Posted in Desire, Eating & Drinking on 19 November 2020 | by Amit

Let’s Talk About Wine

With Lockdown 2 now in full swing, the discerning gent might feel there is no better time to learn a new skill. With more time indoors, perhaps learning the basics of wine pairing could help pass the time. A tipple usually quickens the pace. Wine expert, Raul Diaz, recently launched a new book, ‘Wines & Recipes’ which goes through 50 grape varieties and pairs each with a simply delicious and perfectly matched dish, inspired by Raul’s travels and his Chilean heritage. Elysium Magazine picks his brains to find out about vino.

 

Wine – The Basics

What is wine? An alcoholic drink made from fermented grapes, wine has been made essentially the same way for thousands of years. And it all begins with the grapes.

Grapes

Wine grapes are not the same as table grapes – they tend to be smaller and sweeter. There are thousands of varieties, all with unique characteristics, and displaying an extraordinary range of acidity, colour, sweetness, aromas, flavours, tannins, body and finish. While wines are heavily impacted by the grape variety, other environmental factors, including the making process, influence the final style and quality.

 

Climate

Climate plays a huge role in the choice of grapes grown in a given area and the subsequent style of winemaking. The absence or abundance of sunshine and warmth will affect the finished wine. As grapes ripen, their sugar content increases. In a cool climate, the sugar in the grapes will be significantly lower due to the lack of warmth.

 

Cool climate wines commonly have high levels of acidity, making them very refreshing to drink. White grape varieties, such as Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc, thrive in cooler climates. In warm climates, the opposite is true. The sugar content of the grapes will be higher, resulting in riper fruit flavours and a lower level of acidity. Garnacha and Merlot are two black grapes that flourish in warmer climates.

 

One can really discern the difference that climate makes when comparing wines made from the same grape grown in different locations. For example, a Syrah produced in the Rhône Valley in France will have a very elegant structure with blackberry fruits and peppery notes. A Shiraz (the Australian name for Syrah) produced in the warmer Barossa Valley in Australia will showcase a richer body with riper blackberry fruits and sweet spice.

 

Terrior

Terroir comes from the Latin word ‘terra’ meaning land. It is an idea that expresses a wine’s unique origin. A ‘terroir’ wine reflects a particular combination of many factors that are present in a specific place – not just climate, but also the soil, altitude, aspect, rainfall and many other variables:

  • Vineyards can be planted on flat terrain or on steep slopes. Slopes increase sun exposure and improve drainage and air ventilation, which are highly beneficial to grape crops, especially in challenging cool climate regions.
  • Rivers can also increase the temperature in a vineyard by reflecting sunlight onto the slopes. In warmer climates, fog and cold winds can reduce vineyard temperatures allowing slow ripening of the grapes while maintaining high levels of acidity.
  • The soil in the vineyard also highly influences the wine’s character, with the grapes, and subsequently the wine, often being an expression of the specific soil. Some soils, like granite, common to several wine regions such as the Beaujolais region and Rhône Valley, act as a heat retainer, reducing the impact of cool climates.
  • Drainage is another important factor: some soils, like gravel, drain the water quickly while other soils, like clay, retain water. Higher water levels lead to bigger crops, reducing the concentration of flavours and sugars in the grapes.
  • Nutrients in the soil impact the grapes, too: excessive growth can occur if a soil’s nutrient levels are too high. Poor soil, with low amounts of nutrients, creates a smaller crop, which generally produces higher quality grapes.

Wine grapes will take up to six months to grow. When the winemaker is satisfied with the ripeness of the grape as measured by the levels of sugar, acid, and tannin, the grapes will be picked (harvested). The harvest period normally takes place between August and October in the northern hemisphere and February and April in the southern hemisphere. Depending on the vineyard specifics, such as flat terrain or steep slopes, harvests can be performed by machinery or by hand. Either method of harvesting can produce top quality wines. After picking, the grapes will be crushed in order to extract their juice.

 

Process

There are many techniques used to produce wines. Fermentation varies depending on the style. For white wine production, after crushing, the grapes will be pressed to extract all the remaining juice, separating it from the grape skins (although there are some exceptions to this rule). The juice is then transferred to a fermentation vessel – stainless-steel tanks, concrete vats or oak barrels – and yeast is added to start the fermentation.

 

An extract from Raul Diaz’s new book, Wines & Recipes (£30) Available at tiny.cc/winesandrecipes. Raul is also running virtual wine tastings via his website with three delicious, high quality wines are delivered to your door prior to your 60 minute one-to-one online session.

 

About Raul Diaz

Raul Diaz is a sommelier, founder of the Wine Training School in London and the UK Ambassador for VDP German wines. He has over 15 years in the industry, starting his sommelier career in 2004 and working in luxury hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. He became a WSET certified educator in 2012 following a real passion for teaching and has trained more than 5000 students over the years. As well as teaching at his own school, he regularly teaches at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. He hosts masterclasses for Taste of London, Imbibe Live, London Wine Fair, Wines of Chile and Wines of Spain. In addition, he has appeared regularly as the wine expert for Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and participates in wine panels for Harper’s and the Drinks Business.


 
 
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