is the page all about wine, with the emphasis being on informing
and teaching about wine and the pleasure of drinking wine,
information it is hoped the wine lovers amongst you will find
helpful and informative.
regular intervals there will be pages added to this About
Wine section of the site. Articles of interest both to expert
wine connoisseur and novice enthusiast alike.
of Europe's Wine Regions
Wine expert Joe Wadsack talks Pinot Noir Epiphanies and how
to pair hors d'oeuvres with your favourite tipple
. . . read more
It is often said, both by experts and amateurs alike, "There
is an awful lot of rubbish written about wine". This
is another contribution .
. . read more
the new Minervois . . . discovering some old history and a
revolution or two
Imagine, you have decided to take a well deserved break and
try to discover more about the Minervois wine region in the
Languedoc, south of France. After a bumpy landing at Carcassonne
airport, you drive your hire car in the direction of Narbonne;
you have decided on the slower green route, the D5, where
you will pass one after another tumbledown cave co-operative
and sleepy village . .
. read more
in the vineyards of Languedoc - Spring has eventually
arrived in the Languedoc The vines stand naked in serried
ranks lovingly pruned and waiting for the warmth of the sun
to arrive. The almond trees line the roads, their pink blossom
heralding . . . read more
or Die, the turning point for the Co-operatives
- Deep in the Languedoc region of southern France, an area
of wine production surpassing any other in the country, there
is a struggle for survival for the old village 'Cave Co-operatives'
trying to exist in the 21st century with the onslaught of
international competition in an over abundant marketplace
. . . read more
Wine Co-operatives of France ~ Chateau de Ventenac Minervois
- Ventenac is a lovely little village located in the Minervois
wine-growing region of the Languedoc, set on the banks of
the picturesque Canal du Midi with the northerly protection
of the Montagne Noire behind. The village is only small, yet
is extremely welcoming and well worth a visit not only for
its wine cave but also for the ambiance of its setting. Here
you can sit on the banks of the canal and watch the world
go by, or eat in one of its busy, yet non-expensive restaurants,
overlooking the Cana .
. . read more
TO SAMPLE WINES
to sample Wines
How to taste wine to really appreciate the
taste and to start to notice and measure the quality of
the wine that youre drinking:
you want to remember a wine for later reference or comparison,
the chances are youre going to find it easier to keep
a record that to rely on your memory.
be using your sense of sight, smell and taste, so sensibly
youll want these to have their best chance of evaluating
the wine, so neutral conditions are the most helpful, with
no strong opposing smells, and good lighting will help.
be sensible for you, too to have a clear palate, so chew
some bread or sip some water first if you have a distinct
taste of something else in your mouth.
something to write on, a glass, some water and plain bread
if you intend to try several wines and something to spit
or pour into. Then choose some bottles to try. You might
want to try several Sancerres against each other or similar
wines to get a better assessment, or just something you
fancy to really taste objectively. White wine should be
cool but not too cold, red a little warmer. Taste the
lighter, white wines first, dry before sweet, before moving
on to the somewhat heavier reds.
a clean clear glass so that you can see the colour of
the wine and the density of that colour. It should have
a stem so you hold that and not the bowl. It should curve
inwards at the top so it traps the smell (nose) of the
wine. If possible, wash the glass by hand, not in the
dishwasher as youre going to swirl the wine around
and watch how it falls down the sides and you cant
do that if its been in the dishwasher.
ideal conditions youd be in bland surroundings so
as not to distract and youd have at least a white
piece of paper so you can tilt the glass to see the colour
against a white background.
tasting more than one wine, be prepared to spit it out
you really will get the taste that way and youre
senses wont be muddled by too much sampling (believe
me, otherwise youd like each one progressively more)
a small sample of the wine into the glass and hold it
against a white background so you can see the colour.
Tilt the glass to notice whether the colour is the same
at the edge (rim) as it is in the middle. Wine tasters
go on about the rim being wide or narrow
at the colour for reds, is it bright purpley or
deeper or going towards brown? Red wine will go lighter
and less intensely red with age and a red Bordeaux will
usually be a deeper colour than red Burgundy. White wines
may have a greenish tinge when theyre young, deepen
with age and end up a deep yellow-gold. If its cloudy,
there could be something wrong, a re-fermentation happening
in the bottle, bacteria or in the case of very old fine
wines, it may not have been decanted well, or just have
been difficult to do so. If youre taking notes for
the future, try to describe the colour as descriptively
as you can.
it around the glass to watch for the "legs",
the trails of wine that cling to the side of the glass.
