The Components of Wine

When a wine reviewer completes an assessment, the critic will describe the wine in terms relating to as many as 8 different components.  These include:

  • Acidity
  • Alcohol
  • Anthocyanins (colour)
  • Aromatic compounds
  • Body
  • Sweetness or Sugar
  • Tannins
  • Viscosity

Acidity

Acid is one of the most important elements in the pulp. As a grape ripens, its sugar content increases and its acid content decreases; the challenge is to harvest precisely when the optimal balance is struck.

Acid balances alcohol and sweetness and sometimes adds a crisp, refreshing sensation.  It may cause your mouth to pucker (like if you were biting into a lemon wedge). Grapes grown in cooler regions tend to have higher levels of acidity.

Alcohol

Alcohol is produced during fermentation when yeasts come in contact with the natural grape sugar in the grape pulp.  High-alcohol wines are full-bodied with a richer mouthfeel.  Alcohol generally has a sweet flavour.  A wine with high levels of alcohol sometimes gives off a hot, burning sensation that can be both smelled and tasted.

High levels of alcohol indicate that the grapes were very ripe at harvest.

Anthocyanins (colour)

Observing a wine’s colour can be a valuable clue for determining the vintage and assessing the wine’s quality.

Red wines lose colour as they age, becoming more garnet and eventually turning brown.  As much as 85% of anthocyanin is lost after 5 years of aging, even though the wine may still appear quite red.

Red wines that are more opaque generally contain higher levels of tannin, though Nebbiolo is an exception to this rule. 

There is reduced colour intensity when there is higher sulfite content.  Also, red wines fermented at higher temperatures will have reduced colour intensity.

The hue in red wine is partially affected by the pH level of the wine. There are many variables that will affect the colour but generally wines with a strong red hue have high acidity; wines with a strong violet hue have a mid-range of acidity; and those with a blueish tint (magenta) usually have a low amount of acidity.

White wines darken as they age, becoming a deeper gold or yellow and eventually turning brown.

Rosé wines are stained pink by macerating the skins of red grapes over an average period of 4 hours to 4 days.

Finally, oxidation in wine causes it to become brown in the same way as an apple browns that is left out on the kitchen counter too long.

Aroma

The aromas of wine are more diverse than its flavors. The human tongue is limited to the primary tastes perceived by taste receptors on the tongue – sourness, bitterness, saltiness, sweetness and savouriness.

The wide array of fruit, earthy, leathery, floral, herbal, mineral and woodsy flavours present in wine are derived from aroma or “nose” as it is often referred. In wine tasting, wine is sometimes smelled before being drunk in order to identify some components of the wine that may be present.

Different terms are used to describe what is being smelled. The most basic term is aroma which generally refers to a “pleasant” smell as opposed to odour which refers to an unpleasant smell or possible fault in the wine. The term aroma may be further distinguished from bouquet which generally refers to the smells that arise from the chemical reactions of fermentation and aging of the wine.

Body

It’s all about mouthfeel and weight.  The body of a wine is due to its alcohol content; however it also includes the perception of alcohol in a wine, associating with the balance of a wine.

  • Light wine is often perceived and described as bright and acidic, fresh, citrusy and having fresh fruit notes.
  • A medium bodied wine is one with lower alcohol levels, softer acids, little to no sugar content and little to no tannin.
  • A fuller body wine is the result of several factors. Alcohol content creates viscosity, which adds to the fullness of the body. Tannins give wine structure, creating a thicker sensation in the mouth. Finally, sugar levels increase the viscosity of the wine, making it more syrupy and less watery.

Sweetness / Sugar

Sugar comes from ripe grapes (although some grape varieties naturally contain more sugar than others). It is mostly converted into alcohol during fermentation. Any remaining sugar is referred to as residual sugar.

A wine with high levels of residual sugar generally tastes sweet, has a richer mouthfeel and fuller body.  Grapes grown in warmer climates tend to get riper and contain more sugar.  Those wines having no apparent sweetness are referred to as being “dry”.

Tannins

Tannin belongs to a class of compounds called phenols and comes from grape skins and seeds; it is mostly found in red wines but can be found in some white wines.

Tannin is an important compound that plays a role in the aging of wine; therefore high-tannic red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo are those that can be aged longest.

A good way to understand the effect of tannin is to think of a cup of hot tea in which the tea bag has steeped for too long.  The tea will taste very strong, harsh and rather bitter (tannic).  The flavour of the tea can be softened by the addition of milk. This same concept applies to wine, thus the reason why cheese and wine is a classic pairing.  The protein in cheese neutralizes or balances the tannins in wine.

Viscosity

Viscosity refers to the liquid consistency of wine. Viscosity will make the wine appear thin and watery, or may make it appear thick and syrupy.

Viscosity is affected by the levels of sugar and alcohol found in the wine. Generally speaking, the higher a wine’s levels of sugar 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 the wine begin to slide back down into the glass.

Final Thoughts

Reviewer impressions are often very subjective and will reflect personal bias.  However, these descriptions and impressions are our best source for determining whether it is worth our while to invest in a particular wine or even a certain grape varietal.

