A Beginner’s Guide to Wine: What to Know
Are you in need of a guide to wine?
There are not many people who have not tried wine at least once in their life. One can find it at any restaurant and virtually any store that sells food. It comes in a huge variety of different shades and flavors and from different grapes and regions around the world to appeal to everyone’s palate. The shared interest in wine can be displayed just by the number of committees, societies, and clubs that all revolve around the tasting and enjoyment of wine. There are few things more perfectly simple and satisfying than pairing wine with slices of cheese and bread. However, when did our fascination with wine first begin? Furthermore, when did wine itself begin? Thinking back, it seems like a drink that has been around as long as water, especially since we can find expensive wines aged hundreds of years, but this is not quite true.
Currently, the oldest wine that has been discovered thus far is called the Speyer wine bottle from Germany and is about 1,650 years old (Barnes, 2017). Throughout all those years, it has never been opened as it was found buried in the tomb of a Roman nobleman. While for many wines, aging gives the drink a more refined flavor, but that may not be the case for the Speyer wine bottle, especially because most of the alcohol content has most likely evaporated by now.
Even if the oldest known wine is undrinkable, it still gives great insight into the manufacturing of ancient wine. Older traces of wine have been discovered in earthenware vessels and jars from China, Israel, and Iran, some of which date back to 6,600 B.C.E. (Puckette, 2016). In addition to this, thanks to the early written script of the ancient Greeks, known as Linear B script, we know that the Greeks had been making wine from grapes from at least 1,500 B.C.E.
Your Guide to Wine
Any guide to wine must explore the process of winemaking. The methods of winemaking found throughout the Mediterranean can actually be attributed to the ancient Greeks who had a particular obsession with wine in contrast to other ancient cultures of the time who typically only drank wine as part of religious rituals or just preferred beer altogether. The Greeks’ love of wine is underscored by the mythological god Dionysus, also known as the god of wine, winemaking, and grapes (Zeppa, 2007). The Romans, who held a special appreciation of the Greeks’ vast pantheon of gods, had their own version of Dionysus whom they called Bacchus. The Romans’ interest in wine spread with them as they conquered the Mediterranean and many other regions throughout Europe where they expanded upon winemaking methods and grape cultivation, also known as viticulture.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, winemaking methods continued through the Catholic church which used the drink for ritual purposes. (Zeppa, 2007). Wine spread even further when Spanish conquistadors brought it with them on their journeys across the ocean to Mexico and Brazil (Puckette, 2016). Since then, winemaking has advanced quite a bit to give us the well-preserved and refined wine we buy today. However, what is the actual process of making wine?
Grapes are typically harvested from October to November. The later the grapes are harvested, the sweeter they will be, and those harvested at the latest time possible are often used for dessert wines such as sherry, ice wine, or Riesling. Some grapes destined to make dessert wines are even allowed to rot slightly thanks to a particular bacteria, Botrytis cinerea, which gives wine unique flavors of ginger and honey (Puckette, 2014). The first step of the winemaking process is the production of the must or the liquid of the grapes and separating it from the stems. This typically carried out by machines that crush the grapes. The must is then put through alcoholic fermentation which requires a particular yeast chosen by the winemaker, sulfur dioxide which kills any unwanted bacteria, and an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment in which the must will sit for 8 to 10 days (Zeppa, 2007).
Red and white wines are made quite differently. Some notable differences are that red wine, such as merlot, gets its color from the skin and seeds of the grapes which are fermented along with the liquid. In contrast, this is not done with white wines like pinot grigio (Zeppa, 2007). The temperature at which fermentation occurs is also an important factor, and sugar may be added to the wine depending on its type.
Once the fermentation process is finished, the wine is filtered and it may be bottled immediately or it may be stored in an oak barrel to age and absorb the color and flavors of the wood. Once bottled, the wine is labeled according to what winery in which it was made and is then shipped out. The long process of grape cultivation, fermentation, and aging must occur for nearly every wine variety on and off the market. While today’s winemaking technology has made the process easier, it has been a long and tedious but worthwhile job since ancient times. Next time you peruse a winery’s selection, it might be interesting to think about how some of those same wine varieties have been consumed by humans for hundreds or even thousands of years.
Hopefully, this guide to wine has helped you. To get some delicious wine for yourself, click here.
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Barnes, Sara. (2017). World’s Oldest Unopened Bottle of Wine Remains Sealed Since the 4th Century. MyModernMet. Retrieved from https://mymodernmet.com/oldest-unopened-bottle-wine-world/#targetText=So%2C%20how%20old%20is%20the,tomb%20in%20modern%2Dday%20Germany.
Puckette, Madeline. (2016). A Brief Illustrated History of Wine. Wine Folly. Retrieved from https://winefolly.com/update/a-brief-illustrated-history-of-wine/.
Puckette, Madeline. (2014). 5 Main Types of Dessert Wine. Wine Folly. Retrieved from https://winefolly.com/review/types-dessert-wine/.
Zeppa, Giuseppe. (2007). The science and technology of wine making. DairyScience. Retrieved from https://www.dairyscience.info/index.php/science-and-technology-of-wine/124-the-science-and-technology-of-wine-making.html.