Pinch a penny, press a grape: Your money and wine
By Christine Go
Everyone knows the economy is tanking; it’s the hot topic these days. But how is that affecting wine sales? Are you still drinking wine? Of course you are! We’re all still winos; the real question is, are you still buying wine, and if so, what are you buying these days? All the other major wine publications (Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast et al.) have focused on “wine values” in recent issues, so the economy obviously is affecting wine sales, but how, and to what extent? Seems to me, all the talk of gloom and doom would make people want to drink more!
With Christine Go
Do you speak “wine geek”? If you’ve been reading this column, you already do, at least a little. Now, I’m not talking about “wine snob” – some wine writers use that language to make wine seem mysterious and confusing. Remember Miles teaching Jack how to taste wine in Sideways? “…there’s just the faintest soupçon of asparagus…” That’s a classic example of “wine snob.” When I say “wine geek,” I’m referring to wine terms that actually mean something, (e.g. AVA, tannins, TCA, nose.) Wine has its own vocabulary, and it helps to know the lingo to learn more about the wine. The more you understand, the more you’ll enjoy what’s in your glass. So what crazy wine terms have you heard? Send them firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the economic downturn, I’ve been hearing people talk about QPR. What is that?
QPR is a wine geek acronym for quality-price ratio. Basically, it’s a ratio of how good the wine is to how
much it costs. How do you judge how good the wine is? Professional wine judges look at the length of a wine’s “finish” and its “balance.” A wine is considered balanced if the major components (acidity, tannins, alcohol) are evenly proportioned to each other, instead of one thing overwhelming the wine. When you swallow a wine, notice how long the wine seems to linger. That’s the finish, and good wines will have a long finish. Of course, QPR is entirely subjective. If the wine is well-balanced with a long finish, but you don’t like it, then who cares about the QPR? It all boils down to this: drink what you like. For example, if you find a wine you love, and you would pay $30 for a bottle, but it only costs $15, then that wine has a great QPR for you.
With Christine Go
So you’re a wino…are you also a foodie? I am, and I’m betting that you are, too. That’s a good thing, since wine is meant to go with food. In my last column, I explained a bit about food and wine pairing, which all boils down to chemistry. Serve the right wine with the right food, and both the food and the wine will taste better, due to the chemical components in each, for example, tannins in red wine, and fat in rich foods. Now I’m not saying that there’s only one perfect wine for each dish, but if you try different wines with your favorite food, you’ll find that some combinations will simply taste better than others. Or, if you agree with me that you should drink what you like, then do what I do, try different foods with your favorite wine to find out what pairing tastes best to you, and plan your next dinner party menu around the wine instead of the food. Isn’t that more fun anyway? Send your comments and questions to email@example.com.
What the heck are tannins? Are they good or bad or both?
You hear a lot about tannins in relation to the mouthfeel of a wine (smooth vs. harsh). Have you ever tasted a red wine, and noticed a dryness in your mouth? That astringent effect is caused by tannins, which are plant-based polyphenols that bind proteins.
With Christine Go
One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, “which wine should I serve with dinner?” After all, some food and wine pairings are made in heaven (e.g. dark chocolate and Port), while others (e.g. fish and Cabernet Sauvignon), well, let’s just say that they are suboptimal. Here’s what I learned in my Food and Wine Pairing class (thanks Lenny!): the trick is to match the overall body of a wine (e.g., the weight or percent alcohol and flavor intensity) with the overall body of food (e.g., the weight or percent fat and flavor intensity). What does that mean? Here’s an example: rib-eye steak (very heavy, rich and high fat content) paired with a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon with 14.5% alcohol. The Cab holds up to the steak, and the fat in the meat softens the tannins in the wine. Compare that to grilled chicken (light and low fat) paired with a dry Riesling with 12% alcohol. The light body and crispness of the Riesling pairs well with the chicken, while the Cab would overwhelm it. So what food and wine pairings do you recommend? Send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Go ahead and experiment with different pairings; just don’t serve me a Cab with my halibut!
