This project started with a bottle of wine. More precisely, it started with a bottle of 2010 Wyndham Estate Bin 444 Cabernet Sauvignon (don’t get too excited: it was $10 supermarket plonk) which I drank while reading Mireille Guiliano’s ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat’. This may be a diet book, but it’s a diet book written by a Frenchwoman who spent many years working for Veuve Clicquot (classy champagne; definitely not $10 supermarket plonk), so naturally it included a chapter on drinking and appreciating wine.
Guiliano’s writing style is warm, enthusiastic and inspiring, so when she pointed out the difference between the “I like…” of a child, which they may well be unable to explain beyond a simple sense of enjoyment, and the “I like…” of an adult which expresses a nuanced appreciation of the various features of a wine my reaction was to stop and think about what I drink. I’d been drinking wine for well over a decade, but why? Because I ‘liked’ it? What did I mean by ‘like’? What was it about this wine, in my glass today, that I ‘liked’?
So let’s start at the very beginning. Wine is an alcoholic beverage which can be fermented from the juice of a wide variety of fruits, as well as roots, flowers, and just about any other part of a plant you care to name. However, when most of us think of wine we think of a beverage fermented from the juice of grapes.
Wine has an average Alcohol By Volume (ABV) of approximately 12%, as opposed to around 4% for beer and 37% for spirits, but this can vary from wine to wine. If you want to know the ABV of the wine you’re drinking, it should be listed somewhere on the bottle (the bottle I have open in the fridge at the moment has an ABV of 13.5%; the unopened bottles in the cupboard are 12%, 12.5%, 13.5%, 14%, and 18.5% respectively).
Wine has been around for a very long time: in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, which can be traced back to around 1000 B.C.E., Noah plants a vineyard and proceeds to become so drunk on the wine that he passes out naked in his tent (Genesis 9:20-21. And you thought your drunk Facebook selfies were embarrassing).
Wine is usually red or white, although it is occasionally pink (rosé). Most wines are still, although some are bubbly (‘sparkling wine’: under international law this can only be called champagne if it comes from certain places in and around the French region of Champagne). It usually comes in glass bottles, which may be sealed with a cork or, these days, a screw-cap.
Wine has five basic characteristics: Sweetness (also referred to as level of dryness), Acidity, Tannin, Flavour, and Body. Additional common descriptives are terms like Texture, Balance, Length, Aroma (or Bouquet), and Mouthfeel. I’ll explore these in more detail in a future post.
Savouring wine – as opposed to just drinking it – is a slow process, and, again, I’ll have a lot more to say about it in a future post. You should begin with your eyes: look at the wine in the glass and appreciate its appearance. Then smell it: you should pick up on a variety of aromas depending on what kind of wine you’re drinking. Next comes the all-important part. Take a small sip of the wine and really taste it. Over time, you should be able to assess quickly all the characteristics listed above. Finally, think about what you’ve just tasted. Did you enjoy it? Why or why not? The ability to answer that question is the difference between childhood and adulthood.
And now I can tell you that I enjoyed my Cabernet Sauvignon because it was full-bodied with raspberry and chocolate notes that lingered on the palate, and that I enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon in general because of its bold flavours and heavy mouth-feel.
Always drink responsibly. One standard drink of wine is approximately 100ml (3.3 fl oz). The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that women consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week (note that this is slightly lower than the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation). The World Health Organisation recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In New Zealand the legal drinking age is 18. Do not drink alcohol if you are under the legal age to do so in your country. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.