Sharky's Basic Wine Tips
I have put together a list of general wine information which people often ask me and things which one should know about before forking out another 1.000 kr for a bottle of Concha y Toro........
1. Red wines get lighter with age, white wines get darker.
2. Tannins are bitter tasting, mouth-drying plant chemicals that are mainly found in red wines and in Cabernet Sauvignon especially. Wines with a high tannin content are best drunk with food, especially red meat. One of the reasons why Merlot is so popular is that it makes very easy-drinking, rounded, low-tannin wines.
3. Grapes grown in colder countries, like France, are exposed to less sun than grapes grown in hot, sunny countries generally found in the New World. This means that New World grapes are generally riper, ie they have a higher sugar content and less 'green' tannins. Therefore New World wine will have more alcohol and maybe more sugar and the wine will taste very ripe (think of the last easy-drinking Australian red you bought). On the other side of the coin, European red wines are often around 12%, have more tannin which can make them harder to drink without food.
4. Another important difference between New and Old World wines are the flavours. Hot wine producing countries like South Africa and Australia will have really ripe, tropical fruits, perhaps loads of spice and exotic flavours thrown in their grapes; all these flavours being taken from the soil and atmosphere around them (the terroir). Contrast that to wet, overcast Northern France and you can understand how a lean, minerally French Chardonnay from Chablis is so much different from a fat, tropical, fruity Australian Chardonnay.
5. 'Bordeaux' generally means a red wine from the Bordeaux area of France, the main grape being Cabernet Sauvignon. It's often called 'Claret' in the UK. (There is also White Bordeaux)
6. 'Burgundy' is generally taken to mean red wine from the Burgundy area of France, the main grape used being Pinot Noir. (There is also White Burgundy)
7. Grapes can be blended together in wine, Bordeaux uses Merlot to soften the Cabernet Sauvignon for example. However, be wary of buying very cheap blended wines as they often marry together grapes that are not compatible. For ease of wine tasting, it's best to buy 'single varietals', ie a straight Riesling or pure Chardonnay.
8. Don't be a fashion victim. Unlike when buying trousers, avoid any wines where you recognise the name. These are made at large factories which buy up grapes from an area the size of Europe and mix together some bland concoction which they then sell as grape juice. Common brands to avoid are; Jacob's Creek, Kumala, Oxford Landing, Penfolds (unless you're buying their flagship 'Grange' wine), Concha y Toro, Gallo, Hardys, J.P Chenet, Lindemans, Mouton Cadet, Rosemount, Turning Leaf, Yellow Tail, Wolf Blass, Carlo Rossi etc etc - you get the drift! Of course you may buy these but just don't bring them round to my house! The reason all these brands sound familiar is that they spend vasts amounts of money on advertising and will often have special offers, like 'Buy One Get One Free' which basically means they were vastly overpriced to start with.
9. Instead look out for smaller producers which you may not have heard the name of before. These wine producers will have invested their money in making better wine, rather than on advertising or on the gimmicky bottle. They are more likely to make wines which reflect the true nature of the grape varietal in question and excel in bringing out it's best qualities. Most of the 'Best of Rikid' recommendations are from such smaller, respected producers.
10. Vintage essentially means 'year' - so if a wine says Vintage 1987, it means all the grapes in that bottle come from the 1987 harvest. If a wine says Non Vintage, NV or doesn´t even have a year on, the grapes in the bottle will come from different years. With port, expensive bottles of French red wine and fine champagne, the vintage (ie year) is especially important. This is because some years have bad weather and that makes bad wine (a particular problem in Northern Europe). Therefore in some vintages (years) wine makers choose not to make their best wine (because it will be rubbish) and instead use the inferior grapes for a cheaper wine. For example, you can buy vintage port from 2000 as it was an excellent year but you cannot buy vintage port from 2001 as the weather was lousy.