There is a lot to learn about wine and that can certainly be intimidating. From the soil where the grapes are grown to the aging process, wine is a complex subject. Fortunately, there are some basic things that you can learn right now that will help you understand and discuss wine.
How wine is made:
Grapes are grown, harvested, sorted and the stems are removed. Then, the process of fermentation begins. This is different for red and white wines. Red wines are fermented with their skins on and whites without.
During fermentation alcohol and carbon dioxide is produced when sugar and yeast are combined. The sugar in the grapes and yeast, either added or more traditionally found on the white bloom of the grape skin, combine until the sugar becomes alcohol and the yeast is killed off. This occurs around 15% alcohol. The carbon dioxide is then let off, except in sparkling wines. (1)
After fermentation the wine is processed and put in barrels (oak or steel) to age. Then the wine is finished, which may include filtration and bottled!
This is a great illustrated guide to how wine is made: http://www.wineanorak.com/howwineismade.htm
What tannin is:
Tannin is a natural preservative that comes from the grapes or from the wood in oak barrels when the wine is being matured. Kevin Zraly, in “The Ultimate Wine Companion” describes tannins well. “A word used to describe the sensation of tannins is “astringent”. especially in young wines, tannin can be very astringent and make the wine taste bitter. Tannin is not a taste, however– it’s a tactile sensation.” (2)
If wine always gets better with age:
Not all wines are meant to be aged. In fact, most wines should be consumed within one year of purchase. As wines change as they age, and some do get better, but usually they do not. You can look up on vintage guides, like this one on decanter.com, when the best time to drink a wine is.
Easy to remember, right? Now you’re three facts closer to being a wine expert!
1. Zraly, Kevin. “The Basics.” The Ultimate Wine Companion. Kevin Zraly. 2010: Sterling. Pg. 53.
2. Zraly, Kevin. “The Basics.” The Ultimate Wine Companion. Kevin Zraly. 2010: Sterling. Pg. 55.