A great bottle of wine comes from years of works, from looking for the right viticultural area with unique microclimate, cool breezes coupled with sunny days, to bottling. It takes years of dedication to create something that looks like a piece of art. Before planting vineyards at his piece of land, a winemaker has to spend 1-2 years carefully checking soil composition, drainage, and weather conditions to make sure he planted the correct varietals in the most ideal locations. After planting, waiting for the right time to harvest, pressing and tank fermentation, aging in wood oak barrel, wine makers have to select the perfect blend for each varietal before bottling and labelling. Quality is mainly dictated by the vineyard and the wine speaks for itself. We invite you to enjoy a bottle of wine at your table and taste the flavors that reflect the unique terroir and climate of each terroir, but please think about the intense work and great passion required to make wine, while opening a bottle.
Here is basic information about wine as: What is Wine, The Harvest, The Grape, Wine Geography, Wine History, Making White Wine, Making Red Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine & Food Pairing, Serving Wine, Suitable Wine Glass, Decanting Wine, How to Buy Wine, How to Store Red Wine, Restaurants Wine List.
What is Wine
Wine is an alcoholic beverage obtained from the fermentation of freshly gathered grapes juice. The fermentation is a natural process that converts sugar, present in the juice, into alcohol by yeast. The winemaker takes several actions during the process to affect the quality of the wine and how it will taste. First of all is the selection and mixture of grapes used, followed by the method of fermentation till to the treatment in the cellars. In some countries the authorities allow to add other ingredients during the process:
- Small quantities of sulphur is used to sanitise wines.
- Sugar is allowed in areas where there isn’t enough sun to fully ripen the grapes.
- Some strains of yeast are allowed to better perform the process.
- In hotter regions the authorities allow to add natural fruit acids.
- In few areas powdered tannins is allowed.
Best wines, called “Natural Wines” come from the work in the vineyards to get premium quality grapes which don’t require particular treatments in the winemaking process.
Grapes are harvested manually at the end of september/beginning of october, and processed separately. Only the best, healthy grapes are selected and picked.
The most important tasting factor is given by the grape, even if wine never tastes of grapes. Wine from chardonnay may taste of peaches. Wine makers usually write on the label the geographic area where the bottle is preduced, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, but seldom write the grape variety.
Although the new world can produce great wines using identical grapes and identical methods of old world wine makers, the old world, France and Italy, have a combination of factors to be the best in quantity, quality and variety:
- Ideal latitude.
- Weather conditions.
- Range of soil types.
- Long established vineyards.
- Generations of knowledge.
- Set of wine regulations.
- Skilled support industry as oak barrel makers, nurserymen, shippers, scientists, etc.
Wine is made from grape, and the composition of the grape is the first thing to know to become a wine conosseur.
- The stalk: contains a preservative with a bitter flavour called tannin.
- The skin: contains tannin, colouring pigments (black, red and green colour) and is covered wild yeasts and bacteria.
- The pips: contain bitter oils and no desirable in white wine making.
- The pulp: the 70% of the pulp is just water, the 30% contains various fruit sugars and acids, trace elements absorbed from the earth and a gelling agent called pectin that give a wine character, flavour and interest. The pulp, and as a result the juice, of all grapes is the same green yellow colour. White wines can be made from any colour of grapes. To use black grapes to make a white wine, we have to separate the juice from the skins after pressing. Champagne is made using black grapes, but most whites are made from green grapes and the separation of juice and skins depends only if wine makers want to prevent tannin leaching from the skins into the juice. Red wines can be made only from black or red grapes.
The type of soil and perfect climatic conditions determine the quality of the wine. To obtain great wines, vines need cool winter but not too much to damage the roots of the vine by frost, warm and wet spring, though not too wet, allowing plants to bud. Summer must be long and sunny, but too much heat could scorch the fruit that ripens too quickly. The autumn must be gentle and relatively dry allowing grapes to reach full maturity. The harvest must be completed before raining days that could damage the mature grapes. Due to above conditions, northern and southern latitudes, and equatorial areas are excluded.
