Wine 101

What is the difference between wooden bottle corks, rubber corks, and screw-tops?

Wine is packaged in many different containers. Bottles of all sizes, cartons, boxes… the list goes on. In some European countries, people can bring sealing, food-grade plastic bags to the winery and have them filled on the spot.

When it comes to traditional bottling methods, most consumers purchase wine in 750mL glass bottles. These are most often sealed using wooden bottle corks. In recent years, attention has been brought to the fact that cork trees take a long time to grow. Additionally, cork can contain bacterial spoilers that will taint the wine and ruin the entire bottle. Recycled cork is one option: Old corks are ground down, chemically treated, and pressed back into the shape of a cork for re-use. These are guaranteed to be spoilage-free.

Regardless, with increasing worldwide demand for wine, there’s simply not enough cork (and recycled cork) to go around. Some winemakers have taken to alternate bottling methods, in part for sustainability efforts.

Alternatives to wooden cork include rubber corks. These are made of food-grade rubbery plastic, and used exactly the same as a wooden cork. One down-side to these is aesthetics.

Other options include metal screw caps. These require no corkscrew and are literally unscrewed to open the bottle. They can be resealed by hand, and are generally air tight, so unsealed bottles may last quite a bit longer Additionally, some Oregon wineries like Torii Mor are actively researching the use of screw caps on a small portion of all of their wines, to directly compare how the various wines age and survive the years, versus wooden bottle corks.

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Should I purchase wine from a store, or go direct to the winery?

This is entirely up to you. Purchasing wine from a store is like buying milk or bread. Purchasing wine direct from the winery is an experience.

By visiting a winery, you will learn so much about the wine and the people that produce it, that you stand to gain new appreciation for the wine. You may also learn of other wines they produced that you might like and which you would not know about if you went to the store. Also, you may learn of case discounts and upcoming events happening at the winery.

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How much does a good wine cost?

The price of a good wine varies as much as any other product, and is based on a multitude of factors. The varietal and its relative cost to cultivate; The amount of grapes yielded in a particular vineyard’s harvest; The amount of time and artisan expertise required to ferment and produce the wine; The materials used throughout the production, particularly in barrelling and further ageing processes; The materials and production supplies used to bottle; And marketing, post-production sales, distribution overhead, and all the other things it takes to get that bottle into your hands. So many things determine how much a good wine is going to cost you.

With so many options available, both in terms of varietals and wineries producing that particular wine, and so many styles and production sizes, a given wine can range anywhere from $15 to eight times that, or even more.

This question is hard to answer, in part because individual taste and budget are big factors in determining what you may want to spend on a wine, how you might gauge the quality of wine in comparison to the cost, and the ultimate question: Would you purchase it again?

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When buying aged wine, how do I know if it’s still good or not?

An aged wine is one older than a winery’s currently released vintage, and which has been in the bottle for at least 1-2 years.

It’s not uncommon for a winery to allow its wines to age for 18 or even longer, to reach the right quality and be ready for release. This means a wine produced in 2017 might not be bottled and released by the winery until sometime in 2019. Even then, the wine is going to need time in the bottle to develop its own characteristics.

Most white wines age gracefully, but with a shorter lifespan than reds. This has to do with the chemical composition of white wines: Fewer tannins; Save for Chardonnay, most never see any oak; Lighter and more delicate flavors that may not improve with time; And so forth. White wines generally diminish in quality faster than reds.

Conversely, many red wines need a certain amount of ageing in the bottle for their flavors and qualities to emerge. Acids and volatile compounds interact with tannins and ultimately smooth out. Many red wines have a “sweet spot” of ageing at 4-6 years in the bottle. Some may need up to 8-10 years to really hit their max. After that, it may be a slow decline as they gracefully age.

When purchasing an aged wine, such as from a winery during a library sale or when getting a private tour of their cellar, your best bet is to ask the winemaker or winery staff for their recommendations. If you’re lucky, they may be pouring a selection of aged wines as part of the event, so you can get a first-hand taste of the product for yourself.

Generally speaking, if you’re thinking of buying aged wine, if it’s available in a magnum, chances are much better the wine is in better shape, than if just a 750mL bottle, as overall less oxidation has occurred throughout the wine.

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I’m thinking of starting a wine cellar. How shall I stock it?

As with any aspect of collecting wine, what goes into your wine cellar is entirely up to you!

Do you prefer red wines more than white? White more than red? What about rose or sparkling wines?

How large do you want to build your cellar, and for what reason? Are you going to entertain guests often, or do you wish to collect wines to later give out as gifts? Or, do you happen to live in a remote location and so only visit your favorite wineries once per year?

All of these factors play into the decision making process of stocking your wine cellar.

If you’re set on a particular wine and love it to death, great! Buy a few bottles, or even a case. Set it aside and forget about it. It’s a foundation wine and will help you build a stock in your cellar. Next, try new wines. Try new wineries. Visit new tasting rooms. Expose your palate to new options and you may realize that you don’t want to limit yourself to a cellar full of just a few good wines. Instead, perhaps 2-3 bottles from a given winemaker is sufficient, and you want to then move on to another.

