Spicy Wines

Other than mulled wine, are any wines truly spicy?  The short answer is ‘yes’ but there are great differences in individual interpretation.  To listen to or read some reviewers impressions you would be led to believe drinking some wines would be similar to eating a chili pepper.  For example, “You can taste a red wine and suddenly discover your mouth is sizzling – that spicy red wine has a whole world of delicious, zesty compounds that light up your palate and senses.”

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Wine can, however, have a certain amount of spiciness to it, though it is much more subtle than the above quote would suggest.  There are several reasons for this.

Some wines do have the aroma of freshly ground black or white pepper.  Wines made from Syrah grapes have a high level of pepperiness.  This is because the grapes actually have one of the same compounds in the skin as is found in black peppercorns, a compound called Rotundone.  However, one in five people are unable to detect the smell of Rotundone and thus do not find Syrah or Shiraz to be peppery.

Some red wines, such as Italian Chianti Classico, will provide a warming or burning sensation when they are drunk.  This is a result of a high level of acidity in the wine.  The same type of sensation may occur when drinking a wine with an alcohol content of around 15% or greater.  Amarone is an example of such a wine.

There are wines with the aroma of spices such as vanilla, cloves or baking spices.  A California Zinfandel or South African Pinotage will have the aroma of these types of spices.  Part of this is due to the wine being aged in oak barrels.  Lactones from the barrels create a coconut smell, and vanilla flavours come from vanillin.  Spicy, toasted and clove aromas are generated by eugenol and guaiacol respectively, which are also found in the oak barrels.

There are some white wines as well that have flavours and aromas of spice;  for example, a Gewürztraminer from Alsace. Grüner Veltliner from Austria can also be spicy as it, like Syrah, has Rotundone in its skin. As a result, it can have a peppery character.

So, although there are some peppery and spicy wines to be found on the shelves of your local wine store, I truly doubt that any of them will leave you fanning your mouth from the intensity of the flavour.

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Acidity in Wine

What is it?  Can you taste it?  How much acid is in wine? Is it necessary to have acidity? These are many of the commonly asked questions about acidity in wine.  Understanding acidity helps us to identify which wines we like and to better be able to pair wines with our favourite foods.

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If you taste a wine that you find to be refreshing yet slightly tart, this is the result of dominant or prevalent acidity.  When someone says a wine is crisp, bright or fresh, it means the wine has great acidity.  Although these terms are most commonly referred to when discussing white wines, some red wines can be crisp, bright and fresh as well.

The common misconception is that some wines have acidity while others don’t, but all wines have acidity. Even in a wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which is normally thought of as deep and mellow, acidity helps blend all the other flavours of the wine. If a wine has no acidity at all, it tastes dull and flat. It is acidity that makes the wine appeal to your taste buds and enable you to recognize all the various flavours.

Acids are one of the four fundamental traits in wine; the others are tannin, alcohol and natural sugar. Acidity gives a wine its tartness. The amount of acidity varies depending on the type of wine.  Most range from 2.5 pH to about 4.5 pH on the acidity scale.  The lower the acidity the higher the pH level.

There are several different types of acids found in wine. The most prevalent acids are tartaric acid, malic acid and citric acid.  The amount of these acids in your wine will determine how much of a puckering sensation you experience in your mouth.

In wine tasting, “acidity” refers to the fresh, tart and sour elements of the wine which are evaluated in relation to how well the acidity balances out the sweetness and bitter components such as tannins.

The natural sugar content in a wine can disguise the acidity, making the wine seem smoother with a reduced puckering sensation.  An extreme example of this would be to compare the juice of a lemon with a glass of Coca-Cola.  Both have a pH acidity level of 2.5 but the intense puckering sensation of the lemon is not felt at all when you take a sip of the cola.

Acidity acts as a buffer to preserve the wine longer so high acid wines are more likely to improve with age. The stability of high acid/low pH wines helps during aging. Conversely, high pH wines are more prone to contamination. Microbes or other unstable components can make high pH wines appear hazy.

The type of acid present in a wine can also affect our perception of sourness and the puckering sensation. During the aging process, a wine’s malic acid is often converted to lactic acid, which results in a smoother, less tart-tasting wine.

Another facet of wine that can be confusing is a wine’s total acidity. This is something that’s often noted on a wine tech sheet or in the wine maker’s notes.  Total acidity tells us the concentration of acids present in wine, whereas the pH level tells us how intense those acids taste. For example, if you have a wine with 6 grams per litre total acidity and a pH of 3.2, it will taste more acidic than a wine with 4 grams per litre total acidity with the same pH level.

A higher acid white wine will be lemonier in flavour, making your mouth water and pucker a little.  Red wines with higher acidity are more likely to be a bright ruby colour, as the lower pH gives them a red hue. Higher pH, less-acidic red wines can take on a blue or purple hue. Wines with lower acidity can also take on a brown colour because they’re more prone to oxidation. It may not be as noticeable in red wines but can be off-putting in young white wines.

Unripe grapes have high acid levels that decreases as they ripen. Grapes grown in cooler climates usually contain higher acidity because there’s less warmth and sunshine available to increase grapes’ sugar and pH levels.

