Bottle Corks Though sometimes problematic, cork bottle stoppers have been in use for hundreds of years. Traditional cork bottle stoppers, however, are rapidly giving way to more secure metal or plastic bottle caps.

A Wine Tutorial
for the Curious

A bit more than you probably
  really want to know about wine

    The wine cup is the little silver well,
     Where truth, if truth there be, doth dwell.
    (William Shakespeare 1564–1616 CE;
    As You Like It, 1599 CE)
    After wine blurts truthful speech
    (Chinese saying)
    In wine, there is truth
    In vino veritas
    (Pliny the Elder: 23–79 CE)

In the Beginning

Alcoholic beverages have been around for 10,000 years or more. Grape vines and early barley beer began to appear in the Middle East. Fermented honey dates back to 9,000 years ago in northern China and northern India. During the Bronze Age 6,000 years ago, the Bell Beaker culture in what is now Europe, was also fermenting honey.

Greek Banquet, Wine Boy The boy is serving as cup-bearer at a banquet. He is drawing wine with an oinochoe (wine jug) in his right hand to fill a kylix (shallow cup), in his left hand (ca. 490–480 BCE ). About 2,000 years ago, South American Mayans were imbibing alcoholic beverages and, 1,500 years later, introduced the Spanish Conquistadors to Balché, a kind of spiced mead (a fermented mixture of honey and water) used in Mayan religious ceremonies.

Hip Hip Hurrah! (1888)Hip Hip Hurrah! (1888): A feast is a feast is a feast but without wine, a feast is just another meal. Alcohol has found its way into modern religious practices as well. Christians for the past 2,000 years have drunk red wine in celebrating The Lord's Supper, where red wine represents the blood of Christ. Wine permeates nearly all Jewish ceremonies from birth till marriage in rituals that have survived at least 3,000 years of Jewish history. Al­cohol has indeed been an element of human experience for a long time.

    A feast is made for laughter, and
    wine maketh merry, but
    money answereth all things.
    (King James Bible: "Ecclesiastes" 10.19)

An Enduring

The ancient Greeks described wine as "the nectar of the gods". Nowadays, wine is associated with fine dining and the good life. The pursuit of aged Scotch whiskys and the proli­feration of craft beers are challenging wine's exclusivity, but for now, let us focus on wine: what it is, how it is made, and how to enjoy a luxurious and hopefully healthful indulgence.

Vioin and Wine Fine music, fine wine, and a good book are elements of the good life (Photo by Nouvelle Inventions). Nowadays, drinking fine wine and champagne is often associated with important events in our lives and in celebrations of many kinds. Wine-tasting parties are held by innumerable clubs worldwide, as well as by trend-setting "official" wine-tasting events held at famous international resorts. Drinking fine wine has a certain panache.

Pliny the Elder Pliny the Elder of ancient Rome coined the phrase, "In wine, there is truth." Group drinking is a favorite ritual practiced by business people across cultural demarcations. The idea is to loosen the tongue in an attempt to learn about and understand their prospective partners. In vino veritas: "In wine there is truth," is a Roman reference to wine as a lubricant of conversation. Ancient Nordic culture referred to honey wine as the "Mead of poetry". Somehow, we all seem to become poets and raconteurs after having a few, perhaps too many, drinks.


A bunch of grapes on the vine, covered by a dusting of yeast. A bunch of grapes on the vine, covered by a dusting of yeast, which contributes to the maceration process. Although the color of these grapes appears blue, we say "red" grapes. Alcohol or Vinegar: A white, powdery material adheres to the skins of many winemaking grape varieties, the powder being naturally occurring yeast. When yeast feed on the sugar in the grape juice, alcohol and carbon dioxide result.

The temperature at which yeast fermentation takes place is important. Yeast feeding on fruit sugar, formally called "fructose" (C6-H12-O6), in the grape juice will transform fructose at a temperature hovering around 20 °C (68 °F).

An aside: To a chemist, so-called "drinking" alcohol is called ethyl alcohol and poisonous "wood" alcohol is called methyl alcohol. Fruit sugar is called "fructose". The fructose molecule is smaller than the sucrose molecule; sucrose is known as "table sugar". The kind of sugar added to a must or added to an aging batch of wine in storage can effect the character of the final wine.

Carbon dioxide that is produced in the fermentation process is the key to making sparkling wines and Champagne. However, in making still wines (no bubbles), carbon dioxide is a waste product.

White grape vinegar High-quality vinegar is produced by bacterial fermentation of ethyl alcohol. Vinegar (in Korean, choh) is very popular in Korean cuisine. At temperatures above 20 °C (68 °F), the yeast becomes less active and bacteria begin to become more active. As temperature rises, bacteria begin to perform their undesirable magic of fermenting alcohol into acetic acid (C2-H4-O2), more commonly known as vinegar.

A bottle of fine wine can be ruined when stored in a warm location. Storage temperatures below 10 °C (50 °F) or so promise preservation of the quality of a bottle of wine. Unfortunately, temperature alone is not enough to guarantee that a bottle of perfectly good wine does not spoil while in storage. Factors other than temperature also ruin good wine.

Gimchee The iconic dish in Korean cuisine is gimchee (kimchi, gimchi), a fermented spicy mixture of pepper, other condiments, and cabbage. Interestingly, 10 °C is an important temperature for other ancient fermentation processes known to European cheese makers and to Asian chefs, who have been preparing numerous fermented condiments and dishes for centuries, if not millennia.

