Archive for the ‘wine tasting’ Category

Varietal descriptions and pronunciations of white wines

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Here is how to pronounce the names of white varietals. And what they taste like.

Chardonnay (SHAR-doe-nay): The world’s most popular dry white; it’s medium-to full-bodied, with rich apple and citrus flavors and sometimes a buttery tone from fermentation and aging in oak barrels; a good choice for simply prepared seafood and poultry dishes.

Sauvignon Blanc (SO-vin-yawn BLONK): Generally lighter than Chardonnay, with bright melon and citrus aromas and a herbal character suggesting bell pepper or freshly mown grass; a versatile food wine for shellfish, lighter fish and chicken dishes, pasta with pesto and Caesar salad.

Riesling (REES-ling): A light-bodied wine of German origin with flowery aromas of honeysuckle, apples, and peaches; Rieslings range from slightly to very sweet and can be either table or dessert wines. Drier versions go well with chicken and pork dishes, as well as spicy foods.

Gewürztraminer (Guh-VERTZ-tra-meener): Another aromatic variety of German origin with aromas of rose petals, peaches, grapefruit, lychees, and allspice, and full, fruity, spicy flavors ideal with Asian food, ham, pork and grilled sausages.

Chenin Blanc (SHEN-in Blonk): A relatively light, fruity variety with melon, apple, and peach/apricot aromas and flavors; used to be more popular than it is today; a nice wine by itself or with casual meals (salads, sandwiches, etc.)

Muscat (MUSS-cat): A very flowery dessert-style wine, with floral and peach/apricot aromas and flavors; great with desserts of fresh fruit or fruit/nut tarts.

Other white varieties of note include Semillon (SEM-e-on), Viognier (V- OWN-yay), and Pinot Grigio (PEE-no GREEG-e-o).

This article is based on the reference guide to types of white wine.

47 white wine varietals

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Here is a list of vine varieties with a description of the white wines made from them.

Aligoté French Poor man’s Burgundy. Pale, light, crisp wine. Not for ageing.
Alvarinho Portugal Produces Vinho Verde, very crisp, light with a slight prickle.
Auxerrois French Acidic, very dry and full-bodies, Chablisesque.
Bacchus German Silvaner, Riesling and Müller-Thurgau cross. Flowery, light Moscato bouquet, low acidity. Used mainly for blending.
Bual Madeira Sweet full-bodies fortified wine, burnt amber colour, fig-like bouquet.
Chardonnay French Ranges from crisp, apple-like flavours in cool climates to caramel, pineapple
and tropical tones in warm areas. Buttery, toasty or clove-like finish.
Ages well, usually in oak.
Chasselas E.
Light, crisp wine with delicate bouquet in Switzerland. Rather insipid elsewhere.
French Honeyed, high-acid wines in the Loire. Lots of fruit. Ages many years. California
model is much softer and fruitier.
Colombard French (French Colombard) Originally a cognac grape, now grown in California for soft,
flowery wines.
California High-yielding Muscadelle, Riesling cross. Aromatic, soft, fruity.
Californian name for Sauvignon Blanc or Sauvignon/Sémillon blend. Fruitier and
less grass than Loire model.
French Once a major grape in Cognac. High acid, not much character.
Furmint Hungary Principal grape of Tokay. Can be dry, off-dry or sweet. Apple or apricot and toffee bouquet, depending on style.
Gewürztraminer Italy (Traminer)
Spicy, exotic, rose petal and lychee bouquet. Can be dry (Alsace) or sweet (Germany, California).
Grüner Veltliner Austria Fresh, lively, fruity, dry wine for drinking young as in the “new” wine, Heurige.
Hárslevelü Hungary Spicy, full-bodied, aromatic. Good for sweet wines.
Jacquère French Light, very dry and brisk wine from Savoie.
Kerner German Red
Trollinger, Riesling cross. Spicy, fruity wines with good acidity.
Malvasia Greek Produces lusciously sweet dessert wines in warm climates and crisp dry ones in northern areas. The grape of the sweet Madeira, Malmsey.
Marsanne French Deep-coloured, high-alcohol wines blended with the more delicate Roussanne in the Rhône.
Morio-Muscat German Silvaner, Pinot Blanc cross. Full-bodied, fruity with spicy bouquet.
Müller-Thurgau German Riesling, Silvaner cross (or two clones of Riesling). Less acidic than Riesling,
soft and fruity. Lacks ageing potential.
Muscadelle French Perfumey grape used to add bouquet to some white Bordeaux (Sauvignon and Sémillon).
Muscadet French (Melon de Bourgogne) Light, pale, racy wines with lively acidity from the Loire.
Moscato Greek Perfumed, raisiny bouquet with a characteristic spiciness in dessert wines. Can also be made dry as in Alsace and Australia.
Palomino Spanish The grape of sherry. Neutral wine, low acidity.
Pedro Ximenez Spanish A very sweet white wine used in sherry, thought to be Riesling.
Picolit Italian Dessert wine grape of Friuli. Deep coloured, rich, slightly bitter.
Pinot Blanc French (Pinot Bianco/Weissburgunder) Relative of Chardonnay but with less character and ageing potential. Best from Alsace.
Pinot Gris E. Europe (Pinot Grigio, Ruländer) Full-flavoured, elegant wines capable
of ageing.
Riesling German (Johannisberg Riesling, Rhine or White Riesling)
Finest German variety, capable of making a range of wines from steely dry to toffee-sweetness. Floral nose, keen acidity.
Rkatsiteli E. Europe All-purpose grape producing ordinary table wines, dessert wines and fortified wines.
Sacy French The name suggests it all. Frisky, tart wine from Chablis region.
Savagnin French Makes Sherry-style vin jaune in the Jura region.
Sauvignon Blanc French Makes grassy, gooseberry, smoky wines in the Loire and accompanies Sémillon
in dry and sweet wines of Bordeaux. California model is rounder and fruitier and fig-like.
Scheurebe German Silvaner, Riesling cross. Aromatic, fruity with pronounced acidity. Best in dessert style.
Sémillon French Honey and apricot bouquet when affected by Botrytis (see page 22). Blended with Sauvignon Blanc for dry Bordeaux. Lacks acidity.
Sercial Portugal Produces the driest, lightest style of Madeira. Good acidity. Ages well.
Seyval Blanc French Hybrid.
Makes dry wines with a grassy, green plum flavour. Does not age well.
Silvaner Austrian Mild, neutral wine with good body. Useful for blending.
Trebbiano Italian (Ugni Blanc, St. Emilion) Pale colour, high acid, medium-body, shy bouquet.
Verdelho Spain Produces off-dry Madeira and soft, nutty table wines.
Verdicchio Italian Crisp, dry wines with a hint of bitterness.
Vidal French Hybrid.
Good fruit and acidity. Can range in styles from tart Sauvignon Blanc to Late Harvest and Icewine.
Viognier French Rich, elegant, full-bodied, floral-peachy wine especially in the Rhône.
Capable of ageing.
Viura Spanish (Macabeo)
Fruity aromatic wines with high acidity capable of wood ageing.
Welschriesling French (Riesling Italico, Laskiriesling, Olaszriesling)
Floral, zesty, versatile but not as elegant as Johannisberg (White or Rhine) Riesling.

