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Wine IQ

Confused about wine and all the terminology? Want to add to your current knowledge? We’ve compiled some information to help you gain more knowledge about the extensive world of wine. The more you learn, the more fun it is to drink! At least we think so anyway….Our Wine 101 section is designed to simplify wine tastings into some basic concepts that are easy to understand. Wine tasting does not have to be intimidating! Make it fun and test your palate to see if you can pick up different textures, notes, smells, and grape varieties.

COLOR

The color of wine can often be a confusing and sometimes overwhelming subject. White, red, dark, light, pink, rosé – the adjective list is endless!


White Wines

At a fundamental level, a white wine is white because the skins of the grape have been removed during the processing phase of winemaking. Taking this a step further, a white wine can be darker or lighter depending on whether or not it has been aged in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. Also, the varietal itself can naturally be lighter or darker – for example, Chenin Blanc is almost always lighter in color than, say, Chardonnay.

Red Wines

With red wines, the skins have been left on, which is where the wine gets its color. As with white wines, the varietal itself can naturally be lighter or darker – for example, Pinot Noir is usually lighter in color than a Cabernet Sauvignon. All of this aside, one of the most important aspects of a wine’s color is the first impression it leaves after being poured into the glass.

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A lot of information can be gleaned in the moments after the wine hits the glass. Is the wine white or red? Light in color or dark in color? Often times, this first impression can set the stage for the rest of the tasting experience. As a general rule, a well-made wine should appear clear and bright. Haziness, bubbles (unless it’s Champagne), or a dull color can indicate something is off about the wine.

Another aspect to consider regarding color is viticulture techniques. Yield reduction, the process of reducing the number of grape clusters on a vine, can produce grapes of greater concentration, flavor intensity and deeper color.

In order to clearly see any color “flaws” with the wine, hold the wine glass at a slight angle against a white background, such as a sheet of computer paper. If possible, try to be in a well-lit room that is relatively odor free (see the Smell section for more information). In general, white wines can go from a light straw color to a deep golden hue. Red wines that have a purple, dark hue tend to be younger wines. As red wines age they began to turn more ruby in color, with some orange and sometimes even brownish hues toward the edge of the wine:

Smell

The bouquet of the wine is a fancy way of saying how the wine smells. Also referred to as the wine’s “Nose”. The smell of a wine is often as important as how the wine tastes because smell can heavily influence the taste of a wine. If the bouquet shows aromas that are “off” or simply do not smell good, this sensation will carry over onto the palate.

Often times, the bouquet of a wine can tell a story. Is the wine grassy and herbal with grapefruit characters? In this case, you may smell the delicious aromas of Sauvignon Blanc. Or what if the bouquet has a heavy black pepper aroma followed by hints of raspberry and blackberry? These are the sure signs that you’ve run into an aromatic Zinfandel.

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Swirl, Sniff, Smell

The point here is to take your time. Swirl, sniff and smell. “Taste” the wine, don’t just drink it. Gently hold the base of your glass flat on the table and take time to swirl the wine around in the glass, coating the entire bowl. This will add a thin layer of wine to the glass, releasing another layer of the wine’s aromatics. Hold the glass up to your nose tipping the wine slightly toward your nose and deeply inhaling. Don’t be afraid to get your nose down into the glass – the deeper you go the more aromas you’ll pick up.

Try to identify specifics in what you smell. Do you smell fruit? If so, what kinds? If you’re having trouble picking up a specific fruit, try writing down a few adjectives that do come to mind. Remember, the more smells you expose yourself to, the better trained your brain is to recognize those smells later. Taking notes on the wines you smell, helps get your brain in shape for all those long hours of sniffing!

Finally, remember that your sense of smell can be affected by outside influences. If you try to evaluate the bouquet of a wine in a Chinese food restaurant, you may pick up different smells in the wine – or perhaps, all you’ll smell is Chinese food. The point is that your environment can dramatically affect the bouquet and aromatics of a wine.

Taste

Taste is a highly personal, individualistic expression. What tastes good to one person could perhaps be terrible to another. It is for this reason that wine is so enjoyable. The diversity and depth of wine created different tastes for different groups of people.