Legs indicate more concentrated flavour, high alcohol
content or could indicate sugar content. This action will
also aerate the wine, which helps to reveal the wine aroma,
particularly in young wines that might still have some
of the oak smell about them, for instance.
Most important . Put your nose in and take a good
sniff just one will do. What does it remind you
of? Can you smell a buttery or floral or vegetable or
whatever? The nose can detect more than a hint of what
you might expect or confirm in the tasting. A young wine
might have a smell of the grape whilst an older one might
be more likely to smell more complex. You can tell a lot
from the "nose"; corkiness, a musty smell from
a tainted cork, sulphur, sometimes in cheaper white wines;
smells a little like burnt matches; vinegar; a burnt smell
like the wines of Madeira, sometimes called "maderised".
enough to grasp a good taste, preferably tilt it to the
front of your tongue and pull some air over it
probably making that funny noise that is indicative of
a professional taster it does open up the taste.
If not, think first about the taste and then "chew"
it to get the wine around the mouth. How long does the
taste last? Poor quality wines tend to leave little aftertaste
or a nasty taste. Fine wines linger on.
it out into a suitable receptacle! (Youll soon get
blasé about this.)
Under each process above, make notes on:
-clear, dull, pale or deep, colour in detail, note a wide
or narrow rim and the colour or intensity of that
Condition clean or not, corky, "madeirised",
bad smell of sulphur, floral, aromatic, vegetal, grassy
or even a bit like rotten cabbages, strong or weak smell
Intensity weak or strong
Maturity young or mature
Sweetness - dry, medium, sweet
Acidity - low, medium or high
Tannin (like strong tea) low, medium or high, body
Body light, medium or full
Intensity weak or strong
Fruit character fruity, can you taste the blackcurrant
Floral, does it smell/taste aromatic?
Vegetal, is it grassy or even a bit like rotten cabbages?
Spicy, like some Australian Chardonnays or Shirazs?
Alcohol (not easy for most wines unless heavy or
light) light, medium or high
Length of taste in the mouth, short, medium or long
- poor, acceptable or good
ready to drink?
TO CHOOSE THE WINE
so youre in a restaurant and you want to order the
wine but are faced with a difficult wine list.
dont need to know everything about wine (and who does?)
to get to a wine youd enjoy with your food. First,
its a good idea to ask if any of your party has a
preference for white or red. This can be illuminating, as
some people will only drink one or the other. Next, a good
rule of thumb if youre not sure, is to choose a wine
at a price youre happy with.
a new restaurant I usually opt for a mid-price wine or will
even try their house wine as I think its a fair guide
to how good the place is, unless Im sure of what I
want to drink on that particular occasion. Its a safe
bet to stick with familiar names if you see one theyre
the most popular.
If in doubt, always ask the wine waiter or whoever handed
you the wine list. After all, its their job to help
you. Dont forget to tell them what style youd
like, how dry, or spicy, strong flavour or delicate, etc
or ask what they think would go well with the food.
most new world wines, the year makes little difference;
the weather is more consistent and the wine-making methods
are standardised. As for the French, well, you can keep
an encyclopaedia in your pocket or your head, but not everyone
knows or wants to know that the 96 Beaujolais cru
should be better than the 98 because it rained a lot in
98 (too much water in the grapes). So make it easy on yourself
and either disregard the date or ask your friendly wine
waiter for a recommendation or description.
TO JUDGE THE STRENGTH OF THE WINE
strength / volume - by law, the label should show the %
abv (alcohol by volume).
wine to be called wine, it has to have 8.5% alcohol in the
EC, but the Germans can have 6.5% (yes, really) and a maximum
of 15% (except the Greeks who are allowed up to 17% for
their table wine). So, wine would normally be between 8.5%
the lighter tasting wines have less alcohol and the heavier
tasting wines would have more "head-banging" capabilities
but this is not always the case.
good red Sancerre, for instance, can be deceptively higher
in alcoholic content than its taste might suggest, and some
Chilean Sauvignon Blancs are 13%, so white wine is not necessarily
less in alcohol. Around 12 - 12˝% would be the most popular
and there should be plenty of body without the consequences.
