Pages

Totally Obvious Things I Did Not Know About Wine

Pass it along:

Maybe I have no class (I mean, probably), but I honestly don’t get wine.

I love beer. I will go to great lengths to sample local brews and can even discuss them in a semi-intelligent manner. Hand me a glass of wine though, and the most insightful analysis I can usually drum up is that it “tastes red.”

Unfortunately for myself, the beer selection in South America is… lacking to say the least. The main attraction here, Argentina specifically, is wine. I can’t fight it. So when we arrived in Mendoza, the heart of Argentine wine country AND were invited on a fabulous wine tasting tour by GetYourGuide, I decided I had a chance, nay, a responsibility to educate myself just a little. Particularly if education meant drinking a lot.

So here is what I learned:

Smell is Just as Important as Taste

My prep work actually started the night before, when we sat in on a free lecture on how to taste wine at our hostel. A thickly accented Argentine woman talked us through the process of of tasting and appreciating wine. Apparently you use your nose (yes, everybody besides me in the world already knows this- I’m TRYING okay??).

It turns out you can tell a lot about a wine just by the smell of it. We learned how to aerate our wine by jiggling the glass to clear out the alcoholic smell. I inhaled deeply and smelled…wine. With a hint of maybe vanilla? I guessed aloud and our instructor nodded vigorously. Alright, clearly I have the gift.

You’re Not Supposed to Taste Wine with Cheese

Ugh, what’s the point then.

Red Wine Get’s It’s Color From Grape Skins

The next morning we were up bright and early for our tour! Along with a lovely couple from Houston and a solo traveling girl from Chicago we piled into the van.

First stop: Norton Wineries, one of the larger wine producers in the Mendoza area. It was a beautiful, sprawling vineyard set against a backdrop of the Andes. It was more than postcard perfect. Their number one product, in fact Mendoza’s number one product, is Malbec, which is made from a certain variety of purple grapes.

All my life I just assumed that white wine was made from white grapes and red wine was made from purple and thats where it got it’s color. That is not totally accurate. Red wine gets it’s color from contact with the skins of the grapes. If you take away the skins, you won’t get that wonderful red color. Red wines are also often aged in oak barrels which gives them their unique taste.

Making Wine is Science

After sipping some sparkling wine and marveling at our good fortune to be the kind of people who drink sparkling wine at 10 am, we got to go behind the scenes.

Behind the scenes at a winery is… complicated looking. There were a lot of metal vats, dials and hoses leading every which way. There’s a lot of chemistry that goes into making wine, which makes sense as fermentation is a chemical process. Our guide walked us through the steps but to be honest I still don’t really get it.

What you Taste is All Brain Chemistry

This kind of blew my mind. All of that stuff wine critics go on about, “hints of vanilla, pineapple, leather, whatever?” It’s all made up. Seriously, nobody is adding these things to wine, what you are smelling is just the wine. It’s simply your brain that associates certain notes in the wine with all of these other things. YOUR BRAIN IS TRICKING YOU.

What you smell in your wine is entirely dependent on your own brain chemistry and past smelling experiences (ie if you’ve never smelled a kiwi before you’re not going to start recognizing one in your drink). Even wine experts come up with different answers on the same wine’s sniff test. So next time you need to analyze some wine, just make up whatever you want- there are no wrong answers.

 

Good Wine Takes Serious Patience

We moved on to our second winery, a smaller, artisan setup called Lagarde. Here I learned that the best quality wine takes some serious patience. Our beautiful long haired tour guide explained to us that older grape vines produce better wine. In Lagarde’s vineyard, some of the vines are 100 years old!

 

Sparkling Wine Takes Even More Patience

My cluelessness of wine does not extend to champagne which I of course adore. At Lagarde they make sparkling wines the old fashioned way- by letting the chemical reactions occur in the bottle to produce the Co2. In order for this to happen the bottled wine must sit on a rack aging for at least 15 months and sometimes as long 6-8 YEARS. Once a day the bottles are rotated 45 degrees by hand.

Makes me appreciate the bubbly even more.

The Best Wine is Not the Most Expensive

I rarely if ever pay more than $10 for wine. Since it all tastes the same to me I couldn’t see the point in spending a lot of money on a “good bottle.” While that might not be the best wine buying tactic, it turns out you don’t need to pay a lot for quality wine. There are a lot of very decent bottles out there for under $20. The best wine, my guide tells me, is the one that tastes best to you.

Wine Should be Savored

True story: I once played 100 cup beer pong (wine pong?) with a massive jug of Carlos Rossi. You can probably find many things wrong with that sentence (oh, college), but the biggest is that wine is not meant to be skulled as quickly as possible. It’s meant to be savored and enjoyed, preferably with good friends and good conversation. Wine is a social drink, and while I still have a long way to go in appreciating it’s finer points, that is one thing I can get on board with.

 

Thank you to Get Your Guide for offering me a free Mendoza wine tour.