The Human Tongue

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The human tongue is made up of four general “taste” regions – Sweet, salty, acidic and bitter. On the tip of your tongue is where you perceive the sweet taste. Toward the sides of your tongue, but still near the front, is where you perceive the salty taste. Notice, that these two tastes are close together – sweet and salty. Toward the back of your tongue, but still on the sides is where you perceive acid flavors. And finally, on the very back part of your tongue are where bitter flavors can be found. Again, notice that bitter and acidic flavors are closer together.

The center of your tongue is the “sweet” spot (so to speak). This is where your palate brings those flavors together. To taste a wine effectively, you should draw a small amount of wine into your mouth and allow it to coat your tongue. Immediately, your palate will be filled with flavors. Some will be sweet. Some will be bitter. Now, draw a small amount of air into your mouth while the wine is still there. This will immediately unlock another round of flavors. This is where you may pick up some salty or acidic sensations. Now, finally, it’s time to swallow the wine. It helps to close your eyes and feel the sensation of the wine flowing off your tongue.

What impression did the wine leave? Did it taste full and rich first and then finish tart or bitter? Was it thin or weak on your palate and then finish a little more smooth and juicy? Try noting your impressions of the taste of the wine next to your impression of the bouquet of the wine. Are they similar or different?

The truth here is that there is no right answer. Taste is highly subjective and at the discretion of your own palate. Ultimately, these tips will allow you to identify what you like and don’t like in a wine or varietal. That way, you can shape your purchasing habits and wine decisions for repeat enjoyable experiences.

Finish

The wine’s finish is how long the flavor lasts after it is swallowed. Did it last several seconds? Was it light-bodied (like water) of full-bodied (like the consistency of cream)? The finish brings it all together. This is where the wine will leave its lasting impression.

White Wines

For white wines, the finish might be additional nuances of what was tasted – citrus, melon, grass – these flavors may just repeat themselves on the finish.

Red Wines

For red wines, it can be more complex. For example, a Cabernet Sauvignon that tastes of black cherry, blackberry and chocolate, may on the finish turn rougher (or softer) depending on how the wine was made.

In many cases, the finish amplifies the tannic strength of a wine. Sometimes, a finish can last for more than a minute as additional flavors are revealed. To get a sense of this, try closing your eyes once you swallow the wine. Savor the flavors and concentrate on any additional flavors that you did not initially pick up. How the wine finishes is a very personal experience and will ultimately lead you to another sip (or not).

Finally, the finish can also help you determine what type of food you may choose to pair with the wine. If the finish is big and tannic, a piece of well-fatted meat is a good choice. The tannin will help to cut through the fat of the meat. If the wine is more subtle on the finish and delicate (like a Pinot Noir), a simple chicken breast or fish dish would go very well. The most important thing to keep in mind is to create balance. If the dish is balanced with the wine then it’s probably going to be a match made in heaven!

wine color chart and use

Grapes

Wine grapes are the key element to producing a fine bottle of wine. In most cases, the origin of wine grapes can be traced to France, considered by most wine experts to be the ancestral home to wine. The key to a successful wine program is matching the right grape to the correct vineyard site to achieve balance and full ripeness throughout the growing season.

White Wines

White wine can be made from red as well as white grapes, since grape juice is almost colorless after its extraction. However, mainly white grapes are used to prepare most white wines, still.

To impact the color of a wine, the skin of the wine grape plays a major role. By letting the skin soak along with the juice, the color of a wine is influenced. Since this is the fact, it is possible to make white wine even from red grapes by extracting the juice carefully and keeping the skin aside.

One of the most famous white colored wines is champagne: Made from red grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) as well as white grapes (Chardonnay), it becomes a sparkling wine as it is fermented in its bottle.

The decision whether the skin and sometimes also stems are allowed to soak with the grape juice determines the amount of tannin, too. Tannins are reduced in the wine if the skin and stem are not allowed to soak in the juice. This is an important aspect for making wine as the mouth drying quality of tannin makes you feel the firmness of a wine in your mouth.

Sometimes white wines are fermented or aged in oak barrels to impart some tannin to the wine, but not as much tannin as in red wines.