On this website here is a list of red wine varietals.

How wine affects your body

Monday, October 10th, 2011

There has been much suggestion that the drinking of wine is somehow “good for you.”

While it might calm your nerves a bit, what many want to say is that, for whatever reason, it can protect you from heart disease, perhaps by lowering cholesterol. Some point to those parts of the world where people eat high fat diets, drink lots of wine, and live to a very old age.

At this stage of knowledge, it probably isn’t a good idea to start drinking to obtain hypothetical protective effects. Whether it helps you if you are drinking is controversial. Most people will agree that if you drink “too much,” it is not good for you (for a variety of reasons).


Getting drunk happens in some social circumstances — like the end of college. The liver filters alcohol and sends it to the blood stream. This notably affects your brain (and damages it a little for many weeks). You should switch to water when you are feeling dizzy. In any case, do not ever drive a car (or a bike) after a glass.

Lead in wine

Lead-acid batteriesSome people are concerned about high levels of lead in wine. A possible reason is that the high acidity levels in wine help to cause lead to leach out of things that it touches. Lead “capsules” (the foil at the top of the bottle) have all but disappeared from new bottles of wine for this reason. You can wipe the top of a bottle with a damp cloth before pouring if you have an older bottle with a lead capsule. There is some reason to believe that lead can be leached out of lead crystal glasses.

Whether this occurs in significant numbers in the short run I do not at this time know, but I have read some material that indicates it is not a good idea to store an alcoholic beverage in crystal decanters for long periods of time.

Other negative effects

Addition to alcohol is called alcoholism. It pushes you to continue taking alcohol.
Alcohol can damage your liver.

Allergies, sulphites, natural wines

The biggest complaint here is that some people develop headaches from drinking wine. There are several proposed causes. One is that sulphites added by the producer (or can be naturally present in lesser amounts) cause the allergic reaction. Furthermore, it has been suggested that cheaper wines are likely to have more sulphites as a cheap substitute for careful grape selection and winemaking. Some people say that it is only red wine that causes them a problem. Sulphites are present in both red and white wines. Another possible cause is anthocyanin pigments which are what makes “red” grapes red. These are also present in blue cheese. If both cause you problems, maybe you’ve found a reason?

