AUG 25, 2021
60 Wine Facts
Wine is an incredibly nuanced subject for an alcoholic fruit drink. It takes a person a lifetime to master, people all over the world dutifully dedicate their lives to learning its many secrets. There is just so much to learn.
Here we go.
1. The oldest winery that we know of is Armenian, dated to 4100 BCE.
2. The Phoenicians spread wine around the Mediterranean in the tenth century BCE, introducing the drink to the ancient Greeks, who in turn inspired the Romans to become wine fanatics and grow grapes across their empire.
3. The Greeks and Romans took their wine seriously, dedicating gods to their favourite fermented fruit juice. Dionysus was known as the god of the grape-harvest to the Greeks, while Bacchus was the deity of choice for Roman oenophiles.
4. People have been drinking too much wine for centuries. Everything from the Odyssey to the Bible mentions the perils of overconsumption.
5. Thomas Jefferson may be responsible for the California wine boom. After being sent to France, Jefferson brought vine cuttings back to the United States.
6. 2017 saw a drop in global wine production to a level not seen in sixty years thanks to poor weather conditions.
Types of Wine
7. There are three major types of wine: red, white and rosé for understanding the basics of wine .
8. The colour of a wine is determined by the contact that the grape juice has with grape skins – this also impacts the levels of tannins in the finished product.
9. Red wine can only be made from blue or purple-skinned grapes. White wine can also come from these darker grapes, but only if the juice is separated from the skins.
10. Rosé, which finds itself somewhere in between red and white, is most often crafted by allowing the juice limited and controlled contact with dark grape skins.
11. Sweet or ‘dessert’ wine is made from grapes with high sugar content. In some parts of the world, this means allowing vines to contract a fungal infection called botrytis or ‘Noble Rot’, in others it means allowing grapes to freeze over before they are picked to create syrupy ‘ice wine’.
12. Fortified wines (like sherry and port) are made by adding extra alcohol at different stages of the production process.
13. Because grapes produce sugars as they ripen, wines from warmer climates will generally contain more sugar and are stronger than those from cooler regions, which tend towards acidity instead.
14. The yeast used for fermentation is called saccharomyces cerevisiae, or ‘brewer’s yeast’.
15. Wines from western Europe and the Middle East are known as ‘Old World’, while others are called ‘New World’, which encapsulates the Americas, Australasia, Africa and Asia.
16. European wines often feature the location of production on their labels, while New World wines tend to provide the grape variety instead.
17. The terroir of a wine is a combination of the environmental influences on the grapevine, including soil type and climate.
18. White wines occasionally have harmless, diamond-like sediment called ‘tartrate crystals’ that are formed when the wine has been stored in the cold.
19. Wines don’t have to be made from a single grape variety. Different juices are fermented separately and then combined in what’s known as a ‘blend’.
20. Sparkling white wine can be made anywhere, but only those grown and bottled in France’s Champagne region can call themselves champagnes. Alternatives include cava, prosecco and even sparkling Riesling.
21. Champagne bottles are made from thicker glass to resist the pressure created by carbonation.
22. Champagne gets its bubbles in the bottle. Wine is still when it’s bottled, but yeast and sugar are added to the mix which create the carbon dioxide as they interact over at least 15 months.
23. Organic, biodynamic and natural wines are produced by winemakers that avoid intervening in vineyard ecology, opting not to use herbicides and pesticides.
24. If you see a label marked ‘Demeter’, this means that the wine has been certified as biodynamic.
25. Vines are often grafted onto existing roots before being planted in order to protect them from pests, namely Phylloxera.
26. A ‘vintage’ wine is one made only with grapes harvested in the same year. ‘Non-vintage’ wines are blends of several years’ grapes. Many of the largest names in champagne produce non-vintage bottles.
27. If a label says ‘Mis en Bouteille au Domaine’, the wine was bottled at the estate where the grapes were grown. Some argue that this preserves freshness and fruitiness.
28. There are usually 12 bottles in a case of wine.
29. There are 11 bottle sizes, from the 187ml ‘split’ to the Nebuchadnezzar, which holds the equivalent of 20 standard bottles.
30. A ‘magnum’ bottle of wine is the equivalent of two standard bottles, and some claim that it is the optimal size for aging thanks to the reduced space for oxygen.
