Do you enjoy a drop of red from time to time? Do you know your Pinot Grigio from your Chardonnay? Are you a wine lover who is keen to find out more about how wine is made and how to taste it properly? If you’re eager to impress at the dinner table, this interesting and informative guide is a good place to start.
Before we get to talking about swilling and smelling, it’s a good idea to find out a little more about the production process.
How is wine made?
There are thousands of different varieties of grape in the world. The type of grape is the single most important factor when it comes to the taste of wine. The variation in the fruit contributes to a host of different tastes, aromas and colours.
The process of making wine takes several months, even years. Grapes grow on vines, and when they reach the perfect ripeness, they are picked. Harvest time is a hectic period at the vineyard. In the past, it involved everyone mucking in and tramping through the leafy aisles, filling their buckets. However, machinery has replaced manpower in a growing number of vineyards. It’s essential that the grapes are taken from the vines at the right time. If the grapes are over and under ripe, this will affect the taste of the wine. It is impossible to make a pleasant-tasting wine out of bad grapes.
Once the grapes have been harvested, they are collected and sorted. If machine harvesters have been used, the quality of the grapes will be checked before the next stage. The grapes that make the grade are then passed through a machine to remove stalks and stems.
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The fermentation process can then begin. Grapes used for red wine keep their skins. White wine production involves separating the skin and the juice before fermentation. The pressing process involves stamping on the wine with your feet. However, some wineries now use machinery to save time and effort. The aim is to release the yeast and to prevent bacteria from collecting on the skin of the grapes. Many producers use natural yeast, but it is possible to add dried yeast powder. At this stage, the fermenting wine is removed from the tanks to add oxygen, which is essential for fermentation. Once the process is complete, the wine is poured into barrels and stored in a cool, dry cellar. It is left to mature for anywhere between six months and over three years.
The right way to taste wine
Tasting wine is not about downing a mouthful as fast as you can. This is a fine art, which requires patience, attention and skill.
Before you even taste a drop of wine, look at the colour and consistency of the liquid. Hold your glass by the stem and gently swill the wine around to release its scents and aromas. Avoid touching the body of the glass, as your hands can warm the wine. Place your nose just inside the top of the glass and sniff gently. Repeat a few times to get a good sense of the odour. Think about any notes you can detect. Any given wine may contain a veritable array of flavours and accents. You may pick up fruits, earthy tastes or a woody touch.
Once you’ve processed the sight and smell of the wine, it’s time to reward your taste buds. Resist the temptation to take a large mouthful and sip from your glass instead. Swirl the wine around your mouth and suck in. You may look and feel a little silly, but this aeration process ensures you make the most of the tasting. Let the different notes hit you and when you’ve had enough, gently spit the wine out into a container. Repeat the process for each wine and see if you can spot the differences in flavour, clarity and smell.
If you’re trying different types of wine, it’s wise to go for whites before reds. Try dry or heavy wines before sweeter, lighter wines.
Visiting a vineyard or winery
It’s possible to do wine tasting at restaurants and bars, but visiting a vineyard will give you the best experience. There are several countries across the world, which are famed for their wine industries. A visit to a winery is a welcome addition to most holidays in Spain, Italy or Australia. If you’re holidaying in the USA, a trip to Hermann Wine Trail wineries comes highly recommended.
You can take whistlestop tours or spend a little longer getting to know more about the area and the process. Take advantage of the opportunity to sample locally-produced delights with an al fresco lunch or a romantic dinner for two. Go all-out and arrange private transfers or a hotel stay so that you don’t have to worry about driving.
When you visit a winery, you’ll be shown around the different areas. Your guide will explain what happens at each stage of the production process. You can ask questions and gain an insight into how those grapes hanging on the vines become that delicious drop in your glass. Your resident expert will talk you through the tasting process. At each stage, they will help you to use your senses to detect different flavours and influences. They will show you how to hold your glass, how to swirl your wine and how to taste it. Once you know how to do this properly, and you are aware of the tricks of the trade, you can employ this knowledge in the future.
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How to serve wine
The way you serve wine has a major impact on its taste. White wine should be chilled. Red wine should not be kept in the fridge and is best served just below room temperature.
If you’re hosting a dinner party and you’re not sure how to serve your wine, look for tips online and ask your local wine dealer for advice.
How to spot a good quality wine
Many people assume that the more you pay, the better the quality. This is true to an extent, but it’s possible to enjoy some beautiful wines without paying a lot of money. Look out for complex and intense wines, which combine a lot of flavours and hit you with a series of different notes. Before you serve, have a good look at the wine and smell and taste it. Warning signs that a wine has passed its best include corking, a sour or bitter smell and the appearance of floating deposits. Bubbles and changes in clarity and shade can also spell trouble.
Wine tasting is highly subjective, and one man’s treasure may be another’s trash. If you love wine, don’t be afraid to try a host of different types. It can be tempting to stick to an old favourite, but with so much choice out there, it’s likely that there will be plenty of contenders for the crown.
Many of us enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and a good wine can really make a dish sing. Whether you’re entertaining or eating out, it’s beneficial to have an idea of which wines go with what kinds of food.
Traditionally, red wines are partnered with game, red meat and hearty meals such as pies and casseroles. However, there’s no shame in going for a glass of red with poultry, pasta or even a salad. Some people prefer red wine and if a glass of full-bodied red is going to make you happy, go for it.
Whites are generally recommended for lighter meals, fish dishes and classics, such as risotto. White wine complements white meat and is also a perfect partner for crunchy green vegetables.
Cheese and wine go hand in hand and are a perfect combination for an after-dinner treat. In most cases, people tend to serve a cheese board with red wine, but if you prefer white, this can also work.
Be wary of flavours, which affect the taste and intensity of an accompanying wine. Chocolate, garlic, chilli and tomatoes are examples of perennial offenders. This is not to say that you can’t drink wine with these foods, but you need to choose carefully. Pair chocolate and chill with sweeter dessert wines. Nullify a little of the acidity bursting from fresh tomatoes with a fruity red.
When it comes to matching food and wines, there’s often no wrong answer. Do some tasting beforehand and adopt a policy of trial and error. The process will be enjoyable, and hopefully, you’ll find some perfect combinations. Don’t be afraid to serve different types of wine at the same meal. Providing a selection of wines will ensure that your guests enjoy greater variety.
There’s a lot more to winemaking and tasting than meets the eye. Learning how to taste wine gives you an appreciation of the hard work that’s gone into producing a bottle. You’ll also have a better understanding of the complex flavours. Next time you’re in a wine-producing region, book a tour and do some tasting. You’ll be amazed at the difference a bit of insider knowledge and some silky tasting skills can make.