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Beaujolais

Beaujolais is located at the southern end of Burgundy, France.  It produces more than three-quarters of the world’s Gamay wine. During the past number of years Beaujolais has improved beyond just producing Beaujolais Nouveau, fruity wines made specifically for early consumption, to now include high-quality yet affordable red wines.

Beaujolais Classifications

Beaujolais Nouveau

It continues to be the most recognizable type of Beaujolais.  It is bottled and appears on store shelves just a few weeks after being harvested. The phenomenon was started by vineyard workers as a way to celebrate the end of harvest. Gradually the wine began appearing in local cafés and eventually even in Paris. Today, tens of millions of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau are distributed to more than 100 countries in time for its official release date of the third Thursday of November.

Beaujolais Nouveau is young and simple with a very low tannin content and high acidity.

Beaujolais AOC

This is the most basic level of Beaujolais. Wines are light bodied, with plenty of fresh fruit flavours. The majority of wine produced in this appellation is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau.

Beaujolais Villages AOC

There are 38 designated villages in the region that can make Beaujolais Villages wines. The majority are red wine but there are also small amounts of white and rosé wines. Producers have the option of adding the name of the village to the label if the grapes come solely from a specific location, but most of the wines that fit the criteria are destined to be classified as Cru Beaujolais, leaving the villages themselves with little name recognition.

Beaujolais Villages wines are smooth and balanced, with ripe red and black fruit flavours.

Cru Beaujolais

Crus Beaujolais offer wine with unique character and history. Though highly regarded, wines from this quality level only account for 15 percent of the region’s total production.

Beaujolais wines are available in a variety of body types, depending on the cru from which they come.

Light and Perfumed

  • Brouilly: The largest cru totaling 20 percent of the Beaujolais Cru area.
  • Chiroubles: Home to vineyards located in the region’s highest altitudes.

Elegant and Medium-Bodied

  • Fleurie: The most widely exported to Canada and the United States and a good vintage that is age-worthy up to 10 years.
  • Saint-Amour: The most northerly cru which is known for its spicy character and ability to be aged up to 10 years in a good vintage.
  • Côte de Brouilly: Sits within the Brouilly cru, with vineyards on higher slopes of the extinct Mont Brouilly volcano.

Rich and Full-Bodied

  • Juliénas: Named after Julius Caesar and said to be one of the first wine producing areas of Beaujolais, dating back more than 2,000 years.
  • Régnié: It is the newest cru, being recognized in 1988.
  • Chénas: The smallest cru in Beaujolais (under one square mile of vineyards).
  • Morgon: Earthy wines with a deep and rich Burgundian character that can age up to 20 years.
  • Moulin-à-Vent: The most likely cru to use oak witch adds tannins and structure. Wines from this cru are the boldest in the region.  In good vintages they can age up to 20 years.

Beaujolais Food Pairings

Beaujolais pairs well with traditional French foods such as Brie or Camembert cheese, or with a rich pâté. Given its low level of tannins, Beaujolais is also a great partner to lighter fare like grain salads or white fish.

Medium-bodied Beaujolais will pair well with a barbecued burger or a veggie-loaded pizza.

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Wine Bottle Profiles

Have you ever noticed the variety of shapes and colours of wine bottles?  Have you ever wondered whether there is any rhyme or reason for this?  The differences in wine bottle shapes are purely regional variations that have more to do with glassblowing techniques than the flavours of the wine.  

The Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris bottle shape differs from a Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc bottle shape.  Bottles are deliberately shaped a certain way in order that the region of origin may be identified.  Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are presented in a Burgundy shaped bottle with less pronounced shoulders that slope downward. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot are presented in a Bordeaux shaped bottle, which has distinct, high shoulders and a deep punt on the bottom of the bottle.

There’s no scientific reason why you couldn’t put Pinot Noir in a Bordeaux bottle, but vintners around the world still use the traditional wine bottle shapes for the region with which their wines are associated. For most, it’s simply a matter of tradition. But it also makes it easy for people to identify different types of wine by sight. Bottles are colored differently for the same reason.

While there are innumerable varieties of wine available in the market, the bottles themselves generally fall into a few specific shapes. There are 12 basic shapes of wine bottles.

Bordeaux

It’s the most common shape of bottle and as the name indicates, it originated in Bordeaux. It has straight sides and distinct shoulders. The bottle is generally dark green or brown for red wines and light green or transparent for white wines.  There is a good reason for the colour difference.  The coloured glass protects red wines from the sun’s rays, and a transparent bottle improves the colour of white wines.

This type of bottle is used for a variety of grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Sauternes.

Burgundy

The burgundy bottle was introduced in Burgundy around the 19th century, before the Bordeaux bottle. This bottle has sloping shoulders and the colour of the glass is green. The grape varietals stored in a burgundy shaped bottle include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Nebbiolo and Pinot Gris.

Albeisa

This bottle originated from Langhe, Piedmont, Italy. It was first used near the beginning of the 18th century. It looks similar to the Burgundy bottle and is used for the great red wines of Piedmont, such as Barolo and Barbaresco.

