The Secret World of Wine
Is vintage wine always better?
The number of wines that will improve, or age, over time is much smaller than you think. White wine (with a few rare exceptions) does not mature, on the contrary, it is best drunk while it is still fresh, up to one year after harvest. The same with rosé: that should be fresh, too. The same for cheap red. Only red wine that has been produced by the best vineyards and from the best varieties of grape can age in the bottle, after maturing in oak barrels for a few months (12-24). Most sweet wines can also age for many years, some for several decades. Vintage champagne can also age for many years.
This is a complete myth! Whose room? A Greek room? French? Russian? Somewhere else? The famous 'room temperature' is nothing more than a vague idea, which tells us nothing about the ideal temperature at which wine should be drunk. Isn't it more useful to know that most red wines are drunk between 15-16°C, aged reds at 18°C and nouveau wines between 12-14°C.
Red with meat, white with fish
And who said we can't do the opposite: white with meat and red with fish? Chicken, pork, rabbit, in fact all white meat, if lightly cooked, can be served with a white wine that has been fermented and matured in oak, and so has a more intense, full flavour. On the other hand, fatty fish, like salmon or swordfish fillet, if cooked to be slightly spicy, would suit a light red wine, for example, a Burgundy, a Beaujolais-Villages, a Valpolicella or a fresh Agiorgitiko.
The label is the wine's ID. A careful reading of the front and, on wines which have one, back label, is enough to tell you a lot of important information about it: the year it was harvested, the country and region it came from, the variety or varieties from which it was made, the producer, the level of alcohol, and a lot of other, somewhat less important details. Of course, the label also says a lot about the aesthetic attitude and seriousness of the producer, as a bad label will inspire us less than a more tasteful one; just as a label that has been badly stuck on, or is half torn, will put us off, when compared with one that is placed neatly on the bottle.
Pour the wine into quite a large glass, being careful not to fill it more than one third full. Hold the glass in front of a white background, and see how pure the colour is. The more you learn about the world of wine, the more you will be able to tell from looking closely at the colour. You will learn that that the darker the wine, the richer it usually is in aromas and flavours, and that wine which sticks to the side of the glass, looking slightly thick, is usually more full bodied than those which look thinner. Finally, you will see that the greenish yellow of most young white wines turns to a deeper straw colour over time, until it becomes an intense gold, while the purple 'worn' by red wines in their youth takes on a more reddish-brown hue as they mature.
As you swirl the wine in the glass, you release all its aromas. Once you have finished, slowly place your nose over the edge of the glass and try and make out the intensity, the sophistication, the complexity and the type of the wine's aromas. Do the same thing repeatedly, until you feel that you have spotted all the aromatic signals that the wine is sending. Only after your nose has gradually become accustomed to the types of aromas to found in various types of wine, will you be able to create your own 'memory bank' of aromas that you can bring to the fore every time you try a new wine.
Finally! The time has come to drink the wine. Take a good sip and...Be careful! Don't swallow the wine immediately. Give it a little time. Allow it to flow over the whole of your tongue, where there are the taste buds responsible for recognising the four tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Sweetness is tasted at the front edge of the tongue, which is why it is spotted so quickly, sour is recognised further back, at the edges of the tongue. Bitterness is sensed at the back of the tongue, which is why it is tasted as we swallow. Salty is a taste rarely found in a wine. The great secret of taste is hidden at the back of the mouth, in a cavity which is, basically, part of the nose. You see, what we think taste is, in reality, is a large extent smell, as the mouth cavity connects to the olfactory centre. So, hold the wine in your mouth and try to draw in a little air at the same time. This will help it to express the aromas more intensely. Briefly pretend you are chewing, and let the wine cover the whole surface of the tongue, before coming to a final decision.
If it is not at the right temperature, no wine will be at its best. If the wine is warmer than it should be - whether red or white – all you will taste is what's wrong with it. A little too cold and it will close in on itself, 'locking up' its aromas.
Here are the perfect temperatures for serving wine:
|Champagne, sparkling wine, dessert wine (sweet)
||7 ° C - 9 ° C
|Dry white wines
||8 ° C - 10 ° C
|Dry white wine aged in oak barrels
||10 ° C -12 ° C
||10 ° C - 12 ° C
|Aged red wine
||16 ° C - 18 ° C
You can enjoy any wine in one of just three types of glass. Get rid of any glass that is decorated, engraved or coloured. Plain glass or crystal, nothing else. You should also avoid small wine glasses, as they will not allow the wine to breathe. You should go for quite large 'tulip' glasses, with a long stem and a long bowl, which gets narrower as it goes up, in order to trap in the wine's aromas. Fill the glass until it is one third full, to keep the wine at its ideal temperature, while leaving enough empty space for the aromas to collect.
The advantages of a stemmed glass
The stem on a glass allows you to hold it without your hands blocking your view of the wine. So that you can more easily check the colour, clarity and oiliness of the wine. A stemmed wine glass also allows you to hold it without your hands coming into contact with the sides of the bowl and affecting the temperature of the wine. Also, when you hold the glass by the stem, you have your hands away from your nose, so any smells that might be on your hands cannot easily get into your nose and mix in with the aromas of the wine. Finally, the stem helps you swirl the wine more comfortably and easily.
