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WINE BASICS

WINE BASICS

Sweeten up your wine repertoire – Basics for appreciating dessert wines

“Sweet wines are for amateurs.” This is obviously a misconception, but many people immediately shun sweet wines due to either unfamiliarity or, perhaps, an unfortunate White Zin experience. In truth, crafting serious sweet wines requires rigor, patience and care. It’s an artful interplay between achieving desired levels of sweetness (residual sugar) and alcohol, while also celebrating the full range of the grapes’ flavor and aromatic characteristics.

By way of comparison, dry wines are products of full fermentation, wherein yeast converts all sugar in the pressed grape juice until no residual sugar remains. Sweet wines, on the other hand, are produced to ensure a desired amount of residual sugar remains in the final product. This end result can be achieved through a few different variations in the wine-making process:

  • Adding a sweet component, such as unfermented grape juice, to sweeten the wine (This is often considered a less sophisticated approach.)
  • Interrupting the fermentation process by removing the yeasts with filter, or killing the yeasts using sulfur dioxide or by adding alcohol. Fortification (adding alcohol), where the grape juice is stopped short of full fermentation, is used to produce Port and Madeira.
  • Concentrating the sugar level in the grapes, themselves, before they are crushed

Of the above three, concentration methods are often considered the most artful and are employed to make some of the world’s most exceptional dessert wines. They include the following intricate techniques:

1. Late harvest:  Leaving the grapes on the vine longer than usual for harvesting at extreme ripeness boosts sugar level.

  • Grapes destined for late harvest are not only sweet but are often naturally high in acidity, which keeps the wine from being cloying.
  • The result could be a refreshing compliment to light desserts.

2. “Raisin” the grapes:  Drying the grapes causes them to shrivel. This could occur on the vine in warm climates or by laying the grapes out in well-ventilated, dry conditions that encourage evaporation.

  • This method adds a distinct oxidized character to the the final product.
  • This process gives uniquely condensed flavors of cooked and candied fruits, honey and spices.

3. Ice the grapes:  In cold climates, healthy grapes are sometimes left to freeze on the vine for winter harvesting. Crushing the grapes while still frozen allows the ice crystals to be removed, leaving an intensely concentrated grape syrup that is used to make sweet Eiswein or icewine.

  • Because these are made with intensely concentrated juice from healthy grapes, the wines have very pure, pronounced, varietal flavors, high acidity, full body and syrupy sweetness.

4. Botrytis (aka Noble Rot):  Botrytis is a “welcomed” fungus that sometimes develops on healthy, ripe grapes. It weakens the skin and speeds up the evaporation of water. This technique is vital to the production of certain highly prized dessert wines, such as Sauternes and Tokaji. These wines usually command a much higher price because:

  • Nobility is not guaranteed. If the conditions are not right, the rot could turn into a normal grey rot, which is a guaranteed crop destroyer.
  • Handpicking is essential as Botrytis rarely affects all the grapes evenly. Several passes may have to be made through the vineyard to pick all the grapes at the perfect stage of rottenness – a laborious selection process that makes production very expensive.
  • They age well, and Botrytis adds its own unique flavors with expressions of honey, stone fruits lemon.
  • The product is a lush, unctuous sweet wines, with complex flavors of honeysuckle, spice and exotic fruits.

Serving and tasting:

  • Dessert wines are best served well chilled at 6-8oC or 43-45oF.
  • Dessert wine glasses should be smaller with a bowl that’s curved to emphasize the fruit aroma and direct the wine to the back of the mouth so the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm.
  • As the name implies, dessert wines can provide a perfect standalone conclusion to a meal
  • For pairing with desserts, keep in mind that, in general, the wine should be at least as sweet or sweeter than the dessert.

  TASTE n PAIR pocket guide:

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I invite you to trust your instincts and enjoy a luscious journey of sweetness and sensations. Santé!

WINE BASICS

“Women Are Like Fine Wine” – A witty way to detect and remember top wine descriptors

Ever had difficulty describing a wine? Don’t know exactly what tannin, body, acidity, dry and balance really mean? Describing the general style of a wine is not as intimidating as you might think. By associating these primary wine descriptors with some of the most beautiful traits of women, you might find detecting and remembering wine descriptors to be quite fun and easy.