Both alcohol and vinegar molecules are constructed of only three elements: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Ethanol, methanol, and acetic acid Notice that ethanol has two carbon atoms while methanol has only one carbon atom.

Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) and methyl alcohol (methanol) are disinfectants and are also mild solvents of oils, which explains the association of drinking alcoholic beverages with eating oily foods. Ethanol (C2-H5-OH) and poisonous methanol (C-H3-OH), are also used as renewable bio-fuels for cars, trucks, and buses.

Vinegar (acetic acid, C-H3-COOH) in being acidic, can dissolve tooth enamel and is used in the making of plastics and other materials. Vinegar is also an ingredient in many foods, for example in salad dressings and in some forms of Korean gimchee. For fun, soak a chicken bone in vinegar for a day or two; what happens to the bone?

Making Wine

If you store for a week or two at room temperature a capped bottle of freshly extracted sweet juice from almost any fruit, a bottle of vinegar would probably be the result. Whether the juice turns to wine or turns to vinegar depends on a series of factors, for example: temperature, acidity, sugar content, yeast nutrients within the juice, and length of time exposed to air. If the temperature is on the cool side, a bottle of wine would be the more probable result.

Pineapple wine from Okinawa, Japan"Lagrima Del Sol" (Tears of the Sun) is a pineapple wine made in Okinawa, Japan. Some fruits produce better wines than other fruits; for example, apple cider has long been a popular alcoholic beverage, along with grape wines. Other fruit wines are indigenous to geographic areas. In Hawaii, Thailand, the Dominican Republic, Nigeria, and Mexico, wine is made from pineapple. In Korea, Japan, and China, a fortified (distilled spirits added) sweet wine is made from green plums (mae-shil-joo). Other fruits used in commercially available wines include dandelion, rose hips, elderberry, red current, and cherry, as well as other fruits indigenous to different locales. Although all of these exotic wines may have a pleasant taste, they will lack the complex array of flavors and aromas that we expect from grape wine.

Wine can also be made from pure honey or with spices and honey diluted with water, a beverage known as mead. The name "honey wine" sounds like a delicious tasting beverage, but honey wines lack the complexity of palette and bouquet that one expects from grape wines. Some winemakers add honey to the grape juice during initial fermentation, which provides more sugar to be converted into alcohol, thus boosting alcoholic content.

Selecting Wine

When entering a wine shop, one may become utterly overwhelmed by the large variety of available choices, the bewildering array of alluring bottle labels, and a huge range of prices. How can some order be put into all of this bewilderment?

First, let us assume that we are talking about grape wines. Non-grape wines are another story for another day. Although 8,000 or more varieties of grapes exist, only a relative few varieties are grown for making wine. Disorder can be brought to order by classifying wines according to a hierarchy of characteristics; let us start with color:
red, rosé (roh-zai), and white.

Maceration of the Must: Old fashioned wine press. An old-fashioned wine press gently squeezes juice from the berries. Processing wine begins by gently squeezing the newly harvested berries. The freshly squeezed juice is transferred to an open container and mixed with stems, skins, and seeds. The resulting mixture is called the "must". The must is left to stand for a period time to release the must's constituent chemicals into the juice. Letting the must stand for a period of time is called maceration and is an important first step in developing a wine's character, as well as being the first stage of fermenting juice sugar into alcohol. The color of the final wine is largely determined by the length of time of maceration.

Color: Contrary to what one would expect, all grape juice is white, or more accurately, clear or mildly tinted with a greenish or golden hue. All grape varieties, whether green, yellow, red, black, blue, or purple, produce clear-colored juice. A wine's color is derived from the skins of the berries and is managed during the first stage of winemaking, i.e. maceration. The mixture of grape skins, seeds, stems, and gently squeezed juice is called the must. While the must is macerating, many chemicals interact with each other to shape the character of the final wine.

The longer the maceration period, the more complex and the more full-bodied the final wine will be. If left for too long a period of time, however, bad things can happen and wine fault can occur, cursing a cuvée (batch) of future wine to the shame of being undrinkable.

Must mascerating in an open wine press. The must is macerating in an open container. This not-particularly aesthetic pro­cedure is the beginning of building a wine's fine character.

So, how do we get red wine from clear-colored juice? The must, i.e. the mixture of juice, grape skins, stems, and seeds, is placed in open containers for a period of time. Macerating the must in open wooden vats or stainless steel tanks permits the must to be exposed to air, which encourages the yeast to multiply. Although much of the must's sugar is converted to alcohol during maceration, the more urgent purpose of maceration is to develop a wine's character. Length of maceration varies:

  • a few days or more for white
  • several weeks or more for red
  • an intermediate length of time for rosé
Primary and Secondary Fermentation: The timing of how long the must is left to macerate is determined by the winemaker, who must possess a talent for combining the art and the science of winemaking. If the must is exposed to air for too long a period, then the alcohol will turn to vinegar, from the French vin aigre, meaning “sour wine”.

The first few days or more of maceration in the presence of air encourages the multi­plication of the yeast, referred to as "primary" fermentation. At the completion of primary fermentation, the macerated juice is separated from the must and is transferred from open containers to closed containers, i.e. vats or tanks, where "secondary" fermentation proceeds for another week or two in the absence of oxygen. If the cuvée (batch) is exposed to air for too long a period, alcohol will be converted to vinegar, which would ruin the cuvée.

