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Wine Crash Course
May 22, 2007, 3:16 pm
Filed under: Lifeskills

Notes on the basics of understanding and appreciating wine taken from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine Basics by Tara Q. Thomas. Great if you want to charm the pants/thongs/loincloth off some unsuspecting French lady or smoke your way through a fine dining session.

What is Wine?

  • It is fermented fruit juice and is usually made from grapes.

Growing good wine

  • We need good grapes, hospitable locations, farming finesse and decent weather.
  • Great wines come from the European species, Vitis Vinifera.

Making Wine

  • Harvest, crush, ferment, bottle
  • White grapes – those in a pale shade of yellow, gold, green or pink – make white wine. Red grapes make red wine.
  • Grape skins are not used in making white wine unless white grapes are used; for red wine the grape skins are used, hence the pigmentation.

How to Taste Wine – The Five Ss

  • See
    • Look out for foreign objects, like sediments and the occasional Martian spaceship.
    • Guess its age, from it’s colour.
    • Swirl to see how long it clings to the glass, the longer the “legs” the richer the wine generally speaking
  • Swirl
    • Swirl to get more aroma out of the wine.
    • Place the glass on a flat surface and move the base in circles.
  • Smell
    • Try to put words to the aroma.
  • Sip
    • Sip the wine, but don’t swallow immediately.
    • Hold the liquid in your mouth, chew on it, extract all the flavour from it.
    • Act like a pro and open your mouth slightly, sucking air in over the wine in your mouth.
    • While in your mouth, think about how it feels. Describe it.
  • Spit (or Swallow)
    • Finish is the lasting flavour of a wine after a sip.

What to Taste: The Big Nine

  • Chardonnay (white)
  • Sauvignon Blanc (white)
  • Riesling (white)
  • Pinot Grigio/ Pinot Gris (white)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (red)
  • Merlot (red)
  • Pinot Noir (red)
  • Syrah/ Shiraz (red)
  • Zinfandel(red)

Pairing Food with Wine

  • Use common sense – match the wine/beverage to occasion – i.e. burgers and fast food doesn’t go with vintage Burgundy wines.
  • Think of texture – how the texture of food will match with the wine – tannin vs. smooth
  • Classic pairings
    • Champagne and caviar
    • Muscadet and oysters
    • Chablis and oysters
    • Chianti and pizza or red-sauced pasta
    • Fino Sherry and olives, chips and other salty snacks
    • Port and Stilton
  • A few dynamic elements of flavour balance
    • Fat (richness)
      • fatty foods go with high-acid wines
      • avoid fatty foods and low-acid wines
    • Salt (like chips)
      • salty foods go with high-acid whites
      • avoid tannic reds, oaky wines
    • Piquant spice (like chilis)
      • piquant spices go with sweetness

      avoid alcohol and tannin

    • Acid (lemon, vinegar etc.)
      • acidity goes with acidity and the converse not so.
    • Sweetness
      • sweet foods go with sweet, high-acid wines or savoury wines with ripe, soft flavours
      • avoid low acid or high tannin
  • Wine shares most elements with food, only it adds…
    •  Tannin: feels like Velcro on the tongue
      •  Tannin works with protein and big flavours
      •  avoid delicate foods and salt
    • Alcohol: can add richness to texture, or, in excess a warm burn
      • High-alcohol wines goes with fatty, flavourful food
      • Avoid salty food or spicy-hot dishes, delicate dishes
    • Oak: adds a bit of tannin, some sweetness, and sometimes flavours of straight wood
      • Oak goes well with sweet or smoky dishes.
      • Avoid salty food, delicate flavours.
  • Match the weight of the dish’s flavours to the wine.
  • Pay attention to texture.
  • Tannin loves protein
  • Acidity needs acidity
  • Alcohol starts fires around chile heat.
  • Oak likes smoke and sweetness.
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