Priming the Palate: An Introduction to Wine and Wine Terminology | By Kenneth Shank

After realizing that as a Political Science student, politics is not my passion, but rather something I despise, I discovered my underlying passion: wine. After reading ‘The Vintage Caper’ by Peter Mayle, and enjoying two glorious ounces of ’82 Chateau Petrus, I knew something was there. I started reading about wine, varietals, and tasting notes. I wanted to gain perspective of what goes into a bottle.

I am finishing up a harvest at Tawse Winery (Canadian Winery of the Year  2010, 2011, 2012), and it has been a great way to gain this perspective. Tawse does most winemaking by hand, and during my time there, and after looking at over 800 tons of fruit in just over two months, I realized wine is something I could write about.

I now am working on a business venture with a good friend of mine, Garrett Beauregard, regarding importing coffee and wine. This ever growing passion is built on the mystical characteristics of wine, and being able to uncover it all. Wine exists where there is progress, and I feel that Edmonton and even Alberta for that matter is far behind the times in understanding what wine is: sunshine bottled.

I am sure most of you have thrown back a glass of wine and felt something. The next time you’re enjoying a glass, understand it a little better by understanding some underlying vocabulary- tannin, bouquet, terroir, aroma- how to hold a glass, or even how old a wine is. Wine is something someone has crafted from the previous year, whether it be vintage and non-vintage wine (wine made from more than one harvest year). It is art that is beyond the senses, it holds the power to take you to another place and time.

I will start out with the proper temperature. Serving alcohol at the right temperature will allow you to enjoy the bottle to it’s fullest potential; however, temperature is a preference as well. For instance, Jancis Robinson, author of ‘The Oxford Companion to Wine’, likes to have her reds a little cooler. For reds it is generally a little warmer- between 17 and 23 degrees, whereas rosé wines are served cooler at 7 to 11 degrees. Whites and sparkling wines are best served chilled between 5 and 7 degrees.

Holding the glass
Holding a glass is something I often see people do wrong. The stem exists for a reason: you hold it. Holding the stem keeps the wine at the proper temperature; warming the wine will alter the taste, and wouldn’t that be a shame? Rotating the glass allows the wine to open up, and the aroma becomes more noticeable. This is important for identifying notes and flavors. When you take that first sip, move the wine all around your mouth to increase surface area. That slurping done by wine snobs actually does serve a purpose. It allows you to trick your body- it opens your nose up and allows you to taste even more. Try not to spill it on yourself, but it might happen the first time or two.

The age of the wine
Wine is a living thing, it changes everyday. If you open a bottle today it would be something else tomorrow. Not a significant change but change nonetheless. The younger a wine is can be determined by the way it looks. Tilting your glass with a white background behind it allows you to see the colors. It is light-bodied (lighter in color) or heavy bodied (darker in color)? The rim is where you can determine the year. For reds, if it looks more orange or brown around the rim, it is an older wine, while if it is clear it’s young. White wines tend to look more orange. As you understand age in reds you will find that over the years the tannins soften. Whites can age as well, you may notice a petrol feeling or oily sensation on the palate.

Alcohol Content
Alcohol content is usually higher in heavy bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, as it is a late ripening berry and loves sun. These grapes usually have more sugar, which means more alcohol. Pinot Noir, an early ripening berry loves cool air, and not a lot of sun, therefore they have less alcohol. I recommend trying an Oregon Pinot and compare it to a French Pinot for Burgundy. Pinots can still have that high alcohol content, but it is less likely. For example, take a Cabernet Sauvignon, a heavy red, that is under 12% ABV. It may not be as rich as other Cabernet Sauvignon producers.

This is another aspect that allows you to tell where the wine may come from. Niagara wines will tend to have alcohol levels that are less noticeable on the palate, whereas Chile or Argentina will tend to have a more alcoholic taste

Tannins. That sensation you get in your cheeks when enjoying a glass of wine is due to tannins. This is the textural element of wine. More prevalent in reds than whites, tannins come from polyphenols found in the seed, skin, stem and the wood the wine was aged in. Tannin is a naturally occurring polyphenol and has been recorded to have some health benefits, most notably promoting heart health.

Terroir describes the growth conditions of the grape. It is the climate, the soil, the year, the surroundings and more. Terroir is what makes wine unique and how people can tell where a wine comes from. A hotter terroir will produce a ‘hot’ wine–a wine with higher alcohol and will help narrow down where it could have come from, more specifically than just looking at what it says on the bottle. Let it all sink in. The color, the smell, the taste, the feeling, the finish. The finish is how long the wine flavors linger, the longer the linger the better the wine usually. Know the art in your mouth.

Heres to your next wine adventure.


Image CC isante_magazine on Flickr

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