Wine is considered a sophisticated beverage. It has a long history, can be stored for generations, and creates an element of warmth to a meal or dining experience.
Many of us prefer to drink beers or even cocktails, especially when we are out on the town. Although these are all alcoholic beverages, wine doesn’t feel like a “night out” kind of drink. Ordering one at a club seems out of place.
So what makes wine special? The answer is in the flavor. Wine isn’t a drink you knock back and wait for the effects to hit you, it’s a glass you enjoy. From the scent to the taste, from the texture to the depth.
To help you understand wine at its core, we will explain what it is, the differences to expect, and the terms often used to describe it.
Before we get started, we want to say a warm hello to the readers of palumbofamilyvineyards.com. We recently acquired the website and cannot wait to welcome more oenophile’s into our growing family.
How Is Wine Made?
Across the world, there are thousands of grape varieties. It’s these differences that help create the large distinction between one winemaker and another.
Grapes are the main ingredient in every bottle of wine, however, the additional ingredients, fermentation process, and harvesting times can also affect the flavors.
No matter which type of wine you end up buying, they all go through this process.
In small vineyards, many workers still pick the grapes by hand, but most factory-level vineyards use machines to mechanically harvest their crops.
Picking the right time to harvest the grapes is important. The timing can dramatically change the sugar levels, color, and tartness.
Winemakers know that red grapes start off as green. When they change from green to yellow and then to red, they know that the grape is ready to be picked. For white grapes, the change starts as translucent and then moves to the classic pale green.
This is one indicator that the tartness is at the preferred intensity. The second indicator is the grapes’ smoothness and plumpness. With a gentle tug, the berry should fall from the cluster without issue.
From a harvest, the winemakers will sample a couple of grapes. They are looking for a specific taste – a sweetness without bitterness. They will also be judging the acidity. If the grape is already high in acid, the end product of the wine will be overly tart.
When the winemakers are happy, harvesting can begin.
Before the pressing process can begin, all stems and leaves need to be removed. Once that happens, the grapes will be transported to a crushing station. The crush aims to extract the grape juices.
In white wine, the skins need to be removed too, while in red wines the skin remains in the containers. To keep the skins attached, the pressing process is often lighter, as this will avoid bruising the skins while still extracting the juice.
The inclusion of skin in the red wine creation helps the beverage maintain a rich red color.
In the fermentation process, all of the liquids harvested are put into airtight containers with yeast and the other ingredients used to create the desired flavors.
In red wine production, carbon dioxide is also added to make sure that the grape skins rise to the surface instead of sinking to the bottom. However, the skins still need to be in contact with the liquid.
To make sure the skins are moving around and create the desired colors, the pushdown technique is often used. This is when winemakers use a stick with a flat bottom to push down the skins. They do this 3 times a day to ensure the color is correct.
White wine doesn’t need this level of interaction, instead, it can be left alone to ferment.
They are left in their containers for 2 or 3 weeks, as the yeast eats the sugar and creates alcohol. The longer it stays in the containers, the less sweet the wine is.
Once fermentation has been completed, the wine is moved into a new container. These are either steel or oak barrels. The use of barrels can add additional flavors such as a woody or smokey accent.
However, some winemakers will use old whiskey barrels to include background flavors of previous producers.
The longer the wine sits in these barrels, the more intense the flavors will be. Some will sit for months, others for years. Long-aged wines are often the most expensive due to their potent flavors.
Lastly, the wine is bottled and ready for redistribution. Red wine is often put into green bottles, and white into clear. The green bottles are designed to prevent the sunlight from running the red colors.
As white is already clear, it doesn’t need to worry about this type of degradation.
Why Have We Told You This?
All of this information wasn’t to teach you how to make your own wine, nor was it simply a fun fact. Knowing how wine is made can help you understand why some producers put emphasis on certain aspects of their creation.
Mentioning using oak barrels, means you can expect a woody undertone. A long time in the aging process means a strong flavor, and a short harvesting time means a tart or bitter flavor.
With this background information, you can start to picture what a bottle of wine might taste like, without taking a sip.
The Difference Between Red, White, And Rosé
So now you know how each wine is different, we want to explain what the three main types of wine are – red, white, and rosé.
Technically you can also have sparkling wine such as Champagne. The main difference between sparkling wine and non-sparkling is its texture. The taste and dryness, however, are a little more complicated.
Ignoring the obvious color difference between the three types of wine (red, white, and pink), one of the main differences between these drinks is the amount of tannin.
Tannin is a natural ingredient found in grapes. You can also find it in fruits and even plants. Tea is a great example. The tannin is what makes the drink or fruit bitter – creating a dry mouth and the feeling of puckering.