Côtes de Provence

The shape of the bottle is a mix between a Greek amphora vessel and a bowling pin. It’s the typical bottle for the wines of Côtes de Provence, which includes a variety of rosés and reds. In Italy, it’s used for Verdicchio wine.

The glass for this type of bottle is typically transparent or light green in the case of Verdicchio wines.

Alsace

Alsace bottles are taller and thinner in shape compared to the other bottles.  They have gently sloping shoulders. The colour is green for German wines and brown for French. The main grape contained in this type of bottle is Riesling.

Champagne

Champagne bottles are unique because they need to withstand up to 90 psi of pressure of the sparkling wines contained within them. It’s also heavier and thicker, with a hollow bottom. The shape looks similar to the Burgundy bottle. The colour is usually varying shades of green, ranging from light to dark.

Tokaji

This shape is used for Hungarian Tokaji and it has a capacity of 0.5 litres. The glass is transparent.

Port

A Port bottle is typically used for Port, Madeira and Sherry wines. The bottle has a bulb in the neck, which is intended to trap excess sediment during the pouring. The colour of the glass can be varying shades of green or brown.

Marsala

A Marsala bottle looks similar to the Port bottle but it is higher and thinner. It’s used for Marsala wine. The glass is typically dark brown or black in colour.

Clavelin

This bottle is short, stocky and heavily built. It’s the only bottle authorized for Vin Jaune. Its capacity is 0.62litre.  Vin Jaune (French for “yellow wine”) is a special and characteristic type of white wine made in the Jura region of France. It is similar to dry fino Sherry.

Bocksbeutel

Bocksbeutel is completely different from the other wine bottle shapes; it is a flattened ellipsoid. The glass is a dark green colour.  It’s used for the red wines of Germany’s Franconia region, some Portuguese wines, and Italy’s Orvieto wines. This particular shape is protected under the European Union.

Chianti

This is the old bottle of Chianti wine which is no longer in use. The bottle gave a rustic aspect to the wine. It was round, so it required a basket to allow it to stand upright on the table. The capacity was about 2 litres.  Once empty these bottles were often used as candlesticks.

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The Wines of European Georgia

The country of Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world.   Grapevine cultivation and wine production has been taking place for at least 8,000 years.  The traditions of wine are considered entwined with and inseparable from the national identity.

Georgia has five main viniculture regions.  The principal region is Kakheti, which produces seventy percent of Georgia’s grapes. Traditionally Georgian wines carry the name of the source region, district, or village, much like France does.  As with French wines, Georgian wines are usually a blend of two or more grapes. For example, one of the best-known white wines, Tsinandali, is a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes from the micro regions of Telavi and Kvareli in the Kakheti region.

The best-known Georgian wine regions are Kakheti (further divided into the micro-regions of Telavi and Kvareli), Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, Adjara and Abkhazia.

Traditional Georgian grape varieties are not well known outside the region.  Although there are nearly 400 varietals grown, only 38 varieties are officially grown for commercial viticulture in Georgia.

Georgian wines are classified in one of six different ways:  sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, dry, fortified and sparkling. The semi-sweet varieties are the most popular.

The better known Georgian wines include the following:

  • Lelo is a port-type wine made from the Tsitska and Tsolikauri grapes.  The wine has a rich harmonious taste with a fruity aroma and a beautiful golden colour.
  • Akhasheni is a naturally semi-sweet red wine made from Saperavi grapes. The wine is dark-pomegranate in colour and has a harmonious velvety taste with a chocolate flavour.
  • Khvanchkara is a naturally semi-sweet red wine made from Alexandrouli and Mudzhuretuli grapes.  It is one of the most popular Georgian semi-sweet wines.  It has a dark-ruby colour.

There are at least 17 different white wines, 16 red wines and 8 fortified wines produced in Georgia, all produced with grape varietals unique to the region.  Though I wouldn’t consider Georgian wines a staple in North American wine stores, they do become available periodically.  If you do come across one it would be well worth picking one up to try.

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When Wine Goes Rogue

Nothing is perfect and even though most of us share a passion and appreciation for the wonderful grape nectar we know as wine, it can present challenges if we allow it to become unruly and take control. Below are a host of challenges and solutions for dealing with some of the issues wine may present from time to time.

Removing Wine from Carpet

Wine, especially red wine, can be very difficult to clean up and remove from carpets, clothing, or even a decanter.  Here are some suggestions from the “experts” who have experience in addressing such situations.

There are several possible solutions for removing red wine from a carpet.  If the stain is still wet begin by blotting up the wine right away. The longer the wine sits on the carpet the harder it is to get rid of the stain. Be sure to use an up-and-down blotting motion, not a side-to-side rubbing one. Rubbing will pick up some of the wine but force the rest deeper into the carpet fibers, making it much harder to remove the stain.  This can also make the stained area even larger by spreading the liquid to the sides.  Work from the outer edges inward toward the centre. This helps prevent the stain from getting any larger than it already is.