Solutions suggested by some (but not recommended or approved by me in any way) are: Drink lots of water before drinking the wine. Take a pain-killer first. The problem with this last one is that is known to enhance the alcoholic affect. The best answer is, if this is a problem, don’t drink wine.

While there are wines that claim to be sulphite free, some people will tell you that this is not possible, as sulphites exist in nature on the grape. However, the amount would be less if not artificially introduced. The French Scout details explanations on organic winemaking and sulphite use.

But since sulfur dioxide is often used to control how the wine is produced (getting rid of unwanted yeasts, molds and bacteria), some feel that you may not get as good a wine. United States law requires that wine with over 10 parts per million of sulphites state that the wine “contains” sulphites.

Yet some wineries produce wine with very little sulphites. If this is important to you, you should look for sulphite-free wines near you.

Calories in wine

Most of the calories in wine come from alcohol, though some additional calories come from the “food” that came from the fruit (proteins, carbohydrates [like sugar], etc.). Since some wines are more dry than sweet (that is, they have less sugar), those wines would have a little less calories.
Also, wines vary in alcohol content, which would, of course, also affect the number of calories from alcohol. The United States Department of Agriculture says that 100 grams of “table wine” (12.2 percent alcohol by volume) has 85 calories while 100 grams of “dessert wine” (18.8 percent alcohol by volume) has 135 calories.

In any event, a pretty good rule of thumb is that table wine has approximately 25 calories per ounce. When cooking with wine, you can end up boiling out the alcohol. The result is that the calorie impact from the wine is drastically reduced.

Pregnancy and wine

Heavy alcohol use in pregnancy can lead to birth defects. Some doctors feel that the safest course is not to drink any alcohol at all during pregnancy. Others feel that light, occasional drinking has not been shown to be harmful. Check with your doctor but take your own decision!

Wine as a sleeping aid

The general consensus is that alcohol might help you fall asleep immediately but that you’ll be up in the middle of the night. A warm glass of milk seems to be a better idea.

Tannins, resveratrol

Polyphenols and beneficial tannins are found in some young red wines.

It has been reported that resveratrol may induce a number of beneficial health effects, such as anti-cancer, antiviral, neuroprotective, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and life-prolonging effects. Beware that some of these studies used animal subjects (e.g. rats). Resveratrol is found in the skin of red grapes and is a constituent of red wine but, based on extrapolation from animal trials, apparently not in sufficient amounts to explain the “French paradox”. The French paradox is that the incidence of coronary heart disease is relatively low in southern France despite high dietary intake of saturated fats.

Here is more about the chemicals in wine and their effects on the body.

Champagne is bready from autolysis

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Or isn’t it?

In biology autolysis refers to the destruction of a cell through the action of its own enzymes. The term “autolyse” was coined by French baking professor Raymond Calvel. The term derives from the Greek words αυτό (“self”) and λύσις (“splitting”).

Mumm Brut rosé sparkling bubblesFor making sparkling wine, autolysis involves killing the yeast and encouraging the breakdown of the cells by enzymes. It is used to give different flavours.

Steve Goodwin is a sparkling winemaker at Seppelt, Australia. He was once interviewed on the cause of the bready, yeasty character found in champagne and other sparkling wine: “most of that is just bottle-developed pinot noir character (rather) than autolysis,” said Steve. His comment contradicts the traditionally accepted view that contact between the wines and autolyzed yeast lees – i.e. broken down yeast cells – is responsible. Curiously, a former Seppelt sparkling maker, Warren Randall, claimed that the bready character came mainly from pinot meunier.

In 2008 I asked French champagne maker Benoît Gouez (of Dom Perignon) about this. He had no doubt that autolysis causes the yeastiness in champagne, adding that autolysis is expressed quite differently by different grape varieties. “However, the more fruit in a particular wine the less yeast will be evident,” he explained.

Well-known amateur sparkling winemaker, MF (those five years spent as sous-remueur – translation: riddler – at Bolli were not wasted) reckons that the bready character does in fact come from yeast autolysis — rather than aged pinot noir or pinot meunier. His reasoning? Rising bread dough and bread just out of the oven have this smell. Where does it come from? Er, the breakdown of yeast cells after the bread has risen.

Pertinent questions: Has MF ever encountered this yeasty smell in bottles of still pinot noir or pinot meunier of any age? No, never.

Has MF ever encountered this yeast lees character in bottles of bubbly that do not contain either of the pinots, i.e. blanc de blancs made solely from chardonnay? Yes, your Judgeship, often.

If so-called yeast autolysis character comes mainly from pinot noir why do sparkling wine makers waste their time and money leaving fizz in contact with yeast sediment for years, when they could just as easily add more pinot noir to the brew? Beats me, your be-wigged Excellency.

The court will rise…

To help you make up your judgment, here are related articles – at other sites: