10 Wine Facts.

Wine-appreciation courses are booming, the wine-book market is doing a brisk trade and tastings, dinners and exhibitions hosted by winemakers are commonplace. But much of what is spoken about wine assumes the audience has a certain level of knowledge, with communicators often accused of talking over the heads of the public. Not any more. To make every party this side of Christmas more palatable, here are 20 vital facts – tips you can follow, or details to fast-track you to connoisseur status

1. Australians are the English-speaking world’s biggest wine drinkers, consuming 21.1 litres each annually – but we rank 16th overall.

2. We tend to drink our white wines too cold and our reds too warm. Serving a wine too cold suppresses its fruit flavour and exaggerates oak character and tannin. Serving it too warm exaggerates alcohol but softens tannin – the stuff that causes red wine to have a puckering effect in the mouth. A good rule of thumb is 15 to 18 degrees for reds (cool room temperature) and eight to 12 degrees for whites (moderately chilled).

3. Letting wine breathe releases all of its flavours, but it doesn’t happen if you simply draw the cork and let the bottle stand. You must aerate the wine, which is best achieved by decanting – pouring it into another container.

4. About two million bottles of wine leave Australia every day heading for 111 international markets – about 60 per cent of our wine production. Australia is the fourth biggest exporter of wine in the world but only the sixth-largest producer after France, Italy, Spain, Argentina and the US.

5. Our most popular grape, shiraz, was once thought to have originated in Iran – a Muslim country where few people drink wine. France’s Rhone Valley is considered the more likely source.

6. Grape varieties do not determine sweetness: winemakers do. Any grape can be made into sweet or dry wine.

7. Most wine bottles have a punt – the indent on the bottom. There are many theories as to how the punt originated and what it’s for, such as: it facilitated stacking in olden times; the earliest bottles were more stable upright if they were punted than if they had a flat base; and the punt collects the sediment in old reds and makes decanting easier.

8. The most valuable Australian wine of any vintage is the original 1951 Penfolds Grange. A bottle sold for $56,977 at an Oddbins auction in June 2003.

9. Swirling wine in the glass is not just an affectation – it helps you smell it better. Swirling coats the inside of the wine glass with liquid which increases the surface area, giving off more aroma.

10. About 52 per cent of the Australian wine consumed here comes in a bag and a cardboard box. Twenty years ago it was 64 per cent.


On cellaring wines

One of the most asked questions during introductory wine education courses is, “How long can I cellar this wine for?”  It’s also one of the hardest to answer, so we thought we’d offer a few general tips.  These are not black & white rules, but simply a guideline.

First and foremost, the mere fact that a wine isn’t meant to cellar for 10 or more years does not mean that it is an inferior wine.  The only thing that makes a wine good, or even great, is YOUR PALATE.  Wine is subjective and everyone has his or her own tastes.  Don’t let snobbery dictate.

If a wine has a chance to age for a number of years, it needs to have several elements:  good, strong fruit content; a nice, firm acid structure; fine tannins (if it’s red).   Not only do these individual components need to be present, they need to be in balance.  If the wine is too fruity/acidic/tannic when young, it’s likely to be so as it ages.

Most will say that a wine high in alcohol (over, say 14.5% or so) will have less chance to age gracefully.  The jury is still slightly out on this one as there are several examples of “high octane” wines that are still well balanced and age well.

The reality is that about 95% of all wines are made to be drunk upon release.  Wineries will be doing themselves a disservice if they release a wine that “needs time” before it can be drunk.  For this reason, many red wines (and a very few whites) are held in the bottle at the winery for a few years prior to release.

Marketing plays a role here as well.  Back labels and tasting notes will often recommend a “drink to” or “cellar until” window, but this can also be misleading.  Just because a wine says, “drink until 2019” does not mean that you have to wait until 2019 to drink it.  It usually means that by 2019 the wine will actually be at or near the end of what is normally considered drinkability.

Another important, but often overlooked, aspect is whether one actually likes aged wines.  It’s a common analogy to compare things that age gracefully to wine, but the opportunities to try truly well-aged wines are few and far between.  Keep in mind that as a wine ages, its primary fruit flavours give way to secondary characters.  So where you might have been loving the plush blackberry and plummy flavours of a Shiraz, after a few years those flavours will turn more towards savoury and earthy.  The tannins will also soften right up and those young, prickly, drying tannins will broaden out and become soft and plush.  In white wines, you’ll generally find that the primary fruit flavours give way to honeyed, toasty characters and the crisp, refreshing body becomes slightly more full and round.

If you have acceptable wine storage conditions a fun thing to do might be to buy a 6 pack, or dozen of a wine that you like – and think has the qualities of one that can go the distance – then try one each year and see how it develops.  There are worse experiments to try!

Finally, some very general tips on which wines NOT to cellar:

  • Rosé
  • Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends
  • Unwooded Chardonnay
  • Sweet white wines like Moscato
  • Inexpensive, fruit forward (sweetish) red wines

A little bit about bubbles

As the weather (slowly) turns warmer, many of us start to think about ordering a glass of bubbly at lunchtime, or putting a bottle in the fridge when friends are coming around on a Sunday afternoon.  We thought now would be a good time to talk about the different kinds of sparkling wines and what certain things mean when you see them on a label.