Share This:

59
Shares

20 Responses to Totally Obvious Things I Did Not Know About Wine

  1. Camels & Chocolate April 29, 2012 at 11:46 AM #

    Agreed. I lived in Northern California for four years, wrote about travel, food and wine, and still do not “get” it. Other than I really like sparkling. And it *SHOULD* be eaten with cheese for the sheer enjoyment effect. Obviously.

  2. Ari April 29, 2012 at 12:12 PM #

    Great read! I’ve never really known an awful lot about wine myself, but I’m going to Italy’s wine-growing region Tuscany next month and hope to become a little more knowledgeable! Thanks for sharing your new expertise :)

  3. Adventurous Kate April 29, 2012 at 1:47 PM #

    Have you seen Sideways? You should see it. You are SO Jack! You even share some of the same observations!

  4. Jason April 29, 2012 at 2:47 PM #

    Steph, I’m so proud of you! There is a chance to make a wine aficionado out of you yet! :-)

    twenty-somethingwine.com?

  5. ChinaMatt April 29, 2012 at 6:24 PM #

    Definitely need a winery tour. I worked in a wine shop/liquor store and learned quite a bit about wine. One of my favorites was only $12, but it’s not easy to find. Another interesting fact, the markup on wine in the US is generally 40-50%–much higher profit than beer.

  6. Amanda @ Farsickness April 29, 2012 at 7:27 PM #

    Very interesting! Especially the part about your brain making up the flavor associations. Never would have guessed that.

    But then again, I also played wine pong in college with a jug of Carlo Rossi, so I’m probably at the same level of wine knowledge and classiness as you ;)

  7. Emily in Chile April 30, 2012 at 1:56 AM #

    I’ve learned a lot over the years of living in Chile and just going to so many different vineyards with visiting friends and family, but I still can’t really taste all those flavors! I can taste differences, but it’s more that the wines just taste like different wines, not that one tastes like chocolate while the other tastes like blackberry. I just use this as an excuse to keep drinking – I call it “developing my palate” :)

  8. Shivya April 30, 2012 at 1:53 PM #

    Really enjoyed this post, and I must confess that even though wine is all I’ve been drinking of late, I hardly know much about it.

    I’m glad that to learn that wine smelling is to do with brain chemistry! I’m always fascinated by the descriptions on wine bottles, because it tastes all the same to me too!

    The best wine is that which is best to you – amen.

  9. Andrea April 30, 2012 at 8:23 PM #

    Haha, I love this! I actually love wine, but I didn’t know a lot of these things either. And wine and cheese is the best combination ever–why aren’t you supposed to taste them together??

  10. Sarah April 30, 2012 at 10:22 PM #

    Steph!

    I just wanted to say that I’m such a fan of your writing style in this post!
    Seriously good stuff, lady!

  11. Sheryll May 1, 2012 at 7:48 PM #

    I really, really, really, want a glass of wine now! What an awesome post. In Korea, there isn’t as much wine readily available as I thought it would be. I’ve totally been savoring the few bottles I’ve been able to find.

  12. mercedes May 2, 2012 at 1:45 AM #

    i had one night in college that can only be referred to as “the boxed wine night”. I’ve always wanted to know about wine, but honestly felt like you did — the cheap stuff tastes similar enough to the fancy. Thanks for writing a post that helps cracks the gateway to basic understanding!

    I especially like the idea of wine as a social drink. sitting around with your friends enjoying some wine just sounds so…cozy!

  13. alexis May 3, 2012 at 6:32 PM #

    Great read! Wine has always interested me because of how complicated it seems. I’ve been to a wine tasting tour outside of Barcelona. It was very interesting, but I still don’t get wine except that white wine goes with seafood and red wine goes well with steak. Other than that, I know that I love white wine and seafood combo better! When I am more mature and more into the finer things in life, maybe I’ll understand wine more.

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:12 PM #

      Yeah, I know it’s read with red meat and pasta (?) and white with fish and chicken… I think.

  14. Marc May 3, 2012 at 8:33 PM #

    Youv’e done it now… Gone down the rabbit hole, you’ll be shunning beer and opting for a glass of vino with your steak. I Love a big glass of red wine on a cold night.

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:02 PM #

      Never! nothing beats a glass of cold beer on a hot day :)

  15. Yulia May 19, 2012 at 12:07 PM #

    It was great to meet Steph – such an adventurous and interesting person!!

    • Steph May 22, 2012 at 5:56 AM #

      Thanks! Was great to meet you as well.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. United Travel Bloggers and a very active turtle... | GeoPosted - April 30, 2012

    [...] Steph (Twenty-Something Travel) gets educated on wine. [...]

  2. Mendoza's Wine Country in Photos - June 7, 2012

    [...] got there, we had to see where the wine came from. GetYourGuide offered us a wine tour which was very educational for Stephanie and I. We found that the best is not always the more expensive one. It’s really whatever tastes [...]

Leave a Reply

css.php