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Wine Knowledge Base

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermentation of grape juice. The natural chemical balance of grapes is such that they can ferment without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes or other nutrients. Wine is produced by fermenting crushed grapes using various types of yeast which consume the sugars found in the grapes and convert them into alcohol. Various varieties of grapes and strains of yeasts are used depending on the types of wine produced.

Although other fruits such as apples and berries can also be fermented, the resultant “wines” are normally named after the fruit from which they are produced (for example, apple wine or elderberry wine) and are generically known as fruit wine or country wine (not to be confused with the French term vin du pays). Others, such as barley wine and rice wine (e.g. sake), are made from starch-based materials and resemble beer and spirit more than wine, while ginger wine is fortified with brandy. In these cases, the use of the term “wine” is a reference to the higher alcohol content, rather than production process. The commercial use of the English word “wine” (and its equivalent in other languages) is protected by law in many jurisdictions.

Wine has a rich history dating back to around 6000 BC and is thought to have originated in areas now within the borders of Georgia and Iran. Wine probably appeared in Europe at about 4500 BC in what is now Bulgaria and Greece, and was very common in ancient Greece, Thrace and Rome. Wine has also played an important role in religion throughout history. The Greek god Dionysos and the Roman equivalent Bacchus represented wine, and the drink is also used in Christian and Jewish ceremonies such as the Eucharist and Kiddush.

The word “wine” derives from the Proto-Germanic *winam, an early borrowing from the Latin vinum, “wine” or “(grape) vine”, itself derived from the Proto-Indo-European stem *win-o- (cf. Ancient Greek οῖνος – oînos, Aeolic Greek ϝοίνος – woinos). Similar words for wine or grapes are found in the Semitic languages (cf. Arabic ﻭﻳﻦ wayn) and in Georgian (ğvino); some consider the term to be a wanderwort, or “wandering word”.

Food and Wine

Wine and food matching is the process of pairing food dishes with wine to enhance the dinning experience. In many cultures, wine has had a long history of being a staple at the dinner table and in some ways both the winemaking and culinary traditions of a region will have evolved together over the years. Rather than following a set of rules, local cuisines were paired simply with local wines. The modern “art” of food pairings is a relatively recent phenomenon, fostering an industry of books and media with guidelines for pairings of particular foods and wine. In the restaurant industry, sommeliers are often present to make food pairing recommendations for the guest.

The main concept behind pairings is that certain elements (such as texture and flavor) in both food and wine react differently to each other and finding the right combination of these elements will make the entire dinning experience more enjoyable. However, taste and enjoyment are very subjective and what may be a “textbook perfect” pairing for one taster could be less enjoyable to another. While there are many books, magazines and websites with detailed guidelines on how to pair food and wine, most food and wine experts believe that the most basic element of food and wine pairing is understanding the balance between the “weight” of the food and the weight (or body) of the wine. Heavy, robust wines like Cabernet Sauvignon can overwhelm light delicate dish like a quiche while light bodied wines like Pinot grigio would be similarly overwhelm by a hearty stew.

Beyond weight, flavors and textures can either be contrasted or complimented. From there a food and wine pairing can also take into consideration the sugar, acid, alcohol and tannins of the wine and how they can be accentuated or minimized when paired with certain types of food.

Holding Glasses

There is a “right way” to hold the glass. It may seem a bit unnecessary to discuss how to hold a wine glass; but, there is a right way and a wrong way and it does make a difference.

Wine is served in stemware because the temperature at which wine is served can have a profound impact on the tastes and the enjoyment it yields. Wine glasses should always be held by the stem of the glass rather than the bowl since the heat of your hand will quickly warm the liquid.

Warming a wine above its desired serving temperature will yield unwanted and unpleasant characteristics. The alcohol in wine will give a sharpness or ‘bite’ to the taste if the wine is served above 74 F. degrees.

Enough said. Just hold the glass by the stem unless the wine is served at too cool a temperature and you need to warm it for a minute or two.

Serving Temperatures

45 degrees (F.) / 7 degrees (C.) – Most white wines you’ll come across including Chenin Blancs, Sauvignon Blancs, Loire Wines, Rieslings and ‘everyday’ Chardonnays. If they are served colder, the aromas and flavors will be minimized and you won’t get full enjoyment.

50 degrees (F.) / 10 degrees (C.) – Full bodied, high quality white wines including Sauternes and rich white Burgundies. Light red wines like Beaujolais.

60 degrees (F.) / 15 degrees (C.) – Red wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bordeaux, Zinfandel, Rhones and Syrah/Shiraz.

Storing Wine

For any wine lover, storing wine well is very important. There are a few simple principles that need to be understood in order to select proper wine storage conditions. We can logically break down the process into just 3 categories: storing wine for the short haul, storing wine for long term aging and storing (or saving) wines that have already been opened.

For any wine lover, storing wine well is very important. There are a few simple principles that need to be understood in order to select proper wine storage conditions. We can logically break down the process into just 3 categories: storing wine for the short haul, storing wine for long term aging and storing (or saving) wines that have already been opened.

Short Term Storage

This is wine you will consume within 6 months. These may be bottles that are just home from the store and destined to be consumed shortly or bottles that have been pulled from longer storage to be accessible for spur of the moment consumption.

The closer you can duplicate the conditions required for long term storage, the better. However, in many situations, keeping the wines in a box in an interior closet is a satisfactory solution.

Keep the bottles stored so that:

  • the cork stays moist
  • the wines are at the lowest stable temperature possible
  • the location is free of vibration
  • the location is not a storage area for other items that have a strong odor

Stay away from those little 9 bottle racks that end up on top of the refrigerator; it’s hot, close to the light and vibrates from the refrigerator compressor.

