[Preface from Mantic59: Sharpologist readers know Joe Borrelli from his Wet Shave Talk podcast here, and Joe is also getting to be a semi-regular “print” contributor as well. Joe and I were discussing some non-shaving subjects a while back (yes, I can talk about something other than wet shaving when I have to ) and I discovered Joe, in addition to being a wet shaving enthusiast, is also an authority on wines and spirits! Since I like to throw in a non-shaving “diversion” post once in a while, I thought it would be interesting for Joe to write up something about wine. If the feedback is positive, I’ll ask him to get into more detail with some additional articles in the future!] Have you ever been intimidated by a wine menu at a nice restaurant? Does it look like it’s written in a foreign language? Are you worried that the wine you pick won’t pair well with your meal? Do you want to impress your date? A little bit of wine knowledge goes a long way, even if you’re not a drinker. There is so much information on the internet and many different opinions on which is the perfect wine for the perfect situation. Ask three people and you’ll get three different answers. In this article, we’ll go over some basics with no biased opinions.
Although many of you may be familiar with my wet shaving work, it is important to mention that my actual career revolves around wine sales. I have tasted over 1200 wines, been to over 40 wineries and I am currently studying for several certifications. I’ve had multiple requests to write about wine, spirits and beer so be on the look-out for some more content regarding these categories.
To fully understand wine in general let’s take a moment to go over how it’s actually made.
How is Wine Made?
For starters, wine is made from grapes. These grapes are not the same grapes you may find at the grocery store. In fact they are completely different. The growing conditions, actual type, size and shape vary. Every wine maker has an opinion on what makes a grape perfect for wine making.
Basically, make the vines force to survive and they will produce stronger fruit. The harder the vines work, the better the grapes.
Next, the grapes are harvested when the wine maker feels they are ready. Not a day sooner or later. This is different for every type of wine being produced, and each maker has a different opinion on it, so we’ll just leave this here.
After the grapes are picked they then are then ready to be crushed and to begin fermentation or the process of turning the juice into alcohol. This is done with yeast, which converts the sugars from the grape juice into alcohol. The process is different for both red and white wine. Here is the difference in a nutshell:
One notable fact, white wine grapes will be crushed prior to fermentation and red wine grapes will be crushed after fermentation.
When fermentation is complete it’s time to age the wine. Wine makers use different types of oak barrels, stainless steel tanks, or a combination of both. Time and type vary but it’s safe to say that most red wines age longer than white. White wines might be ready for bottling after several months and red wines 12-24 months.
More complex wines are sometimes bottle aged before being sold. This process is determined by the wine maker and can be as little as a few months to a few years depending on a variety of factors.
Now that we know how wine is made let’s take a look at how to properly drink wine.
You Say Tomato, I say Tomato is it the same?
In your wine endeavors you may have noticed similar spellings of different wines. These wines are spelled differently according to their region their produced and are composed of the same grapes. This can get quite confusing and leads to many hesitant to try something new. I assure you that you’re not alone. Let’s clear it up!
Let’s use the most common misinterpretation, “Syrah/Shiraz”. Syrah is a red wine that is produced in many countries. In France, the rest of Europe and South Africa its spelled “Syrah” but in Australia its spelled “Shiraz”. To make matters even worse, “Petite Sirah” is commonly compared to Syrah/Shiraz even though it’s a different grape all together. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape and will have similar characteristics. Do not hesitate to try one if you like the other. As for Petite Sirah, that’s a different wine altogether but certainly worth a try.
In Italy, Pinot Grigio is a popular white wine that is known the world over. If the same grapes are grown in the USA it’s called “Pinot Gris”. Both will have similar characteristics.
There are many reasons for the different names but in short it’s really to help the masses identify wines made in different regions. An identity within identity to say the least.
How to Understand the “Body” of Wine
You’ve probably heard the term “body” in reference to the mouth feel of wine. What does it mean? I find myself answering this question several times a day. A very wise gentleman explained to me in very simple terms.
When referring to the “body” of wine it’s easiest to use “milk” as a reference. Not the taste but the mouth feel. Think of a full-bodied wine having the same consistency of whole milk being thicker and heavier than 2 % or skim. A medium-bodied wine would be the same as 2 % milk and light-bodied would be skim/fat free milk. It’s important not to confuse a lighter bodied wine with being lower in sugar or calories. In most instances, that’s not the case.
How to Drink Wine:
Drinking wine is more than just lifting the glass and consuming. To maximize the experience it’s important to prepare your glass and drink it properly. Not only will the wine taste better but you’ll look like a pro in the process.
Proper, Clean Glassware
First, make sure you’re using the proper glass for the wine being poured and that it’s clean. There are different types of glasses for different varietals (Cabernet glasses will differ from chardonnay glasses). Now you may be wondering why the glass would make a difference. The glasses are designed to maximize the aroma when bringing the glass up to your mouth. The sense of smell is almost as important as the sense of taste.
A dirty glass will make the wine taste different. It’s very important to inspect your glass by visually checking for water spots and smelling the inside of it. If your glass smells like dirty dish water it will need to be cleaned. If you’re out at a restaurant don’t be shy to ask for a clean glass. It’s your money and you deserve the best!
