Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented juice. Unless otherwise specified, the juice will be from grapes. Wine can also be used as an ingredient in cooking, and occasionally, in food preservation.
- 1 Wine corks
- 2 Natural wine
- 3 Improving the taste of wines
- 4 Boxed Wine
- 5 Tips for Ordering Wine
- 6 Cooking Tips
- 7 Storage Hints
- 8 History Notes
- 9 Literature & Lore
- 10 Language Notes
- 11 Sources
“Cork taint” is when the taste and smell of a bad cork taint the wine, giving it a musty taste and aroma. A wine that has gone this way is called “corked.” About 7 to 15% of all bottles of wines are affected. In most cases, it’s so slight that normal people drinking wine wouldn’t notice it, only professionals.
Plastic corks are called “artificials.” Many corkscrews don’t work well with them, and when they do, it’s a battle to get them off the corkscrew. They let as much if not more air than corks into the bottles, so you can’t age wine with them. Foil caps (crown caps) also let too much air in.
In Australia, New Zealand and the UK, screw caps are gaining consumer acceptance, but they have a real hill to climb, because they are associated with cheap-o plonk and trailer parks. Earlier attempts at screw caps in the 1980s didn’t seal as well as they now do. For normal wines, some wine experts feel that screw caps are the way to go. They seal a bottle effectively, are easy to open, and make it easier to seal an unfinished bottle of wine back up. For the foreseeable future, very expensive wines will surely retain cork, because it will take a lot of coaxing to get someone to pay hundreds of dollars for a screw-top bottle of wine.
The latest new wine bottle cap being trialled, as of 2004, is the plastic stopper that pops off. You tear off the strip around the stopper, pull the stopper and it comes off with a satisfying pop. The hope is that consumers will find the pop noise reminiscent of a proper cork coming out.
There’s no legal or official definition for the term “Natural Wine.” Promoters define it as using grapes grown “in a vineyard farmed without using pesticides, fungicides, weedkillers or other synthetic chemicals or fertilisers, where the grapes are hand-picked and made into wine without added yeasts and with little or no sulphur dioxide (a preservative) at bottling.” Natural, though, does not necessarily mean quality or good taste. Natural wines may not survive storage, and transportation to the market. They are more likely to go off, or be cloudy.
Improving the taste of wines
There are several techniques for improving the taste of more ordinary wines at the time of pouring.
There are glass aeration devices, designed to get air (well, oxygen, really) into the wine being poured. You can get ones where you pour the wine all at once through an aeration funnel into a glass flask, or, ones that you attach to the bottle, to pour the wine one glass at a time. This can soften the taste of a wine.
There are metal discs, with copper, silver, gold and stainless steel on them. You dip the disc into a glass of one for one second, just long enough for the sulfur compounds and the oxygen in the wine to react with the metals.
Andrew Waterhouse, professor of wine chemistry at the University of California, Davis, says of such devices and their perceived beneficial impact upon younger reds, “I think that this impression of softening comes from the loss of the unpleasant sulfur compounds [Ed: and aromas], which reduces our overall perception of harshness.” Fernandez, Johnathan. Be Your Own Sommelier. Mansome: Episode 38. 12 September 2012. Accessed September 2012 at: http://ca.screen.yahoo.com/mansome-episode-38-own-sommelier-062022165.html
Boxed wine was regarded by many as “the lowest of the low.” It made screw-top bottles of wine look sophisticated. It was the cheapest plonk, plus it was in cardboard. Even so, someone was buying it, because it was still there on the shelves, and boxed wine was 15 to 20% of the wine sold.
Attitudes have changed now in the UK and Australia — not amongst super wine snobs, but amongst people who enjoy regular glasses of wines with their meals. High-end, premium wines by respected vintners are going into boxes. In North America, they are trying to rename them to “cask wines” to get away from the earlier stigma.
The wine isn’t actually in the box. Well, it is, but first it’s in a tough plastic bag with a tap attached. Even if you recork a bottle, new oxygen has been introduced that has already started to ruin it. That doesn’t happen with the boxed wine. As wine leaves the bag, the bag collapses by that much — keeping air out. A box of wine will keep up to a month after opening. They are sold in 3 and 5 litre sizes.
The new boxes of wine are more expensive than the boxes that used to hold plonk, but then, there are better quality wines inside. You usually get a slight price break over buying that same brand of wine in bottles: producers are able to pass on the price savings.
No matter how good it is, and how much it all makes sense, for a long time there will be many people who just won’t buy it, regardless. It takes a lot of effort to get people to consider trying it — they’re perhaps not so much afraid of the taste as of the fact that they would be drinking wine out of a box. It will certainly be a while before you can present a box of wine to a hostess at her door. You can just imagine the frozen half-smile on her face.
People who are more savvy, though, about enjoying wine every day are getting used to, and hooked on, the idea. With a box cracked open, there’s practically unlimited wine on tap — until the box runs out, anyway. Beats the old days where there was always an awkward pause on whether to open another bottle or not. And it ends the agonizing about whether to bothering opening a bottle for dinner or not. You can have a glass every day, and not worry about the wine going bad before it runs out.
Tips for Ordering Wine
Sommeliers advise that when ordering a wine, asking for a “dry” wine isn’t a helpful term, as most wines are dry. Instead, they suggest, indicate your preference for full-bodied wine, or a crisper, lean wine. They also say that the best way to indicate your price range is to just simply point at a wine in the price range you can afford — or even just point at a price itself. They will pick up on that.
Wine can be used to tenderize meat (as is done with the German dish, Sauerbraten) and to deglaze pans.
A classic use of wine in cooking is for deglazing pans.
In sauces and when deglazing, red wine needs to be reduced more than white wine. The heat will break down the colour compounds in red wine, making it a deeper red colour, and rendering the colour compounds less likely to turn any other food they come in contact with further on in your recipe an off-worldly purple. Fortified wines though, such as port or sherry, are sometimes splashed in right at the end.
The dank flavour of a corked wine can be removed by lining a bowl with plastic wrap, and then pouring the wine in. The “2,4,6-trichloroanisole” molecule that causes the flavour is attracted to the polyethylene in the plastic wrap. After a few minutes, the wine can be used for cooking. McGee, Harold. For a Tastier Wine, the Next Trick Involves … New York Times. 13 January 2009.
Some off cooks say that if a bottle does go off, you can still use it in cooking if you boil it for about 10 minutes to remove any unpleasant flavours.
When a recipe calls for wine, it will almost always specify whether red or white is required. There is both a taste and appearance reason for this.
“There is many a recipe where the list of ingredients calls for wine. So does it matter whether you use white or red, cheap or pricey? As far as deciding upon white or red when making that fish recipe you’ve been eyeing, yes, it does make a difference which wine you use. Because white is much less tannic than red, it can soak up much of a liquid without imparting any bitterness. Red, on the other hand, will turn bitter faster and should be used when you don’t want to reduce the liquid (except when cooking red meat over a long period of time). Then there are some recipes where the type of wine is essential, like this red-wine braised short ribs, for example, that calls for a full-body Cabernet to enhance the richness of the dish.” Schwarcz, Joe. What does “blanc de noirs” mean when referring to wine? McGill Office for Science and Society. Blog post. 20 March 2017. Accessed January 2020 at https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-you-asked/what-does-blanc-de-noirs-mean-when-referring-wine
White wine: Replace cork in bottle and store in fridge; drinkable for up to 1 week.
Red wine: Replace the cork, store outside of fridge. Most reds should be okay for several days. For more expensive or less-stable red wines, consider buying one of those vacuum bottle sealers to extend its life.
Wine presses and jars dating from 5000 BC have been found in Iran.
Egypt had a wine culture and tradition that was thousands of years old, dating from at least 3000 BC, until the country was invaded and taken over by the Muslims in the 600s. The Muslims destroyed the vineyards.
The Romans considered the best wines to be made at Falernia, near Naples.
The Romans hadn’t mastered the art of being able to preserve wines for years without their going bad; after all, they only had amphora crocks to keep it in. Cato (Marcus Porcius Cato 234 BC to 149 BC) in “On Farming”, gives many ways to trying to preserve wine and how to rescue wine that has gone bad despite all these attempts.
The Roman writer, Pliny the elder, said that there were four colours of wine:
“Vinum omne dulce minus odoratum; quo tenuius, eo odoratius. Colores vinis quattuor: albus, fulvus, sanguineus, niger.” (“All the luscious wines have but little aroma: the thinner the wine the more aroma it has. The colours of wines are four, white, brown, blood-coloured, and black.”) — Pliny. Natural History. Book 14. Chapter 11.
The ancient Greeks called red wine “black wine.” Food historians speculate they called it that because in the earthenware drinking vessels they had, it would have appeared black. The Romans picked up the term as well.
The Greeks and Romans believed that “each type of wine had properties linked to its particular taste, smell, and colour. White wine, for instance, was considered especially moistening, and therefore helpful in drying conditions. Red (or ‘black’) wine, for its part, had ‘haematopoietic’ properties; that is, it could make blood…. No doubt the similarity in appearance between blood and wine influenced that belief. Galen wrote that: ‘Of all wines the red and thick are most suited for the production of blood, because they require little change before turning into it.’ (Galen, Properties of Foodstuffs, 2.37). Black wine was recommended, for instance, to women who had heavy periods or lost much blood after birth.” Wine: the blood-making drink
England was a hot-bed of grape growing and wine production during the 400 years that it was a Roman country. During the Dark and Middle Ages, it was carried on in England to a very small extent around the monasteries, disappearing almost completely when Henry the Eighth abolished the monasteries.
Prior to 1728 in France, the commercial transport of bottled wine was illegal. It could be transported for sale in other containers such as casks and flasks, but not bottles. A decree on 25 May 1728 from Louis XV finally allowed the commercial transport of bottled wine in France, though the decree specified that the bottles should be sold in basketed quantities of 50 and 100 bottles.
The first wine to appear in the cork-stoppered bottles that we are familiar with today was Champagne (as of 1729.)
By the 1860s, Australians were interested in growing grapes. By the end of the 1800s, Australians were exporting wine to Britain. But they were not considered very good quality at the time.
During Prohibition (1919 to 1933) in America, kosher wines and sacramental wines for religious purposes were still allowed to be made and sold. Apparently the market for religious wines did a booming business.
The Ritz in London was caught selling leftover wine to other guests in 2004.
The Greek and Roman custom of watering wine down
Drinking wine straight up was considered barbaric by Greeks and Romans.
They always cut it with water, generally 1 part wine to 3 parts water. Pliny mentions that seawater could also be used to cut the wine with. They would also make mulsum, mixing the wine with honey. Many parts of Italy still dilute their wine with water — this is called “tagliare” (to cut) the wine.
“Wine played a crucial role in ancient societies: it was the drink of choice of the Greeks and Romans. They drank it mixed with water, as drinking either water or wine on its own was considered unhealthy. Unmixed water could make people physically ill. Unmixed wine, for its part, could lead people to act in a crazy way: in Greek and Roman stories, cruel tyrants are often represented as drinkers of neat wine. We now know both that wine kills the bacteria found in untreated water, and that some ancient wines might have had a rather high alcohol content. The ancients, however, explained their mixing of the two drinks in terms of the key concept of ‘balance’ for health.” Wine: the blood-making drink
Literature & Lore
“One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts.” — Samuel Johnson (English essayist, 1709 – 1784).
