Basics of Wine

To learn a little more about wine, here are the answers to general questions about wine that you’ve probably already asked yourself.

Are you starting your wine tasting experience and would like to complete it with a theoretical introduction to oenology? This article is made for you!

Why is the wine red/white/pink?

This is certainly one of the first questions we ask ourselves about wine: why does it exist in white, red, rosé and even orange? Contrary to what one might instinctively think, this cannot be explained by the colour of the grape variety (the grape variety)… Indeed, whether the grapes are white or red, their juice remains white.

The differences in the colour of the wine are in fact mainly explained by the maceration of the grape skins in the fermenting juice. In particular, anthocyanins, soluble pigments located in the skin of the grapes, are responsible for the red hue of the wine. As for the intensity of the colour, various parameters are taken into account, such as the grape variety, vine yields, terroir and climate, vinification, maturing, sugar content and the age of the wine.

Except for the specific case of champagne, rosé wine is not a blend of white and red wine! It is a maceration on the same principle as that of red wine, but much shorter.

It is thus possible to make white wine from red grapes (by not macerating the skins with the juice), while the opposite is not true. Indeed, by macerating the white grape skins, we do not of course obtain red wine, but still wine… orange.

What is the wine made of?

This question may arise less often, when it is quite legitimate: what is the chemical composition of the wine? It is mainly composed of water, at about 85%, and alcohol (mainly ethanol, but also glycerol, sorbitol, butylene glycol and methanol), about 12 to 16%. It also includes sugars (glucose and fructose), acids (tartaric, citric, acetic, lactic, malic…) and phenolic compounds (tannins, anthocyanins).

There are also mineral substances (anions – negative ions -, cations – positive ions -, and metals) including potassium, sulphur, phosphorus, chlorine, as well as various organic substances.

Why are some white wines sweet?

The first time you tasted a sweet or sweet wine, you probably wondered where the sugar came from. Don’t imagine a winegrower sweetening his dry white wine, the process is of course natural!

A quick reminder: during fermentation, the sugar in the grapes is transformed into alcohol. In the case of dry wines, almost all the sugars are transformed into alcohol, while in the case of sweet wines, not all the sugar is transformed and there is therefore residual sugar left; this is because the grapes were initially sweeter (harvested very late, or botrytized, or even raisined).

How to store my wine properly?

When you start to buy bottles that you do not immediately consume, the question arises as to their conservation. The main parameters to be taken into account are temperature (ideally between 12 and 13°C), humidity (70-75% humidity), darkness and absence of vibrations.

And the bottles must absolutely be kept lying down to keep the cork moist (and thus prevent it from drying out and losing its airtightness, or even falling into the bottle).

Why do we have to age some wines and others not?

You have difficulty understanding why you were advised to drink a particular Bordeaux wine in about ten years’ time, while another Beaujolais or Loire wine is recommended for immediate consumption? How do I know which wine to expect and which one to drink quickly?

As expected, the answer to this question is complex and several parameters need to be considered. And even worse, there is no general truth in this matter, only major trends with many exceptions! There is an immense diversity of wines and some are produced with the idea of being drunk quickly, “on the freshness of the fruit”, while others require several years of ageing in order to “soften” and flourish, to offer all their complexity.

Roughly speaking, wines to be drunk quickly will be less powerful, fruity and less complex, often with a certain freshness. On the other hand, wines with a long ageing potential will show great concentration, a lot of balance (freshness and body) and have often been aged for a long time. They also generally come from great terroirs that require waiting to express all their facets.

Concentration, which is one of the main elements defining the potential for wine ageing, varies according to region, grape variety (Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is more suitable for ageing than Gamay or Jacquère), winegrower’s work (low yields for better concentration and long vinifications).

In general, some appellations will no longer be oriented towards ageing (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône), while others generally produce ready-to-drink wines (Beaujolais, Loire, Alsace).

But this is only a general trend, which should be taken with some caution because within each region there are very different styles according to the appellations and the winegrowers. And even within the same estate, there can be a cuvée to drink without delay and a wine to keep for a long time!

Should the wines be decanted? How to ventilate them?

Here too, a question that is sometimes a little intimidating for the neophyte, and which above all has very different answers depending on the interlocutors! We are used to saying that in case of doubt, it is better not to decant, as this operation is potentially “dangerous” for fragile wines such as old vintages!

Opening the bottle a few hours in advance and then aerating the wine in its glass is more than enough in many cases. Similarly for decanting, the operation not being the easiest, it is perhaps preferable to simply place the bottle vertically two days before tasting, so that the deposits remain at the bottom, then serve the wine delicately without tilting the bottle too much.

How to recognize the defects of the wine (Oxidation, reduction, cork)?

Are you afraid of the solemn moment of tasting the wine in the restaurant? You sometimes have doubts about the quality of the wine, especially about the fact that it is corked, but you don’t dare to talk to the sommelier about it for fear of making a mistake?

If it is always possible in case of doubt to ask the sommelier’s opinion, it is better to learn to recognize the defects of the wine yourself. In concrete terms, a corked wine will result in a fairly pronounced musty, damp smell: a fairly recognizable smell, in short. This defect is due to the chemical treatment of the cork stopper with the tri-chloro-anisole (TCA) molecule.

Another common defect of wine is reduction: a smell of musty, croupi, or even faisandée meat. These aromas are a sign that the wine has been locked up for a long time and has been too deprived of oxygen. They normally disappear quickly with the aeration of the wine.

Finally, the wine can sometimes be oxidized (which is not a defect when it is voluntary as in the case of yellow wines): it will express aromas of chard apple, cider, nuts.

Why are there such price differences between the different wines?

Here again, the question is really not simple… We can try to find answers with four main elements that influence the quantity produced: yields, terroir, the work of the winegrower and the quality of the vintage.

Indeed, the quality of a wine depends in particular on the work of the vine and its yields: the lower the yields, the more concentrated and therefore qualitative the grapes are (whereas the higher they are, the more diluted the material is); it is therefore easy to understand that for a winegrower to be able to produce low yields and therefore a more qualitative wine, he is obliged to make better use of his wine (since he will produce much less quantities).

Naturally, the quality of a terroir is strongly correlated to the price per hectare of vines and a winegrower settling on a very famous terroir will logically be able to acquire a much smaller surface area than if he had chosen to settle on a terroir deemed less qualitative (the price of the vine has nothing to do with a hectare of grand cru de Bourgogne and a hectare in Languedoc for example).

And if you say small area, you mean small production, so if the winegrower with 3 hectares wants to get away with it, he has to sell his more expensive wine than the winegrower at the head of about a hundred hectares.

Finally, the work of the winegrower also plays an essential role in the price of wine: an organic estate requires more human labour and induces greater risks of loss, as well as an estate where mechanisation is minimal generates a higher wage cost, many parameters come into play, such as the choice of breeding (new barrels have a significant cost, just as very long breeding can bring cash flow problems)…

So certainly, it can be said that some estates do not really meet these conditions leading to low production and yet value their wines extremely well, thanks to a flawless reputation and worldwide demand

Is a recent vintage necessarily worse than an older one?

As seen in question 5, the answer is obviously no: it all depends on the type of wine you are dealing with. Some wines will be much better to drink within two years (especially many rosé aperitifs for example, or entry-level vintages), while for others, opening them too early would be a terrible infanticide!

On the other hand, what is important is to know the period at which the wine will reach its peak, and for how long it will remain there. Don’t forget that iDealwine provides you, on the sheets of wines offered for sale, the ideal date of consumption.