27 Apr 2011

W is for Wine.

To regular visitors of my blog, it should come as no surprise that my 'W' post is about wine, especially because this whole A to Z series is dedicated to things that bring me joy and make life more interesting.

I love good wines. Over the past years, I've taken a few wine tasting courses, but I'm still more an aficionado than a connoisseur. However, next time I can free up a larger chunk of time, I am planning to go through the full sommelier training.

'Wine Cellar in Tuscany'.
© 2007, Delicious Italy - cc
Until that time, I'll settle for sampling and enjoying wines, attending wine fairs and tastings, and visiting wine regions and vineyards when I'm on holiday. An alternative I can live with, for sure.

In this post, for those of you who are interested, I want to share some basic information about what makes a good wine, and about wine tasting in general. I suggest you pour a glass and savour it while you read on. Cheers!

Wine Quality

The most important thing about wine, apart from the health benefits (when drunk in moderation), is that the person who drinks it, enjoys it.

All too often, people act snobbish about wine, often to disguise that they don't know much about it. It's true: wine tasting is an art and a skill, but that's not necessarily the only - or the best - way to enjoy wine.

If you love the taste of a particular wine, don't let anybody tell you that's bad. Personal enjoyment isn't linked to price or critics' opinions, and a wine doesn't have to be expensive to be pleasant, interesting or exciting.

On the most basic level of enjoying wine, reviews and ratings are irrelevant. However, as is the case with many aspects of life, when you learn more about a product or a process, you discover new layers of enjoyment, fascination and respect.

By studying wine and training your palate, you open yourself up to new levels of appreciation, not just for the product, but also for the craftmanship of the people who grew the grapes, harvested them, composed and produced the wine.

Compare this to an experienced musician, who would notice more intricacies of a piece of music; a basketball player who detects hidden strategies and opportunities when watching a game; or a writer, who can admire a good example of 'showing rather than telling' where other readers just see a sentence.

Winemaking truly is an art, which requires expertise in many areas.

The main factors that determine the quality of a wine are: the climate in which the grapes are grown, the soil, the grape itself, how the grapes are harvested, the winemaking process and the treatment / conservation of the finished product.

I don't want to go into too much detail, but to give an idea, I'll point out a few aspects that affect the taste and quality of a wine:

  • whether grapes are harvested by hand or not. Machines rip the grapes off the vine, but they're not selective: they take parts of leaves, branches, insects, unripe or overripe grapes along. All this ends up in the mixture of which the wine is made. A wine made of hand-picked grapes will usually have a more elegant, deep and complex flavour. (It will also be more expensive, as it was more labour intensive to produce.)
  • the type of soil and age of the vines affect the flavours present in the grape. Old vines (or vines in particular types of soil) tend to have deeper roots, which means that they can take in nutrients and water from more layers of soil. Each layer adds a nuance to the final taste, i.e. more depth and complexity.
  • the climate and microclimate in which the grapes grow. Temperature, the conditions and the length of the growing season, all affect the quality and sugar content of the grapes. The greatest wines tend to come from vineyards with the best location, due to temperature, orientation towards the sun, the presence of a river that reflects sunlight, surrounding vegetation, ...

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it should give an idea of the complexity of the process, and of the fact that in many cases, a wine's price is an indication of quality, at least in the definition of craftsmanship, human energy that's gone into the process, complexity and depth of flavours.

Wine Tasting

I have chosen a video here to replace the 1,000 words I would need to convey the same information. I like how it summarises the most important basics:

Are you a wine person? Do you have a favourite wine?

Image 1: 'Wine' by jhenrirose. Available under a creative commons license. © 2008, jhenrirose.
Image 2: 'Wine Cellar in Tuscany' by Delicious Italy. Available under a creative commons license. © 2007, Delicious Italy.
Image 3: '2003 Christmas House Wine Cellar' by Gatsby. Available under a creative commons license. © 2002, Gatsby.
Image 4: 'Vineyard 002' by Viña Caliterra. Available under a creative commons license. © 2008, Viña Caliterra.
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  1. I have very close friends who are very into wine. They are slowly teaching me a bit about it. I just don't handle alcohol very well, so I only do a half glass or so.

  2. Unfortunately alcohol in any form and I do not agree. I am informed that I am indeed missing out. Poor me.

  3. @Karen: sounds like they're good friends to have - at least if you enjoy the wine tasting. :-)

    @mybabyjohn: there's always chocolate :-)

  4. Wonderful post. This weekend I'm going to a conference. The hotel where it takes place has finally figured out how to make money off of writers. This year they are offering a wine-tasting session Friday night before the dinner. LOL. Don't know what took them so long to figure that one out. Writers and wine go together like paper and pen.

    Ooh, and in August I'm going to San Francisco. I plan on taking a trip through the Napa Valley -- probably on the wine train. Can't wait to take the sample tour. :)

  5. Lately I have been enjoying Australian wines. I prefer reds. I should drink more of it.
    I really love everything about wine especially the way the different kinds can make certain foods so much better. I love the decor; glasses, fruits, jewel tones.
    I enjoyed this quite informative post:)

  6. @L.G.: wine tasting for writers: really .... Where did they get that idea? :-)
    I've been to SF a few times (for work), but never had the time to squeeze in a Napa tour. You'll have to post about yours, so I can travel vicariously. :-)

    @doreen: 'I should drink more of it.' -> I like your attitude! :-) I wanted to write about food and wine pairing too, but I decided to save it for a later post. :-)

  7. Just Hello, fellow A-Z Challenger! Here's my latest entry. Come visit either of my blogs when you can and leave some comment love:

    W is for Wash Day, a Three-Wring Circus http://bit.ly/i6SsIG

    http://www.rockinchairreflections.com (A-Z)
    Twitter: @SolarChiefmade some great ginger, dandelion, juniper wine. Sounds horrible; absolutely delicious.

  8. Wine is my beverage of choice but I'm a white drinker; Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay is a fave. Hubby drinks red and is very discerning; he's tried to convert me but it just tastes "too strong" for my palate.

  9. Hi All, love good wine (better if red)thoughts I drink only occasionnally. Anyway wanted to say that here in Italy last 21st May 2011 was the first day dedicated to the 'Culture of Wine in Italy'. Organized by AIS, the Italian... http://fb.me/VwE7XTLa
    Also a note for the Author, ..we can't see the credit to our http://www.deliciousitaly.com/ in the second picture above. :(
    following you on twitter!

  10. @Toby: I like both white and red, depending on the mood, the weather or the meal I'm having. A good red is my favourite for cosy evenings. :-)

    @deliciousitaly: I had put the photo credits at the end of the article, but I will add an extra credit right under the picture.
    Thank you for the beautiful picture, and Italy has such great and unique wines! Arrivederci! :-)


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