TO KNOW IF THE WINE IS CORKED
sampling - once over the hurdle of selecting the wine youre
then expected to do the ritual of the first sip.
waiter should show you the label and you should be sure
it is what you ordered. There are only two good reasons
to send the wine away and being offered the wrong wine is
one of them.
look good, you could look at the wine, swill it round, sniff
it and finally taste it with all the smiles and grandiose
if its okay. All that you really need to do is to
smell and / or taste if it is off - going too musty which
means some bacteria has got into the bottle and the wine
is BAD. Thats the only other reason to send it back.
its not to your taste, too bad, you chose it and the
wine is good. It is your fault. Little bits of cork floating
around are okay, that doesnt mean its corked
if theres nothing wrong with the taste. There might
be some crystallisation on the cork looking like sugar and
caused by tartrates and this does not affect the wine either.
Once you have had a corked wine, youll know the smell.
Thats why the waiter sniffs the cork.
you have successfully chosen the wine and my advice is that
if anyone adversely comments you like it!
That is all that matters.
TO UNDERSTAND VINTAGES
two queries have come up regarding the vintage year of wines.
first was from a restaurateur who wants to show an impressive
wine list and wanted a particular year for their Chablis
Premier Cru. The year they wanted was 1995.
we did stock plenty of 1995 Premier Cru Chablis when we
bought it in 97 but since then somehow we are down to just
three bottles of that particular year. Time has moved on,
unfortunately, and the next delivery could be '98 or even
'99. No, that would not do, the year they want is 95 and
they would like two cases of it, please. Not that they expect
to sell it that quickly, you understand, but they wanted
to stockpile it in order to have it remain on their wine
list as that year's Chablis.
the funny thing about wine is that it comes from a crop
which is harvested each year, so when that year's grapes
have been turned into wine, they usually concentrate on
growing the next year's crop and hopefully sell each year
in turn, so it's actually quite difficult to go back in
time to a previous vintage. Unfortunately, it's not common
practice to freeze a stockpile of grapes for future demand
or even to hold back supplies and not sell so many bottles.
of course, here we could mention the sometimes quite lucrative
business of laying down wine in order for it to grow in
value, but we had not done that in this case. Well, not
being ones to miss a sale, we spoke to the owner of the
vineyard and luckily this tale has a happy ending as they
are able to send us just two cases of 1995 Chablis Premier
Cru and the customer is happy.
second was from a customer who had seen on one of our wine
lists 1990 Amarone. Funnily enough, that was also a very
good year and yes, we had sold out. What we then discovered
was that the supplier of this wine had had the foresight
to present this wine in the year of the millennium in a
wooden box, thus justifying the price at more than double
the original price. Yes, oh yes, they had plenty of stock.
The next vintage available in the ordinary bottle is 1997
and the price on that had gone up, of course.
is most frustrating as a wine supplier, to receive wine
of the next vintage on from the vineyard. Nobody seems happy
to accept the newer wine and all the lists have to be changed.
We have been known to miss a particular year by ordering
more in a good year and none the following year, but it
does not always happen, particularly on a fast-selling wine.
study of vintages is not easy. A good year in one area can
be a bad one in another and of course, some wine will grow
better over years and then die back. Most white wines do
not want to be left too long before they are drunk or the
taste will suffer. They go past their best much sooner than
most new world wines are of a similar standard year on year
due to the modern wine-making methods and more regular climate
conditions but I still think there's something more to be
enjoyed in a great French wine of a certain year.
TO CHOOSE FOR A PARTY OR WEDDING
question we have often been asked:
having a few friends round / drinks party / my daughter's
getting married and I'd like some wine, what do you suggest?
Budget - are you going to really push the boat out or keep
to a reasonable budget?
What wine - red and white wine will be needed, and do you
want to put on some sparkling wine or champagne or bucks
fizz & orange as well, to offer as guests arrive?
is what I would recommend for a drinks party or small wedding
and white wine and also a selection of orange juice, champagne
and bucks fizz.
and white wine:
It's better to have something that most people will like
rather than to try to put on an expensive wine that may
not be appreciated in the atmosphere of social chatting.
