Wine Primer


Joyce White

recommended link: Soul in the Kitchen, the Joyce White Site

I started enjoying wine with food years ago, and there's nothing better than a glass of wine when it comes to enhancing the flavor of most foods and providing a little buzz to boot. Think of an herb roasted chicken for Sunday dinner and reach for a soft and fragrant Merlot, by California producers such as Talus or Canyon Road, or perhaps a fruity and fresh and jammy Beaujolais by Georges Duboeuf. White wine lovers can grab a lovely Chardonnay by Estancia of California. Slather a whole red snapper with garlic and herbs, fire up the grill on a sunny spring day, and while away the afternoon sipping a slightly chilled Marques de Caceras Rose wine from Spain.

"Wine turns a simple meal into a magical moment," says my friend Jimmy Fonsville, a wine lover. Basically, winemaking is simple and universal: bunches of grapes, including stems, pulp, seeds, and skins, are dumped into a large vat or vessel and pressed or crushed. That's all. This mixture is known as must. Once the grapes are crushed, in a few hours a boisterous and bubbly process known as fermentation begins converting the natural sugar in the grapes into alcohol; hence the heady note. This formula or recipe is as old as the Pharaohs; in fact our ancestors were making wine in Africa thousands of years ago. And wine today is made pretty much this way the world over: California, New York State, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, the primary wine growing regions.

Of course there are many other variables in winemaking, including the soil, weather, sheer luck, winemaker's expertise, cost considerations, grape varieties, the type of wine being made, filtering techniques, aging, yield and volume, and increasingly, the use of more and more high tech equipment. Wine falls into three types: red, white and rose. Red wine is always made from red grapes, with names such as Cabernet Sauvingon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Gamay, the reigning stars. Chianti, the popular and delicious red wine of Italy is also made from red grapes, primarily from the Sangiovese grape. I love a nice medium-bodied, slightly tart Chianti with Gumbo. Antinori's Chianti Classico Peppoli 1999 is a favorite, at about $18 a bottle. The red grape known as Tempranillo reigns supreme in the delicious spicy and berry flavored wines of the Rioja region of Spain. My local wine store recently ran a special on Marques de Caceres Rioja 1998, and I bought several bottles and enjoyed with smothered pheasant. A good bargain for $10 or so. White wine is most often made from white grapes, such as the very popular Chardonnay, which, by the way, is not the name of the wine, but of the grape used. Many California wine producers use this grape, and I particularly like the Chardonnay wine made by Gallo in Sonoma County. And this same Chardonnay grape is used in the famous white wines of Burgundy, the glorious wine growing region in France.

Another popular white grape is the Sauvingon Blanc, which in California and New Zealand produces herbaceous, light to medium-bodied dry wines, which I like to drink with dishes that have a slightly sweet undertone, like shrimp or scallops grilled with mango or peach glaze. The Sauvignon Blanc grape is also used in the famous sweet and luscious and costly wines of Bordeaux, France known as Sauternes, combined with a white grape called Semillon, the primary grape. White wine is sometimes made from red grapes, especially Champagne, but this gets a little tricky. The winemaker must extract the clear juice from the grape and remove the red skins before the fermentation process begin so as not to tint the wine pink. Top-quality rose wines are made from red grapes, and the juice is deliberately allowed to remain in contact with the skins until a rosy color develops. Less expensive rose wines and blush wines, especially the jug variety, often owe their color to a creative blend of red and white wine.

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