Wineducation: Choosing Wine 3: What is it?

Wine is the product of sun, soil and hope, held together by water; it has the power to dazzle our senses and move us to other places.

Grapes are grown on vines. They ripen under the sun. When ready, they are squeezed of their juice, which is fermented to produce an alcoholic fruity liquid. It is all quite simple, really.

However, that beverage can be made into so many different styles it can seem a little daunting: a great mystery and a fascinating ride.

So it is quite a complicated challenge too. Where to begin?

wine is made in the vineyard

Wine falls into two major categories: Red and White. After that simple beginning, we enter the great adventure…with a surprisingly complex yet enthralling taxonomy of branches and sub-branches with twists and turns, forks and blind canyons.

Red wine is the product of black grapes. White wine is the product of green (or black grapes, because the final wine colour comes from the amount of time the juice is allowed to contact the skin during the ‘maceration’ period after crushing. Hang on, is this the simple bit.

In fact, there are as many shades of green and purplish grapes as you might imagine and so it is with wines; many hues, depths, weights. And just like two letters can make endless sounds depending on how they are arranged in order, so two colours of grapes can make thousands of styles of wines.

black grapes can make white wine

There are thousands of grape varieties of which less than a few hundred make decent wine. And of those only about 30 that most folks have heard of, and of those only about ten that are in common parlance. And it’s with those very grapes that the novice finds the starting blocks for the Wine-a-thon. For it is not a dash to the line…drink vodka, if that’s the purpose.

If the journey is as important to you as it is to the gazillions of oenophiles (pronounced enofile and possibly Greek for ‘wine nerd’) on this globe then start with these 10 most common grapes. Go find some wines made from these grapes. Maybe find 4 from different countries. That’s easiest with those in bold.

  • whites: Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio.
  • reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah (Shiraz), Tempranillo, Malbec.

Here are some handy hints on getting started with learning about wine

  1. Learn about different grape varieties. Traditionally fine wine was made from mainly French grape varieties, but now a much wider range of grape varieties have come into the mainstream awareness. One hurrah for globalization.
  2. Get information from the experts. Read books and blogs on wine. Purchase wine guides although they can go out of date very quickly and one can seldom find the particular wines or vintages recommended therein. Subscribe to wine magazines.
  3. Go to a wine shop and ask the staff for recommendations. I know, I know. This is the crux of the issue here in Shanghai. No-one in Carrefour (and most retailers) knows anything about the wines they sell. But you can find help even here if you look for bottles of wine with write-ups near them, award citations and high magazine ratings. Try to go when you know the store is holding a tasting with samples. Ask questions.
  4. Subscribe to online wine newsletters. They are free and informative. Try ours, it is specific to the Shanghai wine world.

5. Have an informal tasting either at a friends house or a BYOB restaurant where each person brings a different bottle of wine. This way you can taste a bunch of different things without spending a lot of money. And you get a great deal of wine. Try to make sure your guests bring wines of the same value or it can get a little tetchy.

6. Join a wine group. you might want to consider becoming a platinum member of our Wine Club. A fast track way to meet and learn with others.

7. Attend a local wine tasting or a wine appreciation class. These are held at adult schools, wine making schools and fine restaurants and even in your own homes. Just ask.

8. Look for a wine school in Shanghai. Most host courses or tastings. Local restaurants also may hold wine appreciation classes. There are also online alternatives such as the Certified Wine Expert (CWX) program or the world renowned Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET).

9. Visit a winery. You’ll learn how wine is made, see how the grapes are grown and be taught the proper procedure for drinking wine. Not easy in China, but do-able.

The Wine Man

December 2011

Next time: we look at your wine type and how taste buds, preferences, likes, dislikes, moods, and a plethora of other subjective insights, opinions and emotions influence our experience.

Maybe to learn about a single grape variety you could start with one of our 2 current single varietal mixed cases,

Several Sauvignons Blanc (1st & 2nd Tier Wines)

Price: ¥1,425

Cabernet! (1st & 2nd Tier Wines)

Price: ¥1,050

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