A complex fruit drink made from fermented grapes, wine is one of the world’s most popular tipples and different types of wine are consumed on a wide range of occasions in every conceivable location. Often vaunted for its antioxidants and other health-related benefits. Its most immediate effect is stress-relief and promotion of a party mood, encouraged by an alcohol content of 9–15 per cent. It also has a synergistic relationship with food, both as a digestive aid and complementary partner to particular ingredients.
History Of Wine
Archaeological evidence dates wine making back to Georgia, around 8000 years ago. Much later, around 1100bc, it trickled west into Italy, Spain and France as the Phoenicians began trading across the Mediterranean. The Greeks and then Romans developed such a serious appetite for the stuff that they each rustled up a wine god (Dionysus and Bacchus) and planted great swathes of vines across Europe.
Wine spread around the world from the 16th century, with conquistadors, traders, missionaries and migrants planting grapes wherever they would grow. The advent of the tightly-corked glass bottle in the 17th century was a particular watershed, making wine easier to store, preserve and transport.While ‘Old World’ producers from Europe still dominate production, the ‘New World’ is on the charge, led by Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the US and South America.
There are more than 1000 grape varieties and myriad winemaking techniques, resulting in an almost endless array of flavours spread across spectrums of sweetness, acidity, mouth-feel and aroma.To optimise flavours, serve it at the right temperature – generally 13–15°C for reds, 8–12°C for whites.
Holding your glass up to the light to assess colour and clarity has no bearing on flavour, but will make you look smart. Give it a good sniff, then a swirl, then another sniff to hoover up the aromas. Then taste the wine, rolling it around your taste buds for a few moments before swallowing.So, how is it? Flamboyant, grippy, austere, ste e ly, p étillant? If words fail you, find a cheat sheet such as the Wine Aroma Wheel to help you pick the plums in Pinot Noir and the violets in Viognier.
Types Of Wine
Base types of wine are red, white, rosé, sparkling and dessert. Reds are made from dark grapes, with the skin pigments providing colour. White wines can be made from white or dark grapes. Rosé’s pink tinge comes from dark grape skins used to colour the juice briefly. Dessert wines are made from deliciously wizened fruit with higher sugar content.A range of flavours can be found even within each varietal.
This is due to terroir – the unique combination of geography, geology and climate in which they’re grown. South Australia’s warmth produces lush, jammy Syrah (also known as Shiraz), while the same varietal from the cooler Rhône Valley in France will be leaner and more peppery.Then there’s blending, the purposes of which are to achieve consistency, round out rough edges and add depth or complexity. Blending occurs mainly with reds.
There are dozens of commonly consumed red wines, some made from a single grape variety and others from blends. Those dominating shop shelves include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel and Tempranillo. Generally, tannins from grape skins give red wines dryer, more astringent taste than whites, and they help the wine age. Indeed, many reds cellar particularly well. Red Wines are one of the most famous types of wine.
Flavours range wildly, from red cherries and the forest floor funk of silky Pinot Noir, to blackcurrant and pepper in a savoury Syrah. Reds are predominantly consumed with food. Cabernet Sauvignon and lamb dance together like Fred and Ginger, while Merlot’s mild nature suits all sorts of dishes including roast chicken and spaghetti bolognese. Reds like to breathe, so are best served in a wide, bowl-like glass.
White wines are more often produced in pure varietal form. Popular grapes include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris (also known as Pinot Grigio), Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer. Whites are more delicate than reds, often with pronounced fresh fruit notes.
Gooseberry and passion fruit are typical of Sauvignon Blanc, peach and vanilla in Chardonnay, and lemony zing in Pinot Gris. Glasses with a small opening help to retain crisp clean characters by reducing oxidation. Such delicate flavours are best appreciable alongside subtle-tasting food such as fish and salads.
Sweeter, aromatic styles such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer, however, are the perfect foil for a spicy Thai curry. Lighter whites are often enjoyed as refreshment or an aperitif, with a strawberryish rosé a particular favourite on a summery afternoon.
You can make sparkling wines from any grape, with secondary fermentation accounting for the bubbles of carbon dioxide. The most famous fizz is from Champagne, made only with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Petit Meunier. The New World version – called méthode traditionelle because it can’t be called Champagne – emulates the French with similar grapes and techniques.
Other nations, however, put their own spin on things, with the Spanish producing Cava from their traditional Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes, and the Italians making Prosecco from Glera. Sparkling wines range from fresh and fruity to rich and complex, often redolent of apples, brioche or toasted nuts.
Traditionally uncorked as a celebratory treat, ‘bubbles’ are now so ubiquitous they’re often sip as an aperitif and quaffed in cocktails. Pair a truly great bottle with oysters au naturel. And always serve your fizz in a tall ‘flute’ to stop it from falling flat.
You can make dessert wines from various grapes harvest late when sugar levels are high. Noble rot – which surfaces when moisture levels are just right – is the dessert winemaker’s friend, as is the touch of frost that results in ‘ice wine’. Volumes are generally small and therefore precious.
Colloquially called ‘stickies’, dessert wines are relatively viscous. Their concentrated, perfumed flavours such as honey, apricot and pineapple are best savour from a small wine glass. Serving them too cold deadens the flavour and is therefore a cardinal sin. Delectable late harvest wine matches include Riesling with blue cheese, and Sauternes with crème brûlée. Warm, spiced wine made its first appearance in the records almost 2000 years ago. Starting in Rome and making its way north.
The drink became popular along the Rhine, through Germany and into the chilly Alps. The inviting smell wafted slowly north, where the cosy, wintertime drink has taken on a life of its own. We especially like the Finnish variety. Extra shot of vodka? Don’t mind if we do.
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