Wine Guide - About The Reds & Whites

An Historical Perspective on the wine to drink, enjoy and share with friends

Welcome to the Wine Guide, with information all about wine. Galileo said that wine is sunlight, held together by water. Wine is the alcoholic beverage most often made from fermented grapes, enjoyed in earnest by nations around the world. Sharing a glass of wine with friends is one of the most satisfying of all drinking rituals. The study of wine and the thoughtful enjoyment of wine is for many an enjoyable and rewarding hobby.

A Quick History of Wine

Wine is a historical beverage, well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Greek god Dionysus and the Roman god Bacchus were the gods of wine. Wine is mentioned in the Bible and is used in religious services by Jewish and many Christian religions. Did you know that the use of wine is forbidden by Islam? Wine was probably discovered by accident when grapes fermented naturally on the vine or in storage. 

Wine Can be Made from Many Crops 

The overwhelming preference throughout history and around the world is for grape wine. But wine can also be made from other vegetables and fruit, like Aunt Milly's elderberry wine, or Grandma's dandelion wine. Although other fruits such as apples and berries can also be fermented, their wine is known as fruit wine or country wine. Barley wine and rice wine, also called sake, are more like beer than wine because of the starches in barley and rice. In many countries and many languages, the word "wine" refers by law to the wine of the grape. 

A Wine Expert is Called an Oenolgoist 

Oenology is the science of wine making. An expert in the area of wine making and oenology is called an oenologist, someone who is passionate about wine as a hobby or a career. Their passion for wine goes beyond that of a typical wine enthusiast. 

How to Describe a Wine 

We use these five basic characteristics to describe a wine: Where were the grapes grown? What variety of grape was used? What is its vintage, that is, the year of the harvest? Is the wine a varietal or a blend? A varietal wine is made almost entirely from one variety of grape, rather than blended from several grapes. Next we ask: Is it a red wine or a white wine? The color of the wine does not come from the color of the grapes. Red wine gets its red color because red grape skins are mixed with the juice during fermentation. No grape skins are added to white wine. Now with these properties, you know how to describe a wine. 

What Kinds of Grapes are Used for Wine 

You won't find wine grapes sold in the supermarket. The grapes that make the best wine taste tart and bitter on the vine. The most popular varieties of wine grapes give their name to the famous wines people enjoy. Famous red wine grapes are the varieties of grapes called Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah (also known as Shiraz), Zinfandel and Gamay. The best known of the white wine grapes are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chenin Blanc. These are the dominant varieties of grapes, which make the best wines in the world. They are traditionally called noble grapes. You've probably never heard of the Trebbiano grape, because it has many other names, but it is the most widely planted grape in the world. 

Chardonnay is a reliable and resilient grape that grows in climates as different as Canada, England, Texas and Portugal, but it is difficult to grow. It produces wine with a distinct spicy, aromatic taste to complement highly flavored foods.

Muscat, both the black and the white grapes, are used to make a variety of wines. Muscat is possibly the original domesticated grape variety from which all others have descended. Muscat has a distinct musky taste.

Pinot Noir is a white grape used in making red wine. It is the most important grape for German wines. The wine can be drunk young but improves with age. Pinot Noir is also blended to make champagne and other sparkling wines.

Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape with a grassy flavor reminiscent of green fruits, especially gooseberries. It is the only grape used to make Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. Along with Semillon, it is used to make Graves and Sauternes.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a red grape with a strong character and the taste of black currants. One of the most widely planted grape varieties, it is blended to make red Bordeaux and much California red wine. It must be aged before it can be drunk. Cabernet Franc is a red grape grown mostly in France, similar to but lighter than the Cabernet Sauvignon. It is blended to make red Bordeaux.

Gamay is the popular red grape used to make the light, fragrant red wine Beaujolais. It is also used in wines for Switzerland.

Merlot is a plump and plummy black grape. Merlot is the basis of the red wines Pomerol and St.-Emilion. It can also be used in Bordeaux.

Pinot Noir is a spectacular red grape that yields red burgundy wine. Although its taste varies considerably and unpredictably, it is fruity, light in body, and low in tannins.

Syrah is a red grape with a strong,full-bodied, smoky taste. It is used to make the Rhone wines. In Australia and South Africa it is know as Shiraz. Cote Rotie and Hermitage. It is also blended with other grapes because of its strong, smoky taste.

Tempranillo is the premier red grape of Spain. It is used to make Riuja and other Spanish reds.

Zinfandel is a European red grape that is widely grown in California. With its adaptable and fruity taste, it is used to make reds and pale roses. Modern DNA techniques have identified the Zinfandel grape to be the same as the Primitivo grape of Italy.