The wine flavor of white wines may range from very dry to sweet and golden.

chardonnay grapes

Chardonnay

This wine can be described as sparkling or still wine. It can be served with fish and chicken dishes. It has a wide bodied and velvety citrus flavor. It has a buttery quality that resembles coconut, toast, toffee or vanilla when it is fermented in an oak barrel.

chenin blanc grapes

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc is a classy wine with high yields and excellent quality, cultivated since more than 10 centuries in France. This wine, requiring extensive care, can be used for a wide variety of wine products – from sweet wines to sparkling wines. It is named differently in different regions of the world, e.g. “steen” in South Africa. The flavor has notes of apples and quinces.

gewurztraminer grapes

Gewürztraminer / Gewurztraminer

This wine can be served along with the Asian food and sausages. It has allspice, lychee, peach and rose aroma with fruity flavor.

moscoto grapes

Muscat/Moscato

This wine is prepared from Muscat grape which describes a family of grapes. This sweet wine can be enjoyed on its own without any pair and dishes. It has a very aromatic and various bouquets with notes of orange and elderberry flowers or pear. One of the most famous wines resp. sparkling wines is the Asti Spumante.

riesling grapes

Riesling

These are fresh tasting wines and improve with age. They can be served along with poultry, fish and pork. This wine is very light and is an evocative of fresh apples and has floral notes.

sauvgnon blanc grapes

Sauvignon Blanc

These wines are often considered as versatile food wines. They can be served along with poultry. They have an herbal and fruity flavor with notes of black current and gooseberry. Also very typical is its hint of minerals and the fresh acidity.

Red Wines

Red wines are produced from black, red or blue grapes. Red wine does not get its color from the juice. Red wine gets its color when the juice of the grapes is allowed to have contact with the grapes skin for a long time. Red wine does not get its color by simply soaking the skin; it also has a substance known as tannin. Tannin gives the red wines the density that is ahead of the other white wines. The mouth drying quality of tannin makes you feel the firmness of wine in your mouth. The firmness will be strong if the wine is young.

The qualities of wine will become soft and mix harmoniously with the other factor of the wine as the time passes. This act as the main reason for the red wines to age better than whites. The grapes are fermented as a whole along with the skin and seeds. Red wines can be light or sweet, soft or refreshing.

Since red wine has more complex flavor it has to be served at a warmer temperature.

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon

It is considered as one of the world's best wine. It is often mixed with cabernet franc and merlot. It has a full bodied flavor and can be served along with red meat dishes. Typical for Cabernet Sauvignon are its black current aroma, sometimes in combination with some cedar wood notes. Furthermore the dark color in combination with a concentrated fruit flavor and its supporting matrix of tannins and acids are typical for this great red wine.

malbec grapes

Malbec

Once a major component of great Bordeaux blends, Malbec is now best known as the signature red grape of Argentina. High-altitude vineyards around Mendoza, in the Andes mountain range, provide the ideal environment for producing opulent Malbec wines with ripe tannins and black fruit flavors. These rich and full-bodied red wines are the perfect pairing for that other Argentine specialty, grilled beef.

merlot grapes

Merlot

A good introduction to red wine and an easy to drink wine are the merlot wines. Its fruity and full-bodied taste makes the Merlot very popular. Already after a view years of aging it is ready to enjoy. This wine can be served along with any type of food.

pinot nior grapes

Pinot Noir

Grapes used to prepare this wine are difficult to grow and it is rarely mixed with other varieties. Chicken, lamb and salmon can be served along with this wine. Pinot noir wines have a fragile taste with a fine balance of acids, sweetness and tannins, which give this, wine its distinctive character. Flavors like raspberry, blackberry, violet, cherry, plum and different spices as well as notes of smoke, earth, oak and cedar wood make the pinot noir a culinary event.

syrah grapes

Syrah or Shiraz

The Shiraz wine is characterized by its full-bodied taste of tannins, sweetness and acids. Its fruity flavors remind of blackberries, plums and black cherries. But also other dark flavors like herbs, chocolate, coffee, tobacco, leather and smoke can be included. The Shiraz mostly has slightly higher alcohol content and is aged in wooded barrels. It matches well with beef, steak, and game as well as with stews prepared with more sweetish vegetables like carrots, onions and garlic.

zinfandel grapes

Zinfandel

Wines prepared from this grape have heavy red color. The wine can be served along with dishes containing tomato sauce, pizza or meat depending on its heaviness. The Zinfandel is characterized by an aroma reminding of spices like cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and dark fruits of the forest.

