8-15% alcohol.
- Sparkling Wine: 8-12% alcohol with carbonation from the CO2.
- Fortified Wine: 17-22% alcohol.
Wine is primarily made from Vitis Vinifera, a certain species of grapes. Concord grapes on the other hand are Vitis Labrusca and are rarely used to make wines. Sometimes hybrids of the two species are used to make wines, primarily on the east coast of the USA. Wines get their different tastes from different varieties of grapes from the Vitis Vinifera species. Also wines get a lot of their taste from where they are grown. The climate and growing conditions, as well as the minerals in the soil etc all affect the way the grape will taste. This is why certain areas of different countries are more famous for their wine production than others. Also, they way wines are made can affect the flavor. For examples, if they're aged in wood, concrete or glass. Weather can also interfere with the quality of a harvest, making some vintage years better than others.
- An april frost in France:Bordeaux destroyed over 50% of the grape harvest in 1991.
- The color of the grape does not effect the color of the wine. White can be made from red grapes because the colors only in the skin. If the grape juice is seperated from the skin no color will be imparted.
- A vine doesn't produce wine making grapes til it's at least 3 years old.
- Not all wines are meant to age, in fact 90% of them are supposed to be drank in the first year or so. Less than 1% are to be aged more than 5 years.
Learn to Taste Wine Properly
You can read about wine but nothing will give you as much knowledge about what a wine is like until you've actually tried it. Almost anyone can guzzle down a bottle of wine without truely appreciating it for it's taste and complexity, and it is for this reason that you must learn how to properly taste wine. To learn how to taste wine see my other Learn to Taste Wine Properly article.
White wines are often fruity, lighter bodied, and better suited for drinking while eating poultry, fish, and cream based sauces and soups. It is meant to be surved chilled as this will cover up some of the acidity inherent in them. White wines can range from sweet to dry and are produced all over the world. They are less bitter than the red wines because they don't have as much tannin in them. One of the most important things to understand when trying to learn about wine is the different grape varieties that are used to produce the wine, as these are central to the taste and characteristics of the wine. Here is a table of the common white wines and where they grow best:
|Grape Variety||Best known for Growing a Variety|
|Chenin Blanc||France: Loire Valley. USA: California|
|Sauvignon Blanc||France: Loire Valley, Bordeaux. USA: California|
|Chardonnay||France: Burgundy, Champagne. USA: California. Australia|
|Riesling||Germany. France: Alace. USA: New York, Washington State|
|Pinot Gris||France: Alsace.|
|Semillion||France: Bordeaux. Australia|
If you want a full bodied wine, Chardonnays are a good choice. If you want a really light wine, you'd probably be happy with a Riesling. If interested in a sweet wine, look no further than a Sauternes (a French Bordeaux wine made from semillion grapes). Spend some time exploring the different grape varieties and you begin to be able to recognize the different between them.
The great red wines are heavier, fuller wines. They're best suited for red meat and red sauce (pasta) dishes. Red wines are meant to be surved room temperature or slightly cooler, but not chilled. These wines contain a larger amount of tannin than the white wines, making them more bitter and in extreme cases, such as Syrah/Shiraz (shiraz is Australia's name for it), it'll give the wines a 'bite'. Here is a chart of commons reds wines and where they're produced. The list in in order from low tannin/body to higher/more full bodied and longer aging red wines.
|Grape Variety||Best known for Growing a Variety|
|Pinot Noir||France: Burgundy, Champagne. USA: Oregon, California|
|Merlot||France: Bordeaux. USA: Washington State, California|
|Cabernet Sauvignon||France: Bordeaux. USA: California. Chile|
|Syrah/Shiraz||France: Rhone. Australia|
If you want to try a lighter red go for a Beaujolais. If you want a 'heavier' red go for the Syrah or a good Chianti. I find that reds are more of an aquired taste than are the white wines.