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Wine (the beverage) FAQ, part5 of 10 [LONG]

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Archive-name: drink/wine-faq/part5
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Copyright: (c) 1995-2000 Bradford S. Brown (Notices/Disclaimers in pt. 10)
Last-modified: 2000/06/01
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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Glassware
 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

The size and shape of the glass can contribute to the enjoyment of
drinking wine. Whether you need to spend a fortune on your glasses (which
I tend to break a lot of when cleaning up) is another story altogether.
 
Generally speaking a glass with a long stem lets you swirl the wine more
easily (swirling helps bring out the smells of the wine, which is very
important to the tasting process). The long stem also keeps the heat of
your hand away from the wine. (Of course, with the way I've been served
some wines, you have to grasp the bowl of the glass firmly and often just
to warm it up!) In order to capture the scents, its nice to have a glass
that is more narrow at the top than the area below (in other words, a
large bowl). In this way there is a larger surface area of wine in the
bottom and the bouquet of the wine can get trapped by the narrowing of the
glass. (Which reminds me how often I have to stop restaurant servers from
filling my glass of wine--even in places where there is very nice
stemware, many servers just don't know how to pour.)
 
Riedel produces (web
site [http://www.riedelcrystal.co.at] :
http://www.riedelcrystal.co.at) an expensive line of glasses, none of
which I own. Supposedly each glass (and there are different shapes for
different types of wines) is designed to maximize taste and aroma by
delivering the wine to the right part of the mouth, as well as being
shaped properly to catch and concentrate the scents of the wine. How you
may ask, can this be?
 
In terms of acidity, tannins, fruit flavors, aromatic components, and the
like, different types of wine have different palate profiles. These are
sensed by different parts of the tongue, nose and throat. Supposedly, wine
glasses can be designed to channel the wine as you sip it to the parts of
the mouth where you will get the optimal tasting experience. It is said
that there is a different place in the mouth for each wine, hence the
different shapes for the glasses, based on centuries-old concepts. But
whether you really need five sets of wine glasses (or for some even one
set of really expensive glasses) is left to your own sensibilities. A
non-statistical, admittedly unscientific sample size of public postings
tells me that some swear that these Riedel glasses make a large
difference, especially after side-by-side tastings between Riedel and
non-Riedel glasses, and others don't. Decide for yourself!
 
The International Standards Organization (ISO) in the United Kingdom sets
forth a design for a wine glass which can be inexpensive but very useful.
They are smaller and less exciting than the fancy, expensive glasses, but
are a lot cheaper to replace when smashed by host, guest or dishwasher.
Many people find them to be perfectly adequate, however do admit to liking
glasses with somewhat larger bowls. Personally, I like the latter, but
haven't found it necessary to get really expensive stemware.
 
Wine drinking is an adventure. Think about it. If you had an especially
good wine experience, was it just the wine? Or was it also the events
surrounding the drinking of the wine? Two _identical_ wines could seem
different merely by the activities that surround its consumption. A
romantic dinner? While the glass you use may or may not have an impact, I
suggest that other peripheral items may be much more significant.
 
Washing glasses somehow has gotten controversial. Seems some people object
to the dishwasher (and I've found some truth to this). Probably one should
merely watch out (whether washing by hand or machine) about using too much
soap or detergent which might leave a residue that will affect the wine.
 
Storing glasses is also something to think about. I tend to break them
(no, not drunk, just clumsy the next day). The cost of expensive wine
glasses is going to add up if you are ungraceful, so there may be the
temptation to store them in the cardboard box that they probably came in.
If you do this, wash the glasses before use. If the cardboard has gotten
at all damp, it may get moldy and contribute off flavors to the glass and
to the wine.

Storing Wine After It's Opened
 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wine deteriorates in the presence of oxygen. The most practical thing to
do is finish the wine. When this isn't sensible, the idea of buying
smaller bottles (or taking home unfinished bottles when drunk in a
restaurant--you don't _have_ to leave them--though in California, make
sure you take it home in the trunk of your car), when available, can be a
better solution. You can cook with leftover wine, or even turn it to
vinegar (why buy when you can have homemade?). Also note that some young,
tannic wines might actually taste better the next day.
 
But, there is always the time when you want to try to preserve the quality
of the wine for as long as you can. To do this, you want to prevent as
much oxygen as you can from getting to it.
 
One of the better ways is to fill the bottle with an inert gas. There are
several different systems which do this, but they tend to be relatively to
extremely expensive. Nevertheless, for the serious aficionado, this is
probably the best solution.
 