During secondary fermentation, a witch's brew of naturally occurring chemicals interact to form new compounds, which all together affect several prominent characteristics of fine wines.

Aging: Upon the completion of secondary fermentation, the newly created wine is stored in large, air-tight vats to age. The length of aging varies enormously, but a simple rule of thumb is that price correlates well with length of aging. Nearly all drinkable wine needs some aging, the optimal aging period varies with grape variety, growing conditions, and weather anomalies. The addition of additives by the winemaker to influence the outcome of aging, includes, for example, an assortment of organic acids, sugar, honey, and sodium-sulfite (an anti-bacterial preservative to which some people are allergic).

Labels: The enjoyment that a wine offers is dependent upon a variety of factors, some of which are displayed on bottle labels. Many jurisdictions require that the alcohol content in percentage by volume be displayed on the label. Rules imposed by governments and by international agreements dictate what can or what must be shown on the label and varies by country and local jurisdiction.
Back label of wine bottle. Many local wine merchants attach a special label on the back of bottles; much useful information appears here.

Other information com­monly found on labels is the name of the winery and where the winery is located. If a particular wine from a particular location or a particular winery pleases you, then chances are high that other wines from the same winery will also please your palate.

Quality-wine labels will often display the variety or varieties in a blend of grapes from which the wine was made. Many good quality wines display blend information, where two or more varieties are mixed together. A superb example of a complex blend of different wines is Chateau St. Jean, Cinq Cepages (1998):

  • Cabernet Sauvignon (70%)
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Petite Verdot
Recipes of blends rest upon the expertise of the winemaker. Though rules and regulations differ across international and domestic frontiers, his or her artistry creates unique characteristics of an estate's wines.
Front label of wine bottle.These labels identify the country of origin and the variety of grape.

In many cases, quality wines will also display the year of the grape harvest. When one batch of grapes grown in the same vineyard is used to make a batch of wine, the "unblended" wine is referred to as a vintage wine and the year is displayed. Some vintages are superb, while others are not so good. Out-of-the-ordinary weather conditions or fungal and insect infestation can play havoc with the health of the grapes before harvest. In the case of several kinds of sweet wines, however, certain fungal infections aid in developing a wine's character; the fungus is called "noble rot".

Some vintage wines age well, while others do not age well and must be drunk when still young. Thoughtful wineries and honorable wine merchants post an advisory on the bottle to recommend the best age for drinking a particular bottle. If one enjoys a rich, full-bodied palette, then aged red wines are a good choice. White wines have less prominent characteristics and are described as light bodied. In terms of aging, red wines tend to age better than white wines.

Sparkling vs Still: Raising the question, "What is champagne?", may seem to be a digression from labels, but part of the answer to this question is a legal issue in the world of wine. First, we must ask: "What is the difference between sparkling wine and still wine?" Sparkling wine has carbon-dioxide (CO2) bubbles, in the same way that Coco Cola has bubbles. Still wine, however, has no bubbles. If a bottle of sparkling wine was made in the Champagne region of France via "traditional" procedural methods, then the sparkling wine is called "Champagne"; if a bottle of sparkling wine is made anywhere else in the world, the bottle cannot be labeled Champagne and must be labeled Sparkling Wine. One exception does exist; sparkling wine made in California can be labeled "California Champagne".

All of this labeling furor arose from several factors at play. World War I destroyed much of the Champagne region of France, which caused a severe reduction of Champagne wine production. Then Prohibition, which banned alcohol in the United States (1920–1933), ravaged all French wine exports. Two decades later, Nazi occupation of France and most of Europe during World War II disrupted the inter­national flow of wine.

Although the ill effects of US Prohibition and two world wars have had time to heal, much of the world's production of sparkling wines had drifted to California. The gap in European production of Champagne led to the legal loophole that permits California winemakers to use the name "California Champagne". Ironically, many California winemakers were émigrés from Europe.

Characteristics of
Fine Wine

Complexity is perhaps, among the most desired objectives in choosing a fine wine. The first sip of a wine sample will strike an initial impression that changes as the wine moves across the tongue. Taste buds in different parts of the human tongue respond differently to various taste-inducing chemicals.

Tannins: A well-aged and properly stored wine hosts numerous chemical reactions. Among the more important chemicals that naturally occur in plants is a class of chemicals called "tannins". Tannins appear in the colorful displays of autumn leaves and in the fruit skins of many plants. Aside from their participation in winemaking, tannins are used for making dyes and for preserving animal hides, a process known as "tanning", i.e. leather making. In wines, tannins interact with proteins in new wine and modify the "taste" and the "feel" of a wine. Tannins influence the dryness, or lack of sweetness, in red wines and influence the aging of red wine.

If the foregoing remarks sound a bit prejudicial in favor of red wines, then many sommeliers [in English: sahm-mehl-yeh] are guilty; some wine connoisseurs go further and assert that white wine is not really wine!

White wines contain no tannins or low levels of tannins, much lower than red wines. The combination of tannins and acids account for the perceived strength of red wines, but almost any red wine promises a relatively more robust array of characteristics than a low-tannin white wine, including highly acidic white wines.

To fully enjoy a complex wine, one might take a sip of wine and swish it around inside the mouth. Different flavors and different sensations begin to reveal themselves as a swirling sip begins to warm from body heat. An intricately complex fine wine presents the wine lover with a richness of tastes and textures that some people may claim are unique to drinking wine. At wine's best, matching different kinds of food with different kinds of wine is among the glories of human pleasure.

