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Posted by The Wine Whore |

Fun Friday Wine Fact:
The Zen of Wine: Part IV

Mastering the 'art' of tasting wine requires an understanding of the factors that contribute to its flavor and character. This series, entitled "The Zen of Wine," is dedicated to explaining those elements and their influence on the overall balance of taste.

If you are new to this series, here's what you missed:

Part I of 'The Zen of Wine' defined balance and how it influences the perceived quality of wine.

Part II of 'The Zen of Wine' discussed the astringent, tingling tang of acid in wine.

Part III of 'The Zen of Wine' revealed sugar's cloying contribution.

Some Like it Hot?

Although alcohol is not perceived by receptors on the tongue, its presence is still easily detectable. Anyone who has imbibed a 'shot' of liquor is familiar with the effects of alcohol.

As a shot of liquor is swallowed, the relatively high alcohol content creates a burning, fuming sensation that whips the throat. Kick back more than one and blood alcohol content increases impairing judgment and motor skills as the body becomes increasingly poisoned.

Deceased Yeast?

Alcohol is the waste bi-product of yeast. Wine is fermented by combining the sugar from crushed grapes with various types of yeast to create this desired bi-product. As the yeast consume sugar it produces alcohol.

Too much alcohol, and the yeast die.

Hold that thought, we'll get back to it in a moment...

Walking the Line

It is important to balance alcohol levels in accordance with acidity/astringency. This is especially important in red wines which already tend to be dry. If alcohol levels are too low, acidity and astringency will become overwhelming.

Ever taste a wine that seemed harsh or thin?

It is likely that this was caused by high acidity in relation to the amount of alcohol. Swing the pendulum the other direction and the presence of the alcohol will overpower acidity causing the wine to taste soft, heavy and flabby.

Summary of the Seesaw:

High acidity matches high alcohol content
Low acidity matches high alcohol if another element is present (i.e. tannin)

Control Your Buzz

There are several ways to manipulate alcohol content. The easiest way is to simply add alcohol to the fermentation process. This method is called "fortifying� and it actually increases sweetness of the wine. If you have ever tasted a potently sweet glass of port, you have experienced the product of this method firsthand.

Another way to manipulate alcohol content is to add sugar to the wine. This method increases alcohol content by providing more food for the yeast. More food equals more waste which, in this case, equals more alcohol. Residual sugar as a natural fruit byproduct can also be dramatically increased by stressing the grapes through drought or leaving them on the vines for extended durations often referred to as �late harvest�.

Looking to decrease levels of alcohol? Try cooling the wine down to the point where the yeast fall asleep. This will cease fermentation and therefore decrease alcohol content.

Next Steps

While this article is a excellent catalyst to the discussion on alcohol in wine, it is by no means the complete guide to tasting wine. The best way to learn more is by listening to your senses as you taste. The more tasting experiences you have, the more you'll be able to discern your tastes from these experiences.

Grab your favorite glass of wine, take a sniff and a swirl and share your thoughts on this matter using the comments section below. This is your chance to ask questions, tell your opinion, or just say 'Cheers!'

To be continued�

(Read more wine reviews and info at The Wine Whore)

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joeshico said...

OK Randy, It's take a swirl then a sniff not the other way around. You are absolutely right on when saying to use your own senses as you taste.
The more you do that the more your learn to appreciate good wine!!

Teresa Rhyne said...

I always thought it was sniff, swirl, sniff again. In my experience (extensive, although by no means "professional") the first sniff pre-swirl is different than the second post-swirl sniff, and that's part of the fun. Not nearly as much fun as the sip portion, however.

Shelly said...

I love the wine facts! But I love the picture even more. Did you take that? You posted one similar (maybe it was the same one but I think it's different). I'm thinking I need the "wine for Dummies" guide to keep up:)

Kort said...

More fun stuff. Thanks for sharing this series with us!

The Wine Whore said...

Thank you all for the great comments!

Shelly- Yes! I did take that photo... I am not nearly as advanced as Kort is when it comes to working the camera, but I have been trying to incorporate more of my own photography in the posts. :)

P.S. The sunset from last weekend's post was also mine. This one was shot at one of the top ten places in the world to watch a sunset... Sierra Mar on the Coast of CA. Absolutely amazing! :)

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