Only the bands between latitude 30-50° north and 30-50° south of the equator are right for wines.
Poor land produces great wines. Soils rich of nitrogen and nutrients produce a lot of grape crops, good for eating, but not for making wine because the fruit is too sweet and lacking in minerals and acids. The grape vine doesn’t require fertile soil to thrive. The area of Bordeaux (most famous area in France) is composed of gravel and pebbles, on a base of clay or chalk. A poor and free draining soil encourages the roots go further down in search of water absorbing several minerals. Poor land produce fewer grapes of fertile area, but of high quality.
Nobody knows who was the first to make wine. It was discovered by pure chanche leaving some grapes in a container for few months allowing the natural sugars convert juice into wine. The process of winemaking was developed and encouraged for the taste and for religious purpose (Gods of wine for ancient Greek, Dionysus and for ancient Roman, Bacchus, and the miracle of the conversion of water into wine to represent Christ’s blood in the communion service, are examples of its importance in the religion.
The first evidence of wine having been made from grapes comes from a clay pot found in
Persia (Iran) dating 10,000 years B.C. All ancient cultures developed new secrets of winemaking and planted vines wherever they set up colonies. The Romans brought vineyards from Mediterrean areas to North Europe, including France and UK.
Making White Wine
To avoid oxidisation of the grapes by sun and air, grapes must be brought to the winery and pressed as quickly as possible. The crusher breaks the skins of the grapes, removes stalks and pips, and the mash is poured into a press. White wines requires a gentle pressing. The juice is poured into a fermentation refrigerated temperature tank at 15° C. The fermentation takes from 1 to 4 weeks and creates heat. The fermentated juice is poured into stainless steel tanks for a period of settling for few months before being filtered and bottled as wine. Expensive wines will have some months of maturation in oak casks before bottling. Lately some white wines are fermented in small old wooden vats with a cooling system applied including white Burgundy and sweet Sauternes.
The vanilla buttery flavour in a chardonnay comes from the oak, not from the grapes, and in cheapest wines, to cut costs, winemakers add some oak chips to the wine.
Before bottling, the wine must be filtered to eliminate all solid matter. The most common way is by using centrifuges even if this method remove body and character from the wine. The ancient method is the use of whisked egg whites, isinglass, or a clay stirred into the barrel that gradually sink to the bottom of the barrel, dragging all particles with it.
Some wines, only for reasons of appearance, are chilled before filtering to force the tartaric acids to form into tiny crystals easily to remove with filtration. These crystals if not removed, could form naturally during long transportation though no harmless and tasteless.
The main factor is grape variety, most grapes have a distinctive taste that is recognized in the bottle.
Other important factor is fermentation and maturation in oak barrel and the residual sugar in the wine. If the wine maker decides to make short fermentation, the yeasts cannot eat all sugar, and we find a certain amount of sugar in the bottle. In hot countries wine maker can produce 14% of alcohol wines yet still has some sugar. (The practice of adding extra sugar during fermentation is allowed only in few countries to boost alcohol, not to sweeten the finished wine).
Depending on the style of wine, winemaker can encourage or avoid malolactic fermentation by inoculating the wine with bacteria. Malolactic fermentation is a natural process that takes place after alcoholic fermentation if the wine is kept in a warm environment (harsh malic acid turns into lactic acid). This has the effect of softening the wine and reducing acidity.
To add a complexity to a wine, winemaker can keep the skins and dead yeast cells in contact in the barrel, maturing process, but this process requires attention and hygiene.
When wine is ready to be placed on the market, the wine is bottled in the classic 0,75 L, using an automatic machine that wash the bottles, inflate them with nitrogen (to avoid oxidations), fill them with wine, then put on them cork and labels. Lately some winemakers use different size bottles and bag in box packing.
White Wines Grapes
There are many varieties of grape used in the production of white wines, here is description of their general character and tasting terms used:
- Chardonnay: full, soft, buttery, fruity / peach, pear, pineapple, citrus, melon, butter, vanilla.
