Many beginning wine enthusiasts are intimidated by the traditions and rituals surrounding wine consumption. To be honest, many of these activities are merely affectations, and non-purists could care less which glass is used, or whether a white or red is served with a particular dish.
But there are time-tested reasons for many, if not most, of the rituals associated with wines. Some function to enhance the taste or experience of the wine, and others are primarily esthetic. Nonetheless, novices are occasionally mortified when they find that they have committed some faux pas. This page attempts to help soothe the nouveau wine fancier's concerns by answering some basic questions concerning different wines and their imbibition.
Do they really stomp the grapes with bare feet?
It's still the best way to crush the grapes without smashing the harsh-tasting pips or stems, but no, it's not really done anymore for commercial products. Pressing machines are used to quickly crush the grapes now.
Is decanting necessary?
Decanting is the process of pouring wine from the bottle into a separate flask or container. It is done to separate the wine from the sediment, which stays at the bottom of the bottle. Modern wines for general table use rarely need decanting, because they are filtered prior to bottling. Vintage wines may certainly show some sediment, and these wines should be decanted.
How do you decant correctly? Hold the bottle and decanter up to a light source and slowly pour the wine from the bottle into the decanter. Stop pouring when sediment just starts to flow into the neck of the bottle. If done properly, only about 1/2 inch of wine will remain in the bottle.
People use weird words to describe wines, like balanced, green, and delicate. Do these words mean anything?
Describing aromas and tastes is difficult in words. Consequently, these perceptions are visualized with things we can compare them with. Following is a list of good qualities you may find in descriptions of wines, and their corresponding bad counterparts:
Good Bad Brilliant Hazy Clear Cloudy Clean Off Delicate Rough Distinguished Common Fine Dull Fragrant Odorless Fresh Flat Noble Ordinary Ripe Green Rounded Unbalanced Sound Sick Sturdy Weak Tart Sour
Much of the complex taste of wine comes from the skin, so rose wines must pay the price of having little contact with them. They are, consequently, usually light and less sophisticated.
What do you serve with a blush wine?
Dry roses can take the place of red wines. Young Beaujolais has become popular in recent years, and can be satisfactorily served with red meats. Fresh, fruity, and chilled wines go well with salads and pastas, or with smoked meats and egg dishes. The very light, sweet pink ones are probably best alone, well chilled.
How is Champagne made?
The methode Champenoise used in the production of Champagne is one of the more complex wine-making procedures, and follows the following steps:
What grapes are used?
Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier (both reds), and Chardonnay (white) are used.
What does brut, sec and the like mean on the label?
It is a rating of the champagne's sweetness, dependent on the wines dosage, the combination of wine and cane sugar used in making the champagne.
Brut Driest Extra Dry Less Dry Sec Sweeter Demi-sec Sweetest
Should Champagnes be aged?
Champagne is meant to be used when it is shipped. You may be able to keep it for a few years, but it will not improve.
What are some brands to look for?
Bollinger, Krug, Moet & Chandon, Mumm, Roederer, and Tattinger
What's the correct temperature for Champagne?
Champagne is generally served colder than other wines, but U.S. tastes tend toward having wines colder than the norm. Refrigerator temperature is about ideal.
How do I open the bottle?
What kind of glass should I use?
The traditional shallow and broad Champagne glass should be avoided. The wine goes flat too quickly with such a broad surface area. Tall, narrow, tulip glasses are much preferred.
What are some types of fortified wine?
Sherry, Port, Madeira, and Marsala
What's the scoop on sherry?
True or original sherry is made in Andalusia in southwestern Spain using Palomino and Pedro Ximenez grapes. There are five types of Sherry:
There are no vintages of sherry. You may find dates on the bottles, but these indicate the the year the Solera was begun. The Solera is a system of aging where older wine is transferred to barrels containing younger wine. This blends and oxidizes the wine. Unlike most other wine, sherry is allowed exposure to the air, evaporating some of the water.
Sherries are traditionally drunk before meals, preferably chilled.
O.K., what about Port?
Port is a sweet fortified wine made in the Douro region of northern Portugal. The grape brandy is added to the wine during the fermentation process, thus stopping fermentation and leaving sugar behind (making the wine sweet). There are two types of Port:
Ports will last longer than regular wine, but try to drink an opened bottle within a week of opening.
Madeira comes from the Madeira Islands west of Morocco. It has a somewhat cooked taste from being stored in hot rooms. It was the most popular wine in colonial America, but vine destruction due to Oidium (a disease) and Phylloxera (a parasite) resulted in its demise until the early 1900s. It is said that the heat of the ship's hold combined with the rolling motion caused by waves gave Madeira its characteristics.
To make Madeira, casks of wine are put into special tanks, the heat slowly raised to about 110 degrees F., and held there for 3-6 months. Four types of Madeira are noted:
What about Marsala?
Marsala is, in some ways, an imitation of Sherry. It was developed in Sicily. Dry types are used mainly for cooking, with sweet versions used for drinking.
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