Balance is a term that tries to characterize the interplay of tannins and acids, as well as, numerous other chemical reactions that occur during aging. Whether a particular wine has or does not have balance may very well be subjective; human palates differ and food flavors and textures vary in combination with different wines. Expecting the unexpected, however, is part of the wine-drinking experience.

Components of
Complexity and Balance

Alcohol Content: From the per­spective of a serious wine connoisseur, alcohol enhances the texture, or "feel", and complexity of a wine's bouquet and palette. Alcohol is also a mild solvent of fats and oils, which can explain why alcohol goes well with many high-fat meals that contain fatty meat or oily fish.

When eating very spicy hot food, an alcoholic beverage can mellow the intensity of the oil-based "capsaicin", which is the tangy ingredient in hot peppers that tings our taste buds. A swig of full-bodied wine can quickly soften the intensity of extremely hot food. Drinking water enhances the intensity, because capsaicin is oil soluble and does not mix with water.

Bottle of Korean sojusoju is Korea's iconic alcoholic beverage that was originally made from fermented rice starch. Nowadays, however, soju makers use bulk ethanol and add their own recipe of flavorings. The alcohol content of Korean soju ranges from 17–45 percent with 20 percent alcohol being the most common. Sake from JapanSake is the iconic drink in Japan, which is often compared to Korean soju. However, soju is a distilled spirit, while sake is brewed in a manner similar to beer. Popular brands of sake range from 15 to 20 percent alcohol by volume. Alcohol content, nowadays, is measured as a percentage of total volume, most of the liquid being water and the remaining liquid being alcohol. Producers of alcoholic beverages had used, until 1980, another expression, "proof", which in the US was two times the alcoholic content in percentage by volume (in the UK, 1.75 times). For example, 40 proof would indicate 20 percent alcohol by volume, which is about the same as the 20-percent alcohol content of popular brands of Korean soju, which is not a rice wine as many people say, but rather, is a distlled spirit, similar to whisky. Some old bottles of wine and whisky may have expressed their alcohol content in terms of proof, but nowadays, percentage by volume is the standard in the developed world.

Acidity (pH) measures the strength of the acids in a particular wine. Three acids are particularly important in their effects on the tartness or sourness and texture of the final wine:
  • Tartaric acid adds to a wine's tartness and is a preservative that suppresses the growth of bacteria that can spoil aging wine.

  • Malic acid is found in many fruits and vegetables and in wines, adds balance between sweetness and tartness; malic acid plays a role in vine absorption of soil minerals, which can explain a "metallic" palate in some very fine white wines.

  • Citric acid imparts a sour taste to wine and is used to help stabilize the acidity of many different beverages. Within living cells, citric acid participates in producing energy. Citric acid as a chemical is used in making cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and detergents.
A complex interplay of these acids affects the character of wine. Some wineries and distributors post the acidity (pH), as well as alcoholic content, on the bottle label.

Acidity is measured in units of "pH", which indicates the strength of an acid. Low pH is strongly acidic, while high pH is strongly alkaline. Pure water is neutral at pH = 7.0. Fine wines range from pH = 2.9 to about pH = 3.9. Many wineries show the acidity on the label, which makes wine selection a bit easier. High acidity adds tartness and texture and accelerates the wine-aging process. Low acidity (i.e. high pH) encourages bacterial spoilage of aging wine; therefore, low acidity wines should usually be drunk when young.

Reminder: low pH = high acidity and high pH = low acidity.

High-pH wines lack complexity, as well as not age well, and are usually at their best when young. Aging a high-pH wine for excessively long periods of time raises the probability of bacterial spoilage. Spoiled wine is usually caused by opportunistic bacteria that transform alcohol into vinegar, though other causes of wine fault also exist.

Color: Although many factors influence the hue and depth of color of a particular batch of wine (cuvée), the level of acidity is among the strongest factors. Low-pH red wines often have a deep red color. High-pH red wines tend to have a brownish or tannish tinge of color and may appear to be a bit cloudy. High-pH white wine may become prematurely brownish, which can explain why white wines are aged less than red wines.

Bear in mind that judging wine by color alone can be tenuous, because a well-aged, high-tannin red wine may have a tannish-colored ring around the edge of wine that touches the glass (the meniscus).

The greenish or golden hue of a white wine or the color intensity of a red wine are also elements in the enjoyment of fine wine. The spectrum of wine colors ranges from nearly clear to intensely dark red, to purple, or to reddish maroon, depending upon how long the must was macerated and how long the filtered juice after maceration was aged, as well as the type of container, i.e. wooden cask or stainless-steel tank, used for fermentation and for aging.

Older white wines are usually darker in color than younger white wines. Young red wines tend to have a clear color tint, much like colored water, while well-aged red wines tend to be tinged with a brownish or tannish hue, which often indicates mellow tannins. Also, well-aged red wine tends toward an opaque appearance, rather than a translucent or watery appearance.

Enjoy the full experience of drinking fine wines by relishing the beauty of the color of the wine you are drinking. Color varies significantly from one kind of wine to another kind of wine, but wine is wine!