When pairing wine with food it’s helpful to consider the tastes found in a dish, whether it be sweet, sour, bitter, salty, fatty, etc. With a wine having a higher level of acidity, you’ll notice that sweetness, saltiness and fat balance the sour taste of the acidity.

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Wine from the Netherlands

When you think of wine regions of the world it is unlikely that the Netherlands immediately comes to mind.  Wine has been produced in The Netherlands for centuries but the winemaking industry has been working hard to reinvented itself over the past few decades.  The quality of wines made in the Netherlands has increased immensely and as a result, it is slowly but surely becoming a true wine country.

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The improvements are the result of the development of new grape varieties that are better suited to the Dutch climate. These new grapes have served to increase vineyard acreage 10-fold.  Also, the Dutch vintners are becoming more experienced, thus improving the quality of Dutch wines.

There are about 170 commercial vineyards in The Netherlands with a combined vineyard acreage of about 320 hectares. Most of the vineyards are in the south of Limburg, the warmest region in The Netherlands and traditionally the best place to grow grapes.  The majority of the grapes are white varietals due to the cool climate, although there is some Pinot Noir grown as well.

Traditional grape varietals include whites such as:

  • Auxerois
  • Chardonnay
  • Müller-Thurgau
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot Gris

Since 2000, several new grape varieties better suited to the Dutch climate have been added. There are more red grapes among these new varieties.

White varietals include:

  • Johanitter
  • Muscaris
  • Solaris
  • Souvigner Gris

Red varietals include:

  • Regent
  • Cabernet Cortis
  • Rondo

I have never had the opportunity to try wine from The Netherlands but I am hopeful that I will have that chance when I visit there later this year.  Unfortunately, these wines do not seem to be available in any of the wine or liquor store that I have access to.  Hopefully one day …

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The Serious Whisky/Whiskey Drinkers

Whisky and whiskey sales are booming as these beverages have steadily been increasing in popularity since the 1990s.  Both the quality and variety of products and styles have peaked consumer interest and demand.

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This increase in popularity made me think, and ask the question, “Who are the largest consumers of whisky/whiskey?”  Well, the answer will change depending on whether you are talking about consumption per capita, volume or market share.  The latter two categories are related to a nation’s overall population size and are rather predictable.  Therefore, I decided to investigate consumption per person on an annual basis.

The information presented is based on statistical information completed by Euromonitor, an international market research and analysis company, together with Quartz, a global business news organization.  The information is presented in litres consumed per inhabitant per year.

  1. France – 2.15 litres per person
  2. Uruguay – 1.77 litres per person
  3. United States – 1.41 litres per person
  4. Australia – 1.3 litres per person
  5. Spain – 1.29 litres per person
  6. United Arab Emirates – 1.27 litres per person
  7. United Kingdom – 1.25 litres per person
  8. Ireland – 1.24 litres per person
  9. India – 1.24 litres per person
  10. Canada – 1.19 litres per person

I found some of the results surprising, such as France as number 1. I always considered the French only as great wine enthusiasts. On the other hand, based on reputation, I would have thought Ireland to have been ranked much higher.  Who knew?

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The Aromas of Wine

The aromas of wine, which are also referred to as the nose or bouquet, range from simple to very complex, depending on the wine.  The best way to release the aromas is to swirl the liquid around the bowl of the glass.  This will expose the liquid to the air, thus releasing all of the smells.

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When you go to smell the wine don’t be bashful; stick your nose as far as you can into the glass and close your eyes. You will notice a lot more scents this way.  Then breathe in deep. As you do, think about what aromas you’re picking up.

If it’s a white wine, you may be reminded of bananas, lemon rind or pineapple. If it’s a red wine, you may smell prunes, cherries, strawberries, peppers, plums or tobacco. Sometimes you may just smell grapes. Your brain will only pick up scents that you are familiar with and have smelled before. Thus, you and I could smell the same wine at the same time and relate a totally different experience.  The aroma is in the brain of the beholder.

When identifying the aromas, the experts will consider them at three levels referred to as primary, secondary and tertiary.  Primary aromas come from the grapes or are created during the fermentation process. A simple wine may show a very limited number of primary aromas whereas a more complex wine may display many more primary aromas.

White wines will display fruity aromas such as lemon, lime, grapefruit, apricot, peach or plum.  Red wines tend to present smells of strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant or cherry.  There may also be floral, herbaceous scents in both white and red wines.

The secondary aromas in wine are created by the post-fermentation process. The most obvious of these are extracted from the oak that the wine barrels are made of.  Oak is often used when making wines such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.  The oak can create hints of vanilla, cloves, coconut, cedar, chocolate, coffee or smoke.  Non-oak aromas may include cream, butter, cheese, toasted bread or biscuits.

Tertiary aromas occur as the wine ages in the bottle.  Only older mature wines will display these characteristics.  White wines may have aromas of orange marmalade, ginger, nutmeg, honey and stone fruits, such as peaches or plums.  Red wines may show hints of dried fruit, leather, mushroom, meat, tobacco or caramel.

There you have it; the aromas in wine are created at three different levels but how you interpret them will be as unique as you.

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