Wine Selection Guide
This Wine Selection Guide provides a basic understanding of wine, where it comes from, the process of winemaking and how to select the right wine for the right occasion. The Wine Selection Guide is intended to get the less experienced wine drinker the knowledge to better navigate a wine list. Understanding the basics of wine will help make your wine selection easier and add new dimensions to your wine experience.
The Wine Selection Guide is divided into three parts; Wine Basics, The Grapes Of Wine and Wine Selection. To get the most out of the WSG, it is best to read all three parts. Wine Basics provides a foundation on winemaking. The Grapes Of Wine provides information on the varieties of grapes used in wine. The Wine Selection takes the knowledge from the first two parts and gives some helpful advice on wine selection.
Wine can be a very complex subject. If you really look at all the varieties of grapes (and there are thousands), where they are grown, hundreds of years of experimenting, different soils, climates and vintages; learning about wine can be very intimidating. The Wine Selection Guide will only provide the basic information that can be used to enhance your knowledge of wine. There are many very good web sites, books and newsletters that can extend your knowledge if you choose to do so.
Wine Pros is a good site for more information.
What is wine?
Wine is fermented fruit juice and in most cases the fruit is a grape. Grapes offer the best ingredients and varieties as compared to other fruits. In part 2 of WSG, there is a discussion on the main types of grapes used in winemaking.
Since prehistoric times, humans have been involved in the fermentation process. The earliest evidence of winemaking dates back well over 2000 years. Fermentation is the conversion of sugars and other carbohydrates in converting juice into wine, grains into beer and sugars in vegetables into preservative organic acids. Fermentation helps in the development of a diversity of flavors, aromas, and textures. It also can help in the preservation of wine and food.
Wines average 8 to 14 percent alcohol content. Yeast is the primary ingredient in the fermentation process. Yeast is naturally found everywhere and eats the sugar found inside the grape, which gives off alcohol and carbon dioxide. However winemakers use manufactured yeasts that better control the process. When yeast has eaten all the sugar or the alcohol kills the yeast, the fermentation is complete.
Where Wine Comes From
Good wine comes from good grapes, good weather, experienced winemakers and good locations. Good grapes have developed over hundreds of years. Good weather depends upon the year which helps determines a good or bad vintage. Experienced winemakers and good technology can do wonders to make a good wine, even in less than ideal conditions.
Good locations depend upon climate and soil. The countries that produce the most wine are Italy, France, Spain, United States, Argentina, Germany, South Africa, Australia, Chile and Romania. Different regions are well known for raising specific types of grapes, again depending upon soil and climate.
From Grapes To Wine
The four basic steps in wine making are; harvest, crush, ferment, and bottle. Like many crops, once the grapes are just right, they must be harvested quickly. Just right depends upon the sugar-acid balance in the grape. Wine acidity is a very important structural component of wine. If a wine is too low in acid, it tastes flat and dull. If a wine is too high in acid, it tastes too tart and sour.
Grapes can be harvested by hand picking or machines. Hand picking is more labor intensive but also results in less damage to the grape and provides the grapes that are not quite ready to be left on the vine a few more days.
Crushing is done my a crusher machine and gets rid of the stems that can cause a bitter taste. Now is the time to note that there are white (pale yellow, gold, green or pink) grapes and red (dark-skinned, purple) grapes. All grape juice is white. The red in red wine comes from the pigment within the grape skin. Also note that white wine can be made from either white or red grapes, so the white wine from red grapes must have the skins removed quickly after crushing to keep the white color. And red wine will come from red grapes where the juice and skins will remain together after crushing.
So to make white wine, the winemaker or vintner works with cold grapes to quickly keep the acidity and fresh flavors from escaping. If the white wine comes from white grapes, the skins and juice stay together in a chilled stainless-steel container but only for a few hours. The winemaker then presses the juice out of the mix.
Since the grape skins are necessary for making red wine red, the juice and skins stay together for as long as it takes to get the correct color (from a Rosé to a dark red), tannin and flavor, usually measured in days. Tannins are compounds that create the drying, sharp feel in the mouth. Tannins occur naturally in many plants like grape skins. It is very important to get the right balance of tannin left in the juice.
For fermentation, the winemaker will introduce into the grape juice a cultured yeast usually produced in a laboratory. Fermentation can take from a few days to many weeks depending upon the grape, yeast and temperature.
After fermentation, the wine is filtered to remove the sediment and then bottled if this is a drink now type of wine. If this is a fine wine, then the wine is aged in typically oak barrels where more complex flavors develop. The wine is then bottled and aged again for days, weeks or years. Wine aged in bottles are more mature, less fresh but with more complex flavors. However, aged wine can also loose it’s flavor. So if you like the simple fresh flavors, stay with wine less than 5 years old.
It is important to note that with all the possible variations; soil, weather, grapes, yeast, winemaking techniques, and aging, a specific type of wine, like a Chardonnay can vary greatly in taste, even from the same grape growing area.
Tasting is different then drinking wine. You should always first taste the wine, especially if you are the one that ordered the wine. When wine is first poured into a wine glass, look to see if there are any foreign objects and notice the color. Next swirl the wine around the glass, notice how the wine clings to the side of the glass with legs or trails of wine down the glass. The longer the legs, the richer the wine.
Now notice how the wine smells. Do you smell the fruit, flowers, or herbs? Does it smell good? Many people can tell more about a wine by the smell than by the taste. If after seeing, swirling and smelling the wine passes your expectations, now taste the wine. You can hold the wine in your mouth to help let the flavors take hold. Notice the aroma and remember the smell, flavors and aroma of each wine for future comparison.
Next: Part 2 The Grapes Of Wine