What Makes Wine Enjoyable
Each of us is evolving in our personal cultural experience. Perhaps you too have come to the place where you’re ready to experience more adventure as a connoisseur. There is culture in wine. It can be found in the ritual of drinking it, appreciating the craft of the winemaker, and in the wine’s stimulation to our taste buds. And now, let us pursue the pure taste enjoyment of wine.
When we drink wine, our taste buds are stimulated in a unique way and the alcohol has a calming effect on the brain. Human taste has four components: sweetness, saltiness, acidity and bitterness. The acidity and sweetness in wine are the two factors that balance together to produce a pleasant sensation on our sense of taste. We taste the acidity with the middle of the tongue and sweetness with the tip of the tongue.
Wines with excessive acidity taste harsh, those with insufficient acidity taste uninteresting and their flavor does not linger in the mouth long enough. Tannins contribute to the relationship of bitterness on the tongue. If you’ve ever chewed into grape seeds, then you’ve tasted the dry bitterness of tannin. Wine with too much tannin is unpleasantly bitter. The right level of tannin has an effect of bringing all the flavors together with a good “grip” in the mouth. The various fruit-like flavors detectable in wine contribute nuances to the sweetness we taste. It’s fun trying to detect different fruit characteristics, such as berries, plums, apples, pears...
Our other senses are involved as well. Our sight enjoys the color and our sense of smell enjoys the fragrances. Much of a wine’s character is revealed only through the aroma it exudes. This adds richly to the dimensions found in wine.
There are many species of grapes, but most of the world’s wine is made from the Vitis vinifera family, of European origin. Wine grapes have various unique, signature characteristics. Check out the following varietal grapes:
Popular Red Varieties
Cabernet Sauvignon: (ka-burr-NAY soh-vihn-YOHN) Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular red wine varieties in the world. Known for its aging potential, it is more likely to turn into a truly great wine than any other varietal. This deep color wine is full-bodied and provides a full and rich flavor. It paris nicely with beef, hearty pasta dishes and soft cheese. Try with cheddar, Gorgonzola, walnuts, venison or grilled tuna.
Merlot: (Mehr-LOH) Softer than Cabernet, yet similar in flavor. Its rich and supple texture produces a fruity, plummy and velvety red wine. It paris nicely with roasted chicken, turkey, hamburgers or hard cheeses. Try with Parmesan, Romano, steak or tuna.
Pinot Noir: (PEE-noh NWAHR) Recognized as a great wine grape, but v ery difficult to grow, Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grape varieties to be cultivated for making wine. It is prized for its rich, complex red character and soft, velvety texture. With hints of vanilla, blackberry and raspberry, it is very versatile at the dinner table. It pairs well with pork, salmon or chicken. Try goat cheese, Brie, walnuts, lamb or filet mignon.
Syrah or Shiraz: (SHIH-rahz or sir-ah) The Shiraz grape is from Australia and made this varietal famous, but very good Syrah’s are available from France and the United States. this wine is a deep colored, complex red wine that is spicy and tannic with hints of blackberries, spicyness and smokiness. It pairs nicely with grilled meats. Try sharp cheddar, hazelnuts or grilled salmon.
Zinfandel: (ZIHN-fan-del) This dry full bodied wine gives the drinker intense rich flavors of pepper and flavors of blackberry jam. It is one red varietal that is probably best enjoyed in its youth, within 3-5 years of the vintage, Ainfandel pairs nicely with barbeque ribs, grilled meats or spicy oriental dishes. Try with Brie, aged cheese, or pork.
Malbec: (Mahl-bek) The lost grape from France’s Bordeaux region is now primarily grown in Argentina. Aromas of blackberries, spice and violets. This is a dry red wine, ut much softer with less acidity than Cabernet or Merlot. Pair with red meats, barbeque or spicy dishes and tomato-based Italian dishes.
Popular White Varieties
Chardonnay: (shar-doh-NAY) Chardonnay is the most popular of all white wine grapes and produces a medium to full-bodied wine known for its richness, complexity and depth of flavor. Chardonnay can be crisp and fruity or full and buttery. Pairs nicely with roasted chicken, light pasta dishes, grilled fish or shrimp. Try with asiago, havarti, shrimp or crab. Serve chilled.