  1. Sweetness

A wine could be described as dry, medium or sweet (dessert wines). Dessert wines aside, most red wines and the majority of whites are dry – the opposite of sweet, in wine parlance – because all the sugar has been converted to alcohol during fermentation. A Chablis from France is crisp and bone dry. Wines that are medium will usually be white or rosé. To make a medium wine, a winemaker could either remove the yeast from the juice before all the sugar has been consumed or add unfermented sweet grape juice to dry wine. A medium wine should have sweetness but not be cloying. Many popular wines from Germany are good examples of medium wine.

In a woman ♥ : An appropriate level of sweetness in a woman often adds to her charm. But think of someone who is too sweet too often. Could that make her appear too sticky or clingy with no personality? I think so.

  1. Body

This is the wine’s weightiness or general feel in the mouth. The grapes used or being aged in oak barrels are key contributors to the body of the wine. Light bodied wines are usually refreshing and easy to drink (e.g. Pinot Grigio from Italy, Baujolais from France). Medium bodied wines will feel more substantial, richer (e.g. Burgundy from France or Merlot from Chile). Full bodied wines seem more concentrated and weighty; they feel more powerful (e.g. oaked Chardonnay from California, Shiraz from Australia, Châteauneuf-du-Pape from France).

In a woman ♥ : Light bodied is NOT necessarily better than heavy bodied or vice versa. What do you prefer and what can you handle? A rubenesque beauty to wrap your arms around, an athletic companion to trek the trails with, or perhaps a delicate goddess to put on a pedestal? Yes, some women are all of the above, but let’s stay focused.

  1. Acidity

Acidity comes from the grape and is detected by the mouth watering sensation. Too much, a wine is tart, too little, a wine is flabby and flat. Acidity is very important, particularly in sweet wines – it cleanses the palate in each sip and makes the wine balanced, stopping it from being cloying.

In a woman ♥ : Acidity in wine is like humor and sharpness of tongue in a woman. Her humor wakes you up, and her tartness grabs your attention. However, what about someone who constantly pokes at you or is too bubbly all the time? Such nonstop liveliness could have a short shelve life and become annoying very quickly.

  1. Tannin

Tannin is the drying sensation felt on the teeth, gums, tongue and inner cheeks (not to be confused with dryness/sweetness). It comes from the skin, seeds and stems of grapes. Think of drinking dark black tea without any milk or sugar. The right amount of tannin is a good thing. It gives structure and complexity to wine and anchors it through maturity.

  1. Oak

Some winemakers choose to age their wine in oak barrels to impart additional flavors and texture into the wines. White wines can take on a buttery feel and gain vanilla flavors through aging in oak. Red wines can become smoother and gain spicy characters. A cheaper way to age wine with oak is by adding oak chips and staves in stainless steel vessels. This method is not used to produce high quality wines, but can be found in some popular mass-produced labels.

In a woman ♥ : This is a fun one and I will talk about tannin and oak in unison. Tannin is like dry wit in a woman. An appropriate amount makes her interesting and complex, but too much of it would probably rub you in the wrong way and turn you off. Oak is like the environment in which the woman is brought up – her education, hobbies, experiences, etc. As she matures, her life experiences and environs impart a lingering essence of upbringing. Her once unpolished harsh personality takes on the subtlety of her surroundings. She is sophisticated and can stand her ground; she’s tactful and appropriate.

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The ULTIMATE GOAL of a winemaker is to strike a balance of sweetness, tannin, acidity, etc. when the bottle is ready to be uncorked. The characteristics are all present, but one does not overpower the other. When we start to experiment with tasting, there are elements we get excited about and those we cannot get enough of. “Boy, this is a very SWEET rosé…I love how FORWARD this wine is…this FULL BODIED wine can really stand up to my T-bone…” As we gain more experience, we will also come to appreciate a balance of traits and complexity of flavors. We find this balance offering a nostalgic lingering finish, and the complexity gracefully charming. We discover something new each time we taste, finding the experience ever more alluring and mysterious…wanting more.

Next time, when you want to describe a wine, simply think about how wonderful women are…Santé!

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