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Wine Foundations
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Wine Foundations

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the most meaningful information when it comes to understanding wine. Like many topics, it is commonplace to find yourself completely overwhelmed at the start of your journey. The beauty of wine is that it has no end, however, this also poses a challenge and prevents us from learning The Wine Foundation critical to cultivating confidence.

This month I share The Wine Foundation necessary to give you the confidence you deserve and need.

1. Terroir, (pronounced tehr-waar): a French word that loosely translates to “sanctity of place.” This is the million dollar wine word. How does Cabernet Sauvignon from California taste different than Cabernet from Washington State? Simply put, it’s Terroir! What New Jersey is to tomato plants and corn, Napa Valley is to Cabernet. It’s the soil, climate, micro-climate, rain, drought, sun-exposure and even the possible southward facing slope that can make all the difference. This concept (of terroir) is the basis for why we ask, “are you in the mood for Old World or New World tonight?” Old World (consisting of Italy, France, Portugal, Spain and Germany to name a few) by nature of its Terroir will commonly boost a profile and flavors that are distinctly different than the New World (USA, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina). Generally speaking, New World is known for fruitiness, whereas Old World, earthy. Want to do your own assessment? Grab a bottle of California Pinot Noir and a Bourgogne Rouge from Burgundy France. Same grape, different regions, remarkably different experience. This is wine, this is terroir.

2. The Four Components: Wine is a sensory experience that offers clues based on key components. Unfortunately, we’re led to believe that it’s only for the expert to understand. The truth is, the very food and drink we’ve been consuming since childhood provide similar, if not the same, components. No matter the location, varietal, or the winemakers style — viewing wine through the lens of these four components will begin to unlock the mystery: Acid — felt on the sides of the tongue. I want you to think of a sour patch kid that you would eat as a kid, causing a burst of mouthwatering texture. Acidity is a critical component of any wine. It provides vitality, freshness and plays nicely with food; Sweet – you can detect, on the tip of your tongue, if a wine is dry or sweet within the first 10 seconds. Think of a sweetened lemonade on the boardwalk. Sweetness is often referred to as Residual Sugar (R/S), and it is important that we do not confuse R/S with fruit, as many wines are fruity and dry; Body — most commonly detected on the back of the tongue and directly linked to alcohol. Think of yourself drinking a flight of milk — skim, 1%, 2%, whole — can you feel the difference on your pallet? When body/alcohol is “off,” it can leave a boozy smell on the nose and or a “hot” sensation on the tongue; Tannin — generally felt on your gums, a tannic wine creates a mouth drying, textured, puckering sensation. Imagine taking loose tea-leaves and placing them in your mouth. Can you feel the drying sensation? Tannin is the one component that you find mainly in red wine. It comes from grape skins, seeds and stems, along with oak influence from barrel aging. I encourage you to think of the acronym B.A.T.S. and the next time you pour yourself a glass, as yourself, is this component (Body, Acid, Tannin, Sweet) low, medium or high. I promise you’ll have an “ah-ha” moment.

3. Your nose knows: More than 90 percent of taste is smell. Don’t believe me? Try closing your nostrils as you drink. Not much to discern, is there? We swirl wine for one reason and no, it’s not to look cool. It’s to awaken the wine, so your nose can get to work! I will often recommend that you cup the top of the glass with the palm of your hand, as you swirl. This will trap the aroma and build intensity… when you’re ready, remove your hand and immediately stick your nose into the glass. Ah-ha! Fruit, earth, cola, lavender, tar, leather… and more. To start, with every glass you pour, I challenge you to answer the following questions: Is this wine earthy or fruity? Is there a floral component? Does it taste how it smells? When you’re ready for more, email me.

I hope this provides you with a framework, a perspective — that allows you to see, smell and taste the wine in your glass with more intention and awareness. When you nail The Foundation, everything else falls into place. Questions? Comments? Or, perhaps you want to share an experience? Email me at, Michael@passionvines.com.

Drink Passionately,

Michael Bray

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