If there's an embarrassing question to be asked about wine you can bet your bottom dollar we've asked it! It can be quite daunting to get started with such a vast topic and we're guessing if we felt a little red faced to asked some basic questions then some of you will be too. Well fear not, we've written down 5 of the gems we've learned along our journey to get you started!
What are the main types of wine?
- Red - Red wine is made from red grapes that have been fermented with skins (macerated). The main characteristic that sets red wine apart from white is the presence of tannin.
- White - White wine is made from white grapes (or red grapes, in special cases) that have been fermented without skins. Freshly pressed grape juice is white, regardless of grape colour.
- Rose - Rose wine is made from red grapes that have been partially fermented with skins, just enough to get a little pink tinge. Rose wines usually don't have the tannin that red wines have.
- Fortified Wine - Wine, red or white, to which a hard spirit has been added to kill the fermenting yeast and boost alcohol content, while maybe keeping some sweetness.
- Sparkling Wine - Sparkling wine can come in all three colours, although white is the most common, followed by rose. The most common way a wine acquires its signature bubbles is by a process called "secondary fermentation," although there are other ways to get the bubbles in the bottle. Champagne (which comes from the region of Champagne, France) is the most famous example of sparkling wine, although every other wine producing country also has its own version.
Should I chill my wine?
Absolutely! Chilling your wine adds a sharpness and freshness to the flavours and the textures of the wine will be able to find full articulation.
Reds should be chilled between 15-18°C, while white wines are best anywhere in the 4-10°C range.
How you chill your wine is completely up to you (within reason). We’d suggest putting the bottle in either an ice bucket, a refrigerator or a wine chiller for the best results. The only two no-no’s are putting ice into the glass of wine as this will only water down the wine and putting your wine in the freezer, as quick temperature change is no friend of wines.
How do I open wine?
The first step, after choosing your wine, is to remove the end of the capsule, which hides the cork. It is not necessary to remove the whole capsule. Take a knife and slit carefully round the top, just above the ridge on the bottle neck. This allows you to pop off the top of the capsule neatly. Capsules on some of the older red wines may still be made of lead, but almost all modern capsules are made of less toxic materials - plastic, tin or aluminium foil.The main purpose of the capsule is decorative, it hides the cork and the fact that the level of wine in each bottle may not be exactly the same.
Having removed the capsule, wipe carefully round the mouth of the bottle to remove any foreign matter. You can now withdraw the cork.
Corkscrews come in a bewildering variety of shapes and designs; some good and others frankly bad. When selecting a corkscrew, look for one with a wire spiral, rather than the auger type with a solid centre. If the cork is tight-fitting, the auger-type corkscrew tends to gouge a hole through the centre of the cork, and still leave it behind in the bottle. If the cork is old then it makes the cork crumble. The spiral type is better because it winds itself around and inside the cork and gets a good grip on a lot of the material.
Once the cork is out, take a good look at it. It can provide useful clues about the condition of the wine. It should be moist for only part of its length. If the wine has seeped all the way to the end, it could indicate a problem.Sniff the cork. It should smell clean and pleasant. A mouldy smell could be a sign that the wine is ‘corked’. This does not mean the cork has crumbled. Or that there are bits and pieces of it floating around in the wine. It means the cork has developed a fungus and this has tainted the wine. The wine smells of musty old rags.
How do I tell if the wine is corked?
Unfortunately, occasionally a wine will taste out of condition. It is often fairly easy to identify a wine that has a problem – at its worst, the wine can smell pungent, musty and damp, or have an aroma of burnt matches. Lower levels of taint can strip the wine of its fresh, fruity aromas, often leaving it tasting neutral or sharp.
Does all wine get better with age?
No, no, no… Not all wines are produced with the expectation that they will be tucked away in a cellar for years on end. Much of the wine that is produced internationally, every year is best enjoyed in its first flush of youth. The exceptions are those that have particular characteristics, which allow a wine to grow more subtle and complex with time. These will often come from vineyard sites with long proven track records. They tend to be complex reds with sufficient tannin and balance. Whites benefit from a balance between richness and acidity, some of the finest examples being the sweeter, lower alcohol German Rieslings.