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Category Archives: Wine terms

How to make wine

o-vine-2

No one believes how easy it is to make wine. My Cordon Bleu classes didn’t, and neither do most people when I speak to groups and do cheap wine book promotions. That’s because the wine business has done such a brilliant job of confusing the issue that everyone assumes you need a zillion dollars, a hillside vineyard, and a tortured genius pacing up and down the barrel room. Far from it: Get some juice, add yeast or sugar, shake well, and let it sit.

The only time a Cordon Bleu class believed me came when an ex-con, who was one of the students, vouched for the method. In the joint, he said, the inmates would sneak sugar packets and cartons of orange juice out of the cafeteria to their cells and follow just that recipe.

Now, will this be quality wine? Probably not. I’ve done it, and it reminded me why I like writing about wine more than making it. At best, you get a Kosher-style wine, sweet and grapey; at worst, and I know this first-hand, the fermentation fails and you have a slimy mess to throw out.

Having said that, this is something every wine drinker should know. Knowledge is power, and we don’t have nearly enough knowledge. The video below, courtesy of MiWilderness on YouTube, does the job in all its amateurish glory. The comments, with suggestions for improving wine quality, are also worth reading. My favorite part comes when he shakes the bottle, giving the concept of stirring the lees a completely different perspective.

Ask the WC 4: Green wine, screwcaps, mold

New features for the blog?

Ask the WC 4: Green wine, screwcaps, moldBecause the customers always write, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers every six or eight weeks or so. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.

Mudge:
What’s the difference between organic and biodynamic and regular wine? I know about organic tomatoes, but this is just confusing.
Not sure what any of this means

Dear Not Sure:
It is confusing, because organic for wine doesn’t mean the same thing that it means for vegetables or fruits. Organic wine is made without added sulfites, which is different from wine made with organic grapes. And biodynamic, like wines from Bonny Doon, takes organic farming to another level. And, interestingly, green wines are not as popular, relatively speaking, as other green products.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I was at a dinner party the other night, and someone brought a bottle of wine because they liked the closure, which was some kind of screwcap. Do people really buy wine based on whether it has a screwcap? As opposed to how it tastes, because this wine tasted like gasoline.
You’ve got to be kidding

Dear Kidding:
I don’t know that anyone has done a study, but anecdotal evidence suggests just that. I recently had lunch with a 20-something woman who makes expensive wine in California, and she said that she will buy a screwcap wine, all things being equal, if she is in the store looking for a bottle for dinner. I have heard that many times, and I do it myself, too.

Dear Jeff:
I recently opened a bottle of wine, and the cork was kind of moldy. My husband said we should throw it out, that we would get some kind of disease. I hated to waste it, since it was an expensive bottle, and I am as cheap as you are. We did drink it, but I have been wondering: Was the wine OK to drink?
Worried about mold

Dear Worried:
You’re safe — mold on a wine cork is a sign the bottle has been stored properly, and is not like mold on bread, which you do want to throw out, regardless of how cheap you are. Typically, moldy corks will only happen to older and more expensive wines that people have been aging, and it’s not a problem with most of the wine we drink.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 3: Availability, prices, headaches
Ask the WC 2: Health, food pairings, weddings
Ask the WC 1: Loose corks, cava, unadulterated wine

Wine terms: Tarted up

tarted up
tarted up

“We’re all sweet fruit, baby.”

This is not a term you’ll find in the wine magazines or in any other of the Winestream Media. For one thing, their eyes roll around in their heads like the high school kids in the “Porky’s” shower scene when they taste tarted up wines (and speaks to the number of old white guys who write about wine). For another, it’s something that too many wineries are embracing — including those who know better — in reaction to the recession, increased competition, and the mistaken impression consumers want these wines.

In this, a tarted up wine is exactly what it sounds like, and this definition of tarted up from the Urban Dictionary is spot on:

If you’re going out, most likely to get laid, you get “all tarted up” — in other words, get dressed up, put your best clothes on, wear very few clothes.

A tarted up wine is dressed to sell, which means that it has been stripped of all character save one — lots of sweet fruit flavor, which is often reinforced by adding grape juice concentrate or the dreaded MegaPurple concentrate. This is perfectly legal and very common, and especially in cheap wine (though it’s not unusual in expensive ones, either). The sweet fruit covers up a variety of winemaking flaws and poor quality grapes because it makes the wine taste sweet, even if it’s dry. And since the sweet fruit overwhelms the tannins and acid, it gives the impression that the wine is “smooth” — the ultimate goal of every consumer wine tasting focus group.

The term has its roots in Randall Grahm’s writing; the Bonny Doon impresario has long argued that some wines are made the way plastic surgeons enhance women’s breasts — the more jiggle the better. Peter Bell, the winemaker at New York’s Fox Run Vineyards, also helped me figure this out during a long morning judging grocery store zinfandels, sharing his expertise on the technical skills needed to turn wine into Kool-Aid-style wine coolers.

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