9 Things To Know About Wine To Trick Your Friends Into Thinking You're A Connoisseur
A few weeks ago, I was having a glass of wine with friend when I tried to show off my somm skills. "This definitely has some grapefruit and melon, maybe even a little bit of chamomile," I said, swishing my glass counter-clockwise, smacking my tongue to the roof of my mouth. "You mean notes of?" he asked, eyes narrowing. We looked at each other for a moment, trying to out-posture each other. "No, I mean, I think this wine has those fruits in it," I said, confident. "Wine has only grapes in it," he said, cautiously. Unfortunately, I wasn't pulling anything. I was under the impression that wine could have a variety of ingredients and that notes were not aromatic nuances, rather evidence of their presence.
My failure to comprehend the concept of notes led to a wildfire spread if misinformation in my mind. I was defensive at first, vividly recalling sommeliers explaining pairings: "This chardonnay has notes of fresh citrus, can you taste that lime?" I remember nodding, tasting the "lime". I ran to the kitchen to grab the bottle, praying I'd find an ingredients list similar to a fruit salad. When I reached the bottle and spun it around to find there were no ingredients at all, I paled. I did a quick inconspicuous Google search: Can wine have lime? Melon? List of wine ingredients. Fruits in wine? Confusion regarding wine notes explained. Deflated, I returned to the couch, glad for the dim lighting to hide the sour embarrassment worn in flaming reds across my cheeks. He ruffled my hair, we laughed about it, went silent, took sips from our glasses and nearly choked, laughing some more. I didn't tell him this then, but in those few sobering moments after unearthing the not-so-secret ingredients (or lack thereof) in wine, I made a vow to learn more about wine.
First, I watched every documentary I could get my mouse on. Then I hit the books, learned some theory. Looked up local wine tastings, got to know the different grapes, talked to every sommelier that would entertain my ambition. But as I quickly learned, you can't just learn wine. It's a life-long study. Its history is vast. Its agricultural significance is plenty. Its geography is wide. Its body is varied. You cannot learn wine, but you can get to know it. And these, according to some of the most enthusiastic sommeliers I could find, are a few of the most important things to understand about wine —and exactly the points to make around your friends if you want to trick them into thinking you're a connoisseur (or not a dope).
# 1 Term To Know
Terroir: It's a noun that's used almost an as adjective to describe the presence of the essence of a place in the wine. It's a reference to the land and nature the wine was grown in. For example, the environment where the grapes were grown could be rocky or soil and both would affect the taste differently. If it's from an area with a lot of slate, it might have a high minerality. If you noticed a minerality (non-fruit, non-herb, non-spice notes — like the smell of fresh dirt after rain) in your wine, you might say "this flavor reflects the terroir".
What's A Note?
Clearly a concept that I struggled with, a note is a taste or aroma found naturally in the wine. You can pick up on pleasant notes like melon, citrus, pear, and flowers. Or you can pick up on unpleasant notes like cat piss, wool, and rotten soil. None of these things are in the wine. It's just the images and senses that are triggered due to the acidity and sugar content.
When someone says that the wine is "corked," it means it's been contaminated with cork taint and the wine is ruined. It's actually a fairly rare occurrence but is often brought into question when someone can detect or smell a certain funkiness such as cardboard, basement floors, rotten wood, or cat piss. Typically, people tend to blame local wines as being corked — however, it's actually their chemical-free, organic process that can make it taste funky, when in-fact they're actually just fine.
Seven Noble Grapes
A lot of people might tell you that in order to get the gist of wine, you've got to get the gist of the grapes. It's not exactly true, and there's always a rotation of what's in, but some of the basics are good to know. Noble grapes are a term we've given to describe the most quality grapes that produce popular wine. These wines are all known for the specific regions they grow in, despite the fact that they can be grown elsewhere, too. They're coined "noble" because they're the wines that grow the best in their regions. For white wines, they are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. For red wines, they are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Syrah. Though there are upwards of 20 noble grapes, remember these core seven.
Where Does Wine Come From?
Wine comes from almost everywhere, now. However, the most popular regions are Italy France and Spain — they produce a bulk majority of the world's wine and the world's favorite wines. Though other popular sources include Australia, United States, Chile, Argentina, Germany, South Africa, and Portugal.
What Are The Most Popular Types Of Grapes In America's Restaurants?
White: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling.
Red: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel.
If you've ever panicked over what to order at a fancy restaurant to best suit your meal, here's a rough idea of what wines you should pick based on what food you're ordering:
White wine: vegetables, roasted vegetables, poultry, light fish, shellfish, cheese, starches.
Red wine: rich fish, red meat, barbecue, cured meats, sweets.
What Are Tannins?
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that are concentrated in the skin of fruit — they're a textural element that makes your mouth feel dry in the presence of some wines.
Dry Versus. Fruit Forward
When grape juice is in the process or fermenting, the yeast is eating the sugar. Dry wine is grape juice that's been left to ferment long enough for the yeast to eat all of the sugar. Fruit forward wine is created when the fermentation is stopped just before the sugar is all gone, thus leaving residual sugar.
The best way to understand these terms is to drink wine. There will be a lot of trial and error but keep your mind open and try everything. Take notes of what you like and be sure to add the types in flavors you pick up on for each wine. The more you understand the types of flavors your mouth is in favor of, the more easily you can order for yourself. Be humble, ask questions — it's the only way to get answers.