Wine 101 with UCC
Last Wednesday, I was privileged to present some of the fundamentals of wine to the tourism management students at the University College of the Caribbean (UCC). Wine has been a part of our global history. Notwithstanding, wine is gradually becoming a part of our own culture, with the presence of more brands than ever before in our history. The variety now available is indicative of a growing wine culture in Jamaica.
Wine, by definition, in its simplest form, is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermentation of grapes. Basic rule of thumb, wine needs to be made from grapes and contains alcohol, otherwise it's not wine, possibly sparkling juice, but certainly not wine. Not only are there different types of wines which we commonly identify with, but wine is classified into three categories.
- Table wine - which typically contains eight to 15 per cent alcohol - is what we most commonly consume and purchase in our supermarkets and restaurants.
- Sparkling wines have approximately eight to 12 per cent alcohol in addition to carbon dioxide, which is what makes it 'bubbly'.
- Fortified wines have a much higher level of alcohol - between 17 and 22 per cent. A great example of this is Port, and if you read last week's article, you know the higher the level of alcohol, the heavier the body of the wine.
Although mentioned before, every now and again, it's good to practise the pronunciations for a few of the more common varietals you will encounter while shopping.
- Sauvignon Blanc (Saw-vee-nyon blahnk)
- Pinot Grigio (pee-noh GREE-joe)
- Chardonnay (shar doh nay)
- Reisling (reese-ling)
- Pinot Noir (pee-noh nwahr)
- Merlot (mer-loh)
- Cabernet Sauvignon (cab-er-nay saw-vee-nyon)
- Malbec (mal-beck)
- Shiraz/Syrah (shi-razz/see-rah)
Aromas are what we tend to identify with, because they are what inform what we taste. Wine aromas are vast and funky, and although your typical fruity or floral aromas are standard, there are more unusual aromas which can make some wines heavenly. Aromas like kerosene or gasoline are heavenly in Reislings. Think of that scent when you are at the gas station and the first few seconds you get hit by that smell. Now, I admit it is a little different, but who says different has to be bad.
Total global wine production is in the region of 35 billion bottles, with the major producers being France, Italy, Spain, United States, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, Germany, and Chile. You are likely to see wines from a number of these countries on the shelves in growing numbers.
Choosing a wine
With so many options, how do you know what you like? My advice to a new wine drinker, do not start with Old-World wines. They are simply too dry and complex for a new and developing palate. Fruity and sweet I find to be more accepting, particularly in the early stages of your wine evolution. My mother was one of those opposed to wine, because she thought it was bitter, until I introduced her to a moscato, which was sweet and refreshing. Sweet works better because our taste buds have been sensitised to sweet from our early days in school with bag juice and sodas. So, a moscato, for her, was a perfect hit.
With time and tasting, you start to appreciate more wines and have an idea of what you like and what you don't like, or will simply just tolerate. For me, I love malbecs as a varietal, regardless of the winemaker. There are some very distinct characteristics which I always enjoy.
So let's start a journey together, to explore some new wines and find the perfect match. A great place to start is with the CK Mondavi family of wines - a great extension of varietals that make it easy to try them all. Try one or all of them and let me know how you like them. I am a huge fan of the merlot, for its medium body and versatility and balanced fruit flavours. Certainly for me, an everyday drinking wine, and the students of UCC agreed.
- I am not an expert, merely a wine enthusiast sharing my thoughts and experiences. Feel free to share your own experiences at firstname.lastname@example.org.