Eventually it will become difficult to blot any more of the wine out. At this point, try getting the stain wet again with a small amount of cold water. This helps dilute the wine remaining in the carpet. Continue blotting until the carpet is dry again.

Next pour a generous portion of salt over the stain while it’s still wet. A good dabbing job will take most of the wine out of the carpet, but usually not all of it.  The salt granules will gradually draw the moisture in the stain out of the carpet over the next few hours.  However, given that salt works by absorbing the stain’s moisture, this is much less effective for dried stains. If your stain is getting dry, pour a little water on it first before adding the salt.

As the salt sits it absorbs the wine and will gradually turn pinkish in colour. You’re ready to proceed when the stain seems almost completely dry. However, the longer you take for the treatment the better the chance for success, so if possible let the salt sit overnight.

Next scoop up the loose salt with a spoon and discard it. Use a vacuum to suck up the fine particles that remain. If a salty residue remains after the first vacuuming, dampen the area with a little cool water and vacuum again.  This should restore the carpet’s natural texture. The stain should be greatly diminished if not gone completely.

A second option is to use a vinegar solution on the carpet.  Prepare your cleaning solution of a tablespoon of dishwashing liquid, a tablespoon of white vinegar, and 2 cups of warm water in a large bowl. Be sure to use white vinegar. Other vinegars may cause additional staining.

Next soak a clean rag in the vinegar mixture and dab it on to the stained part of the carpet. The mixture will seep into the carpet fibers, loosening the stain.  Then use a second dry rag to blot up the liquid as you go.  Alternate between dabbing on the vinegar solution and sopping it up.

Now soak a third rag in cold water and press it into to stain to dilute the wine. Alternatively, pour a little water directly onto the stain. Soak up the water by dabbing with your “drying” towel once again.

For maximum effectiveness, you may need to run through the process several times.

A third option is to use dish soap and hydrogen peroxide.  In this case add a generous squirt of soap to the peroxide and stir to mix them together. The amount you need will depend on the size of the stain, but you shouldn’t need much more than about a half cup for any stain.

Hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleaching agent so this method is best used only on light-coloured carpets.  It may be best to first try putting a small amount of the solution on part of the carpet that can’t be seen. If the carpet lightens or you notice dye transfer when you sop up the peroxide with a paper towel, avoid this method.  According to the experts, low concentrations of peroxide (like 3%) shouldn’t affect most carpets.

Soak the corner of a clean rag in the peroxide solution and dab it gently on the stain, allowing the mixture to seep into the carpet fibers. Repeat as needed until you’ve applied the solution to the entire stain. As always, blot; don’t rub.

When you’re done, let the mixture sit for a few minutes. This allows it to penetrate the deeper fibers and reach deep stains.

Then fill a clean spray bottle with cold water and add a few drops of standard dish soap. Shake the mixture to mix it. Give the entire stain a light spritzing and blot with a dry towel when you are done.  If you don’t have a spray bottle, you can repeat the blotting technique above with a fresh towel.

The stain should be looking better. Next soak a clean rag in room-temperature water (no soap), and blot the carpet to loosen up the cleaning materials. Finish by blotting with a dry towel.

Removing Red Wine from Fabric

Depending on how much wine you have spilt, gently dab or blot the excess liquid with a clean cloth or paper towel. Do not rub the stain.

If possible, apply some salt on the stain while it is still damp. You could also try applying white wine to the stain, which will help neutralise it. Just gently dab the stain to remove the excess liquid.

Baking soda also can be a useful product for helping to remove red wine stains. Consider applying a baking soda paste to the affected area.  Take a cup of water and dilute ½ cup of bicarbonate in it.  Mix it well until you get a uniform white paste and then apply it to the stain and let it work.  Once the mixture on your garment has dried, you will have to remove the traces of baking soda.

Another effective method is to mix baking soda with vinegar. You can create the same preparation but also add a tablespoon of vinegar to enhance it.

If the methods above aren’t available, or haven’t quite removed the wine stain entirely, apply a stain removal product to the stain by following the directions on the label.

The experts say that these hints are intended for treating stains on common fabrics, such as cotton and polyester. If you stain a more delicate fabric, such as silk, it is best to have the item professionally cleaned.  Always refer to care instructions on the clothing label to check the suitability of different cleaning methods, especially when using chemical cleaning solutions.

Cork in the Wine

If you find bits of cork floating in your wine, simply filter it out by pushing a coffee filter half way into your wine glass, and then slowly pour the wine through the filter. Make sure to use an unbleached filter, though, as bleached coffee filters may affect the flavor of your wine.  Other alternatives include using cheesecloth or a sieve, depending on the size of the pieces of cork.

Cleaning a Wine Decanter

It might be tempting to wash a decanter with dish soap or in the dishwasher as you would most other glasses. However, that is not a good idea as dish soap leaves behind residue and faint flavours, while dishwashers are too rough for most decanters.  There are other alternatives for cleaning your decanter, including the ones below.