- Sauvignon Blanc: invigorating, dry, grassy, acidic / grass, gooseberries, asparagus, green beans, cat pee, flint.
- Gewurztraminer: exotic, spicy, perfumed, oily, rich / ginger, cinnamon, lychees.
- Riesling: vividly fruity, lively acidity, oily / apples, limes, passion fruit, minerals, petrol.
- Semillon: round, smooth, honeyed, toasty / grass, citrus, lanolin, honey, toast.
White Wine Tasting Terms
Wine conosseurs have their own terms to describe a wine:
- Creamy: Applied to champagne and sometimes to chardonnay.
- Crisp: Clean and sharply flavoured, not sweet or oaky.
- Oily: Richly textured wines (gewurztraminers or pinot blancs).
- Flabby: Wine without crispness.
- Green: Too acidic (some overly tart sauvignon blancs).
- Steely: Crisp and a bit austere (the best Chablis).
White Wine Flavours Terms
A glass of wine can be simply described as fine or bad, but wine lovers use will followint terms to describe the flavour of a white wine:
- Lemony: Chardonnay.
- Toasty: Chardonnay.
- Biscuity: Champagne.
- Lychees: Gewurztraminer or Sauvignon blanc.
- Flinty: Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume.
- Grassy: Sauvignon blanc.
- Vanilla: Oak ageing.
Making Red Wine
Red wine can only be made from black or red grapes, and the skins are very important containing the phenolic complex mix of colouring agents, flavouring agents and a good preservative tastes a little bitter called tannin. The tannins allow great red wines to improve after many years in suitable cellar (the best time to open the bottle is when the tannins have mellowed and the components have integrated perfectly). Red wines bottled for immediate consumption are made with little tannin to have a wine that tastes fruity.
The grapes are crushed together with few stalks and the mash is poured into the fermentation tank (concrete, steel or wood) without pressing. The fermentation varies from 1 to 6 weeks temperature at 18° to 28° C. The great red wine is poured straight into oak barrels or stainless steel to mature. The remaining juice, skins, and stalks is strong pressed, to extract a tannic liquid that can be blended back to the mature wine to add body and strength. All great red wines are matured in oak French forests barrels to give a subtle vanilla, toasty flavour to the wine and allowing a little micro oxygenation to soften the wine.
After the rest, the wine must be cleared before bottling. The use of filters and centrifuges isn’t appreciate for great red wine because a strong filtration destroys the ability to mature in the bottle. So for genuine red wine, to separate wine from solid deposits, red wines must be decanted before serving.
To choose the style of a red wine, the winemaker has several options:
- The variety of grapes.
- The quantity of tannic stalks to include in the fermentation and when to remove stalks and skins from juice.
- To ferment in inert steel or cement tanks or in wooden oak barrels.
- Which strains of yeast to use to ferment.
- Duration and temperature of fermentation.
- To mature the wine in French oak barrels (choosing the right oak toast level), or cheaper tanks.
- Duration of maturation from 6 to 36 months, or more. Every 3-4 months the oak barrels in the cellar must be racked. Wine is poured from one barrel into a clean barrel, discarging the 10% of wine that is full of dead yeast cells and adding new reserved wine.
- Add some extra tannic into the blend.
- To carry out malolactic fermentation or no.
- Blend the wines made from different grapes and maturation to make different styles.
- Method of fining with or without filtration.
Red Wine Grapes
- Cabernet Sauvignon: the classic Bordeaux wine grape, a great ageing potential wine / blackcurrant, cedar, pencil shavings, peppers, mint, chocolate, tobacco.
- Merlot: an other great grape of Bordeaux, rich, plummy, spicy grape / plums, roses, spice, fruit cake, blackcurrant.
- Sangiovese: the grape of Chianti, full, firm, dry, spicy, tobacco and herbs.
- Pinot Noir: a very fragrant red grape of Burgundy / raspberries, strawberries, cherries, violets, roses, game, compost, manure.
- Shiraz (Syrah in France): a great red grape, complex, rich, spicy / raspberries, blackberries, pepper, cloves, spice, leather, game, tar.
