Sunday, June 1, 2008

Appreciating Wine Tasting For The Art Form It Represents

It is a common misconception that wine tasting amounts to merely sipping, swishing and swallowing and this couldn't be further from the truth for the avid connoisseur. There is a definite art to wine tasting that takes years of studied practice to master.

The art of wine tasting is used to distinguish fine wines and relies on a trained palate, often acquired over many years. If stored properly and aged correctly, wine can be an exquisite experience.

The foundation of wine tasting is actually rooted in our sense of smell. In fact, over 75% of our taste is actually due to our sense of smell and has a major impact on the taste of the food and drink we consume. And this is also why when we have a cold our sense of taste is so distorted. Most wine experts will agree that wine has more to do with smell than taste, but that is often where the agreement stops and personal preference takes center stage.

Proper wine tasting is initiated with the swishing that is most familiar to novices. The purpose of this activity is to circulate the taste of the wine by moving it between the front and back areas of the mouth in order to reach the taste buds contained in the tongue.

Taste buds don't necessarily have a noted taste factor, but they are capable of properly identifying food and beverages that are sweet, salty, and bitter with no problems at all. So the process of swishing is more about giving the senses an opportunity to extract the aromatic flavors in the wine being tested.

Understanding the fundamentals of swishing allows the connoisseur to move on to the three basic principles of the art of judging a fine wine - observing, smelling, and finally tasting.

Upon pouring the wine into a crystal clear glass, the first step is to take a considered look at the sampling. This is not a step to be rushed as a great deal can be ascertained during this step. Despite their name, white wines are actually not white as much as they are golden, pale brown or with a slight tinge of green. On the other hand, red wine is typically a dark pink hue or leaning toward dark brown in color.

The second step is closely observing the smell of the wine that is actually accomplished in a two-step fashion. First you should take a brief whiff of the wine to get a general idea of what you are dealing with. Next, you will take an extended, deep drawn in smell in order take in the full aroma of the beverage.

You will often see the most studied of experts pause at this stage to take in the results of this step and reflect on what they have just experienced.

Finally, the connoisseur is ready to engage in the actual tasting of the wine and this is accomplished by first taking a sip, swishing to bring out the bold or subtle flavors of the sampling. Only after this step will you then fully savor the overall flavor once you swallow the sip you have taken.

Having completed the steps of observing, smelling and finally tasting the wine, you will then be able to discern the quality of the wine from a connoisseur’s standpoint. This is the most comprehensive way to determine the aging, storage and overall fitness of the wine for consumption. And as with any skill, the more practiced you become, the more adept you will be at evaluating the unique and exciting flavors of this special beverage.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

How to Purchase the Perfect Wine Cellar

The term "wine cellar" often conjures up visions of grandeur and luxury. After all, don't the finest European villas pride themselves on their extensive wine cellars? Don't the finest restaurants in the area crow about the elaborate processes for keeping their expensive wines in very ideal conditions?

All of this focus on wine cellars can leave the average person a bit uncertain about what a wine cellar is for, and, more importantly, whether his or her love of wine is sophisticated enough to actually purchase or build a wine cellar at home.

Let's start by saying that most wine lovers do not need fancy storage systems for their wines. Most wine drinkers will focus on carefully selected bottles, and will drink them in regular, but small quantities. For this kind of consumer, creating an at-home wine cellar may be unnecessary.

For the wine lover who enjoys stocking many different kinds of wines, or enjoys collecting wine, a dedicated wine cellar may be essential. A wine cellar can be placed in any convenient location within your home.

When purchasing a wine cellar, there are certain factors you must consider, among them: size, light, vibration, humidity, and temperature. Size refers to how large the wine cellar will be, and to how many bottles of wine it can hold. This may be related to the amount of space you have available for your wine cellar, as well.

Light, vibration, temperature, and humidity controls are necessary to maintain your wine in its highest quality state. Too much light (especially sunlight or fluorescent light) is thought to damage wines. Your wine cellar should offer a darkened storage space.

Vibration is another enemy of wine: too much vibration will disrupt the sediments in wine, causing it to change color or taste. The more delicate the wine, the more susceptible it will be to vibration and light.

Humidity is a third factor to consider, as too much humidity may cause the wine to mold, and too little humidity may cause the corks to shrink, leading to wine spillage and spoilage. The optimal humidity for wine is about 70%.

Finally, temperature is another important factor, as temperatures that are too high will decrease the flavor of the wine, and temperatures that are too low may cause the wine to freeze.

The easiest way to create a wine cellar in your home is through the purchase of a self-contained wine-cellar unit, which can range in size from 2x3 feet to 10x12 feet, and up. (If you are considering a very, very large wine cellar for your home, it may be less expensive, in some cases, to have it custom built for you.)

Wine cellars range in size (some hold as few as 24 bottles, all the way up to 2500 bottles) and the prices rise to match. Prices for small models may begin at about $500, and rise up to $4000 for the larger ones.

You will also find that wine cellars come in a variety of exteriors, ranging from super sleek stainless steel to rustic oak or pine. Additions such as interior lights, locking doors, glass panels and the like will typically add to the price.

When deciding to purchase a wine cellar, you should first determine a few things.

