“Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.”
It can be pretty daunting trying to choose a good wine when faced with a seemingly endless variety at the supermarket. So how best to make your choice? For many of us, it’s based on price or a pretty label.
So what can you learn from the label?
A superior wine will include the vintage, grape variety and region on the label whilst wine made with less emphasis on quality is often made from a blend of grapes and can’t lay claim to any of these. Look for a wine that lists at least two of the three as a guide to quality.
The more specific the location information on the label, the better, for example, the district and vineyard rather than a general area such as ‘California’. The more vague the location the more likely it’s a ‘value’ wine.
The alcohol percentage for a well-balanced wine should ideally sit between 11.5% – 14%; anything lower and the wine will be sweeter as the sugar in the grapes has not converted to alcohol; anything higher and the wine tends to be over ripe.
One other thing to remember is that whilst New World wines (basically countries outside Europe) detail the grape variety such as Chardonnay on the label, Old World (European) wines tend to list the region. This is because most are regulated to which grape variety they may grow. For example a wine made from the Chardonnay grape may be described as a Burgundy as this is the region where that particular variety is grown.
To learn which grapes are grown in which region would be a mammoth task so the best thing to check on Old World wines to ensure quality is the regional or national seal on the label.
To become a true wine buff takes a lot of research and knowledge but if you would rather choose your wine on a bit more than clever marketing here are a few basic tips to get you going.
Wine can be split into 9 styles
Sparkling – from the more expensive Champagne to the very popular Prosecco this is no longer a wine restricted to celebrations.
Light Bodied White Wine – light and dry and a perfect accompaniment to most foods.
Full Bodied White Wine – frequently preferred by those with a deeper palette because of the richer smoother taste as these wines are often oak aged.
Sweet White Wine – is made from some of the oldest varieties of grape and the intense aromas produced by this wine leads to a sweeter taste.
Rosé Wine – became popular in the late 1700s and is made by allowing the red grape skins to only remain during fermentation for a short time compared to a red wine where the skins can remain for weeks. This shortened contact time leads to the delicate rosé colour.
Light Bodied Red Wine – is typically paler in colour and has less tannin. Tannin can give an astringent taste in wine which dries your mouth, this gives light bodied red wine a more delicate taste.
Medium Bodied Red Wine – is a fuller flavoured wine with an acidic balance making it an ideal choice to accompany a variety of foods.
Full Bodied Red Wine – has by far the most tannin and is the darkest in colour. Strangely the tannin, when paired with something like a juicy steak, has a palate cleanser effect.
Dessert Wine – was more popular in the late 1800s and tends to have a more syrupy consistency with intense flavour, suited to the sweetness of a pudding.
Many of us will know where our favourite wine sits within the nine styles so let’s further narrow down our choices by some of the methods used in wine tasting; look, smell and taste. At a basic level this will give us a few pointers but should you explore the whole wine tasting experience you will eventually be able to identify the exact grape and region that your wine comes from – without reading the label!
Your glass of wine can give you clues on age, alcohol and sugar level and even the climate where the grape was grown. Check the colour, viscosity (does it ‘have legs’ and coat the glass) and level of transparency; white wine becomes more yellow with age whereas red wine becomes more transparent. The thicker and more viscous the wine the more alcohol and sugar is likely to be present.
The aromas released when you gently swirl the wine in your glass can either make you long for a sip or maybe put you off; having said that the aromas tell us a lot about the wine. These are split into three categories; Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. Primary aromas come from the grape and the climate where it is grown and smell of fruits, herbs and some even have a floral scent. Secondary aromas come from the fermentation process and are yeast based and often described as cheese rind. Finally the tertiary aromas, often referred to as the ‘bouquet’, result from the aging of the wine, whether it is in the bottle or in oak. For example a wine aged in oak will often have a vanilla aroma.
Tasting wine is as much about the texture as it is about the taste but ultimately the sign of a good wine is how long the flavours linger after you have swallowed the mouthful. However when all is said and done the best wine is the wine you enjoy!
In this LIVE issue we are going to concentrate on white wines, which are grouped into four main grapes; Reisling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Now the fun bit! We have chosen a wine from each of the four groups available from local retailers for you to try.
Marks & Spencer’s Clare Valley Riesling – £13*
Country of origin: Australia
Style & Taste: A refreshingly fruity Riesling with flavours of citrus blossom, ripe pear and an uplifting hint of sweetness.
If you enjoy a Riesling why not try a Muscat Blanc (Moscato) or Chenin Blanc.
Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)
Sainsbury’s Pinot Grigio, Taste the Difference – £7*
Country of origin: Italy
Grape: Pinot Gris
Style & Taste: Elegant and dry, characterised by flavours of peaches, greengages and almonds.
Fancy a change but want to stick to something similar to a Pinot Grigio? Look out for a Soave or Muscadet.
The Old Bridge Wine Shop’s Greywacke – £19.95
Country of origin: New Zealand
Grape: Sauvignon Blanc
Style & Taste: Intensely flavoured, succulent and crisp with a finely textured, dry, long finish.
If your wine of choice is a Sauvignon Blanc, a Vermentino from Italy or a Verdejo from Spain may tickle your taste buds.
Aldi’s Exquisite Limestone Coast Chardonnay – £5.79*
Country of origin: Australia
Style & Taste: Un-oaked, dry and full with a perfect complement of attractive honeysuckle, white peach and mouth-wateringly fresh pineapple.
A Semillon or Viognier could offer you an alternative to Chardonnay if you fancy spreading your wings a little.
These are just a few of our suggestions, the choice, as they say, is yours.
*Prices correct at time of going to press