The more grape skins in the fermentation process, the more tannin it will contain. As you already know, red wine is made using grape skins. This means that red wine is more bitter than white.
Red wines are normally stored in barrels instead of steel containers. This means they tend to have an earthy or leathery flavor.
White wine is more likely to be stored in a stainless steel barrel. The metal prevents the wine from developing an earthy depth. Instead, you can expect something fresh and delicate.
The lack of skin also means the white wine is less likely to be dry or bitter. Of course, there are some brands that offer a dry white wine, but unlike red wine, they have to announce that it’s dry to let their customers know that it is specially made.
This lack of bitter flavor and a distinct freshness allows winemakers to use delicate tastes. It isn’t uncommon to find ingredients such as vanilla, spices, caramel, or even pineapple listed in the flavors.
Depending on the climate that the grapes were grown in, you could expect tropical flavors such as guava and passion fruit in the mixture. Those flavors are often found in warmer climates.
Grapes grown in cool climates tend to include oranges, lemons, and limes. Depending on how many ingredients are added to the beverage you can expect additional bitterness from the citrus fruits.
This is why citrus wines are more likely to be labeled “dry”.
Rosé is made from red grapes, just like red wine. However, the skins are removed in the pressing process. This lack of skin means the tannin levels are lower, creating a less dry experience. The color is also lessened, which is why the beverage comes out pinkish.
Another layer of change is in the pressing time. For red wine, the pressing process takes a while, as the winemakers don’t want to bruise the skin. In rosé, the skin has been removed, which means the crushing machines can work faster.
This quicker timescale is another reason for the lack of depth in a bottle of rosé wine.
Because rosé is not as dry and is not as strong, winemakers have a lot more choice in their flavor combinations. They could make the wine light like white wine, or rich like red.
Common flavor combinations are strawberry, raspberry, and cherry for a richer flavor palette, or pineapple, orange, and tropical fruits for a lighter refreshing palette.
Rosé bridges the gap between dry and light, depth and refreshing.
Sparkling wine can be made out of red, white, or rosé. It’s made by adding small amounts of sugar and yeast into the container during the bottling process.
This additional bubble creates a layer of texturing missed in flat wine. It also adds an extra layer of acidity to the overall flavor. To balance out the acidity more sugar is often included in the recipe. This makes sparkling wine both sweet and bitter.
There is a 5th wine type which we haven’t mentioned. This lesser-known wine is called the dessert wine (and it shouldn’t be confused with the dessert shot). Also known as pudding wine, these beverages are extremely sweet and fortified.
Fortified means that brandy or whiskey has been added to the fermentation process. The most common dessert wines are fino and sherry.
They get their name from the time in which you are meant to drink them – with your dessert. Very few people drink dessert wines now, as winemakers no longer need to fortify their beverages to keep them long-lasting.
Instead, you can choose less strong wines which also match your main meal.
The Terms Used To Describe Wine, And What They Mean
In the world of wine, there are a number of terms used to describe the beverage. However many of them aren’t explained, as they assume you understand the world of winemaking already.
We have done our best to avoid using jargon, and explain it when we can, but still, we may have fallen into this trap too.
To help explain the common terminology, we will show you the terms you can expect and explain them in easy-to-understand details.
To help break down the dictionary, we have put all of the terms in alphabetical order and separated them into groups of flavor, impact and texture.
Use this list to help understand what the wine will be like before you buy it.
This word is used often in the wine world. It describes the tarty taste you can expect. Imagine eating a lemon or lime. That intense sour flavor is due to the high acidity levels in the citrus fruit.
Red wine is more likely to be acidic than white. The higher the acidity level the stronger the tartness.
A wine described as “bright” means it has a high acidity level. It will likely make your mouth water after just a sip.
As you may expect, a wine described to contain charcoal flavors will have a rustic flavor. Smokey and dry. This description comes with a texture expectation too – grit.
- Cigar Box
Cigar Box flavors are highly sought after. They tend to be both sweet and woody, with a smoky finish.
An earthy wine will taste herbal. You can often expect an earthy flavor as an undertone or finish to a glass of red wine.
When a wine is described as oaked its meaning is different depending on what type of wine it’s referring to. In white wine, it suggests a vanilla depth with an added butteriness. In red wine, it suggests a spicy edge to an earthy flavor.
In both cases, the oaked flavoring will come from the barrel it was aged in.
Angular wine hits your taste buds at an angle. You will taste the impact on a specific area of your tongue for an unusual physical sensation.
Angular wines tend to be very acidic.
Wine that is described as “big” refers to the amount of impact the wine has on your senses. It will ignite all of the taste buds in your mouth for an overwhelming reaction.
