Learn About Wine

Wine Attributes

So you already learn about wine enough to know that wine is made from fermented grape juice and if you didn’t, you do now. To get to the point where grape juice turns into alcohol might stump you, so let’s look at a few key attributes that determine the structure of a wine.

These attributes are

  • Alcohol
  • Acid
  • Tannin
  • Fruitiness
  • Sweetness/Dryness

Alcohol In Wine

Why drink wine if you’re not going to gain from it? On its own wine for beginners can be a pretty hard thing to swallow without some incentive. It’s only after you’ve developed an appreciation for wine that you will drink it for what it is. Then you will appreciate the benefits of its charm fully.

Aside from the affable mood it evokes, alcohol in wine is also a determinant to a wine’s quality. Sugar in wine grapes converts to ethyl alcohol in the fermentation process, so the riper the grape at harvest, the more natural sugar within the grape and the higher the alcohol content in a finished wine. This also means that the alcohol in wine has a sweet taste to it.

A high alcohol wine will seem chewy as alcohol content determines the body of a wine. The higher the alcohol content the fuller-bodied the wine. Conversely, the lower the alcohol content the lighter-bodied the wine.

Alcohol Content is measured by a percentage rather than proof as with hard liquor. Alcohol percentages can range from about 11-14% in U.S table wine, about 8.5-14% in Europe and between 14-21% with fortified wines. Sparklings fall somewhere between 8-12%.

With a high alcohol content there must be good balance with acidity or the wine will possess a hot smell. You will actually feel a sting in the back of your nostrils. Without proper balance a high alcohol wine will taste flaccid, an effect likened to a weak cup of coffee. It’s got all the punch, it just isn’t as satisfying.

Acidity In Wine

As a grape ripens its sugar levels increase but its acidity drops. Acidity levels are just as important as alcohol content to the quality of a wine. The goal of the winemaker is to find the balance between the two for harvesting. While alcohol content brings body and flavor and aroma to a wine, proper acidity makes it thirst quenching and gives it zing.

A low acidity wine can be dull, or flat if not balanced to the alcohol content. Also a low acidity wine doesn’t live long in the bottle, while too high an acidity will make a wine biting, harsh. Think of a finely balanced lemonade. You don’t want your mouth to pucker at every sip but you do want it to grab you enough to make it thirst quenching.

Should a wine lose some of its natural acidity during fermentation, a winemaker will add a few grams of acid per liter to bring the balance back to focus.

Volatile acidity, which is acetic acid formed from bacteria during or after fermentation and is not altogether a bad thing, can become an issue if the wine is exposed to too much oxygen. It will impart a vinegary aroma to the wine. Read more Learn About Wine topics: about wine faults.

Tannins In Wine

Of the phenol compound family, tannins are found in the skins and seeds of wine grapes and cause that puckering sensation in a dry wine. Prominent in red wines, tannins require proper balancing just like alcohol levels and acidity. An overabundance of tannins can make a wine harsh like an over-steeped tea. The tannins in tea are coincidentally related to tannins in wine.

Balanced with the other constituents tannins can make a wine bold and give it backbone. Tannins are a preservative which is why tannic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon can have an extensive shelf life. As a result of their powerhouse-ness, wines with a high tannin profile require a longer aging process.

Fruitiness In Wine

Fruitiness refers to aroma and flavor in a wine. Prominent in young wines when you think of fruitiness it is not a measure of sweetness. People often confuse the terms. You get actual fruit aromas in the wine. You get actual fruit flavors in the wine. When the sugars of a wine are converted to alcohol, the sweetness may no longer be present, but the flavor of the fruit remains. It’s a blurry crossroad, but once you understand it, you can’t confuse the two. An example is Gamay. Gamay is a bubblegum fruit bomb, but is not necessarily sweet. Another good example is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; a citrus fruit bomb, but a bone dry wine. Which leads us to:

Sweetness And Dryness In Wine

These two terms can also be misunderstood. A sweet wine is a wine with some noticeable residual sugar, or leftover sugar, which did not ferment or was not allowed to ferment fully. A dry wine is a wine that has had all its sugar converted to alcohol. A wine can be fruity and sweet or fruity and dry but cannot be sweet and dry. Off-dry wines are still considered sweet wines, though they are semi-sweet and not actually off-dry. But then a wine with high tannins can be considered dry because of the astringent effect of the tannins. This is a different monster altogether and one which we’ve already discussed.

Next I will get into some viticulture, which is what goes on in the vineyard. Do yourself a favor, learn about wine, keep reading.

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