- Cabernet Franc: green peppers, blackcurrant, leaves, chocolate.
- Gamay: the grape of Beaujolais, known to be fruity, low in tannin and made for early drinking (Nouvelle Beaujolais). It is made with the unique Carbonic Maceration, whole berry fermentation.
- Primitivo (Zinfandel in Napa Valley, California): easy drinking allure, bold juicy flavors, spicy, powerful, alcoholic. The warm climate is fundamental to make a great Primitivo.
Red Wine Tasting Terms
- Austere: tannic, the wine is young and lacking fruit.
- Baked: from a hot climate, not fresh but not necessarily bad.
- Coarse: rough and cheap.
- Dense: positive, solid colour and balanced flavour.
- Earthy: taste of earth, simple and rustic.
- Finesse: wines of high quality and refined nature.
- Firm: a well balanced tannins and acid wine.
- Flabby: wine is over oaked and/or lacking acidity.
- Green: raw, a characteristic of cabernets from poor years.
- Grip: young wine with good tannins.
- Heavy: full bodied and too alcoholic.
- Jammy: too fruity without finesse.
- Meaty: rich and full bodied with an aroma of meat.
- Silky: a quality wine, smooth and velvety mouth feel.
- Stalky: bitter tannins evident (in some pinot noirs and cabernets).
- Structure: balanced, well made and will last.
- Thin: lacking some flavour.
Red Wine Flavours Terms
- Blackcurrant: along with cedar (the classic Bordeaux Cabernet taste).
- Cabbage: mature Burgundy (positive aspect).
- Coffee: top quality wine pefectly matured in oak barrels.
- Green Pepper: distinctive note of cabernet grapes.
- Leather: Shiraz, tough, big, spicy.
- Liquorice: full bodied, tannic young wine.
- Spice: big reds, including Rhone, Primitivo and Rioja.
- Strawberry: Beaujolais.
- Tar: rich wine from a hot climate.
- Tobacco: lovely rich, warm taste from great Bordeaux.
- Vanilla: oak ageing.
The wine fermentation, when the yeasts change the sugars, produces CO2 (carbon dioxide gas). To make wine, winemakers allow gas to escape, while to make sparkling wines, the winemakers keep the wine under pressure dissolving the gas within the wine. The quality level of different sparkling wine depends on how and when CO2 is added. When it is released, the CO2 bubbles to the surface. The traditional and expensive method (Champenois) to make sparkling wine is to allow a second natural fermentation in the bottle. The cheapest sparkling wines are made by squirting industrial gas into ordinary wine. Most sparkling wines are white and dry, cheapest are lighter in alcohol and sweet (the Italian Spumante).
The Champenois Method
The Champenois method was invented by a monk became later winemaker called Dom Pérignon. This method is used in al countries and labelled as traditional method, because the term Champagne is a sparkling wine only from a small area in the North East of France. All high quality dry white wines are made from a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. After completing fermentation, the wine is placed into special strong bottles adding sugar and more yeast to produce the CO2. The bottles are sealed with a strong cap and kept in cool cellars for 2 years allowing the gas dissolving into the wine. Sparkling wines cannot be filtered to remove the dead yeast cells in the bottle, but bottles are revolved and end inverted in order to accumulate the dead yeasts in the neck of the bottle. After 1 month the necks of the bottles are freezed to change yeasts into a solid that is shot out just after caps are removed. Then the bottles are topped up with some reserved wine and sugar and well corked. Champagne is ready to be sold. This method called Remuage is very expensive.
The Charmat Method
The secondary fermentation takes place naturally as Champenois method, but wine is kept under pressure in a sealed tank rather than in the bottles and yeasts are removed from the tank with great costs savings. To make Prosecco winemakers use this cheaper method.
