Geekdom Introduction: Wine

Today’s geekdom introduction is going to be a little different in that instead of introducing you to something I am passionate about, I’m going to tell you my experience being put into a geekdom with many adoring fans already.

I recently turned 21 (back in October of this past year) and since then I’ve been trying to learn more about the art of drinking. Weird for a college student, right? But I really want to understand the chemistry behind mixology and the fermentation process, rather than how fast I can finish a game of Edward Fortyhands (umm, never, so far I can’t even stomach the smell of beer). One section of alcohol that I’ve found increasingly interesting is wine.

Photo taken by Dawn!

Last week, my mother and I planned a trip out to the beautiful west coast to visit Disneyland (why else would I make a trip clear across the country, really!). Disney’s California Adventure was hosting their fifth annual California Food and Wine Festival, which celebrates the delicious products that come from California. The festival included tapas-sized samples of delicious California specialties, free culinary demonstrations, and my inspiration for this post, pretty darn cheap wine tastings.

Read on to hear about one of my first experiences in the world of wine geeks.

The first wine tasting I attended, I knew nothing. Well, that’s not completely true. I knew wine was made from grapes, but it didn’t really make sense, because I love grapes but so far hadn’t really loved many of the wines I had tried up until this point. Luckily, I learned my first important lesson about wine.

1. Wine grapes are Vitis vinifera while table grapes are Vitis lubrusca. That’s two completely different species. Grapes used to make wine are generally more acidic, and not anywhere near as sweet as those plump grapes we like to pick off the vine and pop into our mouths.

I also knew that wines came in different colors and different shaped glasses because they are meant to be served at different temperatures. So, I wasn’t totally in the dark about what I was getting myself into. And hey, for $1 per person for a tasting (which included three wines, and they didn’t skimp on the portions) it almost didn’t matter if I wouldn’t drink a drop! (I did, drink many drops. I finished all but 1 of the 10 different wines I tried over the vacation).

There’s a specific method for properly tasting wine, but everyone does it differently. Some of the presenters had us swirl the wine, smell it, then taste it twice. Another laughed when the audience waited to sip and asked why we hadn’t started drinking the booze yet. One thing they all seemed to agree on, however, was that smell was very important to taste, which brings me to my second lesson.

2. Wine doesn’t smell just like wine. Each has a completely different aroma, called its bouquet. It takes your nose some time to get used to picking out the subtle scents within the wine. I had a lot of trouble with it, and mostly smelled either grapes or alcohol from them all.

The bouquets come from a number of things: the soil the wine is grown in, what other plants were grown there previously, what type of barrel the wine is stored in before it is bottled. If you are planning on being a wine expert, however, I suggest stocking up on your scent knowledge. At the tastings, when the presenters would ask what we smelled, people would shout of crazy things: oak, apple, smoke, black cherry, butter. I didn’t smell any of those things, but I also wouldn’t recognize any of those scents on their own either. After smelling, we were told to take a sip, then another. The first sip, I was told, will not tell you if you like the wine because the alcohol may overwhelm it. From tasting I learned probably the best lesson.

3. Sometimes wine tastes way better than it smells, sometimes it’s the opposite. Wines can have different feelings in your mouth, which is called the body. The wine can have tannins, which can make your palate tingle. Also, the finish of the wine is extremely important to the taste. A clean finish will have no after taste at all, and that’s what I like.

The last lesson I learned was about old and new world wines. I didn’t even realize it mattered, but it does for one very important reason:

4. Wines are named in two different manners. Old world wines (which I learned means European) are named for the region in which the grapes are harvested. This is why champagne can only be from Champagne, France, and all others are just sparkling wine. New world wines are named for their contents, and must contain 75% of the namesake grape.

I’ve just only begun to skim the surface of what makes wine interesting. One of our presenters had an applied chemistry degree in winemaking, and trust me it’s quite a geeky process! I know I am definitely going to keep looking into wine, and maybe one day I’ll even add it to my geekdoms!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kara
    Jun 09, 2010 @ 20:33:12

    I’m such a geek about all things food and alcohol-related. In addition to tasting things, I want to know why they work and their histories. Some of my all-time favorite tv shows are “Good Eats” and “The Thirsty Traveler” because they explain the science, history, and anthropology behind the eats and drinks!

    Kudos to you for discovering and learning about wine. It’s a fun journey to take!


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