By: Aaron T. Driver
A few years back my wife and I took a drive from our place in San Diego all the way up the coast to Napa Valley. It was a magical trip for us for so many reasons, we came back even more in love then we were before, but it was on this trip and on this drive she asked me to explain wine to her-she wanted to know everything: How it’s made, the importance of vineyard sights, how the weather affects flavor. And with a 10-hour drive in front of us, down the rabbit hole we went…
The first thing to address were the grapes! This brings us to the second installment of the educational forum of which we should be ready to tackle. With that said:
GRAPES: Table Grapes vs Wine Grapes.
Table Grapes are fat and juicy with think skins and no seeds, making them great for eating… BUT if you tried to make a wine from them, they would produce something that was bland and flavorless-at best.
Wine Grapes on the other hand are smaller with thick skins, full of seeds and much less juice. The thick skins, seeds and more concentrated juice results in a wine that is deeper and richer in flavor.
What is the Difference between White Wine and Red Wine?
All wine gets its color from its skins. Grapes like: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio & Chenin Blanc have little to no pigmentation in their skins and typically the tannins you would extract from the skins and seeds are not what a desired component of white wine. These grapes are “pressed” off of the skins very soon after harvesting (typically as fast as possible) resulting in clear bright wines.
Red Wines, however, like: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have thick dark skins (some can even be almost completely black). In these wines we want to ‘extract’ as much color from the skins as possible. These grapes are ‘crushed’ to extract the juice inside the berry and then left on their skins to ‘soak’ ranging from a few hours for as much as 30 days or even more. A prolonged ‘cold soak’ period results in a wine with deeper, richer color.
The prolonged exposure of the juice to the skins, seeds and sometimes even the stems also results in the extraction of tannins.
What are Tannins?
Basically, Tannins are a chemical compound called a polyphenol. These are naturally occurring compounds found in plants, seeds, wood, leaves and the skins of fruits. Tannins are flavorless, but add texture or grip to wine. When their levels are high they can add an astringent characteristic to wine.
Often when someone says “I don’t like dry wine” this is what they are talking about. Tannins are an important part of wine, as they help protect the wine as it ages. Wines with very low tannins tend to have a shorter cellar/shelf life than those that have much higher tannins.
Grapes, Color and Tannins- all things important to wine. All things clinical. But it is key to learn about the basics before you can truly appreciate the experience of tasting wine for what it is from vineyard to barrel to bottle to glass. As basic as some of these characteristics are, we are going to learn about acid, and alcohol components as we educate you on the winemaking process.
You eat with your eyes.. there are few things as sexy as a beautiful glass of wine in the hand of the person you love in an intimate dimly lit restaurant in beautiful stemware. Wine is intimate, it is sexy and the color and texture of the wine are just two of the major components of wine, next will come sweetness/alcohol and Acidity.
There is so much to address when discussing the basics of wine. So let’s take this slow and steady and tackle the next topics that bring the depth of the wine to the palette.