Wine 101: Just enough to make you sound like you know what you are talking about.
During fermentation, yeast converts sugar to alcohol and CO2. Fermentation will stop when the alcohol content gets so high that the yeast die, leaving some residual sugar (RS). Other times a winemaker will stop fermentation intentionally to leave some RS in the finished wine. When a wine is referred to as “Dry”, it means there is hardly any sugar (RS) left in the wine. “Bone Dry” means virtually no RS. If you look, you can often find the RS of a wine which will tell you whether it is on the sweet or dry side. Currently our highest RS is in our Rose. At .8% RS, it's pretty dry.
This is a big one, and one of our favorite topics. Humans have 5 tastes: Sweet, Sour/Acidic, Bitter, Salty, and Umami/Savory. That’s it, five tastes, no more. When people think about taste though, they are often talking about flavor. Flavor is the magic that happens in your senses and you don’t even realize it. Flavor is where the essential oils and aromas of the food matrix or liquid that is in your mouth, sneak up into your sinuses. It is the combination of aroma and taste that make flavor happen. It’s why you can’t ‘taste’ anything when you have a cold.
Decanting is simply transferring liquid from one container into another. With wine we often pour from the bottle into a decanter (which can be any glass container) and then let it sit for 15 minutes to an hour. Decanting allows some of the volatile compounds in wine to evaporate which, among other things, softens the tannins (tannins are organic compounds that come from the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes). The tannins in younger wines can taste a little harsh so decanting can improve the wine. In older wines, the tannins have become smoother as the wine has aged. So, decanting older red wines has more to do with separating sediment which can impart a bitter taste. So, as a rule of thumb, decant younger wines (less than 2 years) and older wines (more than 4 years). And don't fret, you won't hurt a wine by decanting or ruin your night by not. It can be interesting to taste the wine as it 'opens up' from first open to last sip.
If you see someone in a restaurant sniffing a cork handed over by the sommellier, you might think ‘how pretentious.’ In reality, sniffing the cork can help you identify what’s known as ‘cork taint.’ Some cork is contaminated with trichloroanisole (TCA). Contaminated corks lead to contaminated wines. You might have heard the term “corked” That is TCA. So the person you see sniffing the cork is just checking for cork taint. They may still be pretentious, though. Currently this is not an issue for Reasons drinkers, we use advanced screwtop technology to seal (and reseal) our wines (but don't try to stretch that bottle beyond evening 2).
For the absolute best presentation and inspection, wine should be served at Cellar Temperature. This is typically somewhere between 55-59oF. That is the natural temperature of the earth's crust at 30 feet below ground which is the best place to store wine. White wine can be chilled down as a preference, but when evaluating a wine for quality, it is always served at the cellar temp. Most of us store our reds at room temperature. This is fine for drinking, but try putting a bottle in the fridge for 30 minutes and see what you think. Conversely, if you have your white in the fridge, pull it out for 30 minutes before serving. If you have a proper wine fridge, you probably aren’t reading this anyway!
Age always matters, just depends on what the style is!
Most white wines and rosés are meant to drink now. There are of course some exceptions, but a general rule can be to drink a white or rose within a few years of its release.
Reds are where we get complicated. Usually, lower priced/value reds are also made to drink now. Any cellar time can actually take away from the experience. These wines are balanced and proportional upon release (theoretically). Wines made to cellar, are certainly much higher quality, and will be far better after age than they are when they are released. They need the time to settle down and change at the molecular level. The trick is knowing which is which! Reasons Reds, like many in the premium category, are meant to be excellent at release and still improve with time.
Absolutely not! If you can’t tell the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $30 bottle of wine, STOP WASTING $20 on the $30 bottle and drink the $10 stuff all day! The thing is, eventually you will be able to tell, and the value of the higher-priced wines will become apparent to you. But really, it’s the ‘to you’ part that matters, not what you read on the internet.
When you hear ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’ discussed in relation to wine, what you’re hearing is an attempt to delineate between regions that have produced wines for a REALLY long time (think in the neighborhood of a thousand years) to those that are relative newcomers (a few hundred years). Old World Regions include: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Germany. As for New World, think: North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa (neither list is comprehensive). And we’d be remiss not to point out that wine has been produced for thousands of years (China, Eastern Europe). Old World / New World pertains to how we think of wine production today.
It is also an indication of style. New World wines tend to be heavier, oakier, and not as balanced as the traditional old-world styles for reds. Whites also are different. They often have a lot more acidity or more body (think big Chardonnay).
Besides making a cellar look cool, oak adds aromatic compounds to wine. Fundamentally, oak lactones have coconut aromas. Some oak is “toasted” by either burning with fire or by using heat radiation to increase different aroma compounds. Winemakers use Oak from different parts of the world to achieve different characteristics in the finished wine. Not all wine is stored in oak. Lots of tanks are made of stainless steel or concrete which are more neutral, allowing the grapes to shine through.
This is a fascinating story so let’s give it a few sentences. In the 1850s, English botanists were bringing grape root stock back from America. Unbeknownst to them, a little bug, the phylloxera aphid was coming along for the ride. The bug made its way into vineyards in Britain where it destroyed the existing vines. From there it jumped to France and then the rest of Europe. By the early part of the 1880s, somewhere between 65 and 90 percent of European vineyards had been destroyed. Desperate for answers, governments held contests with monetary prizes for anyone who could solve the problem. The answer was to look back to the source. American root stock was resistant to the bug. So they grafted European vines onto American roots and the rest is history. Mostly.
The aim of Trellising is primarily to assist in canopy management - (The ratio of leaves to fruit) finding the balance in enough foliage on the vines to facilitate photosynthesis without excessive shading that could impede grape ripening or promote grape diseases. In warm to hot areas, you’ll need more foliage to protect the fruit from getting sunburnt and in cool or damp regions you may need less foliage to promote fruit exposure to both the sun and breezes. There are dozens of different types of Trellising systems available. In Washington the Scott Henry Trellising system is popular because it increases the fruit area and splits the canopy open. That allows more sun penetration, producing less herbaceous characters (pyrazines) and wines with fuller, smoother tannins.
One of the greatest natural phenomena for growing grapes with balance (ripe sugars which will equate to alcohol in the wine) and crisp acidity is a difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures – or, diurnal shift. Washington State has some of the most dramatic fluctuations of any wine region in the world. There can be up to a 40º F difference between high day and low nighttime temps!
Malic Acids generally dissipate through respiration from the grape in constant warm temperatures. Cool evenings preserve the acid, which translate through fermentation to wine and adds freshness and balance. The resulting acid in the wines is natural – and more integrated than the acid that can be added by wineries in warm regions. Go out and buy an apple from Washington State. Take a bite. That beautiful tart flavor is due, in part, to diurnal shift.