Thursday, September 15, 2016

Check Out Those Legs!

Ok so you know how earlier I was making fun of that guy for staring at his wine in the light of the chandelier in that fancy restaurant?  I may have been a bit to judge…maybe.

He may have been looking at the legs, also known as tears.  When you swirl wine, which is done to aerate the wine and we’ll discuss in more depth later, you’ll note that some of the liquid clings to the glass and slowly falls down the sides.  To a total wine nerd- this is beautiful.  There is something almost enchanting about watching the liquid slowly move down the glass and join the pool below.  

There’s a secret to be found in those tears though (I guess there always is in tears isn’t there?)- this is a good secret though.  They hold the key to the level of alcohol in the wine.  The slower the tears, the higher the concentration of alcohol.  So if you see the liquid almost suspended, stuck to the sides, you can bet that the alcohol content is pretty high, if it falls naturally to its resting place, it’s lighter.

On that note- another tip- by law the percentage of alcohol has to be within one point of what is stated on the label- it doesn’t need to be exact.  So if it says 13.5% it could be up to 14.3%, or as low as 12.6%.  

Neither of these is integral to the tasting of wine of course- but they are fun facts, you know, party trivia and the like.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Secrets in the Color

I’m not going to lie to you- looking at the color of wine isn’t exactly the sexiest topic.  Normally, when I start to cover this in my tours people glaze over.  I can’t lie - it amuses me a bit.  I ask everyone to start examining the color of their wine and I get a few looks that tell me that they all think I have 20 heads, and that they are now dreading the next two hours.  It’s cool- I win them back later on.

The color of wine will tell you a lot.  I like to think that the color of the wine is the secret holder of the wine.  The nose is extremely important and of course so is the palate, both of which we’ll talk about, but the color is the best lead in.  It gives subtle clues to the type of grape, and even the age of the wine.  Every grape varietal (or, you know, type) has it’s own DNA.  That DNA will affect multiple facets, such as the climate it’s happiest growing in or the thickness of the skin.  This DNA affects multiple aspects of the wine, but the first, of course, is the color.  So let’s get to it. 

Here’s the thing - there’s a right way to look at wine, and a wrong way.  You know when you’re out to dinner at a nice place, and across the room you see a fellow diner hold his wine glass up to the light, critically inspect it, and immediately make a big show about swirling and sipping the wine?  We’ve all seen him, and as much as we’ve wanted to roll our eyes at him, a part of us has thought- well he must know what he’s doing.  Let me tell you for once and for all, if he’s holding that glass above his head and staring into the chandelier light- please go ahead roll your eyes.  I’m definitely rolling mine. 

The best way to look at your wine to properly view the color is to tip your glass, carefully, to a 40 to 45 degree angle, over something white.  This could be the tablecloth, a plate, napkin, a white sheet of paper you carry especially for this purpose…oh is that just me?  Moving on…Once the glass is tipped correctly, then look to what’s known as the “rim”.  The rim is the edge of the sides of the wine.  So where the wine volume is thin.  Here look at the color.  White wines that are young in age will be a light yellow, maybe like straw, and may show signs of green.   As those wines get older, that green will become less and less, and the yellow will start to turn more golden and then start showing more and more soft brown notes.  A well aged white wine will take on the color of amber.  Red wine behaves very similarly- a young red however will show bright blue in the rim which will fade as it matures.  Here, again, brown notes will creep in and we’ll hedge towards the color tawny when we have significant aging.

I realize I’m writing in generalities when it comes to how many years it takes for those colors to fade or deepen.  Unfortunately that’s on purpose.  This is not an exact science.  Every wine will age differently and on their own timeline, but typically the first year or two of the vintage will show the green or blue notes, the following stage will remain for the next couple of years after that but each year will bring more and more brown tones to the color.

The other piece that we’re looking at in that glass is the depth of pigment.  Now this is harder to see in white wine, but in red - when you’re tipping your glass can you see through the center of the liquid?  This gets a bit more advanced but the different concentrations of pigments indicates the type of grape.  Pinot Noir is easy to see through, whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is much more difficult.  

