Crazy Wine Questions
“When do they add the cherries (blueberries, tobacco, vanilla, etc.) to the wine?” This question is often asked after tasting room visitors read the tasting descriptions for wines they are offered. The answer is relatively simple, but may not be totally satisfying to a customer. Most fruit and other flavors found in wines are generally produced naturally during the fermentation process via yeast conversion of sugars to alcohol and a number of minor by-products that results in the myriad flavors wines can offer. Other flavors are derived during the aging process, especially from toasted oak barrels or alternatives. It is always fun for winemakers to go through the winemaking process and see what aromas and flavors result from their efforts.
Here is another typical question that can drive a wine professional crazy. "I had this wine one time and it was really good. I can’t remember the name, producer, or vintage, but it had a pretty label with a mountain (animal, vineyards, etc.) on it. What do you think about that wine? Do you have that wine? Or, do you have a wine like that?" WOW, what can I say! Without the critical information it is next to impossible to help that customer. However, there is a relatively simple solution, should the customer so choose. Almost everyone has a phone/camera which can easily be used to take a photo of the bottle of an especially enjoyable wine. Just do it, and you’ll get a lot more help from the wine professional in finding that special wine or one with similar characteristics.
“I only like dry wines. What do have that is dry?” This question is asked more often than you might think. Typically, the problem that results is the customer doesn’t like the dry wine (one with no or minimal residual sugar content) offered to them, and only when a wine with greater sugar content is tasted, is the customer satisfied. Sweeter wines tend to be gentler on the palate, while very dry wines can be a bit tart, even astringent. Winemakers have long known about and used the technique to add or leave a bit of residual sugar (often in the 0.4-0.8% range) in both white and red wines to make the mouthfeel softer and more pleasant. Once the residual sugar level gets to 1.0% or over, there is very noticeable sweetness on the palate.
“Can I get some ice for my Chardonnay?” is a question that makes me shudder! Most winemakers work very hard to produce flavorful wines from the grapes provided to them. If the wine would taste better diluted with water (or melted ice), then the winemaker would have added water during production. That RARELY happens! So, here are two suggestions. If you like your wine very cold, put it in the freezer or submerge the bottle in an ice bucket for a bit until it reaches near freezing temperature. Note, very cold wines offer less flavor than moderately chilled wines, but that may be your preference. If you cannot get a very cold wine at the tasting room, perhaps a different chilled beverage, soda, water, iced tea, etc., would be more satisfying.
“Is this really a Zinfandel? Why is it red and not pink?” Well, Zinfandel is a very dark grape, almost purple-black in color. When the winemaker wants to make a RED Zinfandel, or any other red wine, for that matter, the skins which contain most of the color in a grape must be left with the fermenting juice so that color can be extracted into the finished wine. If juice from red grapes is directly pressed away from the colorful skins, or left in contact with the skins for only a short period of time, less color is extracted and a light red or pink wine can result. These are called Rose’ wines, and have become a very important part of the Texas Wine Industry.
Perhaps the question that gets asked most often goes like this, “Does this wine have tannin (or sulfites) in it, because I'm allergic to tannin (sulfites)". It is EXTREMELY rare to find someone who is actually allergic to either tannins or sulfites. Both tannins and sulfites are antioxidant preservatives. Tannins are compounds naturally extracted from grape skins or produced when making wines, particularly red wines. Their structure and action are similar to vitamin E. Sulfites are preservatives used in a wide range of food products, think dried fruit, frozen foods, many prepared foods that are fried or baked, etc. Medical reports tell us that only about 1 in 1,000 persons has an actual sulfite allergy, and these folks certainly know that well before becoming of age to drink wine. These preservatives are critical to the wine industry as they help keep wines fresh and stable during production, bottling, storage, shipping, and aging. Most wines contain an extremely low concentration of sulfites, typically 30-70 ppm, well below any recommended level for concern.
Related to the above question, our friend Jim Johnson, formerly proprietor and winemaker at Alamosa Cellars, and now grape grower at Tio Pancho Ranch, suggested, tongue-in-cheek, of course, that “We need to promote tannin as an essential part of a high-fiber, gluten-free, low-fat diet.” Do you think this would help alleviate the concern over tannins?
For more information on some of the topics noted above, please refer to previous editions of Carl’s Corner at www.fourpointwine.com/blog.
Flavor Adjustments for Wine 26-Sep-2018
What are Tannins in Wine? 14-Sep-2018
Grape Skins Key to Red Wine 23-May-2018
Sulfites – Why are they in my Wine? 16-Aug-2017
Proper Temperature for Wine Enjoyment 20-Jul-2017