Nose (Aroma): The palette, or taste, of wine often differs from the fragrant aroma that emanates from the wine while still in the glass. Part of the ritual of drinking fine wine is in the graceful swirling of the wine glass to release a bouquet of fragrances. The term "bouquet" refers to a sensation produced by the release of many aromatic wine components. Swirl and sniff! Then drink.

Note: "aromatic" is a fancy adjective that describes the effect of gaseous chemicals that impart a smell.

Palette (Taste) is the sensation that wine makes on your tongue and palate. The wine-drinker's initial sensation comprises four elements of wine:  alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity, and residual (unfermented) sugar. Several areas of the tongue and palate are more or less sensitive to different elements of food and drink. Each area of the tongue is sensitive to a different taste or sensation:
  • The tip of the tongue identifies dry versus sweet.
  • The sides of the tongue respond to acidity, which is perceived as a tart taste.
  • The center of the tongue responds to tannins, which induce a dry, lip-puckering, sensation.
Finish is a wine's after-taste. After taking a sip, or swig, of wine, one swallows the wine. After a fine wine is swallowed, a completely new set of taste and textural sensations add to the total pleasure of enjoying wine.

Fine wines tend to have a more rich and robust finish than do low-quality wines. The complexity and texture of the lingering finish is for many connoisseurs the signature of a truly noble wine that enhances the enjoyment of food and adds another dimension to the wine-drinking experience.

Grape Varieties

Though 8,000 or so different grape varieties grow around the world, a relatively small number of grape varieties have attained stature in the global wine-drinking community. The broadest category for characterizing wines is by grape color:  red or white.  Let us discuss just a few of each color.

Sauvignon franc grapesThe dark color of Sauvignon franc grapes promises a rich wine-drinking experience.
Red Grapes can range in color from dark red to purple to blue and to nearly black. Several globally popular red-grape varieties are listed below.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (a hy­brid of Cab­ernet Blanc and Cabernet Franc) originated in Bordeaux, France and is often described as "bold", or "full-bodied", meaning high acidity and rich in tannins. The "Cabernet" family of grapes is among the world's most popular wine grapes. Connoisseurs may argue that Cabernet Savignon produces the world's best wines.

  • Merlot is a black grape genetically related to Sauvignon that has soft tannins while maintaining intensity. Winemakers often blend Merlot with other reds to add complexity. Merlot, however, can stand on its own as a varietal (non-blended) red wine

  • Zinfandel is prominent in Germany and in the United States and is also known as Primitivo in Italy. Zinfandel is a versatile grape; it can produce a range of wines from whites to dark reds. California Zinfandel rosé has become popular in modern times.

  • Tempranillo (Spain) is a black grape variety that makes full-bodied red wines having a soft finish. Red-wine beginners often favor Tempranillo, because of its gentle but full-bodied characteristics.

  • Nebbiolo (Piedmont, Italy) is among Italy's, if not the world's, most renowned grapes. Nebbiolo produces several very pricey red wines while also being available in more modest choices. At its best, Nebbiolo requires at least several years of aging. Also worth noting is that the color of Nebbiolo is a lighter shade of ruby than other red wines.
      The Nebbiolo family of wines is known for its tannic intensity, high acidity, and rich complexity. Above all other considerations, the powdery limestone soil of Piedmont is what makes these wines so special.

  • Grenache is grown all over the world and is often blended with Tempranillo and other wines to add fruitiness to a blend.

  • Malbec is grown in cooler climates. Malbec enjoys popularity in South America and is a favored pairing with meats, which may account for Malbec being the most popular varietal in Argentina, a country noted for its grass-fed cattle and tasty beef.

  • Syrah [shrah] (Shiraz or Sirah):  originated in ancient Persia (modern-day Iran). Syrah produces a full-bodied wine, being spicy and having intense flavors. Iran has not been producing any wine for several decades because of religious prohibitions against alcoholic beverages; however, Syrah grapes are grown across the globe.

  • Pinot Noir is among the most popular of the popular and is grown in North America, South America, Europe, Oceania, and South Africa. Alcoholic content is about 12 percent, which is a little lower than one would expect in a fine red. Although difficult to cultivate, Pinot Noire is often cited for producing a medium-bodied wine of exceptional com­plexity after aging. Pinot Noir is also highly favored for making sparkling wines and Champagnes.

White Grapes range in color from bright green to bright yellow. Because skins of white grapes contain little or no tannins, prolonged maceration of white-grape must does not produce red juice. White-wine taste and texture rely heavily upon acidity, alcohol content, and other characteristics that are influenced by the terroir. See "Terroir, the Land".
  • Riesling is the third most globally popular white wine, though often associated with Germany. Among white wines, Riesling tends to be higher in acid and lower in alcohol than other whites. Because of Riesling's acidity, Riesling wines tend to age well, which is a little unusual for white wines. Riesling is also popular for making "ice wine", which is a very sweet wine made from frozen grapes.

  • Pinot Grigio is among the more popular varietals from Italy. These grapes produce a wine that is typically lighter bodied and crisp (high acidity) with ample com­plexity. In contrast, Alsace (France) Pinot Gris wines are more full-bodied, spicier, and more viscous in texture. They also tend to have greater ageing potential than Italian Pinot Grigio.

  • Muscat Blanc typically pro­duces sweet wines having low alcohol content (5–7%), which is one reason why Muscat Blanc (or Moscato) is a popular aperitif. Among the 200 or so variations in the Muscat family, some are slightly fizzy (bubbles), or "frizzante". Because Muscat grapes grow all over the world, we can guess that this varietal is among the oldest wine-producing grapes. Muscat grapes are also used to make raisons (dried grapes).

