Wine 101

How do parts of the tongue taste flavors?

The tongue is capable of tasting four distinct types of flavors: sugars, salts, sours, and bitters.

The front tip of the tongue is most sensitive to sweet flavors.

On either side of the tip are two slightly less sensitive areas that can detect salts.

Along both sides of the tongue are sensors used for tasting acids and other sours.

In the middle, at the back of the tongue, is an area sensitive to bitter flavors.

The geography and different sensitivities of the tongue give good reason to use a properly shaped glass when tasting wines.

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What is meant by a wine’s “depth of color”?

When tasting a wine, think of “depth of color” as “saturation of color”. Simply put, a wine with a greater depth contains greater concentrations of color and substance, and allows less light to pass through it.

As a result, wines of great depth appear darker, richer in color.

Wines with less depth may appear watery or almost transparent. Depths vary greatly depending on the varietal used to produce the wine, as well as how the wine was fermented and aged.

Depth of color, when used as a measure of quality, typically applies to red wines, as they naturally contain more coloring, tannins, oak, and other components that can alter the wine’s depth.

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What is meant by wine’s viscosity? What factors can affect it?

Wine viscosity refers to its liquid consistency. Wine viscosity will may make it appear thin and watery, or may make it appear thick and syrupy.

Viscosity is affected by the levels of glycerols (sugars) and alcohol found in the wine. Generally speaking, the higher a wine’s levels of glycerols and alcohol, the higher the wine’s viscosity will be.

Wines with high viscosity tend to cling to the side of a wine glass longer, and may leave “tears” or “legs” as bits of the wine begin to drip back down into the glass.

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What are some differences between a young wine and an aged wine?

A young wine is one that was recently bottled, while an aged wine may have set in its bottle for years.

Depending on the varietal, vintner, and growing conditions for the grapes fermented, a wine may be drinkable when still young, or may require additional aging prior to opening.

Young wines usually show their full aromas and flavors immediately after opening. After prolonged exposure to the air, young wines may “fizzle out”, lose their flavors, become flat and sour.

On the other hand, an aged wine may require ten or fifteen minutes of decanting to properly “breathe” and expose its hidden layers of flavors and aromas. Additional air-time will not adversely affect the wine.

Chemistry helps explain why aging a wine may enhance or inhibit its qualities. The process of bottle aging allows a wine to sit in a stationary position for a long period of time, its chemicals slowly mixing with minimal amounts of oxygen that manage to pass through the cork. For this reason, bottles sealed with Stelvin caps or rubber corks may not age in the same way as a bottle aged with a traditional wooden cork.

For red wines, bottle aging can allow some volatile compounds to lose their punch, and produce a subtler, complex set of flavors in the wine. These compounds – tannins, phenols, glycerols, and sugars, present in higher concentrations in red wine, may benefit from moderate to long-term aging.

By the same token, aging a white wine will likely not benefit its qualities at all. Its lighter concentration of chemicals could be overpowered by lengthy aging, resulting in a flat, dull wine when opened.

Regardless of varietal, all wines have a cut-off point, after which time additional aging will not benefit their qualities. The cut-off can be determined from vintage to vintage, winery to winery, and, if you are collecting wines in a cellar, is something to carefully track.

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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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How can I remove wine stains from carpet, upholstery, or clothing?

Several commercially-produced cleaning agents are available that can help remove wine stains. Cleaners containing sodium percarbonate (sometimes advertised with “Oxygen action”) can quickly remove stains.

However, if you are in a bind, and do not have any specialized cleaner handy, pour some salt (or a saltwater solution) on the stained area – the salt will help neutralize acids in the wine, help absorb some of the wine, and also act as a good sterilizing agent.

If you have spilled wine on an article of clothing, try soaking the article in a saltwater solution for up to an hour. You can also try presoaking it in clothing detergent. Finally, if the stain is really tough, and just will not come out, try taking the clothing to the dry cleaner, as they will no doubt have the right cleaning agent that can strip out even the toughest stain. If you do take your clothing to a dry cleaner, however, try going to one that uses “green” cleaner – environmentally friendly cleaning agents.

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What types of wine are aged in oak barrels?

The most common types of wine aged in oak barrels are red wines.

After fermentation, and prior to bottling, some wines are matured (or ‘aged’) in oak barrels. The aging process may take upwards of 12 months, and allows tannins in the oak barrels to add flavor and character to the wines.

An additional process – refining (or ‘fining’) – takes places while wines age in their barrels. During fining, sediments are separated out and removed from the wine. Also, wine may be siphoned from one barrel to another, a process known as ‘racking’. During racking, wine is separated from additional sediment at the bottom of the barrel.

Red wines contain higher tannins than do white wines. Thus, the introduction of additional tannins from oak casks is thought to only improve the character and flavor of a red wine. On the other hand, white wines, low in tannins and softer in character, could be overpowered by the oak tannins. For this reason, few white wines (such as Chardonnay) are matured in barrels.

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