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Wine is normally made by fermenting crushed grapes using various types of yeast. The natural chemical balance of grapes means they ferment without requiring the addition of any enzymes or sugars. The yeast consumes the sugars found in the grapes, and turns it into alcohol. Different grapes and yeasts will create different results.

Wine can be traced back to around 6000BC, and may have come from the regions we now know as Iran and Georgia. During medieval Europe the Roman Catholic Church was a big proponent of wine and it’s cultivation as it was required for the celebration of mass. French monks in particular made wine for years, keeping it stored in underground caves.

Varieties of Wine

In Europe wines are normally classified by region (such as Bordeaux), while non-European wines are usually classified by the predominant grape used (e.g Merlot).

Most wines are made from one or more varieties of the European species Vitis vinifera. If one of these varieties is used as the predominant grape (usually over 75-85%) then the wine is known as a variental wine, otherwise it is known as a blended wine.
There are a wide range of reasons a wine can taste different from another. A wine’s taste depends on the type of soil it was grown in, the yeast cultures used, the weather, the mix of the grapes used in the production, the climate, the elevation of the vineyard, and the care taken in the production process. Some wineries accentuate their flavour differences, and some mass-producers of wine go to great lengths to ensure their wine is as consistent in flavour as possible.

Vintage Wines

A “vintage wine” is one that is made from grapes mainly grown in a particular year. A vineyard’s wine can subtly change from year to year, and since red table wine can improve in taste if stored correctly, it is common for collectors to save bottles of their most prized vintage wine’s best years for a later occasion. Outstanding vintages from the best vineyards can sell for thousands of pounds. For this reason some collectors will purchase wines as an investment.

Tasting Wines

Wine tasting is the practice of using your sense of smell and taste to recognise the subtle individual flavours in a wine. The complex nature of the organic molecules that grape juice and wine contain can create some interesting results - flavours such as sour cherry and Chianti come from the grape itself. Some intentional flavours such as chocolate, vanilla or coffee come from the aging of wine in oak casks.

There are also unintentional flavours to be found – for example a banana taste is caused to yeast metabolism, a rotten egg taste is caused to spoilage in the form of hydrogen-sulfide. An asture taster can recognise all these faults in a wine, and can tell what has gone wrong in the process.

Should you let the wine ‘breathe’ before drinking it? In general a younger wine may benefit from having time to breathe; an older wine may lose its flavour intensity with extended aeration, but it is not possible to tell whether a wine needs to breathe without first tasting it.

Wine and Health

Although drinking alcohol in excess has known adverse health effects, a number of studies have suggested drinking wine (particularly red wine) in moderation may reduce the chance of heart failure and heart disease. It has recently been suggested the health benefits come from the chemical Resveratrol that is produced naturally in grape skins upon fermentation. Wine has also been linked in studies to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’ s disease.


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