If you decanter is relatively sturdy, drop in a few pinches of salt and some crushed ice inside and give it a gentle shake.  The ice and salt function as a sort of liquid steel wool pad, scouring the glass as you shake things up. Afterward, rinse your decanter with room-temperature water and let it air dry.

Another option is to use decanting beads, which are little metal balls that you put in the decanter with very hot water and swirl them around.  As the stainless-steel beads swish around the decanter they pick up residue and sediment like a sponge.  Because of their size the beads have the ability to reach the nooks and crannies at the base of the decanter. They are particularly effective on decanters with unusual shapes. 

The beads are reusable.  After use simply rinse them in hot water and let them dry before storing.

If the thought of steel or ice inside your beloved decanter makes you cringe, a similar alternative is to use clean, uncooked rice with equal parts water and white vinegar.  This combination works well as long as there are no significant stains in the decanter.

The most important thing to do in order to maintain your decanter is to rinse your decanter with warm-to-hot (but not boiling) water as soon as possible after each use.

Hopefully you are not presented with a regular occurrence of any of the above challenges but if you are, some of these hints may be of help. 

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Wine and Eggs

If you listen to the ads on television, eggs are no longer just for breakfast and thus could be enjoyed with a glass of wine beyond the traditional mimosa, which is champagne and orange juice.

There’s a reason why mimosas are a brunch mainstay. Dry sparkling white wines like Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco are the number-one pick for any egg-based dish. Eggs, particularly the yolks, are rich and coat your palate with their savory flavor, which means their flavour lingers when you take a sip of wine. That makes the wine taste a little funny; maybe bitter or metallic or it’s difficult to taste at all. Sparkling wines, however, have that effervescence that actually cleans out your palate. They also tend to have high acidity, which does the same thing, as well as cuts through the natural richness of eggs. So that lingering egg yolk washes away and you can taste the wine again.

Below is an assortment of egg dishes that have been paired with a complimentary wine for enjoyment as a lunch or dinner entree.

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine is the original form of quiche, from the French region of Lorraine. It is an open savory pie, filled with a cream and egg custard, and usually containing pork in one form or another, often bacon.  Quiche pairs well with Riesling.

Classic Rancher’s Meal

The Classic Rancher’s Meal consists of eggs, potatoes, pork (ham, sausage or bacon), and toast.  The combination, with the exception of the toast, is fried in a skillet.  Due to the nature of this fried meal, it is best paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.

French Toast

Chenin Blanc is a White wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France. It is high in acidity to help cut the sweetness of French Toast with maple syrup.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs can be poached on the stovetop or in the microwave, and then set on English muffin halves topped with a slice of back bacon and a spoonful of creamy Hollandaise sauce. Chardonnay or Rosé will pair well with this rich delicacy.

Breakfast Sandwich

This ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on toasted bread or an English muffin pairs well with Lambrusco which is one of the oldest wines of Italy.  It dates all the way back to the Bronze Age. 

Huevos Ranchero

Huevos rancheros, or “ranchers’ eggs”, is a classic Mexican breakfast. Fried eggs are nested in a bed of refried beans, sour cream and salsa and served atop a warm tortilla. Try adding a bit of your favourite hot sauce for a touch of heat.  Pair with a Gamay.

Whatever egg dish you choose, there will be a wine that will pair well with it.

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Common Wine Faults

When you take your first taste from a bottle of wine are you experiencing the vintner’s intentional style or some sort of accident?  The degree to which wine faults are considered problematic often lies in the nose (or palate) of the beholder and it’s often hard to tell the difference.

Here’s a guide to seven common wine faults, plus two situations you can happily ignore.

Brett

If the smell of the wine reminds you of a barnyard, horse stable or a band-aid, the wine may contain Brettanomyces yeast.  Many wines, including really good ones, have small amounts of brett.

Brett is most prevalent in red wines.  At lower concentrations, it can add a spicy, leathery note to a wine. People’s thresholds of perception of brett vary.  Some people don’t notice it while others are more sensitive. Brett does not pose a health concern.

Brett can develop in wine at any point during production. The yeast can be on the grapes or can be in barrels. There are lots of opportunities for brett to occur.

Corked Wine

About 5% of the world’s wines are corked, which leads to a less than pleasant wine-drinking experience.  If you smell the wine before drinking it will help determine whether or not it is corked.  If it smells okay, taste it to make sure that it has the strong, fresh flavors you expected when you bought it.   If wine is corked, it will have an odor that you wouldn’t expect from a good wine. It may smell musty, or like a dank towel, wet dog, wet cardboard or newspaper.  Your first sniff is more reliable than later sniffs. Trust your first whiff.

Wine becomes corked when it is exposed to  “2,4,6-Trichloroanisole” (TCA), a naturally occurring compound that may be found in the cork of the wine bottle.  TCA forms when natural fungi present in corks comes into contact with certain chemicals found in sanitation and sterilization products used in wineries.

Taste the wine. If the wine has only been exposed to a small amount of TCA, it may be difficult to decide for sure whether or not it is corked by just smelling it. The taste of the wine will be dull and will not exhibit any fruit characteristics.  A wine that is only slightly corked may lack aroma and have very little taste. It may even taste like paint thinner.

