What Wine is Best for Me?

I sometimes hear that although someone prefers red wine over white wine, they have to drink white wine because red wine causes them grief, usually in the way of heartburn or headaches.  Don’t give up hope quite yet; there are some potential remedies that may allow you to enjoy red wine again.

 For anyone suffering from heartburn after drinking red wine, quite often it is the tannin that is the culprit.  Therefore, I suggest trying younger, fresher wines, such as Baco Noir and Pinot Noir and stay away from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah/Shiraz.   The young fresh wines will contain less tannin.

Another good way to determine how much tannin is in a red wine is to look and see how long the wine can be kept for.  In the Vintages section of your local LCBO this is identified by the wine bottle icon found on the description card attached to the display shelf.  The bottle will either be vertical, on a slant, or horizontal.   Wines with higher contents of tannin are ones that can be retained for at least several years.  Those will be the ones with the horizontal or slanted bottle icon.

This being said, the reds with the slanted bottle icon should not be automatically rejected.  Those that have been released within a couple of years of being produced  and recommended for consumption within the next couple of years, will have considerably less tannin than those that can be cellared  for a number of years.  It will require experimentation to determine how much tannin your stomach will comfortably tolerate.

I also suggest avoiding red wines from warmer climates, such as Australia and South America.  These wines tend to be bolder and stronger in flavour than wines from countries such as Canada or France.  Wines from warmer climates tend to have longer growing seasons, thus intensifying the wine which can result in a higher degree of tummy agitation.

If red wine gives you headaches tannin again can be the instigator.  Tannin consists of plant chemicals that contain antioxidants that can generate neurotransmitter serotonin.  This in turn can cause headaches in some people.  Selecting a red wine that contains lower amounts of tannin may be of great benefit.

However, tannin is not the only cause of headaches.  Some individuals lack the ability to breakdown the high level of histamine that is contained within the red grape skins.  The result is a type of allergic reaction that comes in the form of a headache.  The recommended solution for this is to take an antihistamine before consuming your favourite red.

Finally, a local potter once told me that a pottery wine challis that is unglazed inside will neutralize the tannin thus making the wine easier on both the stomach and the head.  It may be worth the investment to see if it works for you.  The worst case would be you have a new fancy wine vessel taking space in your cupboard that can be repurposed.

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Tasting Wine

Of course when you drink a glass of wine you indeed taste it as you drink it.  It isn’t chugged like a beer might be or downed in a single gulp like you would if you were doing shots, or at least I hope not.

There are, however, different types of tasting.  There is tasting, as you would when you sit at the dinner table enjoying a glass a wine with a meal. And there is the other type of tasting, the one you do if you go to a winery or attend an event hosted by a sommelier, vintner, or other wine expert. 

This second type of tasting is more of an event than simply the enjoyment of a glass of wine.  Such wine tasting events take place for a variety of reasons, but the process is generally the same.  Perhaps you are visiting a winery and want to know which, if any, of their wines suit your palate.  In other situations you may be comparing and matching certain wines to various types of food.  That is how I acquired a passion for blue cheese, much to my wife’s chagrin, but that is a story for another day.  Another purpose of formal wine tastings is to learn how the various types of wines (grapes) relate to each other, whether it is dryer, sweeter, robust, etc.

In any event, the process for tasting wines in these situations is the same.  In order to truly judge the character of the wine to determine if it is to your liking, it requires the use of a few of your senses – your eyes, then your nose, and finally your taste buds.

The first thing to do once you are given the glass of wine is to hold it to the light to see how transparent or opaque it is.  Generally speaking, the more transparent a wine, the lighter the taste.  Although I have never tried it, it is said that you can read a book through a glass of Pinot Noir, where the same could not be said for a glass of Shiraz.  But I ask, why risk spilling the wine?

Second, you can determine the relative amount of alcohol in the wine by tilting the wine glass toward its side and then straightening it back up to see if there are “legs”, which are streams of liquid lingering along the side of the glass that was tipped.  The longer the legs, the higher the alcohol content.  The higher the alcohol content in the wine, the stronger the flavour.

The next thing you should do is swirl the wine in the bowl of the glass and sniff it to see whether there is an aroma or bouquet, and if there is, whether it is appealing to you.  Wine reviewers will describe what they smell, whether it be apples, pears, grass, etc. in white wine or hints of leather, turf, cocoa, etc. in red wines.  You may or may not smell any of these things; what is important is determining whether it is an aroma that is pleasing to you.

Finally, it is time to taste the wine.  It is best to close your eyes so as not to be distracted by the sights of what is going on around you.  When you taste the wine, let it linger in your mouth, being sure to completely taste before swallowing or spitting it out into the spittoon that will have been provided specifically for that purpose.  Spitting out the wine during a formal tasting is not being disrespectful.  If you are going to be tasting a number of wines, many people prefer not to ingest that much wine, especially if there are a number of varieties being sampled.

When tasting the wine you may find that there are recognizable flavours similar to what is found in the wine’s aroma, such as green apple or pear in some white wines, or cocoa or coffee, for example, in red wine.  Some wine experts will go so far as to say that red wines may have a hint of leather or an earthiness in their flavour, though having personally not chomped on a piece of leather or dirt, I am not sure how they can come to that particular conclusion.

Wine tastings are something that you can experiment with and conduct them with your friends and fellow wine enthusiasts in the comfort of your own home.  It is a fun way to learn about wines and experiment with wines you haven’t tried before.  There are all kinds of different things you can do and try.


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