Rose

Rose wines are neither white nor red wines; instead they have enough of reddish tinge to make them differentiate from the white wines. The color of the rose wines varies depending on the color of the grape variety used for making the grapes. Most of the times rose wines seem to have orange color then pink or purple. Rose wine can be produced in a number of ways. But most of the times the rose wines are prepared by crushing the red grapes as a result they are not able to get much color or tannin from the grapes. Rose wines are white in their character and flavor.

Early days the rose wines were made by simply adding a bit of red wines with the white wines. The wine makers thought that this method will produce some interesting wines which possess the heart character of the red wines and the crispness of the white wines. Then slowly this practice has fallen down.

Drinking rosé wine in the hot weather give the feeling of crispness and lightness and is also very refreshing. So it is often referred as summer wines. Generally rose wines are simpler than the heavy white and red wines.

The styles of rose wines vary generally. Rose wines from Europe are so dry while rose wines from the United States are sweet. The most popular rose wine is the White Zinfandel from California.

Most of the rose wines are made from red grapes. The red grape varieties that are used in the preparation of the rose wines are:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Syrah
  • Grenache
  • Merlot
  • Malbec
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Tempranillo
  • Sangiovese
  • Zinfandel

These grape varieties are used either alone or is blend with the other in the preparation process. Generally the skin of the grapes is not allowed to have a detailed contact with the grape juice. The shorter the contact is the lighter the color will be. The flavors of rose wines are tend to be more delicate compared to red wines.

Sparkling Wines (Champagne)

Sparkling wine is a delicious, invigorating wine that also be called as champagne, bubbly and shimmer wine. Sparkling wine contains large amount of carbon dioxide. This carbonated beverage is made in all parts of the world. The carbon dioxide makes the wine to fizz, bubble and to be effervescent.

The grape varieties that are used in making sparkling wines are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac Blanc, Xarello, Parellada, Maccabéo, Riesling or Muscat. Sparkling wines are produced mainly from the red grapes. The red wine grapes are pressed immediately after harvesting to get the white juice hence they are called as "White from Black". At the same time some sparkling wines can be produced from white wine grapes to get more delicate sparkling wines. These are called as "White from White".

There are different types of sparkling wines produced all over the world. Sparkling wines are made from different wine making grapes with different production processes. But the characteristic of all the sparkling wines are common.

Carbon dioxide that forms the bubbles in the sparkling wines is formed in the fermentation process itself. To make a sparkling wine there are more than one fermentation process. The wine makers all over the world will use their preferred production method.

Champagne is the king of sparkling wine. It is a proper name given to sparkling wines produce in the Champagne region of France. Prosecco is the name of the sparkling wine that is prepared in Italy. Italy is well for making the sparkling wines and is generally served with the desserts.

Sparkling wines have a delicate flavor and effervescence so in order to get the full characteristic of the wines they should be served chilled. So the sparkling wine should be served in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours before serving.
Generally sparkling wines are suitable for parties and functions. So it can be well paired with meat, fruit, cheese and sea food. For example meat like chicken, pork tenderloin, flank steak, and turkey and fruits like strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry, and cheese like brie, provolone, goat cheese, and cream cheese and sea food like scallops, halibut, lobster, and shrimps serve as good paring with the sparkling wines.

Semi-sparkling wines

Fully sparkling wines are sold between the 5 to 6 atmosphere pressures in the bottle. This pressure is three times more than the pressure found in the automobile tire. Sparkling wines are those that have atmospheric pressure values between 1 and 2.5. The amount of the atmospheric pressure in the bottle is determined by the amount of sugar added to the wine during the triage stage which comes at the beginning of the secondary fermentation.

Dessert Wines

A dessert wine is described mostly as a sweet, full-bodied wine, which is served with der dessert course in a menu. Some of the well-known dessert wines are Muskateller, Caluso Passito, Tokajer, Málaga, Marsala and Samos wine.

Generally by definition a dessert wine is a wine that has high sugar content. The sugar content will be higher than the normal table wines. A dessert wine has 3 to 28 percent residual sugar in them. Dessert wines are available in different types since they are made from differential grape varietals.

Dessert wine is said to be potent, sweet and it is also full of flavor. The sweet flavor of the wine makes them as a compliment to the desserts. In comparison to the table wines the dessert wines are thicker, richer, and sweeter. In order to preserve the residual sugar content in the grapes they are picked late during the harvest time.

