Friday, April 1, 2011

Cracking the Wine Codes

"I don't like that wine"

That's fine. I can accept that, because I often feel that way too, especially about oaked Chardonnays and California Rieslings. What I can't accept is when people say "I don't like wine because it is an acquired taste and I just don't have it". I also agree with that statement- wine IS an acquired taste, and you DO have to train yourself to appreciate and love its beauty, complexity, and flavor.
So, to any of you who may feel ready to write off wine because you think your palate isn't educated enough, I encourage you to not give up yet!
If you don't "like wine", the question to ask yourself is, why don't I like it? What taste or sensation do I detect that is unappealing to me?? The first step is verbalizing what it is you don't like about a wine, even though you may not know what it technically means in wine language.
Here are some common 'negative' phrases decoded:

"It burns my throat when I swallow"= The burning sensation that you feel in the back of your throat after taking a gulp of wine (often associated with red wines) is caused by high alcohol levels. The amount of alcohol in a wine is a reflection of the climate in which the grapes were grown (I'll delve into that another day!! ).

Good news-this is an easy problem to solve! Every wine label is required to list the ABV (alcohol by volume). So, before you buy, look at the label.

The percentage ranges for alcohol:

  • Low= 8-10% (Sparkling wine, some German/Austrian wines)

  • Medium= 11-13% (the average old bear- you can find all types of wines in this category)

  • High= 13%-15 (the big boys like Cabernets, Syrahs, or many grapes grown in HOT climates)

If you don't like this feeling, look on the wine label, and anything over 13% ABV you should steer clear of- or at least pair with some food.

"It makes my mouth water"=Do you feel like you just bit into a lemon? That means you are drinking a wine with high acid. As is the same with alcohol, the amount of acid in a wine can correlate with the climate in which the grapes were grown.

Cold climate= high acid.

There are a few other factors that affect acid, but climate is a big one. Unfortunately, acid in wine is not as easy to sleuth out before purchasing, so I'll help you out.
Here are some wines that you should walk past in the store if you don't like drinking wine that makes your mouth pucker up :)

  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs (which are my favorite, by the way!)

  • German/Austrian Rieslings (Riesling is naturally a very high acid grape)

  • Spanish whites like Viura and Verdejo

  • The King of Tuscany, Sangiovese (which makes Chianti). This is my fiance's favorite wine!
Before you write off wines that are acidic, remember the tried and true rule of wine and food pairing: Wines with high acid are fantastic with acidic foods. So, pair a Spanish Viura with some fish covered with freshly squeezed lemon, or, even better, pop open a bottle of Chianti and eat some pasta with some tomato-caper sauce. Mmmm... I can feel my mouth watering now!

"It makes my mouth feel like sandpaper
Do you feel like you just rinsed with mouth wash? Yeah, I know how you feel. That, red wine drinkers, is called tannin. Tannin is a characteristic unique to red wine because it is found in the skins and seeds of wine grapes. In the red winemaking process, the grapes are given time to soak and mingle with their skins, which is how they get that rich, beautiful red color (Did you know white wine can be made from red grapes?).

So, the formula: thick red grape skins= lots of tannin= lots of dry mouth


  • If you want a red wine that isn't tannic, go straight to the Pinot Noir section. Pinot has extremely thin and fragile skin, which is why it has that delicious light taste. Not much tannin in that pretty lady, no matter where she's from.

  • Look in the France section for wines from "Beaujolais". They make delicate red wine from the Gamay grape. It's a refreshing change from the norm wine and you'll really impress your friends.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon has the thickest of grape skins, so it will be VERY tannic.

  • Brunello & Barolo are Italian varietals that you tannin-haters should not touch with a 10 foot pole.

Although you may not like tannin now, if you keep trying, I think you can really learn to appreciate how it adds so much complexity to red wines.

"It's too dry"= Let's face it, friends. People overuse the term 'sweet' way too much. Sweet wines have residual sugar in them. There are some wines that you may think are sweet, but that in reality have absolutely no sugar in them! Reminder: wines that taste like fruit or vanilla are NOT sweet wines!

Examples: Oaked Chardonnay (found in California) is a DRY wine. There typically absolutely zero, zip, zilch residual sugar in those babies. But, because of wine making techniques (being stored in oak barrels), you get that creamy, vanilla, coffee taste. Australian Shiraz is also not sweet, but don't you just love the jammy raspberry taste? Me too :) See, you really DO like dry wines! "

I only like sweet wines
" =
Join the club. The majority of Americans are right there with ya. But please people, it's time to start broadening our horizons. Did you know that high sugar levels are often used to mask flaws in wine? Don't get me wrong, there are some really beautiful sweet wines that are not syrup-y, or what wine snobs call "cloying".

Good examples of this are a really nice German Riesling (look for either the word Kabinett or Spatlese- these are indicators of how sweet the wine is). Instead of reverting back to Almond Champagne, Raspberry wine, or cheap Muscat, try to trick your palette into drinking something that gives your mouth the sensation of sweetness. Refer to the examples in the previous decoding.

"The wine store is overwhelming- there are too wines many to chose from and I don't understand the label
Check in next week for some wine store navigation tips :) I hope that this is helped you overcome some of your wine inhibitions. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask, and please keep me posted with your new wine experiences!

Over and out,



Lisa said...

aw MAN! i just wrote a nice big response - mostly about the perception of sweetness and alcohol levels - and blogger ate it. :(

nice post though!

Stacey Szumiak said...

boo! i know you have some nice opinions about those topics :) next blog, i'm writing about how to navigate around a wine store- i could use your input, smarty pants!

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

This was very interesting. I am the opposite, I love dry reds, Cabs, Zins, Syrah. I can't wait for your next post.

Candice Sytsma said...

Thanks for this Stacey! I found it really interesting! I don't know why, but i kind of went straight from loving Rieslings to loving Cabs. Is that weird? :) I haven't really tried Syrah or Zinfandel... maybe i should?? I will definitely check back on your blog... loved it :) All the best to you my deeear!

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JohnCorner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JohnCorner said...

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