Wine Puzzles

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Shyanne’s boyfriend gaped at the gigantic box sitting open on the dining room table.  “They deliver a whole box of wines to your house?”  “Just twelve bottles,” I said sheepishly, feeling a bit like a lush.  Then I got my head together and said, “It’s three months worth!”  It really is.  Unless I take bottles to friend’s houses for dinner or give them as gifts.  I look at the dwindling supply in the root cellar then log on to my wine club website and see when the next shipment is coming!  It should actually ship today.  For just a little over thirteen bucks a bottle, I get wines from all over the world.  I get bottles from small, funky wineries, or luscious fruit from hundred year old vines, or small production wineries offer a bottle from their vat, or award winning wines not available in my local liquor store.  And once these wines are gone, they are gone forever.  There will never be a year or a batch like the ones I savor.

You may not be interested in wine, but I am going to attempt to make you interested because it is one of the great joys and simplicities in life, enjoyed by millions of farmgirls world wide over the centuries.  I was not interested in wine until my thirties when I discovered wine puzzles (and the fabulous taste of wine!).

Now, go pick out a bottle of wine so we can do this experiment while I explain all that you can find out just from one humble glass of wine in your farm kitchen.  Let’s play with red wine today, it’s my favorite.  Did you know that with some practice, you can tell what grapes were made to make the wine?  You can tell how old the vines were?  You can tell how long the wine was in oak, and whether it was American or French or Slovenian oak?  You can tell if it was not in oak at all!  You can tell if it was produced in a warmer part of the world or if it was produced in a rural area, and often what country.  How amazing is that?  It’s like a geography trip.  And I do love a good puzzle.

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Go get a glass….I’ll wait. (never mind if it is morning, I am tired of rules of etiquette in my own home!)  Only pour about an ounce.  Find a white surface, a napkin will do.  Place the glass on it, if you look through the glass you will see its depth.  Can you see the foot of the glass?  If not at all, it is most likely a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. If it seems you are looking through a fantastic red ruby, it may be Pinot Noir.  Now hold it up to the light, see how it glistens.  Is it clear?  Is there any sediment?  You can see if the winemaker chose not to filter the wine which is really unnecessary as it does settle at the bottom of the bottle.  Now tilt the glass so that the wine comes almost to the rim.  Do you see the rings?  They tell you how old the vines are.  Vines will be a minimum of five years old, but we are looking for older vines.  Longer roots bringing up more minerals and flavor from the soil surrounding… “terroir”.  Old vines are brimming with stories of old farmers, histories of vineyards surviving wars and offering sustenance to communities where the water wasn’t safe to drink.

Now to smell.  First swirl the glass twenty times.  I find this easier by placing it on a table and holding the stem and swirling.  Less wine all over!  Now smell the lower part of the glass.  Really get your nose in there!  This is the aroma and will tell you many things.  Think of as many adjectives as possible.  Mulberries, Elderberries, Currants, Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Tropical fruits in whites.  Spices like cloves, cinnamon, licorice.  Soil, a slight chalk smell means the roots were in limestone, and a barnyard smell (often in Italian reds) shows the farms that were nearby.  I have even tasted a wine where the grapes were grown in California during one of its worst fire seasons and you could actually smell and taste a slight smoke.

Now smell the top of the glass.  This is the bouquet and you will know where the wine sat to mature .  Butter, vanilla, caramel, butterscotch all designate French oak.  A slight dill smell means American oak was used.  A slight tar smell will leave you with Slovenian oak as your answer.  Slovenian oak is most used in Italian wines like Chianti and Sangiovese.  Often times to save money (French oak runs $500 a barrel and you can only use a few times!), wine will be first placed in American oak then French oak, or the other way around to impart the flavors of the French oak.  A nice toast smell is from the firing of the inside of the barrel.  The burning imparts just a bit of smoke and releases the wonderful vanilla flavors.  None of the above means the wine sat in stainless steel instead of wood.

Now that your taste buds are ready, take a sip.  Hold it in your mouth for a second.  Take in the flavors.  There may be similar flavors as the descriptions you gave for the aromas.  Sometimes it will taste nothing like the aromas!  Pinot Noir smells and imparts flavors of cherry and almond and soil if done in oak.  It is a lot fruitier (and not to my liking) if done in stainless steel.  If we were doing whites, a Chardonnay would taste and smell of pineapple and brown sugar because of the fruit in oak.  A “jammie” flavor means that the grapes were harvested a little later in the season so the sugars were more concentrated.  Interesting, isn’t it?

This is but a peek, a mere glimpse, into the world of wine drinking.  So, you see friends, it is not just opening a bottle of six dollar wine and drinking.  It is a feast, a heyday, for all the senses and a joy and a break from the day to day work.  There are many variations to what I have told you and much more to be learned.  I have taken classes on wine but I am no expert, just a mere farmgirl enjoying my glass of wine.  Cheers!


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