Another product, the Vacu-vin (tm) is a small pump device that comes with
rubber stoppers and a small hole in the middle of the stopper. The idea is
that you can suck a fair amount of air from the bottle, thus reducing the
effect of oxygen. Some, but not all, people feel that it might add 2 or 3
days to the life of the bottle.
 
Other cheap and interesting ideas: Get a bunch of glass marbles. Clean
them, then put them in the bottle until the liquid is to the top, then
cork. Or, just transfer the wine to a smaller bottle. Or both.
 
Refrigerating the wine is an option, the theory being that a cooler wine
will oxidize less quickly (and for the ultimate in this thoery, see
freezing, below). There are those they try this trick and claim success.
In fact, now that I think of it, that's what I do.
 
_Freezing Wine?_
 
Initially I wrote "one economical wine lover suggests freezing as a means
of longer term storage. I haven't tried this and probably won't; freezing
should alter the character of the wine. Cooking with leftovers is probably
a better bet."
 
However, there have been a fair number of people who claim positive
results with the process--not only with freezing, but even by nuking the
wine (gently) in a microwave to thaw it (at least part of the way).
 
These people very happy with the results. A few have noted that in some
wines there are radically increased precipitates, mostly potassium
tartrate. (Increased precipitates result because the water freezes at
higher temperatures, therefore the concentration of alcohol and soluble
items--such as potassium tartrate--are higher in the liquid portion [the
water turning to ice]. Things which will precipitate out easily, will do
so, and probably won't dissolve back into the wine so quickly. Now, one
possible effect of this is that a wine will taste less acidic--which may
or may not be a desirable effect. Another effect is that the constituents
of the wine which make up taste and color can be affected. But then, if it
works for you . . . .
 
I think I'll still stand by my original statement that "generally
speaking, most stored wine, no matter what you do to it, won't be as good
as when you opened it." Nevertheless, those who like the idea of freezing
wine seem to think it works better than most of the other storage methods.


VI.  BUYING WINE
 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

_What Wine to Buy?_

Nobody can tell you what wine to buy, since what _you_ like is the best
test. The more you taste different wines, the more you will come to know
what you like, etc.
 
But . . . If you are just starting out, here's some hints that we and
others seem to ignore completely a lot of the time: Don't buy too much of
a wine you haven't tasted (just because it got a good rating or is
something you liked in earlier vintages). Don't buy a bunch of wine that
you won't drink until after it goes bad. (I don't want to tell you how
much white wine I have aged to extinction from my earlier days in buying
wine.)
 
_Where to Buy Wine_
 
Depends on what you're drinking. Fortified wines to be carried and drunk
while wrapped in a brown bag can be gotten pretty cheaply at the local
market or liquor store. And, in _some_ of the United States, wine can only
be purchased in state run establishments (often closed on Sundays).
 
If you are drinking a wine that is meant to be drunk young, you can pretty
much buy your wine at the best price you can find. When it comes to wines
to cellar, more care should be exercised. You want to learn a bit about
your wine merchant. Since wines can be stored improperly or may have been
subjected to heat and other improper handling, you could find that after
keeping an expensive red wine for ten years, what you have to drink is
worthless. Furthermore, a respectable merchant will often be willing to
take back flawed bottles (see the definition of "flawed" elsewhere).
 
Wines can often be purchased at wineries (what an odd place to find wine).
The good news here is that you may get wines that are never available
anywhere else (you don't mass market 20 cases of wine). The sort of bad
news is that you might find that the wine you bought could have been found
less expensively elsewhere (though one hopes that the storage conditions
at the winery are better?).
 
Wineries will ship wine, depending on where they are and where you are.
Various laws come into play about the shipping of wine from one place to
another (though I heard that one wine merchant--I wasn't told who--merely
labels the box "guns" and has no trouble at all; there _are_ ways). Some
wineries sell virtually all of their wine by mail. 

Other wine merchants (sometimes calling themselves wine "clubs") will ship
wine. Several people have positively mentioned the following (but I don'
have any independent knowledge and guarantee nothing!).
 
There are so many places selling wine on the World Wide Web, that there is
no point in trying to keep up with listing them in a FAQ. Best use one of
the dozen or so search engines for that task. Interestingly enough, since
there are so many laws about the shipment of wine within the United
States, or between countries, that it will be a fascinating sidelight to
see which falls first, Internet sales or those laws.
 
_What is Wine Worth?_
 
A correspondent sent me this quote: "I think that the best way to learn
about wine is to drink the cheapest wine you can find. If you can't find
any cheap wine you like, then spend a few more dollars. And then a few
more, and more, and more . . . . " Depending on what you can afford to pay
for wine, the unfortunate truth is that generally, better wine costs more,
however it isn't necessarily true that wine that costs more is better.
 