Everyone! Anyone with a nose in working order can try and appreciate wine. Even if you don't know much about wine, you are entitled to your opinion on what you are drinking. However, knowing something about the quality criteria on which wine is judged, can help you judge wine more correctly. Very few people are born with the gift of being able to taste wine. It is a great talent, like football, art, or music. We can all kick a ball or sing a song we love, but few of us are destined to become a Pelé or Mozart!
The attributes of a true connoisseur
Besides acute and objective judgment, a good connoisseur needs another ability: taste memory! The ability to remember flavours is more important for a connoisseur than the nose, since without this, every wine you taste is simply a fleeting experience that is useless as a point of reference or comparison with other, similar, wines. Therefore, the wider taste memory you have, the more you will be able to create a mental bank of aromas and tastes from which to draw information every time you try a new wine, which will help you decide where it is on the quality scale.
Fortunately, these days it is uncommon to find imperfections in wine. And if there are any, they are more to do with isolated bottles rather than whole batches. What does 'bad wine' mean? Is sediment in wine a sign it has gone bad? Should a little cork falling into the wine put you off? Are bubbles of carbon dioxide just below the surface of the wine in a glass a bad omen? None of the above are problems! Sediment is absolutely natural in an aged wine. Small pieces of cork that result from wine being opened awkwardly can be removed in a matter of seconds using a small spoon. Finally, the bubbles are nothing more than carbon dioxide that the producer left in the bottle to make the wine (especially white) a little more lively.
Sulphites and 'loose' wine
It is usually white wine rather than red that expresses strong sulphites. This is because the wine makers add more sulphites to the more sensitive and acidic whites, and because sulphites are easier to spot in a white wine than a red. There is often an increased level of sulphites in a semi-sweet wine, which may suffer from re-fermentation in the bottle due to unfermented sugars. The most dangerous, of course, is 'loose' wine, to which sulphites are added freely and by trial and error, which is why it is better to trust bottled wine. The need for sulphites can be dramatically reduced these days if the grapes are healthy and if modern wine making techniques are used during production.
Wine is a living organism, which evolves continually, charting its own course through its lifecycle. It is born in the winery and goes through the first stage of its youth just after bottling. It then goes through adolescence into maturity, where it remains for a while, before growing old and ultimately dying, taking on the form of bad quality vinegar. The length of the lifespan of every wine is different. Some go through their lives in six months (e.g. Beaujolais nouveau), some in a year (most whites and rosé), some in 4-5 years and some in 10-15. Some (e.g. Vintage Port, Madeira, Sauternes, Tokaji, Vinsanto, Commandaria) need several decades to complete their life cycle and reach absolute maturity.
This is why white wines do not age well. They don't have tannins! Red wines get their tannins during the extraction phase, when the skins and pips remain in contact with the grape juice for several days. The best tannins are those that come from vineyards that grow in the most favoured soil and climate, which are cultivated to provide little fruit, but the best in terms of quality and concentration. Highly productive vines and weaker varieties give the wine poor quality tannins, which are quite often rough and do not improve in the bottle. Indeed, this is the reason why some red wines never develop a smoother flavour, because bad quality tannins will always remain coarse and aggressive.
The effect of tannins in wine is multi-faceted and yet evasive. Their presence protects the wine from oxidisation, helping it to improve with time. A vital part of the development and maturation of wine is the polymerisation of tannins, when tannins join together and form large molecular clusters, which makes the wine more rounded and smooth. It is largely due to the polymerisation of tannins that red wine owes the reduction in roughness and the roundness and softness of taste that comes with time.
It is well known that alcohol can act as a preservative. Therefore, the more alcohol a wine has, the more protectedit is against oxidisation. A classic example is Port, which owes much of its ability to mature to its high alcohol content. However, things are not that simple. A wine with a high alcohol content (13.5 - 15%) does not necessarily mature better than one with less (12.5 - 13%), as successful aging depends on many other factors, chief among which is balance. If, for example, a wine has an alcohol content of 14% but is low in fruit, this does not mean that it will age, as the fruit cannot keep up with the alcohol, and in a few years it will be a wine rich in alcohol but without fruit, an uninviting liquid.
Sugar and endurance over time
Sweet wines have another weapon in their fight against time, their unfermented sugars. It is widely known that sugars act as a preservative, protecting not just the wine, but other food from the ravages of time. The unrivalled ability of many sweet wines to age is mostly due to their unfermented sugars, as well as their high alcohol content. Their high acidity, which is necessary to balance out the sugar and alcohol, also contributes to the wine's ability to age.
Which is most important, the food or the wine? Do you have a great aged wine that you want to show off? Then serve simple food, without lots of sauces and strong flavours, to allow the wine to take centre stage. Or are you serving a rich complex course of great gastronomic appeal? Fine. But the wine should be relatively simple, to allow this rare dish to shine through. You should avoid placing two stunning flavours side by side, as both will fight foryour attention. After all, you don't want to start trouble at your table!
From the book by Giannis Konstantinou
«Wine and its Secrets»