Why do I get a headache when I drink wine?
Sigh, that pounding pain in the head after a night of over-indulgence that makes us promise never to repeat. Possible culprits have been pointed to sulphite, tannin and histamine etc. But only a very small percentage of population is allergic to those substances. In truth, it’s mostly the effect of dehydration from alcohol consumption for most of us. So, remember to hydrate, hydrate and hydrate while enjoying wine in moderation.
Corks are merely closure devices. They serve the simple purpose of sealing a bottle, that’s it! Traditionally they are made from cork stripped from tree trunk, hence the name. These days, corks can be fabricated from various types of plastics and even glass. Other common closures include screw caps and crown caps seen on many bottles.
A cork that’s tainted by TCA (short for 2,4,6-trichloranisole) can impart a musty wet-cardboard like smell to a wine. And when a wine is tainted by such a cork, it’s called a “corked” wine. TCA can be caused by phenolic wood preservatives and hypochlorite sterilants used to treat natural cork. A “corked” wine is an annoyance because the natural aromas and flavors are masked by the musty smell but the wine is completely harmless to drink!
Does the age of the vine affect the quality of the wine?
Benefit of older vines comes from their bigger root systems that have penetrated more deeply into the sub-soil and are able to pick up minerals and nutrients deep inside the ground. Quality also depends on the amount of fruits produced on each vine. When the number of bunches is limited, flavors and nutrients are more concentrated. Fruit production on vines tend to go down as they age, thus, producing grapes that are concentrated with flavors captured deep within the soil.
What are the hot areas in wine?
We are hearing a lot of exciting developments through the grape vines about sustainable vineyard practices. We are seeing an exciting return to much more natural and gentle approach in winemaking that yields healthy vines and produces terroir-driven wines. At the same time, we are seeing wines coming from places that were previously not often associated with wines: Patagonia, India, Brazil, China, Turkey, just to name a few.
Wine glasses come in all shapes and sizes these days. For tasting, the best glass is one that is clear so you can observe the wine visually. On the nose, it must be free of any residual detergent or scent. And finally, it should be big enough so that you may swirl the wine around easily to release its aromas.
Where are the best values coming from these days?
There are great value finds from almost all the wine producing countries these days. As winemaking becomes more efficient and hygienic, quality has increased immensely across the board. Some of the Old World countries such as France, Italy and Spain are producing some phenomenal table wines outside of the traditional QWPSR (Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions) category. And some forgotten wine regions are also being revitalized with new investments and new breeds of winemakers. New World countries are continuing their dominance in the value category with South America and Australia leading the pack at the same time. It’s great to be a wine drinker these days!
What wines should I serve at a party (or to any large gathering)?
We love serving sparkling wines such as prosecco’s and cava’s. Somehow bubbles and parties always seem like a good match. We also love opening large format bottles such as magnums (1.5L) for small gathering or try an imperiale (6.0L) for a large crowd.
We have tried many different methods and it seems the safest way that yields a decent success rate is by soaking the bottle in hot water. Let the bottle sit in hot water for a few hours and continue to check for the glue’s adhesiveness. Once the label is sufficiently loosened by the water bath, start to slowly peel the label off. Sometimes a straight edged razor blade could help to get the peeling started.
The purpose of decanting varies. One decants an old wine to separate sediments at the bottom of the bottle from being stirred up during pouring motion. One can decant a younger wine to give it more exposure to oxygen, so more aromatics can be released. One can also decant bigger bottles for ease of serving at the dinner table. So for old wines, we’d say yes to decant. For young wines, it is optional but could be beneficial sometimes especially for full-bodied red’s.
Do I have to store my wine in a temperature-controlled cellar?
It’s important to store wines at a constant 55˚F for long term cellaring. High heat and extreme cold can both cause damage to a wine. But for most of us who like to uncork the bottles pretty soon after purchase, there’s not too much concern for a dedicated temperature-controlled cellar. Just keep the wines away from direct heat source (such as oven or heater) and out of the way of direct sunlight. Just enjoy and replenish frequently.
