- What are the guidelines for winemakers declaring that their wine is produced in a certain region?
In France they have the AOC (appellation d′origine controlee) which regulates what constitutes a region, or appellation. The rules are particularly strict and only get more so as the appellations get smaller. Rules dictate everything from tonnage of grapes per acre, density of vines, variety of vines, alcoholic strength, and winemaking practices and techniques. If you′re a Bordeaux producer, and your wine does not adhere to all of the conditions for Bordeaux, you may not label your wine, "Bordeaux".
The Australian system allows much more flexibility. Once a region has been legally defined the only rule that needs to be followed is that at least 85% of the fruit that makes up a wine needs to have come from the region declared on the bottle. It is not compulsory to declare any region.
The regions, or GIs (Geographical Indications) consist of zones, regions and subregions. Many wines are made from fruit blended from multiple regions. As such, the winery may list those regions (for example: McLaren Vale / Riverland) or they may list the zone (South Eastern Australia). If the wine is from a truly premium region/s with a wonderful reputation, like McLaren Vale, then that is something worth bragging about and therefore it will be declared as such. If, on the other hand, fruit has been sourced from a region or regions that are less reputable, then a South Eastern Australia tag becomes more likely. Back to top
- What is the ideal way to cellar wine?
The answer is, "On its side, in a dark place, with a stable, cool temperature."
The principals of cellaring wine are the same wherever you live:
Wine needs to be kept in the dark - Light prematurely ages and spoils wine. It′s no accident that a typical wine bottle is dark in colour.
Bottles need to be stored on their sides - To keep the cork wet. If cork dries out it shrinks. This allows air into the bottle, oxidizing the wine.
Wines sealed with a screw-cap do not need to be on their side.The temperature needs to be cool - Ideally between about 10 degrees and 15 degrees.
The temperature needs to be stable - It is better to have your wine stored at a constant 17 degrees than to have it in an environment where the temperature fluctuates between say, 8 degrees and 16 degrees. Back to top
- How do I increase my knowledge of wine?
How does one acquire the knowledge required to have the confidence to pick out a bottle of wine they know they′ll like? Our entire lives we are taught not to judge a book by its cover, in practice most people pick wines from the bottle shop based on little more than the size and shape of the bottle and the label that′s stuck to it. However you acquire the information, you must firstly seek to enjoy the experience of wine. The only purpose of wine is pleasure. If you find a wine that is well made but you don′t like it, don′t drink it, regardless of the price.
Don′t be afraid to experiment and when you do, take notes. You will find wines you don′t like but you′ll gradually find that your palate will steer you in the right direction (for you). Learn about varieties and regions. You don′t need a great deal of knowledge to know what you like, but learning why you like something, or why you don′t, is an important step. Attending a wine appreciation course is a good way to pick up such knowledge and there′s no need to feel intimidated at the prospect of a classroom style format. There are myriad courses out there and the vast majority of attendees are genuine, down to earth people, curious about wine. Nothing at all like the snooty wine connoisseur′s of legend.
Courses answer general wine questions such as, "Is this expensive Chardonnay more enjoyable than a cheaper alternative?," or, "What is the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, Margaret River or even Bordeaux?" Classes must, above all, be interactive and fun. In other words, people taste wine, form opinions and throw out any questions they may have about wine style, winemaking or viticulture in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The educator should provide guidance, knowledge and facilitate conversation rather than lecture.
The Wine Society runs regular wine appreciation courses at the Introduction and Masterclass level. If you are interested in broadening your horizons in the world of wine, check out our courses for more information Back to top
- When tasting wine, why do experts smell the wine first before trying it?
Anyone that′s stuck their nose into glass of wine, particularly old wine, will probably have noticed a multitude of aromas and, shortly after (if you decide to drink it), flavours. But really much of what we sense as flavour is really aroma. Try this for an experiment; take a mouthful of wine, slosh it around for a while then swallow it. Make a note (a mental note is fine) of the flavour experience. Now try it again, this time pinch your nose closed. Though you will still experience sweetness, bitterness, sourness and even saltiness (lets hope not), the red berries or capsicum or whatever it was you found initially has somehow made itself absent. After you′ve swallowed, wait a second, then let go of your nose. Suddenly those flavours come flooding back as your sense of smell is engaged.
This is because your sense of taste, besides detecting texture (acid, tannin etc), can really pick up only those four sensations; sweet, bitter, salt and sour. The rest is in the nose.
But why do we remember smells so acutely? Because the olfactory bulb that interprets your sense of smell is nestled right next to the part of your brain that stores long term memory. Back to top
- Why do people swirl their glass and what do they mean when they talk about "tears" or "legs"?
