Wine Words – An Introduction

The world of wine is full of words that, when used correctly and within the appropriate context, can make you look like a proper wine expert or even a sublime wine snob.

Words like “Aroma”, “Bouquet”, “Palate”, “Nose”, “Finish” would seem self explanatory, but in the world of wine, these terms all have a rather specific meaning. Not having the precise knowledge of these meanings and therefore utilizing them at the wrong time or the incorrect context can make you look like a fool faster than a fine bottle of exuberantly opened Prosecco can expel it’s lovely contents and certainly, you will not get any brownie points from any wine snobs within earshot of your diatribe.

I’m going to introduce you to all of these terms over the next few weeks, so pay attention.

Let us begin with the three simple words “Smell”, “Aroma” and “Bouquet”.

“Smell” is a word that is not often used by wine experts to describe any aspect of a wine. Still, you simply cannot discern the “Aroma” or “Bouquet” of a wine without smelling it; it’s a fundamental fact. Therefore, we learn immediately that “smell”, “aroma” and “bouquet” are intertwined, i.e. these words are related.

“Smell” (*), if used at all in describing a wine and not used as a verb [to smell], is usually associated with the primary (***) smells or aromas of a wine and can often also have a negative connotation [it smells bad] related to a wine fault (**) of some sort. However, when used as a descriptor of a grape variety (varietal), we tend to refer to the “smell” as an “aroma”.

This wine smells of strawberries = This wine has aromas of fresh strawberries (black berries, cassis, fresh cut grass, cat’s pee).

The smell of this wine is that of vinegar (rotten eggs, wet cardboard, mould etc.)

“Aroma” can be applied to any of the three kinds of smells, however, a true wine expert will only apply this term to the first two, possibly even restrict the use of “aroma” to the second kind of “smell”, namely that resulting from the wine making (vinification, production) process but especially that of the fermentation. These smells, also referred to as “secondary” (***) aromas include such descriptors as toast, honey, cream, yeast, nut, biscuit, smoke, cedar, vanilla, oak

“Bouquet” is what a wine develops with ageing, both in barrels as well as in bottles. Young wines usually don’t have a ‘bouquet’, they display “aromas”. To develop a true bouquet, a wine needs to be aged for a few years, a number of which should be spent in barrels. This allows the wine to mature and develop a variety of “tertiary” (***) aromas resulting from such chemical processes as oxidation and polymerization of aromatic compounds. These aromas typically include descriptors such as leather, fur and game etc.

So there you have it!

Next time we’ll talk about complexity, balance and finish.

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* The sense of “smell” is ancient and primal, one of the earliest senses evolved, for locating food, warning of danger, and regulating sexual behavior. Unique among the senses, the scent message passes directly through the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, on its way to conscious identification in the cortex. Reaction to certain smells may be instinctive; identification of those smells requires a certain amount of experience and training.

** Wine fault(s) – any one of a number of thing that can go wrong with a wine, during production or ageing, resulting in a spoiled bottle and some very nasty smells. More on this in a separate article.

*** Wines are known to have 3 different kinds of “smells”:

  • primary smells, those specific to a varietal (grape variety), e.g. strawberry, peach, citrus, grapefruit, herbaceous, fig
  • secondary smells, these related to the wine making process, e.g. toast, honey, cream, yeast, nut, biscuit, smoke, cedar, vanilla, oak
  • tertiary smells, those related to the wine ageing process, e.g. leather, fur, game, chocolate, vanilla, toasted coffee, tar, resin, moss, undergrowth, sandalwood or truffles

Diamonds in a bottle.

A few days ago we were sitting around with some friends and I decided to open an Austrian Trockenbeerenauslese. As this was a fairly old and expensive wine, I made a few remarks about it and one friend, studying the bottle, remarked “No wonder it’s expensive, it’s got diamonds in it!”.

Well, these “diamonds” are of course not real “diamonds” and are also not that unusual in older, well crafted quality whites. These “diamonds”, or “crystals”, also known as “Wein Stein” (wine stones) in German, are in fact crystalized tartrates, specifically potassium-bitartrates.

So what does it mean when we see these wine diamonds in a bottle?

  • – It tells you, among other things, that this wine was made from ripe grapes and the grapes had sufficient acidity and minerality for these crystals to form.
  • – They are neither harmful nor a sign of poor quality (in the contrary)

We do not see these wine diamonds in North American or other New World wines very often as many whites are “cold stabilized”, a process whereby the wine is rapidly cooled to about -4C for up to 2 weeks in order for these types of crystals to “fall out” of the wine before it is bottled. Of course there is much debate about a process of brutalizing a wine in such a manner and the resulting change in taste and flavour.