Pinot Grigio: (PEE-noh GREE-gio) Pinot Grigio wiines range in style from crisp, light and dry to rich, full-bodied and sweet. Italy is famous for Pinot Grigio and this wine pairs nicely with light cuisine, seafood dishes and grilled vegetables. Serve chilled.
Sauvignon Blanc: (SOH-vihn-yohn BLAHNK) Usually a dry medium-to-full bodied white wine, Sauvignon Blanc is recognized for its intense aroma described as grassy, herbal and grapefruit. New Zealand is known fro outstanding Sauvignon Blanc wines. This is a very versatile wine and pairs well with many foods, especially seafood, pork and a variety of cheeses. Try feta or goat cheese. Serve chilled.
Riesling: (REES-ling) Riesling is a great beginners wine. The Riesling grape produces a light, crisp sweet wine with lots of honeyed fruit flavors. Most Rieslings come from Germany, but California and Australiaalso producing great Rieslings. Rieslings pair nicely with oriental dishes or tastes great on its own. Try havarti, gouda or duck.
Moscato: (mo-ska-toh) The Muscat grape is grown in the US and Italy. This is a very sweet wine bursting with floral aromas and fruit flavors. The lower alcohol content makes this a refreshing easy to drink wine enjoyed y all. Moscato di Asti is the sparkling version of this varietial.
White Zinfandel: (White zin-fan-del) One of the most popluar blus wines in the US. White Zin is flavorful and fruity with a sweet taste. This “picnic” wine is best served chilled.
How Wine is Made
Wine grapes, Vitis vinifera, grow easily in any temperate to warm climate. A solution of sugar and water develops in ripe grapes and the skins easily allow the growth of natural yeasts. In the fermentation process, these single cell organisms consume the natural sugar and change it into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. This rather simple process has been observed and used for thousands of years in human culture. In the past hundred years or so, technology and new ideas from winemakers have played an ever-increasing role in the making of wine. It’s becoming more and more a science and an art.
Here are the basic principles of winemaking. The grapes are either harvested by hand (this is best), or with mechanical harvesters. Exposure to air should be kept to a minimum at all stages of the process. Sometimes powdered sulfites are sprinkled on the grapes prior to crushing to prevent too much reaction with the air. The fermentation usually takes place in open vats. Several processes may be employed to give the wine clarity: fining and filtration for example. Shortly after fermentation has ended, the wine is transferred to a settling tank where filtration and other clarification techniques may be used.
The Differences Between Red Wine and White Winemaking
There are significant differences between red wine and white wine production. Basically, red wine is the outcome of crushed, fermented grapes. White wine is the outcome of fermented grape juice (that is, no skins or meat of the fruit). Blush wines, out of interest, are made from red grapes that are made into wine as though they were white grapes. The red grape skins add a bit of color and nutrients to the juice being made into blush or rosé, leaving a slight blush of red in the wine.
All grapes contain the same kind of green fruity-meat, but red grapes have red skins and in the winemaking process, there is a considerable amount of color, flavors and tannins that are imparted to the final product. After crushing, the red grapes, skins and all, sit in a fermentation vat for a period of time. Picture a huge plastic bin with a mixture of crushed grapes and juice with a layer of crushed wet skins on top. The skins tend to rise to the surface of the mixture, forming a layer on top. This top layer is frequently mixed back into the fermenting juice (called must). After fermentation has stopped, about one to two weeks later, the new wine is drawn from the vat. A bit of “free run” juice is allowed to pour and then the remaining must is squeezed, yielding “press wine”. The wine is clarified and then transferred to oak aging barrels so that it may mature. When the winemaker considers the wine ready, it is transferred to bottles and labeled.
Right after picking, white grapes are put into a crushing machine. In the process, the skins are separated from the juice, an important difference over the red wine process. Some adjustments are sometimes made to the acid or sugar levels at this stage (the addition of sugar is called “chaptalization”). The clarified juice is then ready for fermentation. Yeast is then added to the juice for fermentation. Before long the white grape juice becomes white wine. At this point, some further tinkering is usually called for: filtering, and perhaps the addition of sweeter juice to round out the flavor. The wine is then aged by storing in oak or stainless steel containers, and after a few months, it is bottled.