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WINE - magic captured in the bottle

 

Those who invested all their passion and heart in nursing the vine cuttings, know well how beautiful they are when growing mature and what pleasure it delivers to enjoy the fine wine they gave birth to. From thousands of years each and every season is marked with new harvest and next vintages. Curiosity and anxiety, concentration and impatience have always accompanied the moment of opening each bottle of wine worldwide.

To make the long story short, wine is a fermented grape juice. In order to turn into the flavorful beverage of deep colour and unique taste, it takes several months from the moment of planting vines until bottling, occasionally a few or even over a dozen years.

Wine is magic, unique alchemy that turns all sorts of alcohols, acids, sugars, glyceride, nitrogen compounds, phenols, tannins, mineral salts, vitamins and enzymes into this living substance always ready to surprise us.

It takes months and years to make wine. It is all about waiting for it to display the entire spectrum of its qualities; the moment of perfect balance when it comes to its best. When this moment of perfect balance comes to its end the quality of wine deteriorates and shows signs of haziness, colour change, taste deterioration and excessive acidity.

WHAT IS WINE? HOW TO MAKE WINE?

 
Wine is...

In very general terms, wine is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of fruits or berries. The official European Union definition is more specific: ‘The
product obtained from the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes, whether or not crushed, or of grape must’.

This official definition distinguishes ‘proper’ wine from wine made from kits, or the once-popular ‘British’ wine, made from grape juice concentrate. The main difference between the production of red and white wine is that red wine is made by fermenting the juice in contact with the skins and flesh of the grapes, whereas white wine is made by fermenting just the juice after the skins and flesh have been removed in the press. This is because the colour and tannins which are vital to red wine are found in the skins of black grapes, and these components are best extracted during (and sometimes after) alcoholic fermentation.

Tasting: look, smell, taste

By examining a wine, we can consciously judge its quality and character.

There are two ways to go about enjoying wine. One is to merely drink it – sip and swallow. The other is tasting it consciously – trying to recognize its style, origin and potential. Only then can you truly experience the pleasure of the bouquet of aromas and tastes. Wine flavour can be broken down to factors such as: grape vine variety, vineyards’ soil type, climate, methods of production or ripening.

Any good, professional wine tasting comprises three standard stages: visual, olfactory and taste examination. The order is not random, as each stage gradually gives us more information about the wine.

VISUAL EXAMINATION

We evaluate the wine in the glass. We check for any turbidity, suspicious residue or contamination. Modern wine production technology has eliminated a lot of flaws associated with its appearance. In fact, most of the wines we find on store shelves are crystal clear. However, the colour and appearance of the wine can still tell us a lot.

We evaluate colour intensity and hue. Over time, wines tend to oxidise slightly, gradually changing shade. White wines darken, their colour appearing dark yellow or tea-like. Red wines start to fade and appear brick-like.

Young wines present themselves as more lively, their surface is glossy with reflections. As they age, the will gradually fade and flatten. Gloss indicates higher acidity and thus creates the sensation of freshness.

On the walls of the glass we can see more or less “greasy” tears, flowing down the side with various speeds. This is glycerol – an alcohol created as a result of the fermentation process. Even though it has neither smell nor taste, it gives the wine its concentration, viscosity and the essential touch.

By looking at the glass, we can also examine the wine’s clarity (filtered and unfiltered wines look a bit differently) and the possibility of CO2 presence – for pearl, sparkling wines.

Olfactory examination

A very important and intriguing part of tasting. Wine provides us with a whole spectrum of aromas. They might be simple, mild and rather poor, but can also be elegant, sophisticated and very intensive.

In the beginning we mainly try to grasp the purity of aromas and ensure we don’t sense any suspicious reeks that may point to defects in wine. The basic type of flavours is fruity – white wines often exhibit scents of bright fruit (apple, pear, banana, grapefruit, lemon). Red wines smell of dark-skinned fruit (blackcurrant, cherry, plum, blackberry). There are aromas pointing to a method of production, for example – champagnes ageing in yeast sediment often carry touches of bread, kvass, etc.

Wine scent might indicate barrel ageing – look for traces of vanilla, smoke, wet wood, coffee, etc. The type of yeast used, grape vine variety and microclimate inside the vineyard all have an aromatic impact on the glass. Rich and composite quality wines after longer ripening periods reveal a remarkable complexity of flavours. One can really sink into those glasses.

