Monday, January 14, 2008

The Basics of Wine

Wine making is an art that has been practiced for over four thousand years. Essentially wine comes in three basic types: red, white and sparkling.

If a sparkling wine comes from the Champagne region of France it is named after that region. Other French regions that produce good wine are Bordeaux and Burgundy. The best Italian wines come from Tuscany, and the best American wines come from California.

When wine is made the grapes are crushed and the juice extracted. The juice contains sugar and yeast. The yeast ferments the sugar and gradually alcohol is produced. Although the alcohol is always the same, every wine has its own flavor. This depends on the type of grape used and the conditions in which fermentation occurs.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir grapes make full, rich red wines. Merlot grapes produce lighter, softer red wines. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes make white wines.

Good wines usually have their year of production on the bottle. This is called the vintage. Some years produce better wines than others.

Most red wines improve with a little aging, some for as long as ten years. Most red wines are not distributed until about two years after they are put in the bottle. However, most white wines do not benefit from aging, except for champagne and sweet dessert wines.

Wines can be enjoyed like any other drink, but they are often consumed with a meal. For full flavored meats such as beef choose a full red wine, like a Zinfandel, Cabernet or Syrah.

For lighter meat like pork or lamb a medium bodied red like a Merlot or Pinot Noir is usually a good choice.

Chicken and fish are usually accompanied by white wine like a Chardonnay. This wine will also complement a non-meat dish, as would a Zinfandel or Riesling.

Sparkling and white wines are best served chilled. A red wine should be served when it is only slightly below room temperature. Both wines are best left to stand before opening. Some red wines have sediment which should stay at the bottom of the bottle, and an agitated sparkling wine is often much too eager to leave the bottle.

You can serve a white wine immediately after removing the cork, but a red wine benefits from 'breathing' for about half an hour after the bottle is opened. For best results gently decant the red wine into another container. This allows a greater surface area of the wine to breathe and leaves the sediment behind in the bottle. If you do not have a decanter, pour half a glass from the bottle and let both stand for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

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