With Christine Go
If you like sunshine, blue skies, and moderate temperatures, then this is the best time of year to be in the Pacific Northwest. Sit on the deck with a glass of wine, and celebrate “la dolce vita,” the sweet life. Yes, I used “sweet” and “wine” in the same sentence, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone I know tells me that they prefer dry wines—if that’s true, then please explain to me why a non-descript Aussie Shiraz with that yellow label (you know which wine I’m talking about) sells over two million cases a year? Because it’s sweet, that’s why! It’s the same reason we drink those frou-frou cocktails; the American palate prefers a sweet taste. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with “sweet” wine per se, as long as the sweetness is appropriate to the style of wine—I don’t want a sweet Cabernet with my steak. Also, wine should be well-balanced. That means if the wine is sweet, it better have some mouth-watering acidity to balance it out, like many food-friendly Rieslings, for example. Sweet wines have gotten such a bad rap, but what’s better than a lateharvest Sémillon with peach pie? Or, skip the pie, and just enjoy the dessert wine. So, what’s your take on sweet wine? Got a favorite summer sipper to recommend? Send your comments and questions to email@example.com.
What does “brix” mean, and why is it important?
Brix refers to the amount of soluble solids in a liquid. In grape juice, for example, most of these solids are sugars, so basically, Brix is a measurement of the sugar levels in grapes. A nineteenth-century German scientist named Adolf Brix developed this scale—each degree of Brix is equivalent to one gram of sugar in 100 grams of juice. You can figure out the potential alcohol in a wine by taking the total degrees Brix before fermentation and multiplying by 0.55. For example, grapes at twenty-four degrees Brix could produce wine that has 13.2% alcohol.
With Christine Go
Last month’s WINO had a “ Cork vs. Screw Cap” analysis—judging by my email, lots of you read it and are still confused by the whole cork vs. screw cap issue. As much as I like the romance of pulling a cork from a bottle, I prefer not having to worry about “corked” wine. Who wants to spend big bucks on a nice wine, age it for several years, open it for a special occasion, and discover that it smells like moldy cardboard? The statistics I’ve read say that up to 10-15% of wine corks are infested with TCA, the compound that causes that moldy stench. So, do you feel lucky? Because, the only way to avoid “corked” wine completely is to open a wine bottle that was sealed with something other than real cork. What’s your opinion? Do you prefer to take your chances with real cork, or are you OK with screw caps? And, don’t even get me started on plastic corks (ugh!). Send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If cork can contaminate a wine, then what’s stopping the wine industry from converting to screw caps?
You, the consumer. Many winos still believe that screw caps mean cheap, crappy wine. Maybe this was true back in the 1970s, but now there are lots of quality wines being sealed with screw caps. Some of my favorite Washington wineries (Chatter Creek, Syncline) are using both screw caps and Vino-Lok glass stoppers, which don’t have the perception problem of screw caps, and are recyclable like real cork. Plus, they look classy. So, perhaps the answer to the “cork vs. screw cap” question will be a glass stopper.
With Christine Go
Welcome to “Ask a Wino” – if you have any wine-related questions, this is where you can get an answer. About me: No, I’m not an expert—the more I learn about wine, the more I realize how much there is to know—but wine and I go way back. Remember Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers? Well, maybe you don’t. Anyway, it was just puppy love. After that phase, I had a brief crush on white Zinfandel. Then, I slowly developed a relationship with real Zinfandel (although the alcohol levels are getting ridiculous these days, but that’s another story). It’s still my first love, but I’d like to think that both my palate and I have matured over the years. Now I’m proud to be a Wino who appreciates most wines, especially those from the Pacific NW. So what’s your wine story? Why do you love it, and what do you want to know about it? Send your questions to email@example.com and stay tuned.
To become an official appellation, an application has to be submitted detailing how the region is distinct. Why do people do this? Who benefits and how?
As part of the process of applying for a new American Viticultural Area (AVA), you have to prove that your region’s terroir makes it unique from the surrounding areas. This requires extensive data collection that may take years. So why do growers and wineries go through the expense of applying for an AVA? Because, an AVA is a valuable marketing tool that conveys quality. For example, you’d pay more for a Walla Walla wine, wouldn’t you? That’s because the Walla Walla folks have done a good job of convincing the consumer that their AVA produces superior wines. Same thing with Napa Cab. Obviously, this improves wine sales. However, it’s not just the growers and wineries that benefit from an AVA. Consumers benefit, too. If you pick up a bottle of wine at the grocery store, and there was no indication where the wine came from, would you want to buy it? Probably not. On the other hand, if you had a great Merlot from Yakima Valley, you would feel more comfortable trying another wine from Yakima Valley. The AVA designation gives you a point of reference, and helps you find wines that you’ll enjoy.