It may not be the cork in the bottle that caused the contamination. You may come across a bottle of wine with a screw top that tastes as though it is corked. In this case, the wine may have become contaminated in the barrel before it was bottled.

Many people mistakenly believe that corked wine is just wine that has little bits of cork floating in the wine. This is not the case. Although pieces of cork in your wine may be annoying, the wine itself is perfectly fine, unlike corked wine, which is generally undrinkable

Cooked / Manderized

Cooked or manderized wine is not mulled wine but is wine that has been exposed to heat levels that cause the wine to spoil. If you have ever bought a case of wine while on a summertime trip to wine country and stored it in your car’s trunk you may have been surprised to find it tasted completely different than when you bought it. A temperature of a mere 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) can be sufficient to spoil the taste.

White wine affected by temperature will appear brownish in colour and will have the flavour of flat baked fruit or nutty flavours.  Red wine will taste roasted, stewed or jammy with a raisin flavour.

Other indications of a cooked wine include finding that the cork is very difficult to remove. Essentially when the wine is exposed to high temperatures the cork expands. The cork might be extremely hard to pull out or may even be visibly forcing itself out of the bottle.

If the wine bottle is not cool to touch then you’re probably not storing it properly. A common misnomer is that room temperature is adequate for wine storage. It’s actually advised that wine should be stored at cellar temperature, which can be 10 degrees Celsius cooler than standard room temperature. To keep it cool during the summer months, either get a small wine fridge or keep it in a cool dry place like your basement.  For additional information on cellaring wine see my August 24, 2019 blog, “Drink or lay down and how to cellar those you keep”.

Over-The-Hill

Over-the-hill wine is wine that has been stored too long.  The colour of the wine will appear faded and less vibrant and the taste will be rather flat, having lost its freshness and structure.  Only about 10% of all wine produced is suitable for long term retention.  Most wines are ready for consumption the day you bring them home from the store. 

Oxidization

As soon as wine encounters oxygen it begins to break down, or “open up,” as some people say. Oxygen allows the aromas in wine to become more present, making it easier to identify the aroma. Oxygen also softens the mouthfeel of wine which occurs due to the breaking down of tannins, the cause of that harsh, dry sensation you may feel along your cheeks and tongue. Decanting is extremely beneficial in young reds, whose bright acidity and gripping tannins can seem austere and unpleasant at first. See my November 9, 2019 post, “To Breathe or not to Breathe” for additional information.

However, too much oxygen can lead to oxidation and  the degradation of the wine. This can happen during wine production or even after the wine has been bottled. Basically all oxygen needs is a simple catalyst for the reaction to occur. Think of an apple that’s been sliced and left out too long; the abundance of oxygen causes the flesh to brown, the aromas to dissipate and the flavors to disappear. The same thing occurs in the oxidation of wine.

If there is too much oxygen in white wine it will be ruddy or brownish in colour and will have the smell of spoiled cider, nuts or dried leaves.  Red wine will take on an orange brick colour and will taste lifeless and flat.

Reduction

Reduction is the opposite of oxidization.  It occurs when there is too little exposure to oxygen.  In this case the wine will take on a sulfuric smell like that of a struck match or the smell of garlic, rubber or rotten eggs.

Reduction occurs during the wine making process and can often be cured simply by introducing oxygen during the fermentation process. However, if reduction appears in a finished bottled wine, it is a clear flaw and while decanting will usually clear it up, some wines are permanently reduced and about all that can be done is to put a penny (if you still have one) in the wine.

Slight reduction is not something to worry about because the basic characteristics of the wine are still evident. Heavy reduction that extends to the flavours makes a wine almost impossible to accurately judge and if the condition is left untreated it can permanently mark a wine.

Volatile Acidity

If the wine contains extremely high levels of acetic acid it will have the smell of nail polish or vinegar. Small amounts are generally not noticeable by most people as the human threshold for detecting it is about 600 to 900 mg/L. It is likely to be present anytime you see “high-toned” fruit flavors in a tasting note. It can offer a tangy edge that works well with food that could use a little pizazz.

Volatile acidity occurs during the wine making process and is often associated with oxidation problems in a wine due to overexposure to oxygen and/or a lack of sulfur dioxide management. Acetic acid bacteria require oxygen to grow and proliferate.

Decanting will often help the sharp aromas disappear.

Perceived Faults

Though often mistaken for wine faults, wine diamonds and sediment are common phenomenon that are perfectly normal, and won’t harm the flavour of your wine.

Wine Diamonds

These are crystals that appear in the bottom of the bottle or glass.  They are a tartrate deposit that form when naturally occurring potassium and tartaric acid combine and sink. While winery techniques mostly prevent it from happening, they are harmless.

Sediment

Sediment is dark, grainy material that can accumulate in the bottom or side of a red wine bottle.  Sediment occurs for a couple of reasons.

Wine producers may elect not to filter their wines.  They do this to preserve flavour and texture. This leaves particles that with time settle to the bottom.

