There is plenty of mystery surrounding wine and its consumption, but once you delve a little deeper into the practicality of wine, much of the mystery is solved. While all of the swirling and slurping and fancy descriptors seem laden with mystique, there are good reasons for all of it.
There is much concern these days with the sulfites that are in wine. It is true that many folks have allergic reactions to sulfites and sulfur-based chemicals. While there are several different allergens in wine that you can be reacting to, sulfites seem an easy target. The word sounds mysterious and almost threatening. It is pretty tough to run a winery and make really good wine without the use of some sulfur-based chemicals- they just serve so many purposes. Here is the larger issue though: sulfites occur naturally during the fermentation process. So, to make a wine that is truly free of all sulfites it has to go through more manipulation than if the naturally occurring sulfites were left in the wine. A more important mystery to solve is to determine what you are reacting to.
Another mysterious product being marketed right now that claims to remove sulfites from wine should be avoided. Put simply it does not work. It is a complete charade. Mystery solved.
So what is with all the swirling of wine when it is in the glass? There is a very good and non-mysterious reason for this. 90 percent of what you taste in wine is actually what you smell in wine. The human palate only detects 4 “flavors” — sweet, sour, salt and bitter, which means all the oak, butter and subtle fruit flavors are actually aromas you are picking up from the wine. The swirling releases and helps all those aromas to lift from the glass so that when you both smell and drink the wine you will get the full array of all a wine has to offer.
Why do wine “geeks” slurp their first taste of wine? I remember when I first started drinking wine regularly. I would always be mystified by my brother-in-law, John, a sommelier, who would slurp that first sip, not only for why he was doing it but also how he could do it and not make a mess. The explanation is quite simple. When you pull air over the wine while it is still on your palate it allows you to smell and therefore taste more of the wine. That oxygen being pulled over the wine enhances the aromas allowing you to “taste” more of the wine.
When we are new to wine one of the great mysteries is why all the different choices and shapes of wine glasses? There is a manufacturer of crystal wine glasses headquartered in Austria that has made a fortune by developing wine glasses in all shapes and sizes. Riedel, the wine glass company, has in fact been around for generations and their wine glasses set the standard for wine consumption vessels. The different shapes of glasses are all designed to make the most out of each wine varietal. So whether for yourself or as a gift, the selection of the proper shape of glass really does make a difference and we can help you choose the best shape for you the next time you are in the shop.
There are just as many wine openers as there are wine glasses and types and flavors of wine, so which one is best for you? This may be one of the hardest mysteries to solve! The choice is as personal as is the choice in wine, and the only way to learn which opener works with your hand strength and dexterity is to experiment. Like glassware decisions if you come by the shop, we can talk to you about which style might work best for you, but from there you will have to continue trying different types of openers until you find the best one for you.
The last mystery to be solved today is why winemakers will blend a mere 1 percent or 2 percent of a varietal into a wine. Winemakers blend to enhance the good qualities in their wine and to mitigate the ones they are not so fond of. Typically, though when it is something as small as a percent or two, they are trying to improve specifically the color of the wine or the aromatic profile. Each varietal brings different characteristics to the mix and the best winemakers will know just what that dash-of-this or that varietal will do to bring their wine to the perfect spot.
Let us know your mysteries and we will explain them in future columns.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.