“America is vineland beautiful…. Last year 100,000,000 gallons of wine were consumed in the United States and over 90 per cent of this was pressed from America’s grapes.” — Clementine Paddleford. “Our American Wines” in This Week Magazine, 19 April 1942.
St Vincent is the patron saint of wine merchants.
Homer and “wine-dark sea”
Homer used the phrase “wine-faced sea” (οἶνοψ πόντος) 17 times in the Illiad and the Odyssey, often in reference to dark and stormy seas. It’s been translated in English as “wine-dark sea.”
“And now have I put in here, as thou seest, with ship and crew, while sailing over the wine-dark sea to men of strange speech, on my way to Temese for copper…” Hom. Od. 1.178
We’ll never know for sure why he chose to compare the colour to wine, but here are some ideas: Professor Helen King in conversation with Dr John Harrison. Module 2 – 1.3 Hearing in Colours. Health and Well-being in the Ancient World. Open University. Accessed June 2020 at https://www.open.edu/openlearn/ocw/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=65952§ion=1.3
- just a metaphor, similar to how we say “dark humour”;
- he may have been colourblind, and interpreted a dark green as dark red;
- the ancient Greeks had fewer definitions of the colour ranges than we do today, so he may have just been choosing the closest term he had;
- the literal meaning is “wine-faced” as in having a wine-like surface, which like the term “metallic” doesn’t necessarily imply a specific colour, just a texture quality.
Another suggestion is to think of how the Greeks drank their wine:
“The Greeks didn’t drink wine in glasses like we do today. They mixed wine in a giant mixing bowl called a κρατήρ (krater). It could be different colors and was sometimes cloudy, like natural wines are today. They often mixed in honey, herbs, and fruit. Wine was also seen as a god: we say that Dionysos was the god of wine, but to the Greeks, wine itself was commonly thought of as being Dionysos. So when imagining an oinops pontos [wine-faced sea], instead of picturing a glass of pinot noir, imagine a huge bowl sitting in a candle-lit room, filled with a dark cloudy liquid, still swirling and bubbling slightly, shapes occasionally surfacing, a sheen reflecting the flickering candle light, containing a mysterious divine power. That’s what Homer’s referencing when he says wine-faced. The surface of the sea is like the surface of that bowl of wine–probably with the implication of a mysterious divine power beneath.” User fluorocarbon. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20640217. August 2019.
The Roman word for unmixed wine was “merum”.
Wines made from grapes grown in England are called “English wines”, while wines made from grapes or concentrates brought into the country are called “British wines.”
Locke, Michelle. Quality of boxed wine is improving with age. Cincinnati Enquirer, 25 June 2004.
Moore, Victoria. Be wary at the Natural Wine Fair: Chemical-free wines, as celebrated in next week’s Natural Wine Fair, can be delicious. But beware… London: Daily Telegraph. 5 May 2011.
|↑1||Fernandez, Johnathan. Be Your Own Sommelier. Mansome: Episode 38. 12 September 2012. Accessed September 2012 at: http://ca.screen.yahoo.com/mansome-episode-38-own-sommelier-062022165.html|
|↑2||McGee, Harold. For a Tastier Wine, the Next Trick Involves … New York Times. 13 January 2009.|
|↑3||Schwarcz, Joe. What does “blanc de noirs” mean when referring to wine? McGill Office for Science and Society. Blog post. 20 March 2017. Accessed January 2020 at https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-you-asked/what-does-blanc-de-noirs-mean-when-referring-wine|
|↑4||Wine: the blood-making drink|
|↑5||Wine: the blood-making drink|
|↑6||Hom. Od. 1.178|
|↑7||Professor Helen King in conversation with Dr John Harrison. Module 2 – 1.3 Hearing in Colours. Health and Well-being in the Ancient World. Open University. Accessed June 2020 at https://www.open.edu/openlearn/ocw/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=65952§ion=1.3|
|↑8||User fluorocarbon. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20640217. August 2019.|