“There is nothing more refreshing, overwhelming, or invigorating than a good glass of wine.” My friend Jenn said that to me the other day as we sat there enjoying a bottle of merlot. Today I am going to talk to you about wine, its history, the different varieties, and how to make it, serve it, store it, drink it, and judge it.
Since well before written history mankind has been enjoying wine. The first physical evidence of the existence of wine appears in the Neolithic period around roughly 5200 BC. Other early cultures to enjoy wine were the early dynasties of the Old Kingdom (about 2700 BC) in Egypt. Historians theorize that early bronze age trade brought the wild grape to the Nile delta. By the end of the Old Kingdom wine had become so intrinsic to the life of the Egyptian aristocracy that jars of wine were entombed with them for their journey into the afterlife.
All that is needed to turn grape juice into wine is the simple, entirely natural process of fermentation. Fermentation is the chemical change of sugar into alcohol that is brought about by adding yeast. Under normal conditions the yeast will go on working until all of the sugar in the grapes has been converted into alcohol which usually ends up being about 15% of the volume, or for you whisky drinkers out there, roughly 30 proof. If all wines were made in this completely natural way they would be very dry. It is possible to stop the fermentation early by either straining out the yeast through a very fine filter, adding sulphur or (my personal favorite) by adding more alcohol. These methods are used to make sweet wines.
The main difference between wines are the types of grapes used, but the various ways of arranging the fermentation can produce many differences. For example your sweet wines have had their fermentation stopped by adding sulpher or straining the yeast out. Dry wine is wine that has fermented completely naturally. Brandy is distilled wine.
And port wine is wine that has been fortified with alcohol and is therefore a little stronger. Your sparkling wines and champagne is bottled before the fermentation process has completely finished. The process then finishes in the bottle, which is what gives it its effervescence.
Wine is usually divided up into two main types, white and red. White wine can be made with either white or red grapes. When white wine is being made the skins of the grapes are completely removed. Red wine can be made with only red grapes and the skins are left on throughout fermentation where the wine picks up the color of the skins.
If you ever get around to buying a good bottle of wine, take care of it. Let’s be honest– none of us have wine cellars and most of us never will. There are other options though– that cupboard you never use that has old Jiffy Pop and a half a box of stale cheerios could very easily be an ideal place to store your wines. As long as wine is kept in a dark place with a temperature consistently held somewhere between 45 and 70 degrees it should be O.K. The main thing is to avoid excessive heat, which can cause accelerated aging and the wine to seep up around the cork. If you see the wine seeping around the cork you must stop whatever you are doing and drink the whole bottle.
One of the most important things about wine is how it is served. You can’t just open a bottle and pour, you have to let the wine “breathe” or sit for a while in order for it to gain its full flavor. In fact some young wine should be opened as much as a day in advance to gain their full flavor. Another important thing when serving wine is the temperature (write this down gentlemen). Reds are usually served around room temperature or about 65 degrees and never colder than 50. Whites are usually served between 40 and 50 degrees. Only really cheap sparkling wines (those are the ones with the plastic corks) are served straight out of the fridge.
One thing I’ve noticed is that people drink wine wrong. They sip it, slurp it, or in the case of my boyfriend, guzzle it. In order to truly appreciate a glass of wine, take a fairly large drink and inhale very slightly through your mouth. This allows the scent and taste of the wine to permeate your senses; after you’ve enjoyed several mouthfuls you may then proceed to sip, slurp and guzzle all you like.
Now that you know a little more about wine, take a stop in the wine aisle at HyVee or your liquor store of choice, and try a bottle or two. Pick a few different types until you have found how to appreciate wine and you discover which is your preferred type of wine.