Wine & Food Pairing
Food and wine matching is an art, be creative. The basic rule for matching wine and food is dry or medium white wine with fish to avoid to overwhelm the fish, aged red wine with meat, fresh and crisp wines to stand up to acidic dishes, sweet wine for desserts. That is why the right food & wine combination double the enjoyment of both. A delicate fish is over powered by a an aged red wine, while the strong flavours of a well done steak don’t allow to appreciate the gently taste of a young white wine. Fish can’t be paired with aged red wines due to the high levels of tannin that interact with fish oils leaving a metallic aftertaste in your mouth. To choose the right wine we have to think of taste of the dish, then to find a style of wine with flavours to match or to contrast depending on personal preferences. Here is basic popular combinations:
- Mild flavored lean white Fish, sea bass: pairing with refreshing white wines to balance the delicate fish flavor as Pinot Grigio, Champagne, Chardonnay.
- Medium-textured Fish, trout, red snapper, grouper, monkfish: pairing with medium white wines with high aromatics and rich full-bodied whites as Fiano di Avellino, Vermentino, Chardonnay.
- Meaty Fish with a steak-like texture, tuna, salmon, swordfish: pairing with rich white wines and low tannin red wines as Champagne, Falanghina, non aged Chianti, non aged Magliocco.
- Strongly flavored Fish that taste like the sea, anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel: pairing well with sparkling wines or red wines that lower the salty fish taste as Champagne, Dry Lambrusco, Pinot Noir.
- Shellfish: dry white wine as Sauvignon blanc, Chablis, Riesling, Champagne.
- Lamb: robust red with some acidity as Primitivo, Chianti, Rioja.
- Red Meat: full, mature, red wines of high quality as Brunello di Montalcino (Chianti zone), Burgundy, Bordeaux.
- Pork or Duck: a rich full favour red wine.
- Roast Chicken: mature red wine as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot noir, or a medium bodied white wine as Chardonnay.
- Cheese: mature chesee coupled with red wine, mozzarella fresh cheese with Sauvignon blanc, sweet wine with creamy cheese. Never tannic heavily oaked wines.
- Pasta: according to the sauce.
- Chinese Food: white wines as Gewurztraminer or Riesling.
- Indian Spicy Food: ice semi-sweet white wines.
- Dessert: sweet white wines.
There is an optimum temperature and a proper glass for the enjoyment of various styles of wine. Red wines must be served at room temperature, but in wine terms room temperature is 16°-18° C.
White wines should generally be served very cool (8°-10° C), keeping the bottle in the fridge for an hour is enough.
Restaurants must show clients the bottle before opening it. Read the label to be sure the waiter is serving the wine order. After your acceptance, the waiter lets you taste the wine to make sure the wine is in good condition and not corked (The cork has become diseased and has tainted the wine, with a dirty smell, don’t be afraid to ask for changing the bottle). Sometimes there are small pieces of cork floating in the wine, it depends on how the bottle has been opened, but these never affect the taste of wine.
Suitable Wine Glass
Each type of wine should be served in a specific glass, but we list only basic requirements of beautiful wine glasses:
- To avoid heat transfer from your hand to the wine, choose a glass with stem.
- To keep the aromas in the glass, choose a glass that taper towards the top.
- To see the colour of wine, the glass should be clear.
Only the finest red wines need to be decanted before serving. That is why they are bottled without filtration, and you can find some tannins and yeast cells in the bottle. The bottle should be stood upright for a day before opening to allow the sediment to settle in the bottom. Two hours before serving, pour the wine into a vessel, leaving the last centimetre of wine in the bottle, along with all the sediment. Furthermore letting the wine breathe exposing the wine to air in the vessel, soften the wine if it is too young and full of tannins.
How to Buy Wine
Wine sales are booming all over the world, a bottle of wine for Saturday dining is now the norm for most ordinary people, and many different wines from old and new countries are on the shelves of supermarkets and chainstores as online shops. To choose wines with confidence, you have to develop a basic knowledge for understanding the label, storage and serving wine.
Fifty dollars is a lot of money for a bottle of wine for a daily consume, but it is a threshold price for a great wine for special occasions. Usually the great wines are expensive, but spending 100 dollars doesn’t guarantee the quality. Here we give some tips & advices on how to read label in order to understand what level of quality you can aspect for that price.