Making good wine is a skill; making fine wine is an art. --- Robert Mondavi

How is Wine Made 

Many people daydream of starting their own vineyard and bottling their own wine. A lot of knowledge, hard work and good luck are involved in bringing a bottle of wine to market. The vintner chooses a variety of grape plants based on how well the grape grows in the area. The success of a vineyard also depends on the climate, the rainfall, fertilizers and the soil itself to grow the perfect grapes. That's why the best wines come from certain famous regions of the world. The grape gives the wine its flavor. Each variety of grape brings a unique flavor to the wine. Grapes naturally ferment without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes or other nutrients.

In olden times, grapes were picked by hand and pressed by walking barefoot on them. Today, at the peak of flavor, grapes are harvested by machine, removed from the stems and pressed mechanically to extract the juices. After yeast is added to the grape juice, it is allowed to ferment in barrels made of either wood or stainless steel. The yeast feeds on the grape sugars and produces the alcohol in the wine. Fermentation continues until all the grape sugar has vanished. The flavor of the wine depends on the type of yeast, the aging period, the barrels used, and how much yeast is removed from the finished wine. Red wines are aged longer than white wines. When the wine is ready to drink, it is drained from the barrel and bottled.

What Is the Alcoholic Content of Wine 

The alcoholic content of red, white and sparkling wines is about 10%-14%.

Wine Glasses and Decanters 

Wine aficionados follow rituals when serving wine to guests. The first rule of serving wine is that red and white wines usually have different glasses. The glass for red wine is wider to allow the wine to breath, or aerate, while the flavors and aromas are released. Before serving a bottle of red wine, it is recommended to decant it first. Decanting separates the lees or dregs, the dead yeast cells, from the wine. White wines are different and usually don’t require decanting.

Which Wines Goes with Which Food - Beef, Chicken, and Fish 

Popular belief has it that white wines complement fish, cheese and chicken, while red wines are best served with beef and pork. White wines accompany the first courses in a meal, red wines the main or later courses. Champagne and sweet white wines can be served with dessert. The Larousse Encyclopedia of Wine says, "White wine before red, young before old, light before heavy, dry before sweet, minor before fine or rare." These days when we entertain at home, where the host is also the cook, the butler and the scullery maid, we are more relaxed about wine rules, and convenience is also our guide.

How is Champagne Made

Champagne is a sparkling wine often used at celebrations and festivities. After it is bottled, it goes through a second fermentation which creates carbonation and the characteristic sparkly bubbles. By French law, champagne must be produced within the Champagne region of France. To make champagne, Chardonnay is blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. When Chardonnay grapes are used exclusively, champagne is called blancs de blancs.

What Is Sherry Wine

Sherry is a fortified wine, with brandy added after fermentation is complete. Sherry is a protected label to designate the wine made from white grapes grown near the town of Jerez, Spain. Not as popular as it used to be, sherry makes a fine drink before dinner and is thought to complement smoking. Because the fortification takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, any sweetness being added later.

What Is Port Wine

Port wine is fortified wine from Portugal. It is typically sweet and often served as a dessert wine. During fermentation, Port is fortified with brandy to boost the alcohol content. Port is sweet because not all the grape sugar is turned into alcohol. 

What Is Ice Wine

Ice Wine is made from grapes that are frozen on the vine, then crushed in their frozen state. Many varieties of grapes, including Riesling and Gewurztraminer, are used for ice wine. Ice wine is ideal for a dessert wine, with its syrupy, fruity sweetness balanced by high acidity and a clean crisp taste. The label will say "Ice Wine" or in German "Eiswein."

What Is Sauterne Wine

Sauterne is a French dessert wine from the Sauternais region of France, but the name is deliberately mispelled. Sauterne can be white or pink, dry or sweet. Sauterne is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by a fungus Botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot. The fungus causes the grapes to become like raisins, which makes a distinctively flavored wine with concentrated sweetness.

Wine Corks, Caps and Boxes

Recently, there have been changes in packaging wine. Traditionally, most wines are sold in glass bottles and sealed with a cork. The wine bottle is opened with a corkscrew, a metal spiral attached to a wooden handle, rather like a drill bit. After twisting the corkscrew into the cork, strength is required to slowly extract the cork. Today many wine bottles come with an easy-to-use metal twist cap, or else synthetic plastic "corks." It's also possible to purchase "box wine", wine in a plastic bag inside cardboard box with a tap on the side to dispense the wine. However, the better wines are still bottled, rather than boxed. Wine in a box actually stays fresh longer, while bottled wine will oxidize after opening and is drinkable for only a few days.

How Should You Store Wine

Most wines, both red and white, should be stored at fifty or fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit, 13 degrees Centigrade. This helps preserve the wine so that it can continue the aging process in the bottle. Wine is a natural, perishable food product. Heat will destroy any wine. All types of wine will spoil when exposed to heat, light, vibration or variations in temperature and humidity. When good wines go bad, they turn to vinegar and ethyl acetate. Stored in an unheated basement, wine can kept at the ideal temperature. You can also buy a small wine refrigerator or you can build a wine cellar for your bottles.