An introduction to Wine
Wine is both complex and diverse, and rightly enjoyed by millions of people across the globe. If you're a newbie to the wine world, it can be a bit overwhelming at the start, with what seems like an endless array of varieties, regions, and styles to choose from. But fear not! In this beginner’s wine guide, we'll take you on a journey to teach you everything you need to know to get started on wine. From the very basics of grape varietals and wine regions to the wine making process and how to pair different wines with your favourite food, so strap yourselves in!
The Basics of Wine
Wine is ultimately just an alcoholic drink made from fermented grapes, with the type of grape, region it's grown in, and winemaking process all playing a role in determining the final product. This can result in huge differences between two wines. There are many types of wine, including red, rosé, white, sparkling, and fortified. Red, white, and rosé wines are all made from grapes, but their differences come from the types of grapes used and the winemaking process itself.
Red wine is made from red or black grapes that have been crushed and left to ferment with their skins and seeds. The skins and seeds give the wine its characteristic red colour and also add tannins and flavour compounds to the wine. Red wines are typically full-bodied with bold flavours.
White wine is made from white or green grapes or even in rare circumstances red grapes (you can also use white grapes as part of a red blend but this isn’t very common) with the skins removed before fermentation. Unlike red wine, white wine is not fermented with the grape skins and seeds, which means typically they have less tannins and flavour compounds. White wines are usually lighter in body with crisper, more acidic flavours, and they can range from dry to sweet.
Rosé wine on the other hand is made from red or black grapes that have been crushed and left to ferment with their skins for a shorter period of time than red wine. The shorter skin contact gives the wine a pink or orange colour, and it also adds some tannins and flavour compounds to the wine. Rosé wines are typically lighter in body than red wine but fuller than white wine, and their flavour profiles are usually fruity and refreshing.
Not only that, but we also have both sparkling and fortified wines, which also differ in terms of the wine making process. Sparkling wine is basically just a carbonated wine made from various grape varieties, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It can range from dry to sweet and is often served chilled. Sparkling wine is associated with celebratory events but can also be enjoyed as a refreshing drink or paired with different dishes.
Fortified wine is wine that has been fortified with spirits, usually brandy. It includes Port, Sherry, Madeira, and Vermouth. Port is a sweet and rich red wine from Portugal, while Sherry is a fortified wine made in Spain that can range from dry to sweet. Madeira is a smoky, caramelized fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira. Vermouth is a flavoured fortified wine used in cocktails like Martinis and Negronis. Fortified wines are often served as after-dinner drinks or in cocktails and can be paired with desserts or strong cheeses.
What’s the difference between medium-bodied and full-bodied wine?
The difference between medium-bodied and full-bodied wines depends on the amount of tannins, alcohol, and flavour in the wine. Medium-bodied wines have a lighter feel in the mouth and lower alcohol content compared to full-bodied wines. They typically have softer tannins and a more delicate flavour profile, making them a good choice for pairing with lighter dishes or for sipping on their own. Full-bodied wines, on the other hand, have a heavier feel in the mouth and a higher alcohol content, which gives them a bolder and more robust flavour profile. They typically have higher tannins, and are often aged for longer periods to enhance their flavour and complexity. Full-bodied wines are generally better suited for pairing with heavier dishes or for enjoying on their own.
What’s the difference between dry and sweet wine?
Dry wines have very little residual sugar (Residual Sugar is natural grape sugar that’s leftover in the wine after the fermentation process finishes), so they tend to have a crisper, refreshing taste with high acidity. The lack of sweetness allows the wine's other characteristics, such as tannins and fruit flavours to stand out. The taste of dry wine ultimately varies depending on the grape variety and winemaking techniques used.
Sweet wines, on the other hand, have higher residual sugar content, which gives them a distinct sweetness on the palate. They often have lower acidity, which can make them feel heavier and more viscous in the mouth. Sweet wines can range in flavour from honey and floral to fruity and jammy, depending on the grape variety and winemaking techniques used.
What are grape varietals?
There are hundreds of grape varietals used in winemaking, but some of the most popular include:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Grigio
- Cabernet Franc
The winemaking process
The winemaking process involves several steps, each of which plays a critical role in determining the final flavour and quality of the wine. Here are the basic steps involved in winemaking:
- Harvesting: Grapes are harvested from the vineyard and sorted by hand or machine to remove any unwanted grapes, leaves, or debris.
- Crushing and Pressing: Grapes are crushed to release their juice, which is then pressed to extract as much juice as possible.
- Fermentation: Yeast is added to the grape juice to begin the fermentation process, where sugar is converted into alcohol.
- Aging: The wine is aged in oak barrels or stainless-steel tanks to develop its flavour and texture.
- Bottling: The wine is bottled and sealed with a cork or screw cap.
Wine is produced all over the world, but some regions are more famous than others for their wine production. They are split into two categories, old world and new world. Old World countries include France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Portugal, and their wines are typically associated with traditional winemaking practices that focus on the terroir. This results in a more earthy, mineral taste, higher acidity, and restrained fruit flavours. On the other hand, New World countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina are associated with more modern winemaking practices that focus on the grape varietal and winemaking process. This results in a fruitier taste with more pronounced flavours, and they are often labelled by grape varietal rather than region. However, it's important to note that these are generalizations, and personal preferences should be determined by trying different wines from different regions.
Wine food pairings
Wine and food are a match made in heaven, and there are certain types of wine that pair better with certain types of food. Here are a few tips for pairing wine with food:
- Red wine pairs well with hearty meats, such as beef or lamb, as well as rich, savoury sauces.
- White wine pairs well with lighter dishes, such as fish, chicken, or salad.
- Rosé wine is versatile and can be paired with a wide range of foods, including spicy dishes and seafood.
- Sparkling wine pairs well with appetizers, such as cheese or crackers, as well as light, flavourful dishes.
- Fortified wine, such as Port, pairs well with desserts, such as chocolate or fruit.
So, whether you're new to the world of wine or a self-claimed seasoned connoisseur, there's always something new to learn and discover. By understanding the basics of grape varietals, wine regions, and tasting techniques, you can start to develop your palate and explore the many different types of wine available. But remember, the best way to learn about wine is to try as many different varieties as possible and have fun along the way!