Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Wine 101 - Back to basics

Published:Thursday | February 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Jason Clarke, Contributor

Every now and again, I am asked more intricate questions about wine and believe it might be important to examine in more detail a few concepts.

Can white wine be made from red grapes?

This is a question that I am often asked. To the shock of many, yes it can. The colour of wine comes entirely from the skin of grapes. By removing the skins immediately after picking, no colour is imparted to the wine and it will be white. A perfect example is the renowned bubbly from France - the vivacious Champagne. A large portion of what makes this beautiful wine of dancing bubbles is in fact made from red grapes, Pinot Noir to be specific.

What is tannin?

Tannin is a naturally occurring preservative which comes from the skins, pits and stems of grapes and is what allows wine to stand up to time. Another source of tannin is wood, which is why many wines are aged and fermented in oak barrels, part for the tannins, and part for enhancing the flavour profile of the wine. Generally, red wines have a higher level of tannin than white, because red grapes are usually left to ferment with their skins.

A word that best describes the sensation of tannins on your senses is astringent. It could be said it's the presence of tannins that gives wines their harsh or bitter taste. Tannin is not a taste, it's a tactile sensation. Young wines typically may come across as more harsh. You can tell a wine is young by the year on the bottle. Winemakers try to balance the level of tannins, acidity and fruit to create harmony in your mouth as you take each sip.

Tannin is also found in strong teas. Earl grey anyone? To make strong teas less astringent, the solution is milk. The fat and proteins in milk soften tannin. And the same can be applied to highly tannic wine. Other by-products of milk such as cheese also soften the tannin, and make the wine more appealing. Hence, wine is often paired with cheese. Next time you open a wine, particularly if it is young and you find it too harsh, cut yourself a bit of cheese and try it again and you might be amazed how yummy the wine instantly becomes.

What is vintage?

Vintage simply indicates the year the grapes were harvested. Naturally, there are some years that the harvests are better as a result of favoured weather conditions, thus resulting in better ratings for that vintage. It also means that there is a higher likelihood of the wine ageing well. If you want to see some pretty awesome vintage wines, check my friend Alexx at Opa to see some pretty impressive vintage wines, aka the million-dollar wine list.

Are all wines meant to be aged?

This is where there is always a common misconception. Not all wines are intended to be aged. Some were intended to be had here and now. Have you ever bought or received a bottle and had it for a long time and open it and discover it is putrid? More than likely, it was one intended to be enjoyed sooner rather than later. In fact, about 90 per cent of all wines made should be consumed within a year if you really want to fully appreciate them.

Red wines, because of their rennin content, will generally age better, particularly varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which tend to have more tannin.

I hope this helps to answer some of the questions you may have asked, and please keep them coming. As my dear friend Beryl always says, "Life is too short to drink bad wine". So have fun with it. Cheers!

I am not an expert, merely a wine enthusiast sharing my thoughts and experiences. Feel free to share your own experiences at wineenthusiastja@gmail.com.