Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Components of Wine - What Makes a Type of Wine Unique

To understand what makes the different types of wine unique you
need a basic understanding of what goes into a wine. Most people
would look at you blankly and say 'Grapes, of course' if you
were to ask that question, but it breaks down further and it is
only by understanding the basic structure and ingredients of a
wine that you can develop a full understanding of what you are
drinking. Needless to say, with that understanding comes a far
greater appreciation of the type of wine and pleasure in
drinking it. The grapes that go into a wine provide the acids,
tannins and sugars which, together with the yeasts, produce the
alcohol and flavor of the wine, hopefully producing a harmonious
whole which has structure and longevity.

Much is made of acidity in wine, with wise nodding of heads and
mutterings of about the balance of a wine, but what does it
actually mean. All fruits, even the sweetest, contain acids, it
is what gives them their fresh flavour, without it the fruit
would seems sweet and sugary, somewhat like drinking the syrup
that is used when bottling fruit. Wine also requires acidity for
just the same reason. If there is too much acidity then the wine
will be sharp, and very harsh in your mouth to the point of
being almost undrinkable. Not enough and the wine will be syrupy
and flat tasting dull and lifeless, especially if it is a sweet
wine. You can detect acidity around the edges of your tongue,
especially towards the front; it gives the wine a sharpness and
liveliness in your mouth. Wines from cooler regions generally
have a higher acidity, for example, New Zealand or northern
France. Warmer countries such as Australia tend to produce wines
that are lower in acidity giving them a deceptive softness which
often belies the alcohol content. In fact some Australian grapes
have such a low acidity at harvest that more acids have to be
added to allow the wines to be drinkable and to age well. Adding
acids has to be done with extreme care, volatile acids such as
tartaric acid, can really lift the flavours in a wine when added
in small quantities but too much makes the wine taste and smell
of nail polish remover or worse.

Tannin is another one of those wine 'buzz' words that is little
understood though much used when discussing types of wine.
Tannins are chemicals that are found in the skins, pips and
stalks of grapes, they are also found in tea and oak amongst
other things. They are essential in a wine if it is intended to
age because they act as a preservative. You can feel tannins by
the sensation of puckering in your mouth, or the 'furring' on
your teeth. Red wines, which are fermented in contact with the
pips, stalks and skins have more tannins in them than white
wines, this is one of the reasons why these types of wine age
better and last longer. Over time the tannins mellow and the
wine becomes more balanced and the puckering sensation
decreases. Tannins are most important in wines that are intended
to age for a long period using grapes such as Cabernet
Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Syrah/Shiraz but they are still needed
in red wines that are to be drunk young to give a structure
without dominating the wine or making it too harsh, young
clarets or some Beaujolais wines for example. As the wine ages
and the tannins soften the wine becomes more complex and
interesting with flavours developing that linger in your mouth
for a long time after the wine has been drunk. If the tannins in
a wine are found to be too harsh when you open it, all is not
lost. You can combine it with high protein or high fat foods,
such as good cheese or a rich meaty dish. Alternatively (and
some will view this as heresy) leave the wine overnight and
drink it the next day. It will be perfectly alright and a great
deal more mellow. Modern wines tend to be less tannic as they
are made to be drunk relatively quickly but if you get the
chance, try a wine that has some age to it and you will notice
the difference. Ideally try two vintages of the same wine and
you will see how tannins affect the aging process very clearly.

The sugars in wine come from the grapes and much of the skill
of any winemaker is in selecting grapes that have the right
amount of sugars in them to create the balance between acidity,
flavour and alcohol that makes up a good wine. Grapes grown in
cool climates have far less sugar as they struggle to ripen in
the more uncertain weather conditions. Some types of wine may
have a little sugar added either during fermentation or
afterwards to enhance the characteristics of the wine. There
will almost always be a little sugar left after fermentation
because not all sugar compounds are subject to the action of the
yeast. How sweet a wine tastes is very subjective as we all
judge differently. Some wines which are very dry can still taste
sweet because of the high fruit flavours which mask the lack of
sweetness in the wine itself. Equally the amount of tannins and
the acidity has an effect, we generally think of red wines as
being dry because of the tannins but this is not always the
case. There are some wonderful sweet red wines from Germany that
are quite a surprise to the palate. Generally speaking however,
the sweeter the wine the higher the levels of residual sugar, a
very dry wine would have as little as 1 gramme per litre,
whereas a Sauternes might have as much as 250 grammes per litre.


The other factors which affect wine are more `external' such as
the type of yeast that is used in fermentation, the type of
barrel – Oak or other woods, or even beneficial rot such as
Botrytis. All types of wine contain these basic components, but
the overriding factor in the flavour will always be the grape or
mix of grapes, from which it is made. All wine lovers have their
favourites and will seek out new wines containing them like
searching for treasure. There is only one judge of how good a
wine is, and that is you. However all these components are put
together, if you like it, it is a good wine.


About The Author: Brought up in a family of Wine Lovers Chloe
Alster has a broad ranging interest in many types of wine, it's
cultivation, and history as well as the more social aspect of
wine appreciation. Her views and opinions are well respected
within the ranks of fellow enthusiasts. She writes extensively
on Wine related topics at http://www.wineandbottle.com where you
can read more about the components of wine mentioned in this
article