At fine dining establishments, wine may be called vin, vino, wein or other foreign words that hint of an exotic and mysterious
adventure for the palate. No matter which language wine is presented in, its appeal breaks through cultural boundaries, tempting drinkers with an exotic appeal that is undeniable. No matter which language is used, wine is consistently paradoxical due to its humble yet multifaceted nature. This drink has captivated those with discriminating taste for millennia.
Wine is to civilized gatherings what the Mona Lisa is to fine art. It is beloved, cherished and honored. At one time, winemaking was a mysterious and highly regarded career. Today, many backyard grape growers are making their own wines from their personal kitchens. Nearly anyone can learn to make wine when presented with proper tools, ingredients, supplies and instruction.
A Brief History of Winemaking
Ancient and with a shaded, mysterious past, winemaking began in the first civilizations established in Sumeria. In this region, ancient artifacts prove wine was made from numerous roots, berries and fruits. Most likely, winemaking began as a lucky accident and developed into a more scientifically replicable art form after many centuries.
Throughout the Mediterranean region vineyards have been owned by society’s elite, from emperors and kings to elected officials. In many areas, vineyards are passed down generation after generation, along with their closely guarded family recipes.
The world’s best known wines come from Europe, though California winemaking has stepped onto the global stage in a big way, winning many awards at competitions.
Perfected abroad over thousands of years, generation after generation, wine slowly spread to the rest of the world. Now, vineyards have popped up in every country where grape cultivation is possible. Needless to say, winemaking is a very sought-after career field both at home and abroad.
Types of Wine
Some wines are rich, dry or bold while others are mild and sweet. Wine tastes different when it is grown in different regions, so each country’s wine has a distinct aroma, style and flavor.
Every wine has distinct characteristics that place it into a category. Factors determining the type of wine include the wine color, clarity, alcohol content, type of grape used, bouquet and flavor. Each of these factors are largely determined by the growing environment for the grapes and methods used by the winemaker. Each of the following conditions lend a unique flair to each batch of wine:
Soil type – Plants are what they eat. Nutrients from the soil vary widely by region. Soil acidity, richness, drainage, moisture content, exposure to sunshine, the occurance of weather events and available nutrients are different in every world region, so grapes and wines made from them are all unique based upon growing location.
Topography – Surprisingly, the angle of slopes where grapes are planted into terraces makes a difference to the flavor and quality of the grape.
Type of Grape – Every strain of grape used to results in a different flavor. Wine connoisseurs learn all about identifying the type of wine grape used just by using taste and smell. Some wines actually blend different types of grapes during the winemaking process in order to give a more complex and robust flavor.
Ripening and Harvesting Process – Generally, the longer the grape’s fruit stays in contact with the skin, the sweeter the grape is when it is mashed. Additionally, grapes sweeten more with age. Iced wines are made from grapes aged to the point where they fall off of the vine naturally.
Fermentation Process – Longer fermentation periods strong affect the flavor of wines. Usually, wines allowed to ferment for long periods are dry due to the higher alcohol content. The barrels used to age wine also affects flavor, as wood flavors and aromas are absorbed into the wine naturally.
Aging Process – Wine gets better with age. The longer a bottle is allowed to rest, the more flavorful and aromatic it will be when opened. Wine should be aged with the absence of light and heat because the sun’s rays can destroy the balance of the flavors of wine and heat can alter the alcohol content. Fine wine is aged in cellars where windows can not let in enough light to affect the quality of the wine and temperatures are relatively cool and consistent.
Wine can initially be categorized by color: either red or white. Both red and white wines come in variety of subtypes, including: dry or sweet, flat or sparkling, richness or lightness, light or medium, soft or bold, and more. Wines can be seasonal or specifically developed for certain food pairings.
White wines are typically viewed as light and versatile, though more delicate than red wines. The flavor of whites is often more complex. Grapes for these wines are grown in cool climates, usually in high altitudes.
From coast to coast, white wine is a year round favorite, often drank at the beach, during formal occasions or paired with a seasonally appropriate sunset dinner. Whites are romantic, airy and filled with a golden warmth, making it a very popular choice year round.
The five most popular white wine grapes are:
Chardonnay – This wine made from this grape is the world’s most popular and abundant. Chardonnay wine is fairly inexpensive and has rich buttery-smooth undertones. It is well paired with seafood and poultry. Grapevines are hearty and are the most flexible concerning growing conditions.
Pinot Gris – These grapes are smaller and less abundant than Chardonnay grapes, but produce an fantastic finished product. As a medium bodied wine, Pinot Grigio is a great choice with spicy poultry dishes. The wine is very aromatic, giving off a floral, fruity scent that is intoxicating. Pinot Grigio is perfect for parties because it appeals to a large audience.
Riesling – There are only three regions where Riesling grapes are grown with a world famous quality, and all three are in Northern France and Central Germany. Distinctly German in the precise winemaking process, Riesling is unique in its ability to pair well with seafood or fish, poultry and desserts. Riesling is an excellent choice for date nights, as it gives off a very romantic golden glow in the glass and has a highly appealing flavor.
Scheurebe – This is a favorite of sea food restaurants and is usually offered to customers as a house wine. It is sweet, easy to sip and gives off a gentle aroma of berries and fruit with a touch of golden honey.
Chenin Blanc – South Africa, the United States and France are well known for growing this variety of grape. This wine is highly dry and acidic, but pairs well with cheeses, appetizers and finger foods.
Red wines are very traditional and reminiscent of old world Europe. These wines are an excellent choice for cold winter nights, holiday gatherings, formal events or relaxing nights in front of the fire. Pour a glass of any of these wines to make the most of relaxing alone, having an intellectual discussion or enjoying a romantic, beautiful setting with a date.
Durif – This hybrid grape was first developed in the 1800s by the French Dr. Durif. Wine made from this grape is called Petit Sirah and is burgundy in color. This grape grows well in the California heat and is dry.
Merlot – This grape produces dry, rich wine that is full bodied. It pairs well with red meats or heavy meals and is a holiday favorite worldwide. To make Merlot wine, the grape must be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The Merlot grape is very susceptible to mold, so crops must be harvested without being given time to age on the vine. The result is a dry but well-rounded flavor with a lingering berry finish.
Pinot Noir – Because this grape vine is very delicate, they can only be grown in certain areas where there is warmth and sunshine during the day and cool breezes at night. Pinot Noir offers a very rare berry flavor reminiscent of a hybrid strawberry and cherry fruit.
Sangiovese – This rare grape variety is native to Tuscany and is the main ingredient in making Chianti. Wine made from the Sangiovese strain is very rich and smooth. It is perfectly paired with a traditional Italian dinner, complete with pasta, garlic bread, alfredo and tomato sauces and meatballs.
Grignolino – This is another traditional Italian grape that is plucked from the vine early in the harvest season due to susceptibility to mold. The best part about this rare and expensive wine is that it may be drank with very little aging. It is delicious with sausage, baguettes and cheeses. Grignolino has a cult following, but is hardly obtainable outside of Italy.
Pairing the perfect wine with the perfect meal takes time and expertise. Begin by learning about pairing light foods and white meats with white wines and heavy or red colored foods with red wines. Experiment with seasonal dishes, wine blends and unique food pairings to discover personal preferences. Enjoy the aromas and flavors, and be amazed by the memories made over this simple yet complex liquid libation.