Wine labelling isn’t clear round the world and each country has its own law for labelling to give information to the consumer. A typical label supply all the information to allow a consumer to know the origin area, the winemaker, the alcohol level % , the vintage date (year of production) and the quality level of the bottle of wine.
In old world, each wine area has a proper controlling body to ensure quality standards. In France AC is the sign of highest quality, followed by VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure) and IGP. In Italy it is more difficult to understand the quality level of a wine, DOCG or DOC is the sign of highest quality, but IGT and IGP ensure also a good quality level.
For a genuine wine, the most important factor is to know if the winemaker is a farm that starts from grape to bottle, or if the wine is produced by a third party that buys juice from several suppliers and blends just before bottling. Produced and bottled (in France Mis en Bouteille) means the wine was blended and bottled by the proprietor.
The year of vintage is a key factor for aged expensive bottles. The quality of grapes is totally different if harvest had in sunny or raining days and consequently the quality level of wine.
Winemakers do not always write on the label the vineyard from which the wine comes from.
Depending on the differences in all above factors, the price of a bottle of wine varies from 10 usd for a decent bottle to one hundred dollars or more for aged wine. Consumers usually pay less for everyday wine and more for a bottle of great wine to celebrate a special occasion. The psychological barrier of 9 USD is the lowest reasonable price to pay for a bottle of real wine. Great wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy are only for rich wine lovers reaching 1.000 USD per bottle, but from many regions of France and Italy, come fine wines that can rival at less than half price. Before buying an aged wine, check the condition of the bottle because some retailers keep the bottles standing upright on their shelves in warm condition (avoid the bottles with corks
How to Store Red Wine
Most wine lovers keep a few bottles on the rack in their kitchen ready for a special dinner.
To keep wine for mid-long term (3 to 10 years), bottles must be kept in good condition.
White wines are best drunk within one year of vintage date, while red wines are suitable for longer term storage. Just few wines with enough alcohol, tannins and acidity reach the peak in 8-10 years. The right conditions for cellaring wines, is a proper underground dark cellar with a temperatur of 10° C and humidity level of 80% (without humidity the cork can dry out). The bottles must be placed horizontally into racks so that wine is always in contact with the cork preventing it from drying out. If the cork shrinks, air can enter and quite spoiling the wine. Mind that all wines stored for two months or more must be kept horizontally. Forget to keep wine in the garage, it freezes in winter and over heat in summer. Avoid agitation that doesn’t allow wine to rest. Avoid direct sunlight. To know more on how to build up your own cellar, buy a wine book with vintage charts to know the ageability of each vintage for each wine regions.
Oxygen and heat are great enemies of an opening bottle of wine. If you leave an unfinished bottle of wine uncorked, the wine loose flavour by next day because oxygen and heat oxidise the wine.
There are on the market 2 systems to preserve open bottles for few days: one is based on squirting into the bottle an inert gas forming a protective barrier from the air, the second is by removing the air in the bottle with a vacuum pump. A simpler way is to pour the remaining wine in a small clean bottle and cork it leaving only 2 cm of air between wine and cork.
Restaurants Wine List
A good wine list must give detailed information on the wines featured as wine quality, wine maker and vintage. If not, ask for more information to the Sommelier (the wine waiter) or ask to see the bottle. A wine list including also a basic selection of wines by the glass is welcome. Here is frequent wrong list that don’t supply enough information:
- Chianti: It is an area in Central Italy full of wine makers with different quality levels (clients have to know if Chianti, Chianti Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, Gallo Nero).
- Cabernet 2012: grapes and bottling date is ok, but you don’t know the wine maker and geographical info.
- Riesling 2014: It is nothing, it can be dry or sweet.
- Sherazade, Sicilia DOC, 13,5%, Donnafugata 2007: Client has all info about the wine, winemaker Donnafugata, vintage year 2007, production area Sicily, to say if it is a great wine including the year to check if it was a good vintages or a poor because too much raining.
- Margaux 2009: It is a large area with several different wines from few dollars to the greatest wine as Chateau Margaux.