The second reason relates to aging. Research indicates a combination of acid, tannin and color compounds bond and separate from the wine. Fortunately, sediment is innocuous and is easily removed by decanting the wine before serving.

Final Thoughts

Although any of these situations may impede your enjoyment of wine, none of them are detrimental.  It several of the cases these flaws are part of the personality of the wine.  Many times I have read wine reviews that contain “hints of leather”, “earthy”, “nutty”, as part of their description.  As they say, “Beauty (or taste in this case) lies in the eyes of the beholder”.

Sláinte mhaith

The Wines of Croatia

Croatian wine has a history dating back to the Ancient Greeks. Like other old world wine producers, many traditional grape varieties are still cultivated. Modern wine production methods are now prevalent in the larger wineries and European Union style wine regulations have been adopted, guaranteeing the quality of the wine.

Croatia is located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.  It has many indigenous grape varieties that are not very well-known internationally, partly due to their complicated names. The names may contain a long row of consonants as well as have some special characters like č, ž or dž. This can make it difficult to remember or pronounce any given name.

If you are keen to understand the correct pronunciation of the names of the wines this may help.

č – sounds like the “ch” in “chalk”

ž – pronounced like the “s” in “sure.”

dž – pronounced like “j” in “jump”

š – sounds like “sh” in “shoe”

There are two distinct wine-producing regions. The continental region in the north-east of the country produces rich fruity white wines, similar in style to the neighbouring areas of Slovenia, Austria and Hungary. On the north coast, wines are similar to those produced in Italy, while further south production is more towards big Mediterranean-style reds. On the islands and the Dalmatian coast, local grape varieties, microclimates and the rather harsh nature of the vineyards leads to some highly individual wines, and some of Croatia’s best known.

Almost 70% of wine produced is white and produced in the interior, with the remaining 30% being red, which is mainly produced along the coast. Rosé is relatively rare. Some special wines, such as sparkling wine (pjenušavo vino or pjenušac) and dessert wine, are also produced.

There are indeed many foreign “international” grape varieties grown in Croatia but its long history of wine production has left it with a rich tradition of indigenous varieties, especially in the more out-lying areas and the more extreme growing conditions. 

The Croatian Institute of Viticulture and Enology was created in 1996 to oversee the country’s wine industry, and be responsible for regulating winegrowing and wine production. Standards similar to the European Union wine regulations were set up to ensure the consistent quality in their wine. Croatian wines are classified by quality, which is included on the label.

Classifications

Vrhunsko Vino: Premium Quality Wine

Kvalitetno Vino: Quality Wine

Stolno Vino: Table Wine

Types

Suho: Dry

Polusuho: Semi-dry

Slatko: Sweet

Bijelo: White

Crno: Red (literally Black)

Rosa: Rosé

Prošek: Dalmatian dessert wine made from dried grapes, similar to Italian Vin Santo

Even though a classification system is used, Croatian wines don’t have a DO or AOC system like Spain, Italy, or France which can make it confusing to understand a wine’s grade or origin.

Common Red Wines

Plavac Mali

Plavac Mali is the primary red wine of Croatia.  It is a wine that is rich and full of flavour, high in both alcohol and tannin, with lower acidity, and has flavours of blackberry, dark cherry, pepper, carob, dry figs, and spice. Plavac Mali translates to “small blue”.

Teran

This is a red grape that has bold flavours of forest berries and violets with smoky meat and game-like notes. Teran generally has high tannins, and should evolve over a few years. In Italy it is known as Terrano.

Common White Wines

Graševina

The everyday wine of Central Europe, Graševina is also known as Welschriesling. It is one of the most popular white wine grapes in Croatia. Graševina is a dry, fresh, aromatic white wine with apple-like notes.

Grk

To pronounce Grk just pronounce the three letters in a row. Grk produces dry white wines with notes of white pepper, melon, herbs, and sliced pear. The variety is indigenous to Croatia and is only found close to Korčula, on an island within the Srednja-Juzna Dalmacija.

Malvazija Istarska

Malvazija Istarska is one of the main white wines of Istria and the northern Dalmatian coast. It is sometimes referred to as Malvasia Istriana, although it’s not actually the same grape as Italian Malvasia. These wines are refreshing and usually dry, with lower alcohol content and aromas of fennel, quince, honey, apricot, and spice.

Pošip

This white wine is often crisp with flavors of apples, vanilla spice, citrus fruit, and a subtle almond note.

Final Thoughts

Croatian wines are not always available or commonplace in our local wine and liquor stores but that doesn’t mean they are inferior or overpriced.  When you come across one I think you will find it worth your while to take one home and drink it.

Sláinte mhaith

Wine Recommendations

Over the past few weeks I have been asked several times for recommendations for wines that can be obtained from the local liquor store.  The truth is I can’t really suggest any particular wine as I don’t tend to favour any particular winery.  Instead I usually select my wines from the Vintages section at the LCBO.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  First the LCBO has a rule whereby in order for a wine to appear on the regular shelves it has to be available on an ongoing basis.  This restricts the suppliers to only the largest producers; those who often purchase grapes from a wide variety of growers thus increasing the risk of producing an inconsistent product.  Also because these wineries have become so well-known, some of them over-charge for the quality of the product produced.