This could mean that the flavors are intense, or it could mean that there is a lot of acidity in the bottle. Either way, expect an explosive reaction.
A complex wine doesn’t relate to a specific flavor. Instead, it discusses the change in flavors from the moment it touches your lips to the moment you swallow it.
Many companies will call their wine complex, but will not explain the journey of flavor. This often means it’s not a detailed wine. If the winemakers give a journey, you can expect to taste it at the correct impactful moments.
Body is a common descriptive term in wine. It refers to the richness of the beverage along with its weight. This richness and weight are often determined by the alcohol level. A “full body” wine means it is heavy, very rich, and rather alcoholic.
A “mild body” wine, however, is thin, smooth, and has a low alcohol level.
A buttery wine will have a creamy texture and a smooth finish. It is normally created by aging in an oak barrel and is often low in acidity but rich.
Sometimes “creamy” is used instead of “buttery”, but both mean the same thing.
Cassis is a type of dark fruit also known as black currants. When used to describe wine, saying a wine holds cassis flavors, means more than a deep taste. It also means a gritty or seedy texture.
A crisp wine means that the texture will feel clean and clear. The scents are likely refreshing and the drink overall is subtle in flavor. White wines are often described as crisp.
Wine Brands You Should Try
Now you have the background knowledge you need, you can start picking out a wine for your collection.
A great brand to help you down the sparkling wine route is Veuve Clicquot. This 250-year-old winery company creates champagne.
They have a number of bottles for you to choose from. Our favorites are the Champagne Rose, the Demi-Sec Champagne, and the Brut Yellow Label.
The Champagne Rose is a particularly loved smokey wine due to its full-bodied yet light intensity. Due to its popularity, the company created a bottle of Luminous champagne covering as a special limited edition collection.
The Demi-Sec got its name from the French language. It means “half dry” as a direct label for the type of texture you can expect. When it arrives at your door, you can expect a 3-year aged wine for a silky and fruit flavor.
It pairs well with blue cheese, panettone, and vanilla.
The Brut Yellow Label is the brand’s original bottle. It is re-created every year to ensure the legacy of the wineries continues. You can expect a bright personality that pairs well with seafood, pasta, and parmesan.
The Reserve Cuvee is the last Veuve Clicquot we want to mention. It is only aged for 12 months, which is a long time for lesser brands, but not for Veuve Clicquot.
This makes it slightly cheaper, but you can expect fine bubbles, a slightly honeyed scent, and a woody flavor.
When it comes to red wine, you cannot get anything better than a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. The winemakers Caymus are very expensive, but every drop of wine they create is worth the money.
Caymus makes two Sauvignons for you to try, the 2017 Special Selection, and the 2020 Cabernet. Although they also sell three other Sauvignons, two of them are white and the last one is not the best that they have to offer.
Instead, you could focus on the 2017 and the 2020. The 2017 was honored with the Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year award twice due to its full-bodied flavors. It is the most expensive in the collection, but worth it.
The 2020 is much cheaper and gives you a complex flavor of ripe berries, cassis, and cocoa.
Popping open either of these as your main red wine would be the perfect start to your evening.
Our favorite white wines aren’t as high class as the red. You don’t have to buy something expensive to taste something delicious.
In our number one spot, you can find the Care For Wild version of a Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. It is a very cheap wine with a fruity flavor and mineral undertones. It has a refreshing acidity with a smooth finish.
This wine goes well with seafood and salads.
In second place, we suggest the Black Cottage Earth Services and their version of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – specifically the 2022 addition.
This white wine is fresh and zesty with citrus notes and an earthy finish. It pairs particularly well with Asian food and poultry.
And in third place, we suggest Espiritu de Chile’s version of Chardonnay. This well-balanced wine is both refreshing and creamy, with fruity and vanilla flavors. It pairs well with fish and or light cheese
When it comes to rosé the best option to give at your dinner party is Miraval, Côtes de Provence. Although it is a reasonably priced bottle, it is highly recommended as a high-class option.
You can expect the scent of strawberries and rhubarb with the flavor of peach. It is a dry and medium-bodied rosé created in France.
If you prefer a Pinot Noir grape, then we suggest opening a Calvet Sancerre rosé. It is an elegant wine for a reasonable price which tastes of red fruits framed by a refreshing citrusy flavor. It pairs well with light starters and is a beverage for heavier meals.
Lastly, we want to suggest a bottle from the Botham and Balfour range. Their Hush Heath Estate English Rosé is the perfect summertime beverage. It has a silky smooth texture with fruit scents and balanced acidity.
You will be able to smell the complex mixture of citrus fruits and orchard flowers while tasting the refreshing flavors of lime and apple.
