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

This article was archived around: 30 Sep 2000 17:19:27 GMT

All FAQs in Directory: drink/wine-faq
All FAQs posted in: rec.food.drink, alt.food.wine
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Archive-name: drink/wine-faq/part5 Posting-Frequency: monthly Copyright: (c) 1995-2000 Bradford S. Brown (Notices/Disclaimers in pt. 10) Last-modified: 2000/06/01 U.S. WWW (HTML) Mirror: http://www.sbwines.com/usenet_winefaq [newest] U.K. WWW (HTML) Mirror: http://www.bath.ac.uk/~su3ws/wine-faq/wine-faq.html
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! --