The multitude of aromas is unbelievable – just read wine books or magazines from the industry. They are full of descriptions that try to bring the aromatic nature of wines closer to us.

There are two stages of olfactory examination. We first smell the wine right after the visual stage when it rests in the glass and then after stirring it intensively, as oxidised wine often intensifies, enriches and diversifies its aromas.

Taste Examination

While examining the taste, we look at balance and harmony of all those elements. If they are well put together and form a complete combination – we can enjoy a good wine.

WINE serving temperature

Nothing spoils the effect of wine serving, as incorrect temperature. People often forget this aspect. This is damaging to the wine, preventing it from showing its true potential and all of the values. Here is a list of rough data:

  • Sparkling wines
  • Champagne
  • Vintage champagne
  • Young white wines
  • Aged white wines
  • Noble white wines, old, stronger structured
  • Rosé wines
  • Very young red wines,“nouveau” type
  • Red wines, fresh and young
  • Aged red wines
  • Noble red wines, old, stronger structured
  • Naturally sweet wines
  • Sweet wines, noble, aged, fortified
Reading the label

The label is wine’s personal ID and showcase at the same time. It is properly codified and subject to legal restrictions.

On one part, labels baffle a lot of beginner wine consumers, on the other – they are a very helpful source of information for those who already know a little about the world of wine. After all, the system of appellation (wine’s origin and style), names and labels was created to help us choose the right wine and make us feel secure about its origins. It is not a fool-proof system but it is often very helpful.

What we can find on the label:

  • the name of the producer, winery (usually it is the most visible information)
  • the name of the appellation – highlighting the place where the wine was made (e.g. DOCG Barolo, AOC Bordeaux)
  • geographic information system – in a broad or narrow sense – is very comprehensive and diverse and requires separate analysis and study
  • the marks cover basic wines – table, regional or premium
  • the name of the wine (optional)
  • variety or varieties of vines used to produce the wine (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, Riesling, etc.)
  • dryness (sweet, semi-sweet, dry, etc.)
  • alcohol content
  • bottle volume

Additional information about the wine can be found on the back label – a bottle’s secondary ID usually placed on the back of the bottle. Here the producer has more freedom and may place information such as: wine tasting note, production method, meals that go well with the wine, storage tips, etc.

Wine glass: from the stem to the edge

This may sound corny, but proper wine tasting requires a good glass. Only then can we truly appreciate the quality of wine and analyse its composition well.On the market there is a whole range of different kinds of glass, often specially moulded for the evaluation of a particular type of wine - the companies race each other trying to come up with the most ergonomic solutions and creative ideas (e.g. black, opaque glass for blind tasting).

What features distinguish a good tasting glass?

  • A good, round base that allows it to stand firmly and securely on the table.
  • A long, slender but strong leg, which will allow us to hold the glass firmly in our palms and turn it around to aerate the wine.
  • Properly moulded bowl, sufficiently wide and high so that we can rotate, tilt and watch the wine in glass freely, avoiding any stains on our clothes.

The bowl should have a narrow opening to concentrate the released aromas of our wine. A glass should be well-balanced and lie well in the hand to make performing the analyses easy and convenient. Another important factor is the quality of the glass, its thin walls and weight. Too big, heavy glasses are certain to quickly tire the hand. The bowl should be smooth, definitely not made of thick cut glass. It should be devoid of any kind of ornaments, such as paintings, that might interfere with wine reception.

Keep in mind that different kinds of wine require different glasses – bigger and bulkier for red wine, slightly smaller for white, slim and tall fluteshaped for sparkling and small but well moulded glasses (usually used for Porto or sherry) for sweet wines. For tasting, pour about 50-70 ml of wine into the glass. It is enough to take a few sips while still being able to freely mix and distribute it over the walls etc. A glass should be grasped by its stem or foot, to avoid staining the bowl or heating the wine. Serving temperature is very important.

It is important to keep the glasses clean. Poorly washed or carelessly wiped might develop turbid glass, spots or tarnishes that may interfere with the aesthetic perception of wine.

Before tasting, it is wise to smell the glasses which we are about to use. Sometimes they “catch” the odour of the place where they were kept, such as basements, old boxes or kitchen cabinets.

A quite popular type of glass used in a range of private tastings is called “one for all”. It is intended to be a universal tasting model for all varieties of wine. Good glass is worth investing in. The difference will be noticed very quickly once we start tasting wine from really good models.