Saturday, December 15, 2012

How Sweet is Your Riesling? (part 2)

Many people avoid Rieslings because they don’t drink sweet wine.  However, Rieslings can be completely dry, extremely sweet, and everything in between.  The trouble is that it’s often difficult to tell how sweet any given bottle will be.  I've written before about the German system that can help with this, but now there's an even easier way!

The International Riesling Foundation has come to the rescue!  It has developed a sweetness scale that winemakers can include on their labels.  This scale is designed to “make it easier for consumers to predict the taste they can expect from a particular bottle of Riesling,” help consumers find wines they’ll enjoy, and thus help producers sell more wine.  The scale is entirely voluntary, but hopefully many producers will decide to participate.  (The scale was first available for the 2008 vintage.)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wine Infographics

Edit:  Since my collection of wine cheat sheets is growing, I've added a label for them.  See them all here.
I've been working on a follow-up to the article I recently posted about German Riesling, but between prepping for a new class I'll be teaching next year and deciding to hand-make some of my Christmas presents, that hasn't been finished yet!  In the meantime, I thought I'd point out a few helpful wine infographics.

I love everything from De Long.  (They have good Christmas gifts too.)  Their Wine Grape Varietal Table is a great way to get familiar with the many grape varieties available, and does an excellent job of explaining each grape's flavor characteristics, acid and tannin levels, and in which wines and regions it's usually found.  (I may hang this on the wall above my desk at home.)

I've recently discovered their Metro Wine Maps of California and France.  These provide a great way to learn about the appellations of those regions, and the maps include info on the grapes as well as local landmarks.  (The main thing keeping me from hanging the varietal table over my desk at home is that I can't decide if I'd rather have the French wine map.)

De Long also offers a handy vintage chart as a free pdf download in color or black and white.  This one is small enough to fold up in your pocket and take with you to the wine shop.  It covers all the years back to 1990.

Robert Parker offers a free vintage chart as well, but it's less visually appealing.  However it does go all the way back to 1970.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Little Chemistry Explains a Lot

I’ve mentioned before that the French Wine Society has great on-demand webinars for members.  I watched one this past week on the subject of wine aromas, and it was fascinating.  The most interesting thing I learned was a very simple fact about wine chemistry which explains a lot about aging and storing wine.

Acid + Alcohol = Esters

Wine contains molecules of acid and alcohol.  I’m no chemist, but basically those molecules are moving around and bumping into each to each other inside the wine bottle.  Eventually, they’ll start hooking up (wine can have that effect) and forming new, larger molecules.  These new molecules are called esters.  (I’ve mentioned them before.)

What Older Wines Have That Younger Ones Don’t

Esters give wine its aroma.  The longer the wine sits in the bottle and ages, the more esters (and aromas) are formed, and the more complex they get.  This is why older wines are so highly prized!  (Keep in mind that not all wines are capable of aging.  Only certain wines will continue to improve for more than a few years.)

Why Vibration Matters During Storage

While the wine is aging, in order for all these esters to be formed, the wine has to be kept still.  When it’s moved around or shaken, those esters fall apart and the complex aromas can be lost.  This is why limiting vibration is important.  So if you’re storing wine for an extended period of time, you need a cooler designed for wine, and not just a refrigerator.  And try to avoid moving the bottles around if you can.

The term bottle shock (there’s even a movie about it) refers to the effect that being jostled and moved around has on the wine.  For example, if a wine is opened immediately after being shipped on an airplane, it will not show its best.  It needs a little time to rest in order for those esters which were broken apart to reform.  And if it’s really shaken up, it may never be quite as good as it was.  This is because some esters are formed after the wine is in the bottle, but others can only form during fermentation.   So if you lose those, you can’t get them back.

It’s nice to learn that older wines have great aromas or that vibration is bad for wine, but I always want to know why those things are true.  I guess I just need to start studying chemistry.