The size of your cellar is going to be based on amount of space, your budget, and your intended use for that cellar. If you do run out of space, you always have the option to trade wines with your friends, or simply create more space by enjoying some of the wines you’ve been collecting.

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What are some of the believed wine health benefits?

This topic is slightly controversial. It seems every few years, new data is released through various media outlets purporting new research, new medical discoveries, and of course new government-related warnings about the benefits and harm of wine consumption.

First of all, we at want to press the point of in all things, moderation. Overdoing any type of food or beverage, especially those containing alcohol, can be harmful to your health.

“Moderate consumption” is difficult to define, and varies literally based on the government and medical professionals in each culture on the planet. It also varies based on a person’s gender, age, and physical condition.

Some of the reported benefits are related more to red wines than white wines. This is because red wine contains a much higher concentration of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant derived from the skins of red wine grapes. Additional phenolic compounds from grape stems and seeds, and other tannin contributors, also play a lesser but still notable role.

Everything from lowering blood pressure, to increasing “healthy” blood cholesterol, to enhancing metabolism, have all been reported in various tests performed on groups of moderate wine drinkers. In conjunction with a “Mediterranean” diet focusing more on vegetables and fruit, whole grained breads, more seafood and fish and less red meat, and with “smarter” fats like olive oil, are also a factor in some of these studies, as wine tends to go hand in hand with such foods.

All that aside, a glass of really great wine at the end of a stressful work day can have a powerful psychological effect on a person, and the simple act of stress reduction in and of itself can be a powerful benefit.

Disclaimer: This article is not written by medical professionals, and we do not advocate the use of any alcohol to improve your health. We’re simply commenting on things we’ve read over the years.

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How does a wine barrel toast affect the aromas in a wine?

Prior to storing wine, oak barrels are toasted – their insides lit on fire, to as to produce a moderate layer of charcoal – which helps draw out qualities of the oak, seal the wood, and provide a neutral butter between the wine and “raw” wood in the rest of the barrel.

Based on how long a barrel is toasted, different qualities will show through in the aging wines it holds.

A wine barrel toast of 10 to 15 minutes will add spice to a wine.

A wine barrel toast of 15 to 30 minutes will expose sweeter, sugary aromas from the wood, such as butter and vanilla.

A wine barrel toast of 30 to 45 minutes will show darker, earthier aromas such as smoke, tobacco, and coffee.

Depending on a winemaker’s desired results, barrels of different toasts will be used to age specific wines.

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What are the primary wine flavor factors?

There are many different wine flavor factors and aromas that complete the tasting experience. We believe these characteristics can be simplified down to eight primary factors:

1. Sweetness – the amount of residual sugar in a wine, ranging from low (bone dry) to high (sweet).

2. Acidity – the amount of citric, malic, and tartaric acids in a wine, ranging from low (flat) to high (biting).

3. Tannins – the amount of phenolic compounds, drawn from skins and pips of grapes, which impart a sharp, bitter flavor to the wine.

4. Oak – the influence of compounds from the oak barrels used to age the wine.

5. Finish – the length and quality of a wine’s aftertaste, ranging from brief to endless.

6. Complexity – how the wine’s sweetness, acidity, tannins, and oak affect the wine’s overall flavor, ranging from simple to complex.

7. Body – how the wine’s components affect the intensity and richness of the wine’s overall flavor, ranging from weak to potent.

8. Balance – how all of the seven preceding factors balance out, ranging from unbalanced to well-balanced.

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What is a flabby wine?

The term “flabby wine” usually describes a wine that lacks acidity.

Though “flabby” is often used for white wines, as overall, they contain higher levels of acids, it can also be used to describe red wines as well.

The opposite of a “flabby” wine is a “biting” or “sharp” wine, and refers to one whose acid content is too high to make it very palatable.

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What is meant by “letting wine breathe”?

‘Letting wine breathe’ means to expose it to fresh air. This causes the wine to mix with the air, and will cause the wine to begin oxidizing. Depending on the wine’s type and age, oxidation can cause different effects, both desired and undesired.

For a younger wine, breathing is normally not needed, as most of the wines flavors and characteristics will be immediately present upon opening the bottle.

For an older wine, which has had time to age in the bottle, and which has been exposed to slight amounts of oxygen that seeped in through the cork, a longer amount of breathing may be necessary. Sometimes, allowing an older wine to breath for 10 or 15 minutes will allow its deeper flavors, aromas, and characteristics to show through, which otherwise might not have developed had the wine been opened and then immediately poured.

There are several ways to allow a wine to breathe:

1. uncorking the bottle and letting it sit out for a few minutes

2. pouring it into a decanter (a specially-designed glass or crystal container that permits a maximum surface area of the wine to be exposed to air)

3. pouring the wine into a glass, and waiting a few minutes before drinking it.

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