Sunday, February 23, 2014

Food: Wine Basics

Learning Wine

Wine is fermented juice, usually grapes. Other fruit wines are made from apples, and elderberries. The oldest wine production comes from 6000 BC, in Georgia. There are many kinds of wine, some white, some red, with a variety of flavours, based on the kinds of grapes used, the quality of a vintage, and the fermentation process. The longer a wine ferments, the drier and more bitter it becomes. These factors determine whether a wine is sweet or dry (bitter). While some wines from a good vintage can age a long time, most wines turn bad after about 8-10 years.

The three main factors that can ruin a wine are heat, oxygen, and sunlight. The perfect storage temperature is 12.7° C. To keep oxygen out, you should store wine on its side (or at a diagonal to keep sediments at the bottom). This keeps the cork wet, so it won’t shrink, letting in air. If you go to a wine shop and see every bottle standing on shelves, that tells you how little the owner knows about wine.

Wine Varieties

When a wine has 75% or more of one kind of grape, it’s called a varietal wine. Otherwise, it’s called a blended wine. Wine labeled Bordeaux is usually a blended wine. Both varietal and blended wines can be very fine quality and expensive. There are many species of grapes, including:

Neutral Whites: Chardonnay (Everywhere, started in Burgundy)
Neutral Reds: Tempranillo (Spain)
Bitter Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon (Everywhere, started in Bordeaux), Merlot (Everywhere, started in Bordeaux)
Fruitier Reds: Pinot noir (Burgundy), Gamay Noir (Loire Valley)

Sweet Wines

They’re not so popular, which is good because there’s less of it. It’s harder to make – for example, waiting till grapes are overripe and/or crushing frozen grapes before dawn, before they thaw. Or, you can turn grapes to raisins first. These processes make much less wine than a normal process, making them more expensive.

Hungarian Tokaji Eszencia is one of the sweetest wines in the world, taking years to ferment. Other sweet wines include Sherries, Vin de Paille in France, Comandaria in Cyprus, and Vin Santo wines in Tuscany. Portuguese Port adds brandy to stop the fermentation process, making the wine sweeter and with more alcohol, about 20%. Madeira wine is similar, but then it’s heated to 130° F – a stronger wine you can open and keep for months, or cellar it for centuries. Some Madeiras are over 300 years old, and still drinkable.