Carefully the connoisseur rotates his glass, a seductive sea of crimson whirls around the glass. What settles in the glass surrenders its aroma. The film left on the glass exposes more wine to the atmosphere.
The very purpose of swirling is exactly that - expose more of the volatile compounds in the wine to the air so that when one sticks one′s nose into the glass, one will smell more. The other reason, which is often mentioned, is to get an indication of the alcoholic content of the wine.
Surface tension is the force holding a liquid together. Another force is the interfacial force; this is the force that holds a liquid to a surface. When the two forces are equal liquids stick to surfaces. In the case of wine, which is constituted primarily of water and alcohol other factors come into play.
Alcohol is more viscous than water and, therefore, has more interfacial tension. But, alcohol also evaporates faster than water. Therefore when the glass is swirled, wine sticks to the glass through interfacial tension, the alcohol evaporates from the film, concentrating the water content and reducing the interfacial tension. Surface tension and gravity act, forming the legs, which are also known as tears or dribbles, which then roll down the glass.
This means wines with a higher alcohol content will form legs sooner and more prominently. Initially more wine sticks to the glass due to higher viscosity. Then, evaporation acts faster on the film left behind. Back to top
- Why do the different types and brands of wine differ so greatly in price?
Compiled by The Wine Society
To my left is an $8.00 wine and to my right, an $80.00 wine. They are both made from the same variety, in this case Shiraz, but did it really cost 10 times as much to make the latter than the former? There are many factors that contribute to the price of wine.
Different varieties of grape grow better in certain conditions than other varieties. For example, Pinot Noir grows best in cool, yet relatively dry and sunny conditions. Hence it makes the great red wines of Burgundy and in Australia is at its best in Tasmania and cooler regions of Victoria. Shiraz, on the other hand, is not so tolerant of the cold but copes much better with the heat. Therefore, it will have trouble ripening in Pinot Noir territory but can make beautiful (though sometimes monstrously big) wines in the hotter regions of Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. As a result Pinot Noir from Tasmania, for example, is consistently much better than Pinot Noir from McLaren Vale and commands a higher price.
The particular vineyard within a region will also contribute to the price. Vines much prefer to grow on a slope where they have good drainage in well drained soils with their roots having access to a moderate, steady supply of water. So the price of the land the vines grew on is another factor.
Even in ideal conditions for a particular vine, some varieties are much more difficult to look after than others. Some are more susceptible to certain diseases and sensitive to viticultural practices (Pinot Noir is the most problematic) where as others, such as Cabernet Sauvignon are relatively easy to deal with.
As vines age they produce less fruit, but they also produce higher quality fruit. Vines, like people, do their best work once they′ve matured, and yet, once in their prime, the volume of work decreases. Less fruit equals better quality because vines that have fewer bunches to put their energy into put all the effort they have into those bunches to make the best fruit possible. Winegrowers, of course, know this, so each year when the vines begin to bare their fruit, the winegrowers travel between the rows and cut off many of the bunches, forcing the vines to concentrate on the remaining fruit and limiting the size of the yield. The end result is smaller quantities of higher quality wine, forcing the price up.
Of course the low yielding vines from ideal climates for their variety, in good soil, on a slope will have the best viticulturalists looking after them. In any industry the best cost more. Once the grapes are harvested they will have the best winemakers to transform them into wine.
Within the winery there are numerous processes a winemaker may employ during the winemaking process. Riesling is very easy grape to work with. Great Rieslings are made in the vineyard. Once in the winery they are crushed, fermented and bottled. There′s not much more to it. Great Chardonnay, however, is made in the winery. Once the alcoholic fermentation has finished Chardonnay usually undergoes a process called malo-lactic fermentation. All or some or even none at all of a Chardonnay may undergo this process which converts crisper, greener malic acid into softer, buttery lactic acid.
Oak is another contributing factor. Riesling and many other whites get none. Chardonnay and most reds get some oak treatment. The cheapest way to do this is to have blocks of oak suspended in the wine in nets, to be fished out later. Alternatively a winemaker may ferment or mature wine in oak barrels. This is more expensive but the oak flavour and texture in the wine is more integrated and pleasant.
Then there is the choice of French or American oak. They have different attributes one of them being that French oak costs more, though they are both expensive. New oak imparts more flavour into the wine than old oak; therefore winemakers creating oaky wines must continuously invest in new barrels. Wine that has been matured in barrels, perhaps for 18 - 24 months must have the cost of their storage factored into the price of the wine.
Once a wine is finished it is bottled, sealed (with cork, synthetic or screw-cap) and labelled. Each of these can be done at greatly varying price points.
After transport and wholesale are factored in, you find the bottle in the bottle shop and there is one more factor contributing to the price. Yourself. How much are you prepared to pay for it? Arguably the most significant factor of all. Back to top