Welcome to the World of Winemaking! I’m having fun alphabetizing the home winemaking process – here are the links going backwards for your convenience, in case you missed any:
Today’s letter is “G”, so we’ll talk about Glass and Grapes!
First up, Glass – the #1 wine accessory. Most wine drinkers use one! At least we hope so…
Choosing the right type of wine glass to pair with any particular wine doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Understanding the fundamentals of wine glassware and how their unique designs enhance your wine drinking experience is much simpler than you might expect.
While there are specially designed shapes, sizes, and styles of wine glassware for nearly every varietal of wine, they all fall into one of four basic categories, I’m going talk about the top three.
Red Wine Glasses
Red wine glasses are easily identified by their bowl shape. They are often the largest type of wine glass because the larger bowl enhances the bouquet and flavor of red wines. Considering how large the bowl is, you shouldn’t fill the glass more than 1/3 full. Red wine glasses can be broken down into two sub-categories based upon how tapered the rim of the glass is compared to the bowl.
For robust, dark red wines a less tapered rim is preferred because it allows you to swirl the wine which will release subtle aromas. A less tapered rim also directs the aromas toward your nose more effectively as you drink. Wine glasses with a less tapered rim are also typically taller which ensures the wine hits the back of your mouth directly to maximize flavor. Merlot, Cabernet, and Bordeaux are all considered dark, robust red wines.
Lighter or softer red wines include Pinot Noir, Burgundy, and Syrah. The optimal glassware for softer red wines is more tapering towards the rim. They also often have a larger bowl and are shorter. This design directs the wine to the front of your mouth which makes it easier to taste and identify more delicate flavors associated with softer red wines.
White Wine Glasses
White wine glassware can be distinguished from red wine glassware primarily by the bowl. It features more of a U-shape and often a more upright design. The slimmer, U-shaped bowl is used because white wines do not need to be aerated as much as red wines.
With the slimmer design, white wine glasses should be big enough so when you pour the wine it doesn’t fill more than 2/3 of the glass. This allows the aromas of the wine to be released while simultaneously helping maintain a cooler temperature.
White wine glasses also tend to have longer stems. This makes it easier for you to hold the stem rather than the bowl. By holding the stem, you can minimize the amount of body heat transferred to the wine while drinking it, which helps keep the wine cooler for a longer period of time.
Sparkling Wine Glass
One of the most easily identified types of wine glassware is the champagne glass. The sparkling wine glass is commonly referred to as a “flute” or a “champagne flute”. However, this type of wine glass is typically used for all sparkling wine, not just exclusively for champagne.
With a long stem, the flute is extremely upright and narrow. This design is necessary as the extra surface area within the glass helps capture the carbonation and retain the flavor. Carbonation clings to the side of the glass, which helps keep the wine tasting as it should for a longer duration of time. The slightly smaller rim also helps retain the carbonation within the glass. The narrow opening also allows you to fully appreciate the aroma of your bubbly.
You may notice that the stem is slightly longer than a red wine glass, and approximately the same height as a white wine glass. This longer stem allows you to hold the glass in a way that does not transfer body heat from your hand to the sparkling wine.
There are more varieties of different types of glasses for things like dessert wine, etc., but you don’t have to really go all out, unless you want to. My china hutch is full of a variety, but I have scores of red wine and white wine glasses since that’s what most people drink when we have a party.
Now on to the Grape: most wines come from grape juice, obviously. Grapes come from grape vines and as a bunch made of multiple berries. Seems simple, right? It is that simple! But there are so many grape varieties, I myself didn’t realize how many there were until I started researching them, so I’m just going to highlight the most popular wine varieties.
The popular types of white wine grapes are Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. All of those except Chardonnay are my favorites – I’m not a fan of Chardonnay, as it’s too dry for my liking.
A dry Riesling pairs well with fish, chicken and pork:
Riesling wines are much lighter than Chardonnay wines (which is one of the reasons I prefer a Riesling over a Chardonnay any day). The aromas generally include fresh apples, and the variety expresses itself very differently depending on the district and the winemaking. Rieslings should taste fresh – if they do, then they might also prove tastier and tastier as they age.
