Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday! I have a treat for you today. I met paranormal romance author Christine Ashworth sometime ago in a WANA blogging course. One of the features that keeps me coming back to her blog is her posts on finding good, inexpensive wine. She taste tests, rates wines, and makes recommendations.
Since I enjoy a nice glass of wine and I enjoy Christine Ashworth, I asked her to come on and talk about the unique language of wine. If you’ve ever wondered what “bouquet” or “vintage” means or what a “tannin” is, read on.
Wine connoisseurs seems to have their own language at times. It can be confusing for newbies to hear about a drink being dry or full-bodied. So help us out with a few of the basics. What are the most common words used to describe different the taste of wines and what do they mean?
CA: Dry usually means it doesn’t have much sugar in it. Sweet wines have a thickness to them; dry ones, not so much. Wines can also be thin in taste, or full-bodied. Thin can mean astringent, or maybe just not a lot of flavor. Full-bodied, to me, means it has a nice, big, round feel in my mouth. Thin wines tend to be popular in the summertime.
What are tannins? How do they affect the taste of wine?
CA: Good damned question. You know what? I didn’t have a clue, except that people tend to be allergic to them, or that’s the part of wine that gives us a headache. (Funny, I always thought it was the alcohol content. Stupid me.) However, I did some research. Here’s what Wikipedia says about tannins…
A tannin (also known as vegetable tannin, natural organic tannins or sometimes tannoid, i.e. a type of biomolecule, as opposed to modern synthetic tannin) is an astringent, bitter plant polyphenolic compound that binds to and precipitates proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids. Here’s another site I went to – I highly suggest your readers go here to find out more about tannins in wine. http://www.wineanorak.com/tannins.htm.
In a floral shop, we know what a bouquet is. What is a “bouquet” regarding wine?
CA: Basically, it’s the same thing. How does the wine smell? Can you smell the fruit? The spice? Pepper, or soil, or flowers? Citrus? All of these scents can be found when you smell wine. It’s all in how you approach it. Also, it helps to take a class. For what it’s worth, though, I usually smell grapes, and earth, and maybe sun and citrus for white wines. Rarely does my nose take me down twisty paths of green pepper or sun-baked tomatoes.
But how do you smell the bouquet? Pour a little bit of wine into a fairly large, open mouthed wine glass and swirl the wine around the glass. Sniff lightly, move the glass away from your nose, then take a deeper sniff of the wine. What do you smell? If the label on the bottle gives you scents, such as peach or berry, then see if you can smell the peach or the berry notes.
I’ve seen the term “appellation” on a wine label. What does it mean?
CA: Appellation is referring to where the wine was grown. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appellation
has this to say:
The tradition of wine appellation is very old. The oldest references are to be found in the Bible, where wine of Samaria, wine of Carmel, wine of Jezreel, or wine of Helbonare mentioned. This tradition of appellation continued throughout the Antiquity and the Middle Ages, though without any officially sanctioned rules. Historically, the world’s first exclusive (protected) vineyard zone was introduced in Chianti, Italy in 1716 and the first wine classification system in Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary, in 1730.
So there’s that.
What does “vintage” refer to? How is that helpful in choosing a wine?
CA: “Vintage” refers to the date the wine was bottled, and not the date it was put up for sale. For instance, most wine bottled in 2012 won’t be put up for sale until 2014 at the earliest. However, the closer a red wine is sold to its vintage date, the iffier it is (in my opinion). Since we’re in 2013, I like drinking 2009 and 2010 wines.
Red wine needs to “breathe.” Of course, we know that isn’t a reference to respiration, so what is it? Why do red wines need to breathe?
CA: Letting a wine breathe just means to give the wine as much exposure to oxygen as possible. When wine mixes with air, it warms the wine, allowing its scents to come out, and often oxygen will soften the flavors of the wine as well. You can do one of three things to aerate a wine. First, just pour it into a wine glass and let it sit. Second, pour it through an aerator (or, alternatively, blow bubbles through a straw into the wine. But restaurants tend to frown on this.). Third, decant the wine into a fancy decanter, or into a pitcher if that’s what you have. Any of these options will allow more oxygen into the wine. On a side note: it’s been proven that the best way to aerate a wine is to put it in your blender and give it a whirl. No, seriously. The Wine Spectator has a take on it. Check out that post. http://www.winespectator.com/drvinny/show/id/45859
What does a “sommelier” or “wine steward” do?
CA: A good sommelier knows his restaurant, the wine he pours, the ciders and ales and beers they have, and is even knowledgeable about cigars. They can help take you beyond the typical “drink red with beef, white with fish.” Wine can either complement your food, or contrast with it; a good sommelier will take into account what you are ordering, plus your price point, and will suggest a wine that will go well with your meal. The absolutely most important thing the wine steward, or sommelier, does is choose the house wine. The house wine must pair attractively with all the dishes on the menu. If you’re interested in becoming a sommelier, here’s a great article on what it takes (or doesn’t take): http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/food-facts/food-careers/how-to-become-a-sommelier2.htm .
A test question: What is “enology”?
CA: “Enology” is the study of wine. Did I pass?
In my house, we talk about the wonder of the “Houdini”—not the master escape artist, but the handy-dandy wine-bottle opener we purchased. What are the names of some other neat contraptions you recommend for wine drinkers?
CA: I flunk this, sorry. I don’t do gadgets. I have a typical bartender’s corkscrew and that’s pretty much it.
And since you’re here, could you give us a quick suggestion for a white, a blush, and a red?
CA: My favorite white, this week, is Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay; for a rose´(I shudder at the term “blush”), Sofia has a nice one; and for red, my inexpensive go-to is always Smoking Loon Pinot Noir.
Anything else we need to know about the language of wine?
CA: In my opinion, the most important thing about wine is to not be intimidated by people who sound like they’re very knowledgeable; half the time they’re just as clueless as you are. The only thing you “need” to know about wine is, do you like it? Or not? If you don’t like it, then don’t buy it again. Pretty simple, huh?
I stumbled across a terrific post about tasting wine. Go to http://findingourwaynow.com/2013/02/taking-the-mystery-out-of-wine-tasting-wine.html – she does an excellent job of taking the mystery out of wine tasting.
Wow, Julie – I’m starting to realize just how much I don’t know about wine, lol! I’ll be doing some studying in the next few weeks. Thanks so much for having me here, I really appreciate it.
It’s been my pleasure, Christine! I definitely know more about wine now. And yes, yes, of course you passed the test.
Do you have any other questions for Christine about wine or her books?
Christine Ashworth drinks wine, writes novels and plays, and encourages her extremely bright sons to get out into the job market. You can find her on twitter, facebook and at her website.
For more information about Christine, you can find her at Christine Ashworth-Wicked…with a Side of Saucy.