Be that as it may, consider yourself lucky if you find some!
Keep the bottle upright for a while (possibly as long as a few days) in order for the crystals to settle to the bottom of the bottle; then pour carefully or decant.

How to eat a Dragon

You take a sharp knife, cut it in half and eat it by scooping out the innards with a spoon!

Seriously!

Don’t believe me?

OK, here we go…

The other day I was picking up some fruit at the local super market when my eyes fell on these pretty strange looking, bright pink, sort of scaly fruits that were about 12 – 15 cm long (5-6") and with varying diameters making some look somewhat elongated and others almost perfectly round.

I just had to pick one up to see what this was. Well, the tag said that this was a "Dragon Fruit", aptly named so as the skin certainly had that dragon scales look and the shape of some of them made them look positively medieval in a fairytale sort of way.

I’d never seen these before, certainly not in the local supermarkets. I conservatively put one of them in my basket and, after checking out, brought the Dragon back to my house.

I had no clue what I had just brought home. I assumed it was edible and that you would be able to eat it raw. I Googled around for a bit and in no time found all my answers.

A Dragon Fruit is:

  • the fruit of several species of cactii
  • also known as ‘strawberry pear’, ‘pitaya’ or ‘pitahaya
  • immune system enhancing, antioxidant, vitamin rich, digestive tract function boosting, colon cancer and diabetes fighting, blood pressure and cholesterol reducing as well as cough and asthma targeting in it’s health benefits department
  • low in calories
  • very zen

These Dragons come in 3 different versions:

  • Hylocereus undatus – pink skin and white flesh
  • Hylocereus polyrhizus – pink skin and red flesh
  • Selenicereus megalanthus – yellow skin and white flesh

You already know how to eat this Dragon since I told right at the beginning, however, it is widely recommended to chill the beast in the fridge prior to devouring. As you will see from the pictures below, the fruits have dark seeds throughout – a bit like a Kiwi. One warning – this fruit looks more exotic and exiting than it tastes. The taste is actually pretty bland but reminiscent of a Kiwi-Melon hybrid.

So there, go slay a Dragon 🙂

Live Dragon Slain Dragon
Red and White Dragons

 

Spinach & Carrot Salad vs. Dragon Fruit

I started to write about the “Spinach & Carrot Salad vs. Dragon Fruit” on http://www.juliemoorespa.com/zen_gourmand.html.
Unfortunately, all the batteries for my digital camera died on me and I wasn’t able to download the amazing pictures for my “Dragon Fruit” essay.
So please bear with me.
I will have them (the pictures) and the essay, on-line ASAMBAC (As Soon As My Batteries Are Charged).
At least, you can read up on the Spinach & Carrot Salad at http://www.juliemoorespa.com/zen_gourmand.html.

Hmmmm….

Appassimento and wines called “passito”

The Italian word “appassimento” translates loosely to “withering” and refers to the process of producing “passito” wines. The Italian word “passito” translates to “raisin wine” and can be applied to both the method of producing the wine as well as the wines made by this method.
The wines produced by the appassimento process tend to be sweet wines but the process can also result in full bodied dry wines. Because of the effort required, such wines also tend to be serious and in the premium price ranges.
One of the best known and greatest wines produced by the appassimento process is undoubtedly the Amarone (e.g. Amarone della Valpolicella, Vento region).
So what is this process called “appassimento”?
It is the method of manually harvesting only perfect bunches of fruit grown on hillsides facing southwest, and, since the goal of the process is to concentrate sugars in the grapes, many if not most of the producers will leave the grapes on the vine longer thus beginning the process with elevated sugar levels and helping to reduce drying times.
Grapes are laid out on straw or bamboo mats in large rooms of controlled atmosphere for the first day or two and then moved to old farmhouses with large opening or windows which allow the prevailing winds to provide the air to freely flow around the grapes. Here they are left until the middle of January. In that time, the grapes lose 35 – 40% of their weight, and develop higher concentrations of sugar and flavour.
In the early stages of the appassimento process, producers check regularly for any development of rot. If the rot is of the “noble” type (botrytis), it is often allowed into the wine as it is complementary to the process. In fact this, along with the variety of the grapes, the duration of the appassimento process as well a maturation post fermentation, are some of the distinguishing factors between one Amarone and the next.

Modern versions of the appassimento process see stacked wooden and even plastic boxes replacing the straw and bamboo mats and mechanically ventilated and dehumidified facilities replacing the old, naturally vented barns.

The wines resulting from the appassimento process are inevitably powerful and fullbodied having rich, intense and complex flavours.