An Introduction to Wine
The terminology of wine can he very off-putting, since most of it is in French. The air of mystery and complexity which this gives to one of the most important advances in human civilization puts up an artificial harrier between the wine and the drinker in a non-wine-growing country. So, avoiding as much as possible any suggestion of a ‘lecture on wines and wine-making, here, first, is a crib to help with understanding terms in common use, and then some basic information about wine labels.
A great deal of rubbish has been written about wine. Wine is like music — describing it in words means very little. The experience of other people is not much help but, in fact, understanding it for yourself is quite easy. What we hope this website will do, is provide something for you to refer to as you broaden your knowledge by experiment, and perhaps tempt you to try things that are unfamiiar or that you have previously ignored. The basic fact about wine is that it is for each individual to decide what wine he or she really enjoys and to go on enjoying it, regardless of whether it is supposed to ‘go’ with this dish or that. In the past, people could rely on a knowledgeable and friendly wine-merchant to advise them, but now, with the growing number of chain-stores and supermarkets, and of less experienced merchants, it is wise to understand the rudiments for oneself.
WHERE TO BEGIN
To start with a delicate dry wine is rather like being thrown in at the deep end before you can swim — it could put you off for life. Gradual progress from elementary wines opens the way to all manner of delight through the nose, eyes and palate until that serene state has been reached where all wines can be treated as old and valued friends. The dryest white wines are likely to come from France — Burgundy (Aligote and Macon Blanc to name the cheapest, with Pouilly Fuisse and the Montrachets going up the scale) or the Loire (Muscadet, Sancerre and Pouilly Fume among them). In Germany Moselle wines are liable to be lighter in colour and alcohol, and fresher than Hocks; and in the French reds, Burgundy rather heavier than Claret, Rhone wines such as Cote du Rhone and Chateauneuf du Pape higher in alcoholic content than most other reds, the Dao wines o Portugal darker in colour than those from Spain’s Rioja. The term ‘dry’ cannot properly be used in connection with red wine.
Wine Bottle Shapes
Some wines may be identified by the shapes, and the colours of the bottles. Bordeaux bottles have well-defined ‘shoulders’ and are green for red wine, clear for white.
The standard Burgundy bottle has no shoulders and a bigger body than the Claret bottle, usually green. The Burgundy bottle is similar to the Champagne bottle but much lighter, in weight not colour. There is also a slightly smaller Burgundy bottle called Maconnais, and the Pichet, which looks rather like an Indian club, best known for Beaujolais from the growers Piat or Mommesin.
Champagne bottle — heaviest of all because it has to be really sturdy to withstand the pressure from within from carbonic— a consideration which applies to other sparkling wines such as Germany’s Sekt and Italy’s Spumante. Alsace wine bottles — long necks and thin bodies.
Provence bottles — wasp-waisted like Edwardian ladies of fashion. German wine bottles — similar to those of Alsace.
The white wines of Franconia (Germany) come in a traditional bocksbutel, a flask which has been adapted to contain the bubbles of sparkling Portuguese Mateus Rose and its Vinho Verde companion, Casal Garcia. You can scarcely mistake a Chianti bottle, with its bowl shape and wicker skirt, but many Italian wines (including Chiantis) are in bottles almost identical with those of France — a Bardolino in what looks like a Bordeaux bottle, for instance. Other countries, too, use French- and German-type bottles for wines of similar style, I.e. ‘Spanish Burgundy’ and ‘South Africa Hock’and ‘Champagne’ from California.