Wine Wisdom

A good wine is adored for its looks, its bouquet, and its flavour. It is a delight for the senses. But do you know how to find out if a wine is worth its grape or not?

By: Loic Denneulin, Country Director, Sopexa India

Posted on: June 10, 2010

Red wine in a glassIf God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good? Three centuries after French statesman Cardinal Richeleu asked that cheeky question we’re forced to say that the answer is still a resounding “No.”

A good wine is adored for its looks, its bouquet, and its flavour. It is a delight for the senses. Elegant flutes and stemware filled with rich wine being circulated in a room are an instant temptation. 

Historically, wine gained popularity when there was very less potable water available in the 1300-1500 AD in Europe. Hence, wine became a part of the daily diet of the Europeans. From the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans till today, people have realized the enormous benefits associated with drinking wine, it has remained more or less a permanent fixture in European dining habits. 

Wine has always been a symbol of opulence, wealth, and luxury, because early wine drinkers were prominent people. Just as wine gradually tastes good with age, its popularity will continue to increase as time passes.

However, with varieties of this sinful liquid circulating in the market, and from various regions, it is difficult to understand and choose the perfect one. For motives of space, I shall take up French wines and give out some simple basic ‘rules’ to identify and choose your wine. If you’re planning on hosting an incredibly classy dinner for friends or colleagues, here are a few steps to help you pick the right wine 

Red or white?
Once your dinner menu is fixed, it’s time to decide which type of wine you would like to serve - red or white. Usually, as is probably well known, red wines are heavier than white wines and therefore go well with heavier, meaty dishes like mutton. White wines go well with lighter dishes like salads, chicken and fish. “Sparkling wines” are white wines that have undergone fermentation, the most famous being Champagne.

Wines are further categorised as sweet or dry. Sweet wines can be served as an aperitif before the meal or with the dessert/cheese at the end of the meal. Dry wines are usually served with the meal.

Wine regions and type of grape – which one to pick?
This is the tough part of the whole deal. Different grapes make different tasting wines. Wines in France are also labelled according to the region they come from. The main red grape varieties or ‘varietals’ are Cabernet Sauvignon, which comes from Bordeaux; Pinot Noir, which comes from Burgundy; Merlot, which comes from Bordeaux; Syrah, coming from Languedoc-Roussillon; and Gamay, coming from Beaujolais.

white wine in a glassThe main white grape varieties are Chardonnay, coming from Burgundy, Gewurztraminer from Alsace; Riesling, again from Alsace; Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux and Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley. 

Body issues
The terms ‘full-bodied’ and ‘light-bodied’ may seem like Latin and Greek to a lot of people, but in reality, they are not that tough to understand. A wine’s body is directly related to its alcohol content. 

If you aren’t able to judge whether the wine you have chosen is full or light-bodied, check its alcohol content, on the side of the bottle. The general rule of thumb is that 7.5 to 10.5 per cent is light body, 10.5 to 12.5 per cent is medium body and 12.5 per cent and over is full body. 

The wine’s body is also influenced by the ‘terroir’ or region they come from. To demystify the term, ‘terroir’ means all natural conditions needed to make the vineyard flourish, including grape varieties, the microclimate, soil type and human talent. Some full-bodied wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Syrah and Gewurztraminer. Medium-bodied wines are Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc. Some examples of light-bodied wines are Gamay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Red wines are heavier in body than white wines as a general rule, so a Gamay is fuller-bodied than Sauvignon Blanc.

Do vintages matter?
Frankly, the more important question is, do vintages matter to YOU? In one word, no. Vintage refers to the year the wine was produced and traditional wine wisdom decrees that it is something to be concerned about. Historically, a winemaker had very little control over the weather and labelling a vintage was a way of alerting customers to the bad weather years.

wine pairing with steakBut in the last two decades, due to advances in winemaking and viticulture, vintages have become an indication of differences in characteristics, rather than quality. In other words, excellent wines have been produced during bad weather years due to the winemaker’s skills. So it’s no harm consuming them. Older doesn’t always mean better, though red wines usually benefit from some ageing. This makes them smoother and easier to drink. 

Summer heat vs the winter chill
Weather is a very important consideration when it comes to choosing wines, especially in India. With the onset of summer, its best to stick to chilled white wines, as they are light and refreshing. Red wines taste better in cooler weather. Some light-bodied reds can also be served chilled. Reds served during the Indian summer need to be chilled for a while beforehand. When the wine experts say ‘serve at room temperature’ they don’t mean 40 degrees Celsius. The correct temperature is 16-18 degrees Celsius. 

Purchasing wine
It’s alive! Yes wine is, and it doesn’t like extreme fluctuations in temperature, extreme cold or direct sunlight. Make sure that the outlet you buy your wine from takes proper care of its wines and has invested in a temperature controlled storage facility. Also check the condition of the bottle before buying. The cork shouldn’t protrude, there should be no leakage and the wine should be filled up to the neck of the bottle.

Wine is sometimes considered the elixir of good health. We, however, still advise to drink responsibly and in moderation.

Loic Denneulin Sopexa IndiaBeing the Country Director of Sopexa India, the official marketing and communication agency promoting French food and beverage in India, Loic Denneulin has spearheaded many successful marketing campaigns and promotions in India and abroad. His knowledge about French F&B and international markets make him a key player in this domain.

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