You might be wondering why all of this matters.  Well it’s like seeing an old friend from down the street- when you can recognize what’s in your glass, or at least start to understand what might be there, you can get excited for what’s ahead- or you know…cross the street ;-)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Boiling Down the Facts

Ok so I got a little romantic in my last post- talking about the story that wine tells, but hey- according to Homer (no, not the lover of donuts and Duff beer, the other one- from the Eighth Century) “No poem was ever written by a drinker of water”.   I'm allowed to get a little caught up, right?

That story that wine tells though- what are the pieces?  Let’s look at some common wine terms.  I'll go into more detail on each of these in future posts:

Color: just as it sounds- we are literally looking at the color of the wine.  How much pigment is present will tell us the type of grape in the wine, and the actual color of the wine will tell us the age of the wine.  As wines age they show more and more brown in their pigment.

Legs/Tears:  Called either legs or tears, this is what people are looking at when they swirl their glass of wine and watch the liquid fall down the sides of the glass.  Simply, this is an indicator as to the level of alcohol in the wine- slow tears, high alcohol.

Nose:  Ah this where people get finicky- but this is where the story starts to reveal itself.  The presence of fruit, or flowers, the types of fruit, if there are hints of minerals, or spices…all of these start the story of the land that this wine comes from.  Each of these reveals so much about how the grapes were cared for.  

Dry/Sweet:  We’re talking about how much grape sugar is left in the wine after
fermentation.  This is pretty big deal when pairing wine with food, which we’ll get into later.  For now- just go with pairing dry wines with savory foods, and sweet wines with sweet food….um and cheese goes with either cause its cheese and cheese is awesome.

Acidity:  Ok acidity is another big one when it comes to pairing food.  What we’re talking about is literally, how much acidity is in the wine.  Sometimes this gets a little confusing if you are tasting flavors like lemon in the wine- you might anticipate that you taste a lot of acid as well.  Thats not necessarily true.  The way we tell acidity in wine is by gauging the amount of saliva that congregates under your tongue once the wine has been swallowed.  High acid wine equals a lot of saliva.  We’ll talk about this with pairing but general rule- pair an acidic food with an acidic wine.

Body:  The third biggie when it comes to pairing- body is all about mouthfeel.  If it feels like water in your mouth then it has low body, if the wine feels like it coats your teeth and your tongue it’s a full bodied wine.  Same principle applies here- pair body for body- a big dish with a lot of body (think beef stew) should be paired with a big bodied wine.  A low bodied meal (scallops) pair with a light bodied wine.

Tannins:  Oh tannins- there is so much confusion with this one.  Basically tannin is a compound that lives in the skins and the stems of grapes.  It gets imparted into wine when the juice is allowed to sit on the skins after pressing.  This is normally done only with red wine- but there are some outliers.  We’ll chat.  For now- pairing for tannin- fatty foods!  YAY!  Tannin presents as a drying sensation on the insides of your cheeks- like swiping a cotton ball down the sides.  There are varying degrees of this- and sometimes it can be unpleasant.  Eating something fatty (read cheese, burgers, cream sauces, steaks) will coat your mouth and round out the tannins.

Balance:  You see this word all the time in wine stores on those little cards that they put on their stacks- “Well balanced wine!!” - there are always multiple explanation points- always.  All this means is that all of what we talked about already is sort of in line with each other.  This will make more sense later on- but we’re looking for the levels of acidity, and body, and tannins, etc to all be in line with each other-nothing is extreme without its pals.  

Finish:  This is, quite simply, how long the tasty flavors of the wine stick around in your mouth after swallowing.  Sometimes they fade to something bitter or sour, or to just nothing at all- when we talk finish we just want to know how long the good ones are there.

Palette: Ahhhhh the palette- the flavors you taste when you drink wine- here is where the wine will really tell its story.  You got a taste of it in the nose, but here, when you taste the flavors of the wine and take into account everything else we talked about- this is where we really get the full story.  We get to know if the summer was hot, or cooler, we feel if the rain came at the wrong time, or the right time, we become aware of the effort that the farmer committed to his crop…this is what wine is all about.

It might sound overly flowery or romantic, but thats where the beauty of wine comes from.  That’s why people wax on about the flavors of the wine, thats why they train for years to be able to pick out minute aspects- because wine isn’t just a drink- wine is a representation of history.  Its a unique tool to travel the world, its a testament to hard work and dedication.  Grape juice- it does all that.  


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