Where two next?

Antipodean travelogue through the eyes of two - one textile and one building lover. It'll be hard to differentiate the two!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

An Introduction to Wine

I mentioned on a previous post that I have been taking an introduction to wine course in Wellington High School for the last few weeks. What follows is a random list of things I found interesting over the eight weeks.

All wine competitions use the same standard XL5/ ISO glasses to help make the competition results more consistent. There are surprisingly small but designed to funnel the smell of the wine towards the nose.

Wine judges are not supposed to wear perfume or aftershave at a competition. Well you don't want the judge describing his or her buddies "CK One" instead of the wine!

Sometimes when you open a bottle of wine with a cork closure there will be crystals or wine diamonds on the bottom of the cork. This is due to tartaric acid and is completely harmless. It does not mean that the wine is corked.

Sometime in the 18th century American grape plants were introduced into Europe. Unknowingly there was a parasite that lived on the American grape plant roots and it was introduced also. Within a very short period of time most of the European grape plants were killed by the parasite as they were not immune to it. However the Europeans noticed that the American grapes were immune so they grafted the European grapes onto American roots. The majority of grape plants in Europe therefore have American roots!

If you open a bottle of wine and do not plan on drinking it all the best thing to do is keep a half sized empty bottle of wine in the kitchen. When you open the standard size bottle pour half the contents into the half sized bottle almost to the top and reseal. This will help keep the wine as less oxygen can get at it. Pumps and putting the lid back onto a half empty bottle of wine doesn't work!

The next trendy white wine in NZ will be Viognier and has been trendy for some time in other countries. Get it while it's still cheap here!

Contrary to popular belief Blue Nun, Black Tower and Liebfraumilch are not Rieslings but Muller Thurgau! A German came to NZ a long time ago and sold the idea of Muller Thurgau to the masses as it is the first grape to ripen. Apparently what he forgot to mention was that it makes awful wine!

Next time you see a medal on a bottle of wine remember it might not be a good thing. Some competitions are run over a week and the judges can be asked to judge 100 bottles of wine in one hour! After the first few they can't really taste the subtleties anymore so the winners are usually "in your face" kind of wines. After the competition the wineries note which one won and why and make there wines even more "in your face" than the winner for next years competition! This is obviously not necessarily a good thing for wines! A judge once said that he awarded a gold medal to a wine but when he tried the same wine a week later he couldn't drink it!

Pinot Gris is a Pinot Noir Grape that has reverted. For no apparent reason you can plant Pinot Noir and walk out one day and some of the plants will have become Pinot Gris. Not only that but they can revert back to Pinot Noir again at a later stage!

There are two types of red wine drinkers generally. Those that like red wines with red fruit berries and those who like their reds with black fruit berries. If you tend to like Pinot Noirs and Grenache then you like your red berries. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrahs then you tend to like your blackberries. Merlot and Malbec tend to fall somewhere in the middle and depending on the wine could fall into either category.

Red wine varieties ripen in the following order. Pinot Noir, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

White wines ripen in the following order. Muller Thurgau, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. (Can't remember where Rieslings fit in!)

Shiraz is what the Australians call Syrah.

If you want to spice up your baked beans add in the dregs from your bottle of wine apparently it makes them taste yummy!

"Clarets" is the general name given to the red wines of Bordeaux. Bordeaux is not the hottest of areas and the French have managed over the centuries to perfect the art of blending grape varieties to produce some excellent wines. The reason for this is that in any given year a specific variety might fail due to the weather. The climate is very similar to NZ and it is suggested that therefore NZ could be the New World equivalent of Bordeaux!

If you buy a wine in a shop or order one at a bar or restaurant and it has either cork or screw cap taint you should bring it back to the shop or ask for a different bottle in a restaurant. The shops and restaurants return the defective bottles to the wineries i.e. they do not suffer any loss. They estimate that around 5% of wines sealed with a cork have cork taint or as it is more commonly referred to as "corked". Corked wine is also know as TCA and you can find out a bit more about it on the link. It basically smells like wet cardboard.

The supermarkets are more or less responsible for the growing use of screw cap bottles as they decided a number of years back to charge the wineries for a 5% loss due to cork taint whether the bottles were returned or not. Some clever Aussies and Kiwi's came up with the solution of the screw cap and the Supermarkets agreed to drop the 5% on wines sealed in this fashion. No one at the time foresaw any difficulty.

There has been a lot of debate over the problems with corked wines and the salvation that screw caps have supposedly brought to the industry. I googled cork and screw cap taint and was amazed at how many contrary opinions are out there on the subject. Our teacher firmly believes that screw cap taint is a real problem especially in wines that are over a year old. He went as far as to suggest that almost 20% of screw capped wines have a problem with sulphide reduction and that no one in the wine industry was prepared to accept that there is a problem because of the obvious consequences. He also suggested that since the cork industry has become more regulated and quality control has greatly improved the number of wines with cork taint has reduced to as little as 1-2%.

We tasted a number of wines during the course, up to 14 per night, and a significant amount of screw capped wines had problems with sulphide reduction. The basic test is if there is a smell of struck matches or flint when you open the bottle and if there is a metallic astringent after taste to the wine i.e. it doesn't end subtly. I am no expert but have definitely tasted screw cap tainted wines and they are not nice.

However I did manage to find one article that I believe is quite even handed in it's consideration of the problems associated with wine taint and you can read it here and judge for yourselves. There is obviously more than two ways to seal a wine and aswell as the rubber "corks" there's the likes of the Zork!

Perhaps we just have to accept that there is no ideal solution to the problem of tainted wines and come to terms with the fact that most of us never even know we are drinking one, myself included!


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  • At 12:23 PM, Blogger EnnaVic said…

    Hope your trip to Raro was fun! Will be a nice spot of sun before you wing your way home I imagine.

    Also while I think of it I have really enjoyed this blog. Interesting to see someone writing about NZers as an 'outsider' living here rather than as a tourist or a permanent resident.

    Take care :)


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