The real fact is that you shouldn't be swayed by the opinions of others.
If you like it, fine, if you don't, don't buy it. If it is inexpensive and
suits your taste, great! I once bought a couple of bottles of wine for a
couple of dollars each because the name of the winery was the same as the
street I lived on. It wasn't wonderful (so far as we remember) and we
stuck it away in a closet. Five years later the stuff was absolutely great.
 
For wholesale wine (and other liquor) prices, you might find a copy of
"Beverage Media", (from Beverage Media Ltd., 161 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, New York 10013) which calls itself "The largest compilation of
alcoholic beverage price brand information in America."
 
Some wines may be very good but their prices could be considered out of
line with similar quality wines. Why, then, do they cost so much? My guess
is snob appeal and/or the marketing skills of the winery. A number of
people have commented that they consider _*Opus One*_ to fall into this
category.
 
Recently, while dining, out I overheard another table (clearly owners of a
wine shop) being asked by the restaurant manager whether the establishment
should purchase some _*Opus One*_. They hemmed and hawed and politely
noted that it was a "high end" item and perhaps there were other wines
that would be just as good for lesser price. That sums up a lot of what I
have heard of this wine, a joint production between Robert Mondavi and the
late Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux attempting to produce French
style wine with California grapes. The consensus of opinion in the Usenet
posts that I have followed relate that _*Opus One*_ is a generally well
made wine that is overpriced but will be reliable to people ordering in
restaurants who don't know much about better (or just as good) less
expensive wines. I've never tasted it, so try some, if you can (and want
to make up your own mind). And we've spent so much time talking about this
one wine because it is a very frequently asked question!
 
_My Significant Other Doesn't Like Red Wine_
 
First off, nobody is advocating that it is important to get people to
start drinking wine. If water is what a person wants, leave them alone! In
any event, a question that seems to keep coming up is "my wife doesn't
like red wine." So what? Why should she? That being said, it seems that
the natural progression when learning about and drinking wine is to move
from light fruity white wine to light fruity red wine, then to the more
hearty and more aged red wines.
 
As to _what_ wines, here's a generic sampling culled from Usenet, designed
for the novice red wine drinker (and already I have letters that the list
is completely wrong!):
 
Bardolino. Beaujolais. Bergerac. Cotes du Frontonnais. Dolcetto. Gamay.
Grenache Rose. Lighter Pinot Noirs. Rioja Gran Reserva. Rose. Valpolicella


VII.  WINES

Grapes
 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Before you talk about specific wines (like Pinot Noir or Merlot, as
opposed to specific producers), you really have to start with a discussion
of grapes. While there are lots of grapes in the world (travel up and down
the "Central Valley" of California and see all the "table" grapes), there
are a select few which are used for making the best wines. These are known
as "noble grapes.". 

A note--I know that there are a _lot_ of grapes missing. As time permits,
they'll get added. Here are some:
 
_Red Wine_
 
_*Cabernet Sauvignon.*_ One of the components of French Bordeaux, it is
also the major (if not sometimes only) grape in the most popularly drunk
American red wines in what might be called, for lack of a better term, the
"snob appeal" class. (For in fact there is probably more American jug wine
that never sees the cabernet grape drunk each year in the United States
than all the cabernet sauvignon from all the wineries in the world put
together. Prestige and/or quality are not always equal to popularity.)
Cabernet Sauvignon contains a lot of tannins that lead to the long aged,
"better" red wines. Depending on where it is grown it may smell of cassis
and black currants or black cherry and red currants. Some people may
notice a cigar box smell. Bell peppers, asparagus, and rhubarb are common
tasting notes for cabernet produced from grapes that are not quite ripe. A
bit of this sort of character is considered, by some, to be pleasing (the
wine is called "herbaceous"), too much of this flavor is unappealing--and
the wine will be described as "vegetal". Out tasting at a "fancy" winery I
tasted a wine that smelled and tasted so overwhelmingly of asparagus
(which I don't like) that I couldn't drink anything else the entire day.
The winery people admitted that while some people loved that particular
wine, others had the same reaction as myself. I think I turned about as
green as the asparagus I imagined.
 
_*Barbera.*_ A major Italian variety with a "tarry" smell and medium body.
 
_*Cabernet Franc.*_ Also a component of Bordeaux, a little is often
blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to add bouquet. Some don't think much of
it when drunk all by itself.
 
_*Gamay.*_ Produces a fruity wine such as French Beaujolais. (The
California Gamay Beaujolais is not the same grape, but makes a wine that
comes close.)
 
