“Most wine knowledge does not directly enhance the pleasures to be had in drinking wine but, rather, enhances one’s ability to discover such pleasures”
Wine is addictive and I’m not talking about alcoholism; once you get on the wine train and start learning and unpacking this never-ending subject you’ll never want to get off. Wine can take you on a journey where you meet people, travel across the world without leaving home, become enveloped in history, and engrossed in geology and oenology. The more you learn the more you realise you don’t know…
So if I may, I would like to travel with you, sip by sip, and learn together as we go. I will start with the basics of wine and then take you on a tour through my favourite winemaking country; South Africa. We will visit all of the appellations and meet the most esteemed winemakers along the way. Discovering as we go why Stellenbosch has the most favoured conditons to produce world-class Cabernet Sauvignon, why if you are looking for Pinot Noir then you should head to Hemel en Aarde…
So we all know wine is made from grapes, but the grapes we use to produce wine are different from table grapes. They are much sweeter, smaller, and have thicker skins, they also always have seeds. In essence, wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grapes. The main component in wine is actually water which makes up 85%! The rest is composed of alcohol, sugar, minerals, acid and anthocyanins. And the best thing about wine is it is fat-free and cholesterol-free.
One glass of wine consists of juice from one cluster of grapes. There are 5 glasses of wine in one 750ml bottle of wine, which is 520 grapes. One grape vine produces 10 bottles of wine. Over 250,000 different wines are released every year around the world!
Wine is only produced once a year, as the grape’s life cycle is an entire year. The year in which the grapes are harvested is the wine’s vintage. In the Northern Hemisphere harvest is between August and September and in the Southern hemisphere, it is between January and April.
When we analyse wine, we talk about four main components; Alchohol, tannin, acidity, sweetness. Truly great wine needs a fine balance of each of these traits in order to achieve the best results.
Sweetness ~ How sweet or dry (not sweet) is the wine?
How to detect a wine’s sweetness;
- A mild tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue
- A slightly oily phenomenon may appear and linger in the middle of your tongue.
- Look at the viscosity of the wine tears and the speed at which they fall, the slower the higher the sugar content (this may also be a sign of higher alcohol content)
- Bone dry wines can be confused with highly tannic wines.
- Generally the lower the alcohol the higher the residual sugar content and the sweeter the wine.
Acidity ~ How tart is the wine?
- High acidity is what makes a wine crisp and refreshing, your mouth puckers and begins to salivate.
- Acidity adds a sharpness to the wine which is detected by a prickling sensation on the sides of your mouth and tongue.
- Wines with higher acidity feel lighter bodied.
- It is an essential trait in wine that is necessary for quality, but must be in balance.
- Acidity is essential for the aging ability of the wine; it acts as a preservative, allowing the wine to age gracefully without falling flat.
- The climate of the vineyard location affects the grapes natural acidity; cooler climates grow grapes with a higher natural acidity.
Tannin ~ How astringent or bitter is the wine?
- Tannin is the presence of phenolic compounds in wine derived from the grapes skin, seeds, and sometimes stalks. If the wine is aged in barrels then they can transmit oak tannin to the wine too.
- Tannin dries out your mouth and imparts a bitter sensation.
- Bite into a cold wet teabag… voila that is tannin!
- It is a herbaceous flavour component often described as astringent.
- It is more dominant in younger wines.
- Tannin is more often associated with red wine. Red wine is made from the entire grape, and fermented on skins compared to white wines which are normally separated from skins as they come to the winery.
Alcohol ~ Can you feel the heat?
- Wines have an average of 11-15% ABV (Alcohol by volume).
- A warming/heat sensation at the back of your mouth/throat is an indicator of alcohol. Higher the alcohol the warmer the feeling.
- Wines with higher alcohol tender to be bigger bodied and bolder. White wines with a higher ABV will be oilier.
- There is also a direct correlation between wine tears/legs and alcohol content. Wines with a higher ABV collect higher density droplets on the inside of the glass. Therefore wines with more tears have a higher alcohol content.
That’s the end of today’s wine lesson folks! Next, we’ll have a look at the flavours and aromas of wine before looking at different types of wines and exploring the most common grape varieties. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions along the way…
Now for your homework… pour yourself a glass of wine (or two to compare) and see if you can notice whether it has high acidity, a high ABV, how’s the tannins?