Let’s Get Back to Square One…
When you teach a kid how to read, you don’t start with a book, you teach him the shape of the letters, the alphabet, then the words and eventually, after a while, you open his first book. There isn’t much difference with wine and the learning process, you don’t start with the best ones, because they need experienced palates, and in my opinion, you shouldn’t even start with wine…
What is wine made of?
We all know that wine is made of grapes. But then again, only a few people will ever do a grape tasting. All the key elements of wine are enclosed in that little berry, so let’s get back to the scratch. I would like you to get some black grapes, a small sharp knife and a chopping board: this is the grape tasting!
We chose black grapes because they are the ones that cover everything: reds, whites & rosés, even sparkling wines. White grapes can only make white wine, and we’ll see why in a second. Alright first, make sure you wash your grapes well and grab your knife. Start peeling off the grape, making sure that you only have the skin on one side and the pulp on the other.
What Makes Red Wine Red?
Now unless you’ve been lucky enough to find what we call a Teinturier grape, which is black all the way through, the pulp should be colourless. There are only about 12 varietals out of all thousands of grapes in this Teinturier category, and they are traditionally used to darken some blends.
If you look at your fingers and everything that touches the grape skin, you will notice that the colour is quickly spreading. The pigments that are responsible for the red colour of red wine are located in the skin, so that you can press grapes and quickly remove the skins to produce white wines out of black grapes, and if you leave them in contact with the juice, called “must” for winemaking, you will produce some rosé first and eventually some red after a longer maceration period. This is why black grapes can produce all sort of wines and white grapes only white wine.
What are Tannins?
Grab a piece of that skin and chew it. It is not the nicest part of the grape, but what it will teach you is what happens around your gums then. Can you feel the dry, astringent effect it has on them? It comes from tannins, this scary word you might have heard of before. These tannins, mostly present in reds, define the structure of the wines. We classify them from:
Light-Bodied Reds: for the wines with low tannins such as wines made of Pinot Noir, Beaujolais wines made of Gamay or even Garnacha wines from Spain
Medium-Bodied Reds: wines for those that dry your gums a little more, in there we’ll find most wines made of Merlot, Tempranillo, Shiraz or even the famous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Full-Bodied Reds: that are big and dry, often food-dependent, such as wines made of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Nebbiolo in Barolo…
The Pulp: Aromas, Acidity & Sugars
After that, grab a piece of pulp and chew it. Now this is the nice part as it contains sugar and refreshing acidity. What this will teach you is where to find the tasting receptors on your tongue. The tip of your tongue is probably watering right now, which is an indication of sweetness. As a good way of remembering it, if the tip of your tongue waters, then the wine is sweet, if it is dry, then the wine is dry, as in “not sweet”.
Most people get confused between a fruity wine and a sweet wine. Aromas of ripe fruits trick our brains into thinking that it must be sweet, only the tip of your tongue will help you to know if there is sweetness in the wine. Remember that most “sweet wines” are dessert wines, whereas plenty of fruity wines, such as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New World Chardonnay, are either dry or slightly off-dry.
The other element in that pulp is the acidity and the receptors for it are located on the sides of your tongue. That acidity, which prevents the wine from spoiling over the years, is very important. First, by making the sides of your tongue water, it provides a refreshing crisp finish to your wines. Second, it allows us to classify your white wines into three categories:
Light-Bodied Whites are those with a lower acidity such as Pinot Grigio for example
Medium-Bodied Whites are those that make the sides of your tongue water a bit more, such as wines made of Chardonnay, Viognier, the lovely Gavi di Gavi or white Rioja
Full-Bodied Whites usually to have with food, for the high-acid sharp Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling for example.
The Body of Wines
Certified Sommelier (CMS)
I really hope that helped, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you feel like I forgot something in here. Good luck with your wine studies!