The challenge with the Vintages section is that many of the wines brought in are in limited supply with new releases appearing every 2 weeks.  The wines are often from estate wineries that produce smaller and limited volumes. Thus if you are seeking wine from a specific winery you may go months or even years before it reappears on the shelves.  I have found that I have been very rarely disappointed in any of my Vintage purchases.  What I focus on is the grape varietal or the region the wine comes from rather than who the vintner is.

I find the LCBO’s Vintages magazine, a bi-weekly production that identifies and provides reviewer notes and comments about the various wines being released, to be very informative.  It provides the necessary details I need to assist me with my purchasing decisions.  Helpful information includes the name of the vintner, varietal(s), tasting notes, suitability for cellaring, and of course, the price.  If you have questions or need assistance in making a decision as to which wine to buy, the staff are very informative and helpful.

The price of wine in the Vintages section is no more expensive than those found on the regular shelves but dollar for dollar I find them a better value.  Personally, I am a big fan of Italian Barolo, Valpolicella and Chianti; French wines from the Rhône and Bordeaux regions; Rieslings from Germany’s Mosel region; Spanish wine from Rioja; and a wide variety of wines from Ontario and BC. 

Due to COVID-19 there have been challenges in the liquor stores receiving many of the wines they expected; or if they have received the wines they are sometimes of a lesser quantity than anticipated.  On more than one occasion during recent months have I been unable to acquire many of the wines I was hoping for.  One week the liquor store received only two of the seven wines I was looking for and on another occasion they received none of my desired selections.

These are challenging times.

Sláinte mhaith

Oh What a Year!

This is traditionally the time when people reflect back over the year that was and reminisce over the happy and sad times of the past twelve months.  Unfortunately this year there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for happy times.  The main and some would say, only event of 2020 was COVID-19. It has disrupted life as we knew it.

With the production of this last year’s wine supply still in progress, the situation heavily impacts the existing product stocks of the winemakers looking to sell the wine reserves of 2018. However, due to the measures applied in the spring by most countries, the biggest wine producing countries – Italy, France, Spain and the US – have seen sales decline steadily.

Mid-spring to early autumn is when wineries here in Canada do most of their business. However, with wine tours, tastings and exploration being limited or completely on hold for the foreseeable future, the number of visitors to wineries was drastically reduced along with associated wine sales. The sale of other merchandise, such as food and clothing, was also negatively impacted.  Some wineries closed entirely because of the virus.

The Demand for Champagne

Sales of champagne, one of France’s most iconic products, have tumbled over the past year with industry representatives estimating that some 100 million bottles will be left unsold.   Lower demand due to the pandemic has led to an exceptionally low harvest quota in France’s Champagne region, with pickers in the vineyards harvesting one-fifth less than last year.

With many cafes, hotels and restaurants being closed at various times, and weddings and music festivals being called off, people consumed less champagne.  However, lower demand will not necessarily lead to lower prices.

Australian Wild Fires

Wild fires wreaked havoc from late 2019 until the early part of this year in Australia.  The Adelaide Hills wine region was the hardest hit, destroying 30% of its production.  The Cudlee Creek fire affected more than 60 growers and producers in the region.

The financial blow to the Adelaide Hills wine industry was significant. The region lost $20 million worth of wine, which translates to 794,000 cases.

The Wild Fires on the U.S.  West Coast

Wineries were already facing great financial strains due to the reduction in restaurant traffic and smaller crowds visiting vineyards for tastings.  Many tasting rooms were closed due to fire and smoke risks, while many grapes have been damaged or totally ruined.

Oregon, Washington and California together produce about 90% of all U.S. wine. The true impact on the $70 billion industry will not be known for months as crop damage can vary greatly from region to region.  Smoke blanketed much of the U.S. West as fires charred in excess of 2 million hectares.

Canadian Wine Awards

The judging of the 20th Anniversary Edition of the National Wine Awards of Canada has been postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sessions were to be held the week of June 24 to 28 in Penticton, British Columbia. The hope is that the competition can resume in 2021.

The 2020 COVID-19 version of the Ontario Wine awards finally took place on August 28th.  A small group gathered at Kew Vineyard, in Beamsville, Ontario as the awards were presented in front of a small, socially-distanced gathering.  Unlike previous years there were no judges and no formal tastings for the four main awards.  Instead the Awards Committee reached out to judges who had participated in the last three years of the competition and asked them to nominate their top three white, red and sparkling wines they had tasted during the year. Based on those responses the top scoring wines were tabulated.

Onward and Upward

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is starting to be administered hopefully everyone who wants it will be able to have it within next few months.  Then we can begin the journey toward a world that is better than what we are experiencing today.  In the meantime stay safe and though it may be much quieter than usual, have the happiest New Year that these times will permit.

Sláinte mhaith