31. There are around 1,300 varieties of grape that are used to produce wine.
32. Grapes contain damascenone, a smell compound that contributes floral notes to many wines.
33. The majority of grapevines used for winemaking are variants of the Vitis Vinifera species.
34. The most widely planted variety in the world is Cabernet Sauvignon, closely followed by Merlot, Airén (a Spanish sherry grape), Tempranillo and Chardonnay.
Master of Wine Andrea Robinson identifies six wine grapes that you should know when starting out. They are:
35. Pinot Noir. Known as ‘the classic grape of red burgundy’, it makes for wines with strong berry flavours.
36. Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot. The spicy, musky Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for some of the most famous red wine in the world, while Merlot (its neighbour in Bordeaux) is described as ‘softer and fruitier’ by Jancis Robinson.
37. Syrah/Shiraz. Famous for its rich, sometimes chocolatey flavour, Syrah is Australia’s most important wine grape.
38. Riesling. A white grape grown in Germany and the French region of Alsace, Riesling is becoming more and more popular for its ability to age and its versatility.
39. Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand’s wine industry depends on Sauvignon Blanc, but it is also a favourite of viticulturalists in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. Its zesty, grassy flavour makes it one of the most popular white wine varieties in the world.
40. Chardonnay. Chardonnay is, according to Jancis Robinson, ‘grown virtually everywhere wine is produced.’ As a result, its flavours vary significantly from strong, chalky minerality in Chablis to buttery caramel in warmer climates. It is often ‘oaked’ in barrels or with wood chips, which has become something of a controversy in the wine world.
Tasting and Serving
41. A 75cl bottle contains about six glasses worth of wine, or 12 smaller glasses for tastings.
42. Many wines aren’t vegan or vegetarian. A fining agent like egg or fish bladder is used to soften astringency from tannins and remove sediment.
43. Malolatic fermentation occurs during the winemaking process, converting sharp malic acid into softer, more palatable lactic acid.
44. Tannins are the substance in red wine that give it a bitter, sometimes astringent feel in the mouth. They are transferred to the grape juice when it comes into contact with the skins and seeds early in the winemaking process.
45. Younger red wines are generally more tannic than their older counterparts. As red wines age, they also become lighter in colour.
46. As a general rule, white wines should be served from five to twelve degrees celsius depending on their characteristics, while reds should be between ten and eighteen degrees. Jancis Robinson’s helpful temperature guide goes into further detail.
47. Experts only fill their wine glasses a third of the way. This leaves plenty of room in the glass for aromas to develop.
48. ‘Swirling’ a wine glass before tasting aerates the wine and helps to release its aromas.
49. Wine glasses are tulip-shaped, curving inwards at the top so that aromas aren’t able to escape.
50. There’s a widely accepted tasting process. Start by looking at the colour, then smell before you taste.
51. Decanting red wine before serving can mimic the ageing process, allowing oxygen to flood into the liquid and develop its flavour.
52. Oak imparts buttery vanilla flavours to a wine when it is aged in barrels.
53. When chilling a wine, adding water to an ice bucket increases the surface area contact between a bottle and the cold, bringing the temperature down faster.
54. There are four tasting elements to look for when sampling wine: acidity, sweetness, tannins and alcohol content.
55. Moving the wine around in your mouth when tasting allows all of your taste receptors to fire. Sweetness is detected at the tip of the tongue, bitterness at the back and sourness on the sides.
56. Matching a wine’s characteristics to the dominant flavours and ‘body’ of a meal can elevate a wine’s flavour and balance its elements.
57. The majority of wine isn’t made to be aged. Experts Jancis Robinson and Kevin Zraly both say that only around ten percent of bottles benefit from aging. Most should be enjoyed within five years.
58. Storing wine bottles horizontally is best. It keeps the cork damp and prevents too much air from entering the bottle.
59. A wine is ‘corked’ when it smells and tastes slightly mouldy, or like wet cardboard. If it’s obviously tainted, it is acceptable to ask for something else to replace it. It should be noted that screw caps and artificial corks don’t have this issue.
60. Storing wine away from direct light and heat preserves its freshness.
Thank you for your time.
“Where there is no wine, there is no love.” - Euripides