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 afterfermentation. 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.