You’ve probably heard some form of a saying about teaching a subject makes you understand it better, and I couldn’t be a better example myself. Years of teaching weekly wine class for various staffs and Wine 101’s for new hires has engrained the “basics” of wine into my brain. Drilling staff on varietals, styles, regions and tasting has made me all the better for it. I have to say wine education is probably the most enjoyable part of my job.
I had a short building blocks lesson I shared with a recent “student” and wanted to share it. Some of us want to jump up ahead and get into the sexy parts, grapes, winemakers, styles, but without knowing the “roots” (wine pun) you will not truly understand it.
This is a lesson I’ve led most recent Wine 101’s off with—trying to keep it simple and give a base which to build off of.
Two of the most important components inside of grapes are the SUGARS and ACIDS.
Remember, grape vines are plants, and all plants use a what major source for energy? …The sun!
WARM vs COLD CLIMATES:
Grapes ripen in the sun, and when it is warmer and the sun is out, grapes develop sugars. When it is cooler, and the sun goes down acid levels rise in grapes. The grapes go through this cycle for months of sun-up sun-down all the way till the grapes have ripened fully. The best grapes reach optimal ripeness and have the perfect balance of acid and sugar for the style the winemaker is looking for.
Sugar is the fuel of fermentation. Simply put, fermentation is the process when yeast (fungi) eats the sugar (in the grape juice) and produces three things: alcohol, heat and CO2. The heat usually dissipates, and the CO2 evaporates. (unless you are making bubbles—another story for another time)
So, in turn, the more sugar in your grape, the more fuel you have for fermentation, and the more
potential for alcohol.
TO OAK OR NOT TO OAK:
Wine is generally fermented and/or aged in either stainless steel or oak barrels, or a combo of both
Stainless is neutral and adds no flavors to a wine.
The use of oak barrels is a stylistic choice and can be used in a couple basic ways.
1. Wine can be fermented in oak.
2. Oak is used to age wine, mellow it out, soften its sharp edges.
New oak provides higher level of added flavors like vanilla, toast, coconut, and general wood tones.
Old/used or neutral oak provides little to no added flavors and is more of just a simple vessel for wine to settle and age gently.
This is my simple building block lesson for wine styles, usually followed by and old vs new world break down.
Again, being teacher will make you a better student, and putting in the time there will benefit not only them but yourself as well, and hopefully everyone around you.