Swirl, Swirl, Swirl
Next, it’s time to swirl. If you’ve ever seen people swirling wine in their glasses there is a reason for it! Swirling “opens” the wine allowing the aromas to come out.
Swirling is simple, just take the glass by the stem and move it in a slow, clockwise motion to make waves in the glass. You can glide the bottom of the glass over a table top to prevent spilling or until you feel you’ve mastered the skill. Do this for several seconds and you’re ready for the next step.
Time to Sniff
The sense of smell is extremely important when properly drinking wine. After you swirled bring the glass to your nose and gently sniff the contents. I like to close my eyes when I do this to fully concentrate. Think about what the scents remind you of. Does is smell like blueberries or blackberries? Do you smell wood or vanilla? These are just some of the familiar scents to look for when sniffing wine. RELEVANT LINK
Let’s Take a Sip
Finally we can drink! If only it was that simple. You guessed it, there’s a certain way to drink your wine to truly get the most out of it.
Gently take a sip and gently swish the wine around your taste buds for 5- 10 seconds before swallowing. What did you taste? Now, before taking another sip take a moment to experience the after taste or finish of the wine. More complex wines will linger for quite some time.
Now that we know how wine is made and the proper technique for consumption, we are ready to order! Let’s take a moment to go over some basic red and white varietals with some food pairings.
For the sake of the complexity and length of this article I will only be going over the most popular wine varietals. There will be some controversy, but I assure you my information comes from worldwide sales trends that are identified by experts and collectors alike. I will however go over individual wine varietals in-depth in the near future.
There are many different varietals of red wine but for the sake of keeping this article easy to understand we’ll go over the top three and explain their tasting characteristics.
The most popular red wine varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon has the tendency to be very bold and tannic (dry). It’s produced in a multitude of areas with different climates but the most popular come from California, USA and Bordeaux France.
Cabernet flavor profile varies like with other wine varietals greatly by region. Most are blended with other varietals to round them out and ease the boldness. In general Cabernet is a bold wine with traces of dark fruit and sometimes chocolate with a dry, lasting finish.
Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be a tad heavier than other red wine varietals and pairs well with steak, pot roast, heavy pasta dishes and short ribs.
Known as a relatively soft varietal, Merlot has taken a back seat in the past few years. Like cabernet sauvignon, the most popular merlots come from the USA and France.
While merlot has the ability to tannic and firm, most merlots are soft and flavorful, providing a balance of fruit and oak. Merlot pairs very well with red meat dishes and firm cheeses.
One of my favorite wine types, Pinot Noir is known the world over for versatility in pairing with food. You can pair it with almost anything. The most popular Pinot Noirs come from the California, Oregon and Burgundy France.
Pinot Noir is a highly acidic and is the number one choice for red wine drinkers during the holidays especially Thanksgiving. It’s light and easy to drink. Pairs well with poultry, red meat most cheeses and some desserts.
Chardonnay’s popularity continues to grow with several variations that greatly affect taste. Chardonnays can be full bodied, oaky and buttery which makes them a perfect choice for those looking for an adventures wine. They also can be dry with hints of mineral and light citrus.
Chardonnay can be grown in many areas but the most popular variations come from Burgundy France, and the USA.
Look for a un-oaked chardonnay if you’re interested in a drier wine that would pair with most fish and chicken dishes and an oaked chardonnay if you’re pairing with shellfish and richer dishes. What characterizes an oaked or un-oaked chardonnay? Barrel aging. Oaked chardonnays are aged in wooden barrels and un-oaked are aged in stainless steel tanks (there is more to it such as malolactic fermentation ECT. but we will save that for a future article).
This particular varietal’s flavor profile varies greatly depending on the climate it’s grown. You can expect a crisp almost grassy flavor from those produced in New Zealand, a crisper tropical flavor from those produced in France and a more fresh grapefruit flavor from those produced in the USA.
Pairing a Sauvignon Blanc is fairly simple. It works well with most tropical dishes, chicken and fish. It’s also one of the few wines that I would recommend drinking with sushi.
An easy drinking wine with most dishes, Pinot Grigio is a staple for most restaurants. Its low acidity and crisp flavor with hints of apple and pear, tend to make this wine popular in most restaurants. While most people are familiar with Italian Pinot Grigios, the Americans and French make some of the finest “Pinot Gris” in the world.
So what’s the difference between Gris and Grigio? Well, Pinot Grigio is a variation of the Pinot Gris grape that was originally grown in Alsace France. This variation took off very well in Italy with its climate for producing crisp, fruity wines with relatively no acidity.
You’re All Set
Congratulations! You now know more about wine the most of your friends and the majority of people out there. You can now impress your date by ordering like a pro at your favorite restaurant or show off to your co-workers at the next business dinner.
The wine world is a big one! If you’re into history as well as technology then you’re in the right place. Remember to drink responsibly and most of all have fun!
About the Author:
Joe Borrelli is a long-time wet shaving enthusiast and collector. He hosts the Wet Shaving News Podcast and runs his own self-funded website http://shavestraightandsafe.com/ to help inform the community of new information involving the wet shaving world. Joe holds a BBA from Florida Atlantic University, and currently works for the nation’s largest wine/spirits/beer retailer. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Linda, reading, writing, outdoor activities and collecting wet shaving apparel. Find out more about Joe here.