  • Chardonnay originated in Bur­gundy, France, but now grows all over the world. Because Chardonnay favors limestone soils, one can expect local soil characteristics to be expressed in the character of local versions of Chardonnay. The grape's high acidity adds crispness to this light-bodied wine. Chardonnay is a popular component of Champagne.

Terroir, the Land

Grapes of a variety that are grown in one vineyard can produce very different wine from the same grape variety grown at another vineyard. Many local factors affect the quality of macerated grape juice and, eventually, the quality of the final wine:

  • Chemical composition of the soil
  • Drainage characteristics of the soil
  • Amount of rainfall
  • Prevailing level of humidity
  • Amount of sunlight
  • Temperature variations
  • Length of the growing season

The all-inclusive word for these environmental conditions is "terroir" (In English: terh-wrar), a French word referring to "land". The importance of terroir is evident when we see that the finest wine grapes grow in specific places around the world. Some grape varieties are quite happy in a range of terroir, while other varieties will not grow well unless they are properly matched with the location of the vineyards in which they grow.

Grapes that grow in the hot sunny regions of southern California will produce a set of wine characteristics that is distinctly different than the same grape variety grown in the cool sunny mountain regions of Chile and Argentina. These differences are often sufficiently noticeable to novices, as well as to experienced wine drinkers.

Grape-Growing Regions

Several grape-growing re­gions of the world have achieved a reputation for producing high-quality wines. Soil and climate have a profound effect on the quality and character of the final wine. Grapes of the same type grown in different places can acquire very different character.

  • Beaujolais Wine regionBeaujolais region: Abouriou, a close cousin of Gamay Noir grapes, are grown in the Beaujolais region and tend to produce a very light-bodied red wine, accompanied by relatively high levels of acidity. Notice the light color of the soil. France: the regions of Beau­jolais, Bur­gundy, Bor­deaux, and Cham­pagne, as well as The Rhône Valley.
  • Chablis is a sub-region of France's Burgundy region where the only grape variety permitted to be grown is Chardonnay. Chablis Chardonnay has a distinctive taste often described as "flinty". The flinty taste derives from the mineral composition of the soil.

  • Italy: the regions of Tuscany and Piedmont are well-known for their red wines. Some interesting red wines are available from the Italian island of Sicily that has patches of unique soil.

  • California (USA): Senoma County and Napa Valley. California wineries have a reputation for consistency in their wine quality, which may have much to do with long periods of consistently favorable weather patterns.

  • Spain: although much of the Iberian Peninsula is arid, the regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero are well-established producers. The most planted grape in Spain is "Tempranillo", which has a long history dating back to the Phoenicians (modern Lebanon), who opened the Spanish seaport of Cádiz around 1,100 CE. Despite its arid terroir, Spain is the world's third largest producer of wine.

  • A steep vineyard overlooking the Moselle RiverHills and valleys along Germany's Mosel River, which flows into the Rhine River.
  • Germany. Ger­man wine pro­duction is synony­mous with two grape varieties: red Spätbur­gunder, otherwise known as Pinot Noir, and white Riesling, which accounts for two-thirds of total German production. Spätbur­gunder thrives in warm, but not hot, climates and does well on chalky soil (i.e. calcium carbonate, CaCO3). German Pino Noir, therefore, has a distinctive bouquet.
    Riesling is particularly responsive to the local terroir. Germany's best wines come from the Rheingau, Nahe, Ahr, and Pfalz (or Palatinate) regions. These regions are quite hilly, where grapes are grown on terraced slopes. Terroir is what defines the uniqueness of German Riesling.

  • The secret Ingredient is dirt.The unique soil in much of Oceania is notable for making unique white wines. As one advertisement says, "The secret ingredient is dirt."

    Oceania:  Both Australia and New Zea­land have vast stretches of a kind of soil called, "loess" [English: loh-eus], in which certain grape varieties develop a unique set of characteristics. These countries have gained much attention in recent years for some very fine white wines. In claiming that "its all in the dirt", Australia and New Zealand are implying that they produce some of the best white wines found anywhere because of the characteristics of the regions' unique soil. Among Oceania's better known wine-growing regions are:
       Barossa, McLaren Vale…   (Australia)
       Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay… (New Zealand)

    South America: Chile and Argentina:  have arisen over the horizon of classic winemakers. The high mountains of the northern regions produce both fine and value wines. Many of these wines may not be the very best, but are quite drinkable, despite being relatively inexpensive. Attention for this quality has focused on the dry, cool mountain weather, but attention has also focused on the region's soil, loess. Wind-blown loess is usually found inland of large bodies of water and imparts a unique character to the wines that are produced in these locales. Wine regions worth noting are:
       Mendoza, Salta…      (Argentina)
       Elqui Valley, Maipo…    (Chile)

    A thorough discussion about loess is available at Wikipedia.

    Storing Wine

    Any bottle of decent wine should be stored properly. If not stored properly, wine can lose its complexity and palate or become contaminated with unwanted odors and flavors. To avoid spoilage, store wine in a cool place (12–15 °C; ~52 °F). Bear in mind, however, that other factors can also spoil wine in storage, especially low acidity.

