Wine is one of the oldest beverages known; it even predates written history. It has been made since before 4000 BC and is only a little younger than mead. It is uncertain who started producing wine, but it was probably first made by the Near East civilizations of Babylonia, Assyria, Phoenicia1, Palestine, Syria and Egypt. Eventually it was known throughout the world and is mentioned in the Bible many times2. It came to northern Europe in about 600 BC, brought in by merchants. Most wine is made from grapes and the alcohol content is around 12.5% (25 proof).
The grapes are picked when they are ripe3 and crushed. The stems are discarded because if they're left in, they will make the wine taste bitter. The juice of all wine varieties is white. Red wines gain their colour from the dark skins of black grapes during the fermentation process4.
After the fermentation process, the wine is bottled and aged for a period of time, from several months to a number of years. Many of the world's finest wines are aged for a very long time - upwards of ten years. Depending on the quality of this early wine, and the conditions in which it is stored, the wine can acquire distinctive, complex characteristics during the ageing process. If the wine is a basic one, though, then it can turn to vinegar, if it is kept too long.
What to Look Out for in Wine
The flavour of wine varies according to climate, storage, region, soil, grape variety and the sugar content of the grapes the wine is made from. There are a number of characteristics to note when tasting wine such as:
- Acidity - a term used to indicate pleasant tartness or sharpness.
- Aroma - the wine's odour which is determined by the wine's grape variety and method of fermentation.
- Balance - a harmony of the wine's components.
- Body - the fullness of wine on the palate.
- Bouquet - the odour developed after being bottled.
- Dry - absence of sweetness.
- Nose - the total odour of the wine, including the aroma, bouquet, and other factors.
- Residual sugar - the natural grape sugar left in the wine that determines its sweetness.
- Tannin - the components in a wine that have an astringent flavour and a puckery, mouth-drying effect.
Storing and Serving Wine
Wines with corks should be stored either upside down or on their sides to prevent the cork from drying up. If the cork dries up, then air can enter the bottle and oxidise/spoil the wine.
Before serving very old wines, you should decant them into another container to get rid of the sediment.
Red wines should be served at 65°F.
White wines and Champagnes should be served at 45°F.