Choosing wine can be a scary experience. If you are choosing it in a supermarket aisle you have some time but at a restaurant in front of your boss? Many people claim to have an excellent working knowledge of what wine goes with what, even though in reality the people on your table probably haven’t got a clue as well.
In this article we are going to take a look at what you should look for when choosing a wine, from acidity to alcohol content to what temperature they should have been kept at.
History of wine
Wine was probably produced around 8000 years ago in places like Georgia, meaning that it is a drink that has literally been consumed for millennia. European production started around 6500 years ago in Greece and slightly later in China. Much of the European vineyards (Grape plantations) were established in the Roman era and they have a very high demand for wine. The drink was consumed in large quantities in both the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, especially during the Roman Empire.
When the Roman Empire broke down, the massive wine production system also broke. The shining light was the Catholic Church who mandated the use of wine in its ceremonies. This alone kept the European wine production at steady levels until the 1400’s when wine began to become popular again. Today the average French person consumer over eight liters of wine derived alcohol. Assuming they drank medium bodied wine that means they drink 80-100 litres of wine per year. The French are world renowned for their wine, and continue to be its biggest consumer.
Reading the wine list
Reading the wine list can be scary, and the basic information on wine is listed below. However there are several things you can do to make your wine reading experience easier. The first is to choose shorter sections, like ones from the “New World”. If you have consumed a wine before, point that one out and then ask the table for other recommendations if you can. If you are in a high-end restaurant, most of the wines should be of good quality but if you are at a mid-low end destination you need to be wary of posh sounding wines. They are probably there to sound posh, cost a lot of money to you but not a lot to the owner.
Types of wine
Most people know that wine falls into two categories, White and Red. All wine comes from grapes and the basic difference between Red and White wine is that Red wine includes the skins, stems, and seeds of black or red grapes. White is made from the clear juices, without any of the other stuff, and white wines tend to be sweeter and clearer. Red wines are heavier and stronger on the pallet.
All wines have a certain pH, virtually all of them are acidic. A low acidity produces a more gentle taste whilst a higher acidity makes the wine taste sharper and more like a sour sweet. Acidity contributes a lot to wines flavor and influences comments like refreshing, sharp, and crisp.
The alcohol content in wine affects the impact on your taste buds, as well as your head the morning after. Wine varies from light to medium to full bodied. Full bodied is a high alcohol concentration and light is low, look at the wine-buff dictionary below if you want to see the exact percentages.
This is the year the wine was produced – is it regarded as being a good one. It is all down to the weather – sunshine, rain and other factors affect the sugar content of the grapes that affects the wine. My research tells me 1990 was a good wine year for most wine, so you probably can’t go too far wrong with that year.
The tannins found in wines are one of the most important constituent parts of a wine. Tannins come from the skins, pips, stalks and other bits of the grapes and are what become more subtle when wine ages.
A dictionary of what you can say to sound like a wine-buff
Don’t take this section too seriously, but these are the things I have picked up during my research.
- Champagne: Sparking wine ONLY produced in the Champagne region of France
- Acidity related: Sharp, crisp, refreshing, fruity
- Alcohol content: Full bodied (12.5% plus), Medium (10-12.5%), Light (10% and under).
- Vintage: Good sunshine and rain just before the grapes are harvested boost the sugar content, normally results in a “vintage” year as it tastes better.
- Tannins content: Good length (how long you can taste the wine for)
Oh no, they are handing a part filled glass to me
If you get a partially filled glass of wine, the waiter is probably asking for you to check the wine. Many people believe this is to check you like the wine, but in fact you are checking the wine hasn’t been corked. Corked means that the cork which seals the liquid from the air (protecting it from becoming expensive vinegar) has broken down allowing air into the bottle. If you get given a red wine and it tastes vinegary, you may want to ask the waiter. A good restaurant will check the bottle and store them correctly to prevent this happening but not every single one will.
Where to buy wine
Often you will be ordering your wine from the restaurants menu, and if you will never buy wine apart from these times jump to the conclusion below, if not then read on. You want to know your wine has been cared for. You don’t want bottles being exposed to sunlight, very cold or hot conditions and that they are checked for corking and that they aren’t rebottled.
I hope you find my list on how to choose wine useful. I am only beginning to learn about how to choose the right wine and so feel free to leave a comment below about how you choose your wine: Do you always have Red wine with steak? Prefer your wine chilled? Do you aerate your wine?