    If one has a country house or lives in a rural area, storing wine two meters (about six feet) underground will assure a fairly constant temperature throughout the year. If not, one can rent storage space at a local restaurant or else store wine in a cabinet-style wine cellar (i.e. wine refrigerator). In Korea, one can store wine in a special compartment of a "gimchee refrigerator".

    Wine Containers

    Bottles: among a myriad of wine-bottle shapes and sizes, many bottle shapes have been named by their respective wine districts, though only a few shapes are prevalent.

    Comparison of two popular wine bottles: notice the gentle curve of the Champagne bottle (left) versus the tall, slender shape of the Bordeaux bottle (right).

    The most popular shape worldwide is the so-called Bordeaux bottle that has a tall, cylindrical shape that curves sharply into a narrow neck. Because of the shape, bottles can be packed very densely during aging, storing, and shipping.

    The second most popular bottle style is the Burgundy bottle, which has a vertical cylindrical base that curves more gently to a narrow neck than does the Bordeaux bottle. The gentle curves of the Burgundy bottle may lack the storage efficiency of the Bordeaux bottle, but they do have an air of elegance and aesthetic warmth.

    Similar to the Burgundy bottle is the stronger Champagne bottle (left), which accentuates the shape of the Burgundy bottle. Champagne bottles must be very strong to withstand the high gas pressure inside the bottle. We must realize that Champagne is fermented twice: first in a vat and then in a bottle. As Champagne ferments in a bottle, carbon dioxide gas is produced, from whence comes the sparkling bubbles. As fermentation continues, pressure in the bottle builds up. Consequently, Champagne, or sparkling wine if you prefer, must be contained in heavy, thick glass.

    During the early years of sparkling wine production, some bottles of aging Champagne would burst, because the bottles were not strong enough to withstand the high gas pressure inside the bottle. The monks who made the sparkling wine referred to such badly behaving bottles as "devil wine". Popular grape varieties used in the production of Champagne include: Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.

    Another popular bottle shape is the Alsace/Mosel bottle, which is a slim, cylindrical bottle. These bottles are also known as "Riesling bottles", because they are popular for bottling Riesling wines. Historically, Alsace/Mosel bottles were named after famed Rhine River wine-producing regions of France and Germany.

    These bottles all share one characteristic, a standard size. A standard bottle of wine is 750 milliliters, while a split, or demi, is half the volume of a standard bottle. Wine at weddings and other large festive gatherings may be served from a magnum, 1.5 liters, or a double magnum, 3 liters. Champagne bottles are limited in size because standard glass bottles larger than a magnum may burst from the high gas pressure inside any bottle of sparkling wine. For a really big party, wine can be ordered by the case, which contains 12 (one dozen) 750-mililiter bottles.

    Cask, barrel, carboy, keg, vat… After reading all about winemaking, one may ask, "What is the difference between a cask, a barrel, a tank, a carboy, and a keg?" The answer lies in size and shape:

    • Carboys are clear-glass jugs up to 6 gallons (22.7 liters) used by some wineries for intermediate-term wine aging before final aging. Tiny residual particles of skins and other debris that must be removed before final bottling are called "lees", which fall to the bottom of the clear-glass container and are easily visible in a clear-glass carboy.

    • Barrel: A container that has rounded sides, as in "barrel-shaped". Barrels are made of woud, usually oak, and are avail­able in sizes ranging from 15 gallons (55 liters) to 60 gallons (225 liters). A barrel is sometimes referred to as a small cask.

    • An intriguing question is "Why do barrels have rounded sides, rather than straight, or flat, sides?" A flat-sided barrel would be difficult to turn right or left as a winemaker rolls a barrel from one place to another. Curving the sides of a barrel permits easy turning as the winemaker rolls the barrel forward.

    • Oak wine barrels Besides a hint of aesthetic value, the curved shape of a barrel is quite functional; rolling left or right is possible with rounded sides; flat-sided barrels cannot easily be turned left or right. Cask can be thought of as a "large barrel". Long-term aging of wine is often done in very large casks.

    • Tank is a generic word that could loose­ly apply to any of the containers listed here. In wine-making circles, however, a tank may be thought of as having straight sides, as opposed to "barrelled" sides. Winery tanks are available in almost any size, but tend to be very large and made of stainless steel.

    • Rows of casks The production of fine wines usually requires years of time. Large wooden vats, or large barrels laid on their sides, are traditional, long-term storage containers. Vat is a generic word for large tank, cask (Old French), or barrel (Latin).

    • Keg is a pressurized container that is usually associated with trans­porting and storing beer. Because beer is carbonated (as is sparkling wine), beer must be stored and transported under pressure.

    Alcohol and Good Health

    We all have suffered the consequences at one time or another of having had too much to drink, but does drinking alcohol in moderation have health benefits? The answer much depends on which experts you cite.

    Negative views of alcohol consumption seem to be more readily accepted than positive views of alcohol. Yet, alcohol is popular. What are some of the health benefits of alcohol that are claimed by "experts"? A quick scan of Internet talk uncovers various studies, which may or may not be valid, a circumstance that pleads for further, reliable scientific investigation in order to settle the issue. Suggested benefits of drinking alcohol include:

    • Raises levels of HDLs (good cholesterol)
    • Reduces the incidence of cognitive impairment (Alzheimer's disease)
    • Normalizes blood clotting (minimizes heart attacks and strokes)
    • Elevates response to insulin (less medication needed)
    • Lowers the probability of having diabetes

    Several biological problems exist. First, genetics plays a role in some cases of alcohol intolerance. Some humans cannot metabalize alcohol because of their genetic configuration. A percentage of the population is prone to alcohol addiction, which is a serious public safety issue.