_*Grenache.*_ Often used to make rose wine, it is a component of French
Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes du Rhone and most other appellations from the
south of France. There are also many tasty grenache-based wines from Spain
(where it is called garnacha) and from California.
 
_*Merlot.*_ One of the major components of most French Bordeaux, also with
less tannin that makes for a smoother characteristic in the wine. Alone
(or practically alone), it makes another of the more popular U.S. wines.
Though it is like Cabernet, it is usually "rounder". It is often blended
with Cabernet Sauvignon.
 
_*Nebbiolo.*_ Can be found in California, but is really a grape of the
Piedmont area of Northern Italy. Found in Barbaresco and Barolo wines,
which can be aged with great success.
 
_*Syrah.*_ "True Syrah" and Petite Sirah are not the same, the former a
relative of Durif from the Rhone in France (and a major variety in its own
right), the latter a variety grown relatively widely in California and
said to be genetically the same as the obscure French Durif variety. Both
produce more or less deeply-red-colored, tannic, long lived wines, the
latter being a bit more "peppery." You might also see Australian Shiraz,
which is the same grape variety as the "true" French syrah, but because of
differences in growing conditions between the two countries, much of it
ends up tasting more like the California petite sirah, perhaps with more
of a chocolate note.
 
_*Pinot Noir.*_ The only grape in the famous French Red Burgundy
appellations of the Cotes de Beaune, Cotes de Nuit and Cote d'or.. Some
U.S. winemakers will make Pinot Noir "in the French style." Or not.
Interestingly, they are lighter in color (but not flavor) than
Bordeaux/Cabernet.
 
_*Zinfandel.*_ Mostly from California, it has a great deal of fruit like
characteristics. Some young Zinfandels are also "spicy." Good red
Zinfandel is often a bargain in restaurants, being less expensive than
other wines, but still very drinkable. (Huge quantities of Zinfandel are
made into "White Zin," a sweet, uncomplicated (and usually inexpensive)
wine that is favored by people who do not drink much wine. A decent White
Zinfandel can make a nice "picnic wine." We especially like zin from "old
vines" (pictured).
 
_White Wine_
 
_*Chardonnay.*_ Produces French white Burgundy and perhaps the most
popular (once again "snob" class--see Cabernet Sauvignon, above) wines in
the U.S. "Give me a glass of white wine" will probably get you Chardonnay
at "better" restaurants. (In fact, a lot of jug wine--which is to say, a
vast amount of wine--in the United States is made from what are "lesser"
grape varieties like French colombard or sultana.)
 
_*Chenin Blanc.*_ The major grape planted in the French Loire valley. In
the U.S., often used to make a light, fruity wine.
 
_*Gewurztraminer.*_ Some confusion abounds this wine, partly because
non-German speaking persons may not order it in a restaurant because they
can't pronounce it and partly because of the way in which parts of the
word can be translated. I'm told the German word "wuerz" literally means
"spice", but "gewuerz" is better translated as "aromatic" or "fragrant."
Wine from this grape has a floral smell and the wine itself is often drunk
with spicy foods. Gewurztraminer also makes a good "late harvest" sweet
dessert wine. It is more common in Alsace, Italy, and the United States
than in Germany and many "experts" say Alsace makes the best.
 
_*Riesling.*_ Also, to me, producing a floral smelling sort of wine, it
also makes a sort of light, fresh type of wine. Makes a great "late
harvest" sweet dessert wine (for which it is especially known in Germany).
Another viewpoint, it isn't so much floral as "minerally" with accents of
fuel oil--not light and fresh, instead, lots of depth and complexity in
something like a good German Riesling Spatlese or Alsatian Grand Cru.
 
_*Sauvignon Blanc*_ (sometimes called _*Fume Blanc*_, at least in
California). In the U.S., makes a crisp, light wine (sometimes with a
"grassy" or "herbaceous" characteristic). It is a component (along with
Semillon ) of the French dessert wine, Sauternes and the white wines of
Bordeaux.
 
_*Semillon*_. As with many grapes, while grown elsewhere (such as
California), Semillon is one of the major varieties grown in Bordeaux.
Like Sauvignon Blanc is can often have a grassy (or herbaceous) note, but
also may have notes of ripe figs. It may be drunk "dry", or "sweet", and
as such, it is a component (along with Sauvignon Blanc ) of the French
dessert wine, Sauternes and the white wines of Bordeaux.
 
Because I am neither an expert or a global traveler, nor independently
wealthy, you may notice a lack of discussion about other grapes from
around the world. I'm always open for opinions, though! Anybody want to
tell me a lot of good things about, for example, Germany, Italy,
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain (these are things people have
written to me about) and you name the list of other countries, wines, etc.
that I've missed! 


--
 

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