– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)
Drink wine, and you will sleep well. Sleep, and you will not sin. Avoid sin, and you will be saved. Ergo, drink wine and be saved.
– Old saying
Some of the greatest pleasures of life lie in simplicity. The humble grapes that are fermented into wine only go on to prove this point.
Whoever invented wine – intentionally or by accident – may have never thought the drink would go on to perennially grace fine-dining tables across the world.
Let us explore what is it that has had many a connoisseur appreciating, adulating and finally commending this drink as nonpareil.
New world, new tastes
At one point in time, wines were synonymous with the vineyards of France. While Bordeaux and Burgundy still remain eternal favourites, Italian, South African and Californian wines have also made inroads into the connoisseurs’ taste buds.
Some of the latest wines in the market are from our own country. Areas near Nashik and Bangalore have come up very well as the new wine districts of the world.
Know your wine
Let’s tease your taste buds now by learning how to know your wine better. A wine is distinguished by:
~ Name of the shipper/producer (For example, Cockburn Smithes, Sula Vineyards, Davenport Vineyards, etc)
~ Area or region where it is produced (Alsace, Bordeaux, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Hunter Valley, Canberra region, etc)
~ The year of production
~ The kind of grape from which it is manufactured, determining the texture and smoothness. White grapes include chardonnay, marsanne, riesling, etc while examples of red or black grapes are barbera, cabernet franc, pinotage, etc
~ The aroma or bouquet (a distinctive and characteristic fragrance) of the wine
Certain years – when the crops were exceptionally good, resulting in excellent wines – are called vintage years.
Each wine-producing region has its own list of vintage years. It is well known that the more aged the wine, the steeper the price. This is because as the wine matures, it acquires a flavour and texture that is simply fantastic. Vintage wines are especially very expensive.
In general, wines have between 11 to 14 per cent alcohol. It may not sound very intoxicating, but trust me, you can get very drunk on wine!
Wine bottles are generally stored in cellars or in cool, dark places at a tilted angle such that when the bottle is full, the wine touches the cork. Nowadays one can also find wines in regular sealed bottles.
Red wine is made of black grapes. It is usually served at room temperature, ie, 14 to 18 degree centigrade (remember, room temperature is with reference to France, where wine originated.)
In India, you can keep it in the fridge. It is an ideal accompaniment for red meat.
Red wine glasses are smaller than white wine glasses and have a broader rim.
If stored correctly, most red wines last for two to three years after opening. Ideally, they should be stored in a rack where the temperature can be maintained 17 degree centigrade or below.
Bottles should be stored horizontally or titled at an angle. They should not be exposed to sunlight or to extreme changes in temperature.
Some red wines that can be stored for three to 10 years include vintage port (red wine mixed with brandy), red Bordeaux (red wine manufactured in the Bordeaux), some cabernet sauvignon (cabernet is a type of grape variety) or merlot-based wines (merlot is a grape variety), etc.
Apart from the taste, red wine is purportedly good for the heart and makes your skin glow, so long as it is consumed in moderate quantities (not more than two glasses per day).
White wine may be produced from white grapes or even from black grapes whose skin is peeled off. It is served chilled at about 8 to 10 degree centigrade.
White wine glasses have a narrow rim. The wine goes well with white meat (sea food or chicken). Generally, white wines are drier than red wines (ie, they do not leave a sweet aftertaste).
Most white wines are best drunk within a year after opening. Storage conditions should be similar to that of red wines. The rarities that can be stored for longer periods – three to years — include the better chardonnays, vintage champagnes and the fully sweet white wines.
Celebrations and champagne go together, for what reflects a spirited environment better than the bubbly, effervescent champagne?
Champagne is made from a mixture of black and white grapes. After fermentation, it is infused with carbon while bottling.
It is also known as sparkling wine. But remember, only the sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France is called champagne. The rest are simply called sparkling wines.
While the manufacturing technique is similar, champagne is known to be more complex-flavoured (the flavours and the aroma are subtle) and less fruity than other sparkling wines.
In general, champagnes are also aged longer than sparkling wines. Some examples of sparkling wines produced outside of Champagne include Mousseux (France), Cava (Spain), Sekt (Germany) and Spumante (Italy).
Champagne is served in flutes or saucers. The shape of the flute ensures that it does not go flat soon. Saucers serve only a small amount of the drink, so that it can be had before the effervescence vanishes.
Champagnes are popularly used to make exciting cocktails. Some cocktails that you may find include Champagne Flamingo (with campari and vodka), Champagne Cocktail (with angostura bitters), Black Velvet (with Guinness), Mimosa (with orange juice), etc.
Fortified wines are wines mixed with brandy in varied proportions. It results in higher alcohol content and a stronger flavour. Generally, fortified wines have between 17 to 21 per cent alcohol.
The most popular fortified wines include port, sherry, Madeira, Marsala, Málaga and Montilla-Moriles.
Most of them are named after the place where they are produced. Because of the addition of brandy, these wines are stabilised and are less likely to get spoiled once they are opened.
They are commonly used as pre-meal appetisers or post-aperitifs, taken at the end of meals.
Most fortified wines and some cocktails such as martinis can be served as appetisers or post aperitifs.
The best mantra for wine buyers is: Read up on grape varieties so that you know what kind of wine you want to buy.
The next important thing while buying wine is the name of the shipper or the producer. In the Indian market, there are only two major players – Chateau Indage and Grovers. They have red, white and champagne.
The price range begins from INR 600 onwards.
Check the label for details on how long the wine has been stored. Ideally, it should be a minimum of six months.
If you want to go for international producers, Italian, Californian and Australian wines are hot right now. While offering good quality, these are not as expensive as the French wines.
Once you have settled on the grape variety and shipper, you need to check on the vintage years. Apart from this, most wine bottles available now include the ‘tasting’ notes as a part of the label.
This includes the flavour, the bouquet, what to accompany, after-taste, alcohol content etc.