The Gewürztraminer is another favorite, and a very aromatic variety.
Gewürztraminer pairs well with Asian food, pork and grilled sausages:
Gewürztraminer wine has fruity flavors with aromas of rose petal, peach, lychee, and allspice. A Gewürztraminer often appears not as refreshing as other kinds of dry whites, though I myself definitely prefer it over any other dry white wine.
Chardonnay was the most popular white grape through the 90s, and can be made as a still wine, or a sparkling wine. I’ve never had it as a sparkling wine, I wonder if I’d like it better?
Chardonnay pairs nicely with fish or chicken:
Chardonnay is often wider-bodied (and more velvety) than other types of dry whites, with rich citrus flavors, like lemon and grapefruit. This is a wine you definitely want to ferment in new oak barrels to add a buttery tone, like vanilla, toast, coconut, and toffee.
Sauvignon blanc is lighter than Chardonnay, and if the grapes are grown in a warmer climate, the wine tends to be flat and lacks fruit qualities. Always get a Sauvignon blanc that hails from a cooler climate – I personally didn’t like the ones I’ve gotten from a warmer climate, and definitely prefer the other.
Sauvignon blanc is a versatile wine for seafood, poultry and salads:
Sauvignon blanc normally shows a herbal character suggesting bell pepper or freshly mown grass. I wonder, though, how on earth can they determine the ‘mown grass’ taste? The dominating flavors, though, range from sour green fruits of apple, pear and gooseberry, through to tropical fruits of melon, mango and blackcurrant.
Now on to the popular types of red wine grapes:
The popular types of red wine grapes are Syrah (also known as Shiraz), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir.
Syrah or Shiraz are two names for the same variety – Eurpoean vine growers and winemakers use the name Syrah.
Syrah/Shiraz pairs well with meat – such as steak, beef, wild game, stews, etc.
Syrah has the aromas and flavors of wild black-fruit (such as blackcurrant), with overtones of black pepper spice and roasting meat. It’s probably why I like it so much. If you age the Syrah in an oak barrel, you can achieve some toffee notes to the flavor as well.
The Shiraz variety gives hearty, spicy reds – white shiraz is used to produce many average wines, and it can produce some of the world’s finest, deepest, and darkest reds with intense flavors and excellent longevity.
Merlot is easy to drink – its softness has made it an “introducing” wine for new red-wine drinkers. It was the first red wine I ever tasted (Gewürztraminer was the first white wine I ever tasted).
Merlot is such an easy-to-drink wine you can actually pair it with just about anything!
Merlot presents flavors of black cherry and herbal flavors. The texture of a Merlot is considered ’round’ (probably why it’s an ‘easy drinking’ wine).
Cabernet Sauvignon is accepted as one of the world’s best varieties (I often pair Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with other fruits like Blackberries or Cherries for a fruity Cabernet Sauvignon).
Cabernet Sauvignon is best with simply prepared red meat – it also goes very well with a variety of cheeses.
Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with Cabernet franc and Merlot, and often times is aged in oak barrels, which adds vanilla notes. It’s full-bodied, but firm and gripping when young.
Pinot Noir is another favorite of mine (and I love making Blackberry Pinot Noir and Black Cherry Pinot Noir – my friends all love how those turn out as well). The Pinot Noir grape is considred the noblest red wine grape – they’re difficult to grow, rarely blended (except I like to be a rebel and blend them with blackberries or cherries) and have no roughness.
Pinot Noir pairs excellent with grilled salmon, chicken, lamb and Japanese dishes (and cheese, of course!)
Pinot Noir is delicate and fresh, with soft tannins. The aromatics are very fruity (cherry, strawberry, plum), which is probably why it works very well when I add them to blackberries and cherries.
What’s your favorite grape variety?
Winemaking is so much fun – at least for me – and am tickled every time I give the wine I make as gifts to friends and family who love drinking it as much as I love making it. While we go through this alphabetical series on winemaking, if you have any burning questions, be sure to ask them in the comments below, and I’ll reply there – and maybe even highlight your specific question(s) in a future post!
Thanks for joining me in this fun adventure!