How To Serve Wine
You could serve your wine in whatever glass you own, but if you really want to experience the flavors and texture as they were meant to be experienced, then follow our advice below.
The type of glass you use to serve your wine determines how quickly it reaches room temperature and how much oxygen can reach it.
We will talk about temperature in more detail later, but the rule of thumb is this – white wine in the refrigerator, red wine in the cupboard.
Red wine tastes its best when the rich flavors are allowed to interact with each other without added textures. Cold liquids change the textures of the liquid, which is why this needs to be avoided in red wines.
To help curb this change, you need to use a Burgundy glass. These are wide at the bottom and wide at the top.
The more full-bodied it is, the wider you want the top to be. This will allow the rich scents to escape the glass and become part of your aromatic experience.
For white wines, you need a thinner glass, such as a flute. Because white wines have a delicate flavor, you want small drops to land on your tongue delivering the flavors directly to your receptors.
Because the white wine needs to be served chilled, this shape also allows the drink to stay cooler for longer.
Just like the glasses, the temperature of your wine is determined by the type you have. Each wine type will taste better in different conditions.
For sparkling wine and light-bodied white wines, you want to keep the temperature between 38 degrees Fahrenheit and 45 (3 and 7 degrees Celsius).
For full-bodied white wines and rosé, the best temperature is between 45 degrees Fahrenheit and 55 (7 and 13 degrees Celsius).
To get the temperatures exact, you can buy built-in wine coolers, dual-zone wine coolers, or single-bottle wine chillers.
The single-bottle wine chillers are great for events that only require one bottle, but if you want to stock up a large collection of wine then a cooler might be preferred.
You can get stand-alone or built-in coolers, but we suggest buying a dual zone either way. Dual zones allow you to create one temperature in one compartment and another in the second.
This way you can store both sparkling wine and full-bodied whites without worry.
You could argue that using a simple fridge will do the trick, but fridges have a standardized temperature setting. Wine coolers can be changed to fit your collection.
Back to the temperature gauge, red wines need a warmer environment. For light-bodied reds, you could place them in a room of 55 degrees Fahrenheit to 60 (13 to 15 degrees Celsius).
While full-bodied reds should be kept at room temperature or 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 68 (15 to 20 degrees Celsius).
If your red wine becomes too cold, you will lose the rich flavors. If your white wine becomes too warm, you will lose the refreshing and slightly acidic taste.
A decanter is simply a container to place your wine into. They are often made of glass and have a large flat bottom and a thin neck. This design allows oxygen to mix with the beverage while keeping the scent in the container.
Many wine connoisseurs use both a decanter and an aerator. The decanter is best for older wines as it helps keep the flavors intact once opened. While the aerator is preferred for full-bodied reds.
The aerator is designed to allow your wine to interact with oxygen faster. This helps it become fully realized and removes some of the overly sharp bitterness created by tannins.
Many people ignore this stage when serving a white wine, but include it when serving red – especially full-bodied red.
You can simply open the bottle and leave it for a couple of minutes before serving, but to speed up the process an aeration device should be used.
The Technical Way To Drink Wine
If you want to drink wine as it is, without a care in the world, that is perfectly fine. However, if you truly want to experience wine in full, there is a well-known method to take in every element it offers.
Once you have picked your beverage and served it at the correct temperature, you can start the drinking process.
Swirl The Wine
In the correct glass, the wine should only be poured to the middle of the container at most. This is so you can move the liquid without spilling it. Swirl the wine in the glass to create a large surface area.
In this motion, you will be forcing the scent of the wine out into the air.
Take In The Scent
Once swirled, you can take in the aromas the wine brings. Ideally, you should hold the stem, to avoid warming the wine.
After a couple of sniffs, you should swirl the wine again, allowing you to take in multiple experiences with the beautiful scents under your nose.
Each time you swirl, you should be able to pick out a new flavor.
Taste The Wine
When you’re ready, you can stop swirling the glass, and instead taste the wine. You should do this in small sips, moving your tongue to allow every taste bud the chance to experience the beverage.
Hold the wine in your mouth for around10 seconds before swallowing it. This can help you identify the flavors while also appreciating the aftertaste as a separate flavor.
High-quality wine will have what is known as a defined finish. This is when the flavors of the wine can stay easy to define on your tongue, long after your last sip.
Using all of the information above you can start your journey into the world of wine. From someone who had no idea where to begin, you have now learned how wine is made, what each type of wine should taste like and the common terminology used to describe them.
You also know how to serve the wine and the “correct” way to drink it.
All of this information can help you figure out what to put on your table, and the best way to experience a new bottle.