What is the correct cellar temperature?
The ideal temperature for cellaring is a constant 55˚F. But do bear in mind that besides temperature, humidity, movement and light also play critical roles. Humidity level of about 55-75% can maintain balanced moisture for the cork. For healthy long term cellaring, try to keep wines in a dark, constant temperature and humidity controlled environment and most of all, avoid moving them around frequently. Let the wines sleep, quietly and undisturbed.
Wines in Europe don’t have sulfites, right?
That’s incorrect. Sulphur dioxide is important to winemaking because it is an antiseptic, an antioxidant and a preservative. It is a common chemical used in cleaning winery equipment and is added to juice to control fermentation. A small trace of natural sulphites produced by yeasts is also left in the wine after fermentation typically. A winemaker may also choose to add more at time of bottling for its antioxidative quality and as a preservative. The total suphur dioxide in a wine is regulated by EU law. But good winemakers always use sulphur dioxide sparingly.
I want to visit some wineries; how do I find out which ones to visit?
Come by PJ and we’d love to have a chat with you. Despite deep down jealously that you will be making the trip and not us, we’ll give you suggestions on some must-visit wineries plus a few other from our secret favorite list.
Syrah/Shiraz’s most famous homeland is the Northern Rhone Valley in France where it’s known as Syrah. It is the basis of notable wines such as Hermitage and Cote Rotie. Syrah was brought to Australia possibly in the 1830’s from Montpellier by James Busby (the so-called father of Australian viticulture). Planting of this small-berried black skinned grape has since thrived in Australia where it’s known as Shiraz. Australia, using Shiraz, has produced a modern style of full bodied deeply colored wine with lots of black fruits characters and is easy to drink when young. Nowadays, plantings of Syrah/Shiraz can be found in almost all major wine regions. Producers these days have often elected to call it Syrah when it is the traditional Rhone style that they are modeling their wines after or name it Shiraz when it’s the fruity easy to drink modern style.
Does price equal quality?
There is a complicated web of factors behind a wine’s price. In very general terms, cost of making a wine includes price of grapes or vineyard land cost, labors, price of winery and equipments, bottling, labeling, transportation, pricing practices of the producer & merchants involved, marketing, duties & taxation, and any foreign exchange rates. Investments into vineyard work and winemaking could contribute to quality but it’s not a simple direct relationship unfortunately. But on the flip side, good news is that there is good quality to be found at all price points!
There is so much info, where do I start?
Too much info can feel overwhelming. But the good thing is that you can start with whatever interests you the most. Whether it is the actual aromas and taste of a wine, or wine regions, or winemaking techniques, information is easily accessible from wine magazines, wine blogs and online forums these days. You can also speak to sales reps at reputable wine shops where you will most likely encounter people who are equally passionate about wines working there. Many serious shops also host educational seminars and tastings, and they are very good starting points for further discovery.
What’s the difference between “New World” and “Old World”?
Old World is a generalized term used to describe European and Mediterranean countries that were historically under vines and producing wines: France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Portugal, Greece, for example. New World is a term used in contrast to Old World when speaking about regions that have been progressively producing wines since the 1960’s and 70’s. United States, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand are prime examples. It also represents a much more technologically minded viticulture and vinification approach as well as a modern style of soft but full bodied wine.
How do I read a label? And how can I tell if it’s a good wine from the label?
Information on a wine label is legislated by strict regulations. Name of producer, origin of the wine, vintage, variety, alcohol level are the basics to be shown. Additional information that could signify quality includes specificity of where the grapes are grown (i.e. vineyard name), or higher quality bottling (i.e. reserve), and information about where the wine is bottled (i.e. estate-bottled). For the terroir-minded, generally, the more specific or delimited the origin is, the higher quality the wine is.
How long will the wine keep after it is opened?
Wine is perishable and is proned to oxidation. We usually recommend finishing a bottle within 2-3 days for the best experience. Any longer, you will start to detect oxidized aromas and disappearance of fruitiness; then the lovely wine in your hand will slowly begin its path turning into vinegar.