Keep the better stuff for a small dinner party.
Merlot's a good choice because it is softer in flavour
and most people will like it. I'd opt for a French from
the Languedoc or southern Rhône at a fair price,
or a Chilean. These are not so heavy or expensive as Australian
wines in general, so should be acceptable to everyone.
I would also stick to French from a similar area, probably
a Terret, which is now available as a single grape variety
and is light in taste, or I might go for a blend from
the southern Rhône which has more flavour and which
we sell at £4.17. I'd possibly put on an unoaked
Chardonnay, which will not offend those who don't like
the heavier oak taste. If you're not sure, ask the wine-seller
for a reasonably light tasting wine at good value
I would obviously use our own non-vintage brut, which
is excellent and has earned great respect but sells at
less than the branded names. Otherwise I would use Tesco's
or someone else's own brand, as these are usually good.
In summer or on a lower budget, perhaps try a good Australian
bubbly or even a rosé bubbly. For buck's fizz I
would use a sparkling wine because the orange juice will
soften the taste.
Ask someone to be at the entrance to offer drinks and someone
to be responsible for topping up everyone's glass. It's
a good ice-breaker if you have the right person; if it's
a man, you could persuade him to put on a bow tie and smile
at them. Having other people to pour and to clear glasses
leaves you free to take an over all view and to circulate.
TO UNDERSTAND WINE LABELS
I thought it might be useful to explain
what the label can tell you about
the wine you are about to drink. Labelling laws are complicated
and can be explained in more detail later but I will start
with French wines.
wine is controlled by two organisations:
National des Appellations d'Origine (IANO), which controls
the hierarchy of French quality wines.
de Repression des Fraudes, which is responsible for seeing
that the laws on wine are carried out. From the moment
that the grapes are picked they are subject to documentation
until they are purchased.
wine laws of France have now been brought under the European
Community's regime and have, in fact, provided much of the
framework for that regime.
are the terms you might expect to see on the labels of French
wines, which describe the quality of the wine:
Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region
has two grades of QWPSR:
Délimité de Qualité Supérieure
two of table wine:
Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée
is the highest level that French wine can attain. The requirements
vary from region to region but these things will always
practices (planting distances, pruning methods etc.)
permitted yield per hectare
methods (wine production) including ageing
minimum alcoholic degree in the wine that must be achieved
regions have the right to the additional qualification superiéur,
e.g. Bordeaux Supérieur, Mâcon Supérieur.
That means that these wines have a slightly higher alcohol
amount than the normal basic appellation.
Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure
is in between table wine and AC wine and this category is
dying as many wines are progressing to the higher level
(e.g. Minervois and Corbières) but some wines do
stay at this level (e.g. Bugey). The laws are roughly the
same as for AC but these days are often less stringent on
yields or grape varieties.
are 141 types of vin de pays all over France and represent
about 20% of total production. It was brought in mainly
to help give added value to certain Vins de Table and also
to help reduce the quantity of bulk wine produced in areas
such as the Midi, which were known for high yield and low
of production can be regional (e.g. Vin de Pays d'Oc which
covers four départments or Vin de Pays de'Aude which
is one départment). It can even be zonal within a
This is usually much broader than for a local AC or VDQS.
Maximum yields being normally 90 hl/ha.
Minimum strength of 9% in the north and 10% in the south
and other levels of sulphur and volatile acidity levels.
for 30% of French wine. It can be produced anywhere in the
country with no restrictions on grape variety, but the wine
must not be chaptalised (must-enrichment, addition of sugar
to increase the alcohol level) No maximum yield is stipulated,
but a proportion of wine over 100hl/ha must be sent for
distillation and the greater the over-production, the lower
the price paid per hectolitre for distilling wine.
regulations have been changed to encourage growers to produce
lower yields of better quality wines.
French labelling terms
(usually sparkling wine)
(often underground) or winemaking establishment
for storing wine, usually in barrels, above ground
may or may not have a manor house
vineyard (walls might have been lost in time)
usually high quality vineyard or district
vineyard, usually in Bordeaux
(has a special meaning in champagne)
political region, a bit like an English county
vin de ...
wine of, but just a marketing term
grower who also makes wines from those grapes, especially
en bouteille au château
extra 0.5% or 1% volume
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