Why We Don’t Get Bored Tasting Wine
Endless combinations of soils🌐, grapes 🍇 , styles and wine-making techniques ⚗️ make wine an exciting product 💡 that even keeps evolving every single day. 🍾
You like wine? Great! 🍾 But what does that even mean? While most people think just of red and white wine when they hear “wine” 🍷, the category is actually much broader: sparkling wine, sweet wine and even fortified wine are all “wine” too. In addition there are trends like orange wine and natural wine that can sometimes be characterised by very different flavours than other wines.
The fun and fascinating thing with wine is that the more you learn about it, the more subtle differences you can taste. Exploring all the options available can keep you busy for a lifetime. This prospect should not intimidate but rather motivate to start your personal wine journey today, not knowing where it will lead you 🛣.
Looking at basic wine styles
All wine styles start with the same base material: grapes 🍇 . At the core, all styles follow the same fundamental process: crushing and pressing grapes to extract juice and converting sugar from grapes into alcohol.
Breaking up the all-encompassing category of “wine” into a few broad items to add some structure, we can start with some obvious differences.
Most wines we all come across are probably “still dry wines”. Everybody also loves some bubbles, so we are most likely also familiar with “sparkling wines” 🍾.
Beyond those two, we would like to mention two more styles here. One is “sweet wine”, which usually refers largely to sweet still wine, but there is also sweet sparkling wine. Finally, something many might not really consider as wine, but is based on the same material and processes is “fortified wine”.
To some extent, within all of those styles, wines of different colours can be produced. The colour depends on the grapes and the wine-making process.
A couple of years ago, “white wine”, “red wine” and “rosé wine” might have been everything you could find on a restaurant wine list. Increasingly in recent years, another colour is finding its way into bars and restaurants, “orange wine”. But actually, orange wine is nothing new or exotic. The term commonly just refers to wine made from white grapes but using processes more commonly applied for red wine production. This is why sometimes orange wines are also referred to as “skin-contact” wines.
Of course, during the wine-making process, the grape juice almost always has some contact with the grape skins, but for orange wines, the time of the skin-contact is longer than for standard white wine, allowing for different flavour components to come out more strongly. Just like in red wine, really.
Different winemaking techniques
Building on the basic wine styles, different ways of processing the wine before, during and after crushing and pressing the grapes unsurprisingly further affect the final product.
Making a wine requires many decisions. From the same grape juice, one can make a wine with more or less sugar. Depending on what vessels are used to keep the juice and what is added in the different processing steps, the wine will develop different flavour characteristics.
This is how some wine has stronger fruit characteristics than others, or that some wine tastes more like wood, spice or stones.
Another newer trend emerged in the form of “natural wine”. The focus for natural wine is to minimise the winemaker’s intervention in the process and instead let the grapes and the juice do all the work, without adding much or any chemicals. These wines can be cloudy and sometimes smell or taste a bit like ciders.
As in other areas, organic agriculture also is on the rise in the wine industry. Organic wines can be “natural”, but are not necessarily. Wine producers can be certified to be organic, but the standards do not always seem that clear. For organic wine production, different certification bodies have different criteria.
Another particular method that gained traction over the past few years is the biodynamic approach. It is not based on science and revolves partly around the lunar calendar. As long as it produces tasty wines, we do not mind too much if the winemaker believes in the biodynamic ideas or not.
And of course there are many more conventional or innovative methods winemakers can apply to influence the end product, the wine in the bottle. One widely practised way of treating the wine before the release, especially for red wines, is ageing the wine in oak barrels for a couple of months.
In many wine regions of the world, a particular combination of techniques and decisions have been established over many years, defining a certain regional style. Especially in wines from traditional wine countries like France, Italy and Spain, this has a direct effect on the wine label. Instead of spelling out all the details, wine labels regularly just provide the area and the winemaker. Only if you know what kind of wine the area typically produces, you know what you get in the bottle.
Without going into too much detail, it should become obvious that the process from the vineyard to the bottle offers so many options in every step, that winemakers have almost endless ways to make exactly the wine they want to make. This also opens the door for experimentation, helping to keep wine drinking and wine tasting interesting, because some winemaker always comes up with something new, or revives a long forgotten technique to see how it turns out in the 21st century.
Further processing of still wines
Based on all the still wine styles there are also a range of different ways to produce sparkling wine. Champagne and Prosecco are just two widely known examples, there is much more available if you look a bit closer.
To make sweet wine, sometimes grapes are dried or harvested when frozen. Sweet wines can even benefit from a condition called noble rot, which also dries the berry and gives the wine its very own flavour.
Using still wine, a variety of fortified wine styles can be created as well. The base wine, the vessels, the ageing and many other factors affect the look and taste of the final product.
Diversity of the base material: grapes 🍇
As if the winemaking process itself would not already offer enough different paths, the basic ingredient also has a major impact on the wine. Grape varieties have different characteristics and even the same grape variety can develop differently on different vineyard soils and in different growing climates.
Usually, white wine is made from white grapes and red wine is made from black grapes. But even this is not always the case, a white wine can be made from red grapes too.
Grapes can be different in size, have thicker or thinner skins and be easier or more difficult to grow in a certain region.
Some grapes are used across many regions and can grow in various climates and environments. Other grapes are very local and only used in a particular country or even just a region.
While many grape varieties evolved naturally, human-made crossings also exist and can help winemakers to produce better, more interesting wines especially in challenging conditions.
Continued learning means more tasting
The fact that wine can mean so many different things makes it an exciting subject to learn more about. One motivation to taste wine is to better understand what you like, and why you like it. Another reason to taste wine can also be to discover new wines that you didn’t know you like.
We do value that after plenty of tastings, we can read a wine list reasonably well and often get an idea of which wines we might enjoy most. Building on tasting experiences and formal knowledge makes reading wine lists much more fun and helps to pick appropriate options more reliably.
Of course, wines do not always turn out as expected from reading the label or tasting notes, but that is exactly what also keeps studying wine interesting. You can never be a hundred percent sure — wine is a living product and it can always change, evolve, get better. Or worse.
At the same time, we often pick wines exactly because we do not know yet, what to expect — to broaden our own horizon and challenge ourselves to venture beyond the safe options. And the easiest environment to discover new wines is often at tasting events! Sounds exciting? Well, then find an event near you in London on UnscrewMe.
After this broad overview of wine styles, we will focus on London again in our next article and recommend a couple of new or otherwise remarkable wine bars.
(As most weeks, the delicious coffee from Notes Moorgate, Kaffeine and Clerkenwell Grind helped putting all this together. As did a few glasses of wine at the excellent Vins which we will cover in more detail shortly. This week’s wine recommendation however is the 2017 Kremstal DAC Reserve Riesling Gebling by Weingut Sepp Moser from Kremstal in Austria 🇦🇹 at New Street Wine close to Liverpool Street station. This glass was a beautiful example of a rich and smooth Riesling with lots of fruit notes, such as lovely peach and apricot, along with flinty mineral notes, even a hint of honey and spice.)
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