Long Term Storage

This is wine that you will keep for more than 6 months before consumption. A good storage location for wine is generally dark, is free of vibration, has high humidity and has a low stable temperature.

Generally accepted ‘ideal’ conditions are 50 to 55 degrees farenheight and 70 percent humidity or higher. The high humidity is important because it keeps the corks from drying and minimizes evaporation. The only problem with even higher levels of humidity is that it brings on growth of mold on the labels or the loosening of labels that have water soluble glue.

Temperatures lower than 55 degrees only slow the aging of the wines. There have been wines found in very cold cellars of castles in Scotland that are perfectly sound and are much less developed that those kept at ‘normal’ cellar temperature. A near constant temperature is preferable to one that fluctuates.

With regard to light, most modern bottles have ultraviolet filters built into the glass that help protect the contents from most of the effects of UV rays. Despite the filters in the glass, long term storage can still allow enough rays in to create a condition in the wine that is referred to as ‘light struck’. The result is that the wine picks up the taste and smell of wet cardboard. This is especially noticeable in delicate white wines and sparkling wines. The condition can be created by putting a bottle of champagne near a fluorescent light for a month.

Regular or constant vibrations from pumps, motors or generators should be avoided since the vibrations they cause are thought to negatively affect the evolution of the wines. One additional factor to avoid is storing other items with very strong odors near the wine. There have been many reports of wines picking up the aromas of items stored nearby.

If you do not have a suitable wine cellar, there are many types of ‘wine refrigerators’ that will work as well. They differ from common refrigerators in that they work at higher temperatures (50-65 degree range) and they do not remove humidity from the air. There are kits available that will convert regular refrigerators into suitable wine storage units.

Storage After Opening

This is storage for bottles of table wine that have been opened but not completely consumed. There are many methods for prolonging the life of opened table wines but even the best can only slow the degradation of the wine. These methods are for still table wines. Sparkling wines and fortified dessert wines have different characteristics and requirements.

  • Gas Systems: Sparging the bottle with a gas (nitrogen or argon) can be very effective but it is expensive and I’ve never known anyone who actually used a gas system over a long period of time. They just seem to ultimately be more trouble than they are worth. If you do elect to try such a system, stay away from carbon dioxide since it will mix into solution with the wine.
  • Vacu-vin: An item came on the market a few years ago called a Vacu-vin. This consists of rubber bottle stoppers that hold a weak vacuum created by a hand pump that comes with the system. While some people swear by them, there is a consistent complaint that wines treated with a Vacu-vin seem ‘stripped’ of aromas and flavor. They actually create a lower pressure environment instead of an actual vacuum. This means they don’t remove all the oxygen and oxidation of the wine will still occur.

Half bottles, marbles and progressive carafes: These are all ways of limiting the amount of air in contact with the wine. The concept is good if you move quickly and refrigerate the remaining wine.

Taste Progression

This information will likely be useful to you if you are beginning to drink wine or have not consumed wine very frequently.

There is a normal progression in taste preferences among most Americans when it comes to wine. This may be uniquely American because we usually grow up drinking soft drinks and not much (if any) wine through our youth. This information does hold true for a population or group of people but may vary for any specific individual. If you are relatively new to wine, it should provide a good roadmap for your journey.

The basic progression of most people’s wine preference is

  • Sweet and served chilled
  • Semi-dry and served chilled
  • Dry, white and served chilled
  • Dry, more flavorful and served slightly chilled
  • dry, rich flavored and served at cellar temperature
  • Dry, complex and served at cellar temperature

This is often the first type of wine that you ever had and liked. This category of wines is light, sweet and served cold. Wines in this group sometimes have a little spritz or carbonation. Pop wines, some blush wines, and fruit wines fall into this first wine category. Think of these wines like soft drinks with a kick (cold, sweet and sometimes with bubbles).

After a while, you’ll start to find to find these a little sweet like coolers did. You’re ready for the next step.

Semi-dry and served chilled

These are very agreeable wines and can be food friendly as well. Some of the cloying sweetness and any trace of carbonation that existed in the first group of wines is gone. Higher acid levels in these wines balance the remaining sweetness. Vouvray, most German wines and many blush wines fall into this category.

At some point, you’ll prefer wines with little or no sweetness. When that happens, move to the dry whites.

Dry, white and served chilled

Wines in this category have no sweetness, and are served chilled. Chardonnay is the most popular grape variety in this category. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) are also favorites in this taste range. It is common for a person to enjoy wines in this category for many years before moving on to the fuller flavored, light red wines. These wines go especially well with fowl and seafood.

Dry, more flavorful and served slightly chilled

Light red wines such as Beaujolais and inexpensive Pinot Noir are found in this group of wines. They are dry wines and have stronger flavors than the white wines in the previous category. They are served slightly chilled but not cold. These wines do not have the tannins that are to be found in the next group. They match up well with grilled fish and poultry because they often have higher acid levels than most red wines.

Dry, rich flavored and served at cellar temperature

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the dominant grape varieties from which these wines are made. They are richly flavored, medium bodied, dry red wines and they often have very high levels of tannin in their youth. They should be served at very cool room temperature (upper 60`s F.) and allowed to warm in the glass. These wines often require aging to show their best.

Dry, complex and served at cellar temperature

These are selected wines from the previous categories that have been aged to their peak. With that age comes subtlety and complexity in the smells and tastes. These wines are have lost the forward fruit of their youth and the tannin levels have subsided. These wines require special handling including decanting before being served.


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