Q: Why do people swirl wine in a glass?
A: Swirling wine causes it to evaporate. By agitating the liquid and allowing it to splash slightly against the sides of the glass, the wine gives off a more concentrated, and therefore more vivid, aroma.
Q: What is the difference between red and white wine (besides the color, of course)?
A: Red wines take their color from the grape skin that is allowed to remain on the fruit while it is being pressed. These skins are also present when the juice goes through the fermentation process. The resulting interaction causes the skin color pigment to saturate the juice.
The skins provide rich tannins that add texture and body to wine. In addition, the bitter tannins balance the sugars in the grape juice and stabilize red wine, giving it a longer shelf life than whites.
For white wines, the skins have been removed prior to the grapes being pressed.
White zinfandel, for example, comes from a grape that is nearly black in color. Once the skins and seeds are removed, the pulp produces a light pink juice.
Q: Why is wine age important?
A: There are several different stages in the aging process from vine to wine.
Once grapes from the vineyard are crushed they are usually fermented in large, stainless steel tanks for a period of several weeks.
Once the fermentation process is halted, the wine is poured into oak barrels, where it will spend the next two months to a year settling and absorbing woody flavors.
And once wine has been bottled, it will gradually develop more distinct flavors as small amounts of liquid evaporate through the cork.
Light, heat and oxygen are wine’s chief enemies and can cause a stored bottle to age prematurely.
Keep wine in a cool dark place if you plan to store it for a long time.
Provided you have a good cork, wines can remain drinkable for 10 years or more.
Q: How do you read a wine label?
A: Wine labels have several functions — some are legal requirements, while others are just marketing tools. Often a small wine label can offer a surprisingly rich amount of information.
A typical label includes the name of the winery that produced the wine, the variety of grapes used to make the wine, the appellation or region the grapes were grown in, the vintage or year the grapes were harvested and the alcohol content.
By law, most wine can not exceed 14 percent alcohol by volume though ports are allowed to be as high as 20 percent.
Wine labels often contain special legal terms that can give additional information about how the vintage was made. When a wine is “estate bottled” it means that the winery not only produced 100 percent of the wine, but it also grew the grapes on land owned by the winery.
Terms like "cellared and bottled by" mean the winery bought the wine from a grower and bottled it. "Made and bottled by" means that the winery produced at least 10 percent of the wine from their own grapes. "Produced and bottled by" shows that only 25 percent of the grapes in a wine bottle came from another vineyard.
Q: How do you pick a wine?
A: Consumers are often justifiably confused when looking for a wine selection. Supermarket shelves may seem like an impenetrable wall of brands and varietals all claiming to be the best.
For those looking to become more familiar with wine, the key is to start out with an open mind and a big glass.
Specialty wine shops with a knowledgeable staff are preferred over choosing a selection randomly from store aisles.
But the bottom line is that you have to experiment with several different types of wine. When you find a varietal to your liking, then it's just a matter of finding the specific brand or vintage that suits your fancy.