Many of you know that I have been studying wine for the last several years. I got into it as a hobby—I am not really sure why but one day I just signed up for a class and I kept going from there! (My Dad knows quite a bit about wine, and so does my uncle, so I guess you could say it was in the family!) I just recently finished another level of my studies this past fall, although I still have to sit for the test. (#procrastination)
In this series, I’m going to share a list random things that aren’t complicated at all, but they are things that I didn’t know before I started this journey, and when I started learning, I found them interesting! So I’m guessing maybe there are some things on this list that might be new to you all as well?!
Today we’ll start with the basics:
The Basic Wine Breakdown
There are more than 8,000 known grape varieties, with more than 1,300 varieties currently used to make wine around the world. It’s a lot to keep up with! Wine as a whole can be organized into the five basic groups below—of course, within each group there are hundreds of different grape varieties and also different winemaking styles.
A still wine made with black grapes. Red wine can range from light to dark in color and very dry to sweet.
A still wine produced from green, and sometimes even black, grapes. Flavors of white wine vary as does the level of sweetness.
Rosé is a still wine made from black grapes but the skins of the grapes touch wine for only a short time. Where some red wines ferment for weeks at a time on black grape skins, rosé wines are stained red for just a few hours.
A style of winemaking involving a secondary fermentation which makes the bubbles, using several techniques that we’ll save for another day. Sparkling wine can be red, white, or rosé.
A style of winemaking where wine is fortified wine a spirit during the fermentation process.
Keeping it Cool
Should be served at 49-55º
Should be served at 62-68º
Should be served well-chilled, around 45º
This isn’t an exact science, so don’t sweat it too much if you’re somewhere in the range. If you don’t have a wine fridge, a good rule of thumb is to put a bottle of red wine into a refrigerator 20 minutes before opening it, and remove a bottle of white from the fridge 20 minutes before serving.
(That fridge is also a great spot to keep a bottle after you have opened it—the best way to keep wine fresh, white OR red, is just to plug it with the cork and stick it in the fridge. It will last another 1-2 days easily this way)
Champagne and Crémant
Champagne is a sparkling wine named after the region where it is grown, fermented and bottled — Champagne, France, which is northeast of Paris. the only labels that are legally allowed to use the name “Champagne” have to be bottled within 100 miles of this region.
Sparkling wine from France, but not from the region of champagne, is called Crémant. Crémant is defined any wine made with the secondary fermentation method of Champagne that wasn’t actually made in the Champagne region.
And while we’re on the subject of Champagne, you DO pronounce the “t” in Moët & Chandon Champagne. (so it’s not “Mo-Ay”, but “Mo-Wet”) And also, listen here to the correct pronunciation of “Veuve Cliquot”—another one people commonly botch!
Icewine, Eiswein and Other Dessert Wines
Icewine is mainly from Canada. Eiswein is made the same way, but is from Germany or Austria.
With Icewine and Eiswin, the grapes will shrivel and freeze, concentrating their sugars, acids and fruit. When picked frozen, those concentrated flavors are preserved and go into the winemaking.
What makes some other dessert wine SO delicious? Botrytis, aka “noble rot”—literally the grapes rot before they are picked (eww, right?), so the concentrated sugars and acids create those super delicious, sweet, powerful flavors.
The reason all of these wines are so expensive is that those grapes have to be picked by hand, off of vines on steep slopes in the freezing cold, greatly increasing the time to produce and therefore the cost of production!
Organic, Biodynamic, and Sustainable — What’s the Difference?
There’s so much of this kind of language out there, it’s hard to keep track of what’s what these days…
Organic wine is a wine that is made from grapes that were farmed organically, meaning they receive the same organic farming certification as an organic apple or pear farm. An organic wine is the only type of wine that can actually carry legal certification, so if a wine is organic it will carry the USDA’s organic seal.
A biodynamic wine goes beyond organic practices in an effort to balance the entire vineyard with nature and the moon cycles. It is based on the writings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner who believed that the vineyard is one ecosystem that only when in balance can grow the best fruit.
Sustainable practices are based on farming that is not only good for the environment, but also makes economic sense. This means that a farmer may largely use organic practices, but if some of those practices don’t make economic sense (like, if they are too expensive), the farmer might skip some of them.
Now, I myself am not a big liquor drinker but I have also studied spirits as part of my wine courses. I heard someone the other day say that Bourbon was only made in Tennessee. That’s not true. There’s also some confusion around bourbon vs whiskey. So here’s a quick “what’s what”:
Bourbon vs Whiskey vs Tennessee Whiskey
Whiskey is distilled from a fermented blend of grains, commonly corn, barley, rye, and wheat.
For a whiskey to be called a bourbon, it has to be made in the US and from at least 51 percent corn. So, that’s it, corn is the key!
And the “Tennessee thing”…Tennessee whiskey must be produced within the state, but it must also undergo a filtering process with sugar-maple charcoal.
There’s also Whiskey vs Whisky
Do I spell whiskey with an “e”? If you’re in Scotland or Canada, there is no “e”. In Ireland and the US we use the “e”.
And I saved the best news of the day for last….
Wine + Health
Drinking red in small doses is better for you than not drinking at all. The antioxidants found in red wine lower incidences of cardiovascular disease, mortality, and type-2 diabetes. Of course, if you drink more than you’re supposed to, the benefits are replaced by increased health risks. But if you’re like me, what I take away from this conversation is “red wine is good for you!”
So there you have it.
I’d love to know what you think of this kind of post. And, if you have any specific questions or topics you want me to talk about next time, let me know, that, too!
Cheers to the weekend!
xx — BB