    Another factor that clouds the issue of benefits is in the use of the word alcohol. Is whisky better or worse for good health than wine or beer? An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but two glasses of red wine a day may also keep the doctor away. Some people may be less suseptible to intoxication by virtue of eating a diet high in B-vitamins, an effect that has been observed annecdotally.

    Many commentaries and studies revolve around two glasses of wine per day. Two is only a guess as to how much alcohol is, or might be, beneficial. More objective studies will almost certainly demonstrate that higher or lower levels of intake may be beneficial to different segments of the population.

    An entire library of books would probably not settle this issue, so let this author just share an anecdotal observation or two.

    Drinking wine with meals seems to help digestion, as well as enhancing the enjoyment of food. As a relaxant, a glass or two of wine may be a better anti-depressant than many prescription drugs. Let us not discount the value of "truth in wine" or the pleasure of sharing a spontaneous flow of ideas or sharing camaraderie with friends.

    Low-quality spirits of any ilk, however, can lead to un-pleasantries, such as severe intoxication and next-day hangovers. Let us add that too much of anything is not good, including excesses of food, vitamins, exercise, pure water, and other good things. Good things can be abused. "Nothing in excess" was inscribed at the ancient Greek temple of Apollo Delphi. In modern times, we may want to follow the advice of the ages and drink in moderation.


    We hope that the foregoing discussion clears the air on an assortment of wine-related topics and has passed along enough enlightening information to warrant addressing you as at least an aspiring sommelier. The aim is to help you discover what you like in wine.

    The Roman poet Horace considered wine an aphrodisiac and suggested that one should not drink much poor wine, but for fine wine, Horace said, "Pile high the hearth and bring out the old [i.e., well-aged] wine. Leave all else to the gods. (Horace, 65 BCE–27 BCE) From the Roman poetic archives, one might draw the conclusion that fine wine is indeed the
    "nectar of the gods"

    Till we meet again, C h e e r s !
      Guhn-bae (Korea)
      Kahn-pah-i (Japan)
      Gan bay (Mandaran)
      Tchin tchin (China)
      Chin chin (formal), Saluté (informal) (Italy)
      Santé and A votre santé (France)
      Salud (Spain)
      Skaul (Scandinavia)
      L'Chay-yim (Hebrew)
      Prost (Informal) and Zum wohl
       Preferred when drinking wine (Germany)
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For fun, take a short Wine Test. Ten Questions will show you how much you already know.


Table of Contents

Wine Quiz

To see the correct answer, move your mouse cursor over a slide. Moving the cursor away from the slide will restore the original, unanswered question (slides by Baldasare).

Quiz Question 1

Quiz Question 1 Loess is a sandy-colored, fertile soil that was originally formed by rock-grinding glaciers. As eons of time passed, the wind carried these microscopic silt particles to many locations around the globe.

Quiz Question 2

Quiz Question 2 According to Wikipedia, most Chablis is not aged in oak barrels. Most Chabli is vinified, i.e. "secondary fermentation", in closed, stainless-steel tanks.
Note: "primary fermentation" happens during "maceration" in an open tank, "second fermentation" (not secondary) refers to Champagne fermenting in a closed bottle.

Quiz Question 3

Quiz Question 3 "Sec" means sweet and "brut" means "dry" (lack of sweetness.). Descriptions range from very dry to very sweet: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux.

Quiz Question 4

Quiz Question 4 Prohibition in the United States became the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920 and was repealled by the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933. During Prohibition, gangsters filled illegal demand for alcohol, which influenced the passage of the repeal amendment.

Quiz Question 5

Quiz Question 5 Anyone who has apple trees knows the joy of harvesting apples in the cool months of Autumn. Sweet apple juice left unattended turns into mildly alcoholic apple cidar.
Side Note: For some reason, a Korean soft drink called "Cider" [in Hangeul, sah-i-duh] is similar to soft drink "7-Up" in the US.

Quiz Question 6

Quiz Question 6 Several thin-skinned grape varieties are susceptible to noble rot, including Riesling and Semillon. Grapes infected with the botrytis fungus add sweetness and complexity to the final wine, thus, "noble rot".

Quiz Question 7

Quiz Question 7 Although wine containers had been around for more than 5,000 years, the Romans had developed the process of "glass blowing" to make bottles, which is the basis for the modern "blow mold" process.

Quiz Question 8

Quiz Question 8 The French monk Dom Pérignon, a name most associated with Champagne, ironically tried to rid his abbey's wine of its fizzy character. Eventually, Father Pérignon acquiesced and perfected the technique of making superb "Champagne".

Quiz Question 9

Champagne vineyards Champagne is sparkling wine made in the Champagne district of France; "California Champagne" is sparkling wine made in California, USA.

Quiz Question 10

Quiz Question 10 The longer the period of red-grape maceration, the longer the required aging time. Over-done maceration can lead to bacterial faulting, where alcohol present in the must is converted to vinegar. Determining the optimum duration of maceration is an art, as well as a science.

The End

If you answered all ten questions correctly, you are well on your way to appreciate fully a fine bottle of wine with a fine meal.

C H E E R S !
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Seoul, South Korea