First of all, many of you probably know, any wine made outside of the small region of Champagne, in France, cannot be called Champagne.  The French have convinced international courts that this word is to be used only for wines adhering to the standards laid out in Champagne.  Fair enough.  The rest of the world (particularly Australia) has all but adopted the word Sparkling to identify these kinds of wines made elsewhere.  Let’s look at a couple terms to help you identify what kind to order.

Vintage Sparkling vs. Non-Vintage (or NV)
This is relatively straightforward.  A Vintage Sparkling wine is a wine that comes entirely from grapes grown during a specific season, or vintage.  If a Sparkling wine is labeled 2008, then by law it has to come from that vintage (or at least 85% of the grapes, as we discussed in this article).
A non-vintage Sparkling wine is a blend of vintages where the winery keeps a blend in high-pressure cold storage tanks until its ready for bottling and tops it up year after year.  This is not to say it’s an inferior method by any means, but it allows the winery to keep a “house style” and consistency about the wine year after year.

A Vintage Sparkling wine may not taste entirely the same year to year and in fact, if the vintage conditions are not suitable the winery may not even make a Vintage Sparkling wine.  These wines tend to have a more complex flavor profile, will have typically spent at least a couple of years in the bottle prior to release, and will age better than non vintage Sparkling wines.  Non-Vintage wines are generally best drunk shortly after bottling.

How do the bubbles get in there?
There are basically four ways in which sparkling wines get their bubbles:

1.  Gas injection, or the “Coca Cola” method (obviously, not an official term, but it describes it neatly!)  This is basically injecting carbonation into a tank of wine.  Not to be completely frowned upon, there are plenty of fresh, fruity styles of sparkling wine made this way.

2.  Tank fermentation, or the Charmat method.  This is one of the most common types of sparkling wine production, particularly for wines under about $20/bottle.  The wine undergoes a secondary fermentation – through an addition of sugar and yeast – in stainless steel tanks, then is transferred to the individual bottles.

3.  Bottle Fermentation.  For this method, the wine is made just like any other white wine then bottled, topped up with a small amount of yeast, and capped off.  After this secondary fermentation is complete, the fizzy wine is transferred into a tank, blended and re-bottled.  Advantages of this are that, when you combine it with non-vintage production as noted above, the blending will result in a consistent style across the whole batch year after year.

4.  The Traditional Method, or Methode Champenoise.  This is similar to the above process, only the wine is sold to you in the bottle where the secondary fermentation occurs.  The wine is made, then bottled and topped up with a small amount of yeast to create the bubbles.  Then, rather than transferring it to a tank, a process called remuage, or riddling, takes place.  This is when the bottles are stored at a 45 degree angle upside down and gently rotated every couple of days so that the dead yeast cells settle near the cap.  Finally, the dead yeast is removed through a process called disgorging; the cap is quickly removed and a tiny amount of sweetener is added just as the final cap is applied.
Obviously, this results in a much more complex style of sparkling wine, which is usually reflected in the price.

We have great range of sparkling wines for you to choose from, including two fantastic Traditional Method wines.  Drop into your local store and you can taste the differences between them.

 Click here to have a look and stock up for the festive season!

Gris or Grigio? What’s the difference?

After a few years of touting either or both of these styles of wine as the next big thing, it appears that these wines are here to stay.  However, there is still s small amount of confusion out there as to which is what.

Most importantly, it’s the same grape!  The difference is the style of wine that’s made from the grape.  Pinot Gris is the French take on the variety and is typically richer, more luscious, and fuller bodied.  There are even sweet, dessert style wines made from Pinot Gris in the Alsace region, but it’s typically a medium bodied wine that pairs excellently with things like fowl and foie gras.

Pinot Grigio is the Italian version and is typically drier with a lighter body than its Gris counterpart.  Pinot Grigios are more of a ‘quaffing’ style of wine, meaning the kind of wine you’d sip on while lazing on the verandah on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  They are not as full flavoured, but should offer enough to pair well with seafood dishes and antipasti.

Also, don’t be alarmed if either version shows up in your glass with a pale pinkish hue.  The grapes are thought to be a mutant version of Pinot Noir and have a greyish purple colour, so if the winemaker decides to leave the grape skins in contact with the juice for a couple of hours, it will add some colour (as well as texture!)

In Australia, the differences may be harder to distinguish than between those from France and Italy.  It sometimes appears that it’s simply an aesthetic choice of the winemaker – if they have an Italian heritage, they are not very likely to produce a Pinot Gris no matter what the growing conditions say!  Our soil, climate, and overall winemaking techniques differ from the Old World, therefore the wines will never be exactly the same.  However, now that people are coming to accept these styles with greater regularity, there are some fine examples of each being made in places like The Adelaide Hills, The Riverina region of NSW, and more recently here in WA.

Finally, we’d be remiss to not mention the brand new 2013 Adelaide Hills Pinot Grigio in our Icon range.  This comes from a 5 star winery in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia who has been growing the variety for quite some time now.  Click here to grab some just in time for the warmer weather and let us know if it’s true to the Grigio style!


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