Wine is one of the world’s oldest drinks. The first grapes can be traced back thousands of years before modern civilization began. At the time, most folks drank wine because it was safer than drinking water. Now that we don’t have to worry about pesky bacteria in our water, we drink wine simply for enjoyment. In the last hundred years the world of wine has exploded. Every continent on the planet, except for Antarctica, now grows grapes for wine. Some countries have a deep history to their wine making (think France) and others are just getting started (think Israel). With the ever-growing complexity about wine, Cassie and I thought it would be fun to talk about some of the things that tend to confuse new wine drinkers the most.
Is the quality of a wine equal to its price point?
You can buy wine for $10 a bottle, and you can buy wine for $10,000 a bottle. Many wine drinkers who are starting on their wine journey often believe that the more expensive bottle must be superior – why else would it be so much more expensive? The truth is that you can find fantastic wine for $10 and very poor wine for $10,000. The differences in price come from a variety of factors. Just like other consumer products, branding is very powerful. Some of the older more established wine makers can ask a higher price simply because people will pay it. The age of a wine can also affect it price point. When the producer has to hold the wine for several years of aging, it creates more cost to them. Therefore, the price goes up. The important thing to remember is context. On a Tuesday night when you get home from a long day at the office, the $10 wine might be the greatest thing you have ever had. At your eightieth birthday, it might be time to splurge on that expensive bottle. Either way, you can have a great wine experience.
What is tannin?
When you read the tasting notes on a wine, the word tannin is often thrown around – especially for red wine. Tannin is not a flavor. Tannin is actually part of a chemical reaction on your tongue. Don’t worry, we won’t get too science-y on this point. What you need to know is that tannins account for the ‘dry’ feeling you get when you drink some red wines. The tannin is created during the time when the wine is fermenting. Red wines include the stems, skins, and seeds of the grapes in the vat (consequently that’s what makes the wine red instead of white). Chemicals from these are pulled out and included in the finished product. The wooden barrels the wine ages in can also add tannin.
Why do you serve wines at different temperatures?
Different kinds of wine have different kinds of active chemical compounds in them. These compounds react differently with your taste buds at different temperatures. When wine was first being produced for commercial consumption, the wine makers used caves to age their wine (no refrigerators at the time). The range of serving temperatures that works best are those that most closely match cave temperatures. In general you want to serve most wines between 50/55 degrees Fahrenheit. In most cases, folks will tend to serve their reds too warm and their whites too cold. There are some exceptions to the 50/55 rule. For example, I like to get a sparkling wine like Champagne as cold as possible before serving it.
How do I store wine?
Unopened bottles of wine can last for a long time if stored appropriately. The three enemies of wine are light, heat, and vibration. So the best place to store your wine is in a cool dark place. It’s important to make sure the temperature in the storage space stays relatively constant. Huge swings may spoil your wine. A small wine refrigerator is often a great solution. You can buy some as small as ten bottles. If you want to go big someday, there are companies that will convert an entire room in your house into a temperature-controlled wine paradise.
Do the wine tasters really smell and taste all the stuff they say they do?
Yes and no. Let’s first separate in our minds the process of tasting wine from the process of drinking wine. Drinking wine is easy. Pull up an easy chair, pop a cork, and enjoy. Tasting wine is a much more involved process and has lots of important steps. You have probably seen a wine geek going through the ritual of swirling, sniffing, swirling again, sniffing again, sipping, making that funny sound as they suck in air, and then finally swallowing. All of those steps allow the chemicals in the wine to fully release all of their secrets. The taster then examines what he or she is experiencing, and the only way to share the experience with other people is through words. The taster tries to relate the wine to things that are familiar. So when a taster claims to smell fresh cut grass, he or she is trying to help you understand and share the experience. All of that being said, you don’t have to be an expert taster to enjoy drinking wine.
Hopefully you got some new wine knowledge today and are ready to go experience some great bottles. The good news is the best way to learn about wine is to drink wine! If you have a question you have always wanted to ask and do see it here, write me! I’m always happy to discuss my favorite of all drinks. Stay tuned for our next post that will discuss how to pair wine with food. Now go raise a glass and enjoy some wine today.
Upcoming events to consider:
Texas Monthly’s Cook Like a Texan Feast – February 26
The Taste – March 2
5K Wine & Beer Run – March 18
San Antonio Flavor – March 23
Paella Challenge – March 26
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