Good food and good wine, surely there is nothing better in life? Well, I am sure you’ll have gathered by now that this combination is one of my passions, so this week I decided to take my passion a step further and attended the first session of the Foundation Level WSET class at the London Wine School in Bermondsey.
For those unfamiliar with the WSET, it stands for a qualification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. I am starting out with Level 1 that provides a basic introduction to the main types and styles of wine, food and wine matching and also an understanding of how to store and serve wine.
Navigating the world of wine is one hell of a task – not only is it VAST but also very subjective by personal preference. What I was particularly interested in is gathering some more knowledge of the regions, grapes and also different ways to describe wine to others. I’ll be a wine boff yet!
Here are a few wine tips for beginners just like me:
WHAT IS WINE?
Wine is the fermented juice of freshly picked grapes – end of! Here is a little round up of what is done to grapes to make wine:
Sugars in the grape juice + yeast (left for a period of time) = alcohol and carbon dioxide
WHAT DO DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE GRAPE BRING TO THE WINE?
- Pulp – this is the juice, and is always clear in black or white grapes. It contains sugar which when fermented, turns to alcohol. The pulp also contains acid which when drunk makes your mouth water. Wines with high acidity encourage you to salivate, so can be described as refreshing
- Skin – the skin contains ‘tannins’ – this is naturally within the skin of the grape and when eaten, drys your teeth and gums out. These tannins can be tasted in red wines (most strongly in full-bodied red wine)
TYPES OF WINE
There are three main types of wine:
- These are usually 8 – 15% ABV (that stands for ‘Alcohol By Volume’)
- They are either categories by REGION or by GRAPE (i.e. region – Champagne or grape – Chardonnay)
- Still (no bubbles)
- The tank is sealed during the fermentation process so that the carbon dioxide can’t escape therefore the bubbles are trapped inside the wine
- Two of the most famous sparkling wine regions: Champagne and Cava
- Fortified wines are wine that have extra alcohol added, and their ABV’s span 15-22%
- A grape based spirit is added at the end of the fermentation process to increase the ABV
- Two of the most famous fortified wines are Port from Portugal and Sherry from Spain
STYLES OF WINE
Use these four categories to describe your wine:
This is literally as it says on the tin, simply, Red, White or Rose. Easy enough? Yes, but lets find out why.
- Red – red wine is made by fermenting black grapes, with skins intact. The grape skins are the source of the colour and then they are removed once the juice has been coloured.
- White – white wine is made from the juice of white grapes. Don’t be fooled, white wine can also be made from black grapes – only if the skin is removed and therefore doesn’t have the chance to colour the juice
- Rose – these wines are made from black grapes where the wine has had less contact with the skins. Just enough to give it a slight blush
Grape juice is naturally sweet but as yeast added feeds on the sugars during fermentation, the juice becomes less sweet. The yeast will die when it reaches 15%, so any residual sugar left will determine how sweet the wine will be. Use these words to describe the sweetness of the wine:
- Dry – the majority of wine you taste can be categorised as dry because the yeast will have turned all the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. e.g. dry whites – Sauvignon Blanc, Brut Champagne (Brut means dry in french!) / dry reds – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti
- Medium – these wines tend to be either white or rose. To make a medium wine, the winemaker removes the yeast from the juice before all the sugar has been consumed or sweet grape juice can be added at the end of the fermentation process. A medium wine should have sweetness but not be cloying or sickly. Lots of big brands like Gallo or Black Tower will make medium wines as they are easier and quicker to drink, almost like a fruit juice! e.g. medium white – German Riesling (pronounced Rees-ling), medium rose – White Zinfandel
- Sweet – the amount of sugar left in sweet wines makes them thicker and richer. The sweetness should be balanced with a refreshing acidity to ensure they aren’t cloying or sickly. Either the yeast is used up before consuming the sugar or alternatively, extra alcohol can be added. e.g. sweet wine – Sauternes or Port
This is the feel of the wine in your mouth whilst you taste and can be described using the following terms:
- Light bodied – characteristics are that these wines are refreshing and easy to drink. e.g. Soave, Pinot Grigio, Beaujolias. (Analogy to explain – Think of these wines as having the texture of water)
- Medium bodied – these wines have more ‘mouthfeel’ and sometimes they can be oaked. Oaked wines are more flavourful so have more body e.g. White Burgundy, Chilean Merlot or Chianti (Analogy to explain – Think of these wines as having the texture of milk)
- Full bodied – these wines pack a punch! They are powerful, concentrated and are made using ripe grapes that sometimes can be oaked to bring out stronger flavours. e.g. Californian Oaked Chardonnay or Australian Shiraz (Analogy to explain – Think of these wines as having the texture of cream. Lots of mouth coating as the wine is richer)
There are other factors that can also contribute to a wines taste or style:
- Oak – these wines are fermented in oak barrels and thus will have picked up flavours, tannin and also contribute to the texture of the wine as a result of contact with the wood. Oaked wines tend to be smoother. Oaked white wines can taste buttery or vanilla flavours, whilst reds can be spicier and smoother.
- Tannin – we touched on this earlier in my post as tannin is a natural substance occurring in grape skin. It makes your mouth feel dry and gives structure, complexity and helps the wine to mature.
- Acidity – this comes from the grape juice and is very important to wine as it makes your mouth salivate. Acidity helps balance the sweetness in wine and without this can mean that wines can become cloying or sickly. It cleanses the palate and often white wines with lots of acidity are refreshing ie. Sauvignon Blanc or Pouilly Fume
NB. I am attending the WSET course on my own accord (as a representative of the Asda team at freuds), however no one has paid or encouraged me to share my notes with you all. Simply enjoy and learn along with me!