Let’s back up this week shall we?
The previous “3 Things to Know” post touched on Old World vs. New World wines, but if you’re a novice wine drinker, you need the basics: What is wine and its common characteristics?
I got you.
1. Okay, I know what wine is. It’s a beverage that goes nicely when catching up with girlfriends or lying on my couch and watching Netflix. But, what exactly is it?
Wine is fermented grape juice. Yeast, which is present on the grapes, on grape vines and in the air, feeds on the sugar present in grape juice and converts the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The grapes used to make wine aren’t what you’ll find at the local supermarket. Wine grapes have seeds, thick skins and are smaller than your standard table grapes. There are thousands of grape varieties (ex. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon) used to make wine. Fun fact: most grape juice – regardless of whether it came from red or green grapes – is clear. Red wine gets its tint from the skins of red grapes.
2. Are there certain wines where not all of the sugars are converted into alcohol?
Yep! Wines with sugar left over from the fermentation process – this is called residual sugar– are typically labeled as sweet wines or dessert wines. These types of wines include Moscato (hello, Drake), ice wine, port and sweet Riesling. Most wines do not have residual sugar and are labeled as dry, even if your tastebuds are screaming “this is sweet!” from the flavors the wine imparts, specifically fruit-forward wines like Pinot Grigio.
3. The Cabernet Sauvignon I had recently was the opposite of sweet. It literally sucked the moisture from my mouth. The hell?
The dryness and bitterness you experienced was due to tannins, a common characteristic mostly found in red wines, like the Bordeaux varieties (ex. Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec), Syrah and Barolo. Tannins come from the skin, stem and seeds of a grape, and when left to mix with the grape’s juice for long periods of time, produces wines high in tannin. Aging wine in oak barrels also produces this effect. All wines have tannins, however red wines have higher levels than white wines. In order to color a wine red, grape skins must soak in the juice for extended periods of time. If you’re still recovering from cotton mouth, wines such as Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Beaujolais (my favorite) are low in tannins.