- How many bottles you'd like to store.

- How much space you have available for your wine cellar.

- How much sensitivity you need in terms of controlling for light, temperature, humidity and vibration. Again, if you are planning to purchase very expensive wines, you will need more sophisticated controls.

- Whether the wine cellar will be tucked away in a room or placed out in the open. If it’s the latter, you may want to invest in a higher end finish so that it matches the rest of your house.

Ultimately, the purchase of the perfect wine cellar comes down to the best balance of features for the price and space. Know your wine drinking habits, and purchase the best wine cellar you can afford which meets your current needs, and gives you a little room to expand.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Basics of Wine

Wine making is an art that has been practiced for over four thousand years. Essentially wine comes in three basic types: red, white and sparkling.

If a sparkling wine comes from the Champagne region of France it is named after that region. Other French regions that produce good wine are Bordeaux and Burgundy. The best Italian wines come from Tuscany, and the best American wines come from California.

When wine is made the grapes are crushed and the juice extracted. The juice contains sugar and yeast. The yeast ferments the sugar and gradually alcohol is produced. Although the alcohol is always the same, every wine has its own flavor. This depends on the type of grape used and the conditions in which fermentation occurs.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir grapes make full, rich red wines. Merlot grapes produce lighter, softer red wines. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes make white wines.

Good wines usually have their year of production on the bottle. This is called the vintage. Some years produce better wines than others.

Most red wines improve with a little aging, some for as long as ten years. Most red wines are not distributed until about two years after they are put in the bottle. However, most white wines do not benefit from aging, except for champagne and sweet dessert wines.

Wines can be enjoyed like any other drink, but they are often consumed with a meal. For full flavored meats such as beef choose a full red wine, like a Zinfandel, Cabernet or Syrah.

For lighter meat like pork or lamb a medium bodied red like a Merlot or Pinot Noir is usually a good choice.

Chicken and fish are usually accompanied by white wine like a Chardonnay. This wine will also complement a non-meat dish, as would a Zinfandel or Riesling.

Sparkling and white wines are best served chilled. A red wine should be served when it is only slightly below room temperature. Both wines are best left to stand before opening. Some red wines have sediment which should stay at the bottom of the bottle, and an agitated sparkling wine is often much too eager to leave the bottle.

You can serve a white wine immediately after removing the cork, but a red wine benefits from 'breathing' for about half an hour after the bottle is opened. For best results gently decant the red wine into another container. This allows a greater surface area of the wine to breathe and leaves the sediment behind in the bottle. If you do not have a decanter, pour half a glass from the bottle and let both stand for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

Wine Tours - Where Wine can be Tasted Properly

Wine tasting is not a sport and not a hobby... It is an experience. Many choose a wine tasting tour as a modern way to spend holidays, as wine tasting tours usually include going to the country side, where one can enjoy ambience, relaxation and good company. This tends to be a physically and mentally rejuvenating experience. Depending on the continent and country, wine tasting tours are sometimes located on the most beautiful beaches, then other times inland and in hills, where grapes are growing all year round.

One might think that full appreciation of a wine tasting tour will benefit only true wine lovers, but after a third glass we can most certainly conclude, that everybody will blend in and feel great. It is best to start with local wine tours and then build up to wine tasting vacations in more distant territories.

For wine tasting beginners or if going abroad, it is best to take a guided tour to places where wineries are located. These tours usually include renowned and well-known wineries and guided wine tasting sessions hosted by professional wine experts. These sessions can be an exceptional eye opener for the novice, but also for the experienced wine enthusiast. One gets to taste a wide variety of wines at the places where they are manufactured. Also much can be learned about wine making, storage, food matching and also about history of the wine and wine lovers from local history - especially in Europe where this frequently includes kings and aristocracy.

The best thing is that there is also food served besides wine, and this completes an enjoyable event. Wine tasting tours can go on for hours, and if you attend organized tours - which is an exceptional way to spend your vacation - you get to travel around from winery to winery and learn about new places that often astound you with their beauty.. You also meet new, like-minded people so you can share your findings, thoughts, preferences and tastes. Guided tours include everything already organized - your meals, the wine that go with the meals, your hotel rooms, transportation and lastly the wineries to visit for the tasting sessions.

To attend a wine tasting session you do not need any knowledge as there are no prerequisites. Everybody can attend as sessions are guided, and one learns everything on the way. If you are a complete beginner, it is best to look around and copy behavior of others. This especially includes sipping the wine slowly, keeping it in the mouth for a few seconds, while moving it around all areas of your mouth and tongue, so that every taste sensor comes in touch with it. You can also close your eyes and most of all try to get as much feedback from your sensors as possible - and then compare your findings to what your guide is describing.

Wine tours are not only about wine tasting. Ultimately at the end of every tour you can buy wine that you liked, and for many this is a start of their own private wine collection. Attending such wine tasting session also teaches you a lot about the way the grapes are cultivated and collected, about local folklore, and finally how grapes get processed for the wine. The bottom line - while enjoying these tours you will have the best time ever. After a few local tours you really might consider a wine tour as a way to spend your holidays and after you have returned from your first wine tasting tour, you will probably make a list of all the continents and countries you want to visit to continue your quest for good taste.