Dessert wines come in small bottles and they can be served in tiny glasses. Generally an average pour will be 2 ounces.

Dessert wines can be white and red in color. The white dessert wines are served chilled while the red dessert wines are served at the room temperature. Dessert wines go well with the fresh bakery sweets and fruits. It is also advisable to serve heavier taste for the winter season and lighter taste for the summer season.

Dessert wines have aromas reminding of orange peel, mango, apricot, quince, fig, raisins, honey or caramel. It is recommended to combine also dessert wines with creamy desserts. Fats and intensive cheeses match very well with sweet white dessert wines. Regarding consistency, it is recommended to combine oily dessert wines with creamy desserts and rather lights dessert wines with delicate and fine desserts.

Dessert wines come in many styles and types. All are much sweeter than the habitual wines.
Like the other wines in the world the dessert wines are also defined by the grape variety which is used to prepare it. It is also described by the region where it is grown and how it is produced. France and Italy are the most famous producers of dessert wines.

Glassware

Choosing the right glass enhances the enjoyment of your wine experience. Wine glasses can be tailored to fit individual varietals or can be produced in a one-size-fits-all shape. Having correct stemware should not be overlooked.

Next to picking the right, there is no more important aspect to creating a memorable wine experience than having the right glassware.

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Many famous producers of fine stemware, Riedel being one of the best respected, create glasses specially made for each varietal. The theory being that a Chardonnay glass will deliver wine to the palate differently than a Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc glass. However, unless you’re willing to spend hundreds of dollars on fragile Riedel wine glasses, there are other options that can suit any budget. The point here is that settling for some flimsy contraption that hardly qualifies as a wine glass is not necessary – options do exist.

First, you want to find a glass that has a relatively deep bowl shape to it. The top of the glass will ideally have a more narrow entry point. The reason this shape is important is because you want a glass that will capture the aromas and nuances of a wine in the glass when swirling or, in wine speak, “volatilizing the esters.”

Avoid glasses that have shallow bowls and wider openings – these glasses take away from the joy of a wine’s aroma. Next, think about whether you want a glass with a stem or without. There isn’t a right answer – it ultimately comes down to which is your aesthetic preference. Some people have argued that a stemless glass, when handled by hand, heats the contents of the glass and thereby hurts the flavor of the wine. We think the jury is still out on this one.

Ultimately, the proper wine glass is essential to the overall wine experience. Without it, a night to remember can be reduced to something far less, and that, is just not acceptable. So, we raise a glass for proper glassware – for the sake of wine lovers everywhere.

DECANTING, AERATION

Decanting a fine bottle of wine can add a layer of romance and enjoyment to any wine experience. It also serves a very useful purpose. Decanting adds air to young wines and opens up layers of flavor and complexity.

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The debate rages. When do you decant? Two schools of thought prevail. There are those who want to open all wines days and weeks before they’re drunk. On the contrary, there are those who believe that big, tannic, young wines benefit from immediate decanting by getting some air into them, saying that older wines should be left alone. For argument’s sake, we fall squarely into the second camp.

In a perfect world, restaurants, sommeliers and collectors would stand their older vintage bottles up for a few days before opening them. This way, sediment is allowed to settle at the bottom, making decanting a one-step gentle process. A spectacular wine that has had 30 or 40 years of bottle age is a precious commodity and should be treated as such.

Assuming the wine has been stored properly, an older wine at or near its peak needs to be treated delicately. Air is one of wine’s greatest enemies and decanting adds a lot of oxygen to that wine, upsetting the balance and quite often causing the fragile fruit to fade away sooner than later. The point here is if you’re going to decant these wines, use extra care and don’t allow air to contact the wine for a lengthy period of time. Some of our greatest wine moments occurred during the course of a dinner, as an older vintage wine evolved in the glass.

On the other hand, big, young, full-bodied wines definitely benefit from the oxygenation that decanting provides. So when you open that powerful youngster, use special glassware and decant the wine for at least one hour. You might also decant young white Burgundies or big California Chardonnays.

Ultimately, that special bottle of wine is yours and you should do with it as you please. However, by following a few of these simple guidelines, you may just save yourself the heartache of opening that special bottle and decanting it for too long, only to find that there’s nothing left.

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