After setting the stage in my last post with a bit of wine history, this post will offer some more background information about wine itself: the drink, the gift, the liquid manna…
Some quick wine stats
- The top three wine producers are still from the Old World: Italy, France, and Spain. The fourth largest producer is the US (of which a disproportionally huge amount is created by E. & J. Gallo wines!!)
- 1% of the world’s population works in the wine world.
- It takes about 700 grapes (8 bunches, or 2.5 pounds) to make a bottle of wine.
- In Canada, up to 95% of wine is consumed within 48 hours of purchase.
- The amount of wine consumed by Canadians has gone up by 12% between 2004 and 2008. Seems we’re catching on!
- The annual wine harvest (about 26.7 billion litres in 2007) yields enough for each person on earth to receive 4 liters each year … whose shares am I getting? Not yours, I hope!
What is wine? At its essence, wine is simply fermented fruit juice.
The formula: Yeast + Sugar = Alcohol + CO2
The creation of wine is a completely natural process. Yeasts in the air and on the grapes meet sugars in the grapes, and fermentation takes place. This reaction generates two by-products: ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol stays in the liquid; the CO2 releases off into the atmosphere.
Sounds real easy – and for the creation of any old goo, it is. But learning to make quality wine is like playing golf: easy to learn, but hard to master!
Why are there so many wines available to us today?
There are three main categories of wine:
- Still wines (the majority)
- Sparkling wines (Champagne and Champagne wanna-be’s)
- Fortified wines (sherry, port)
These categories are further broken down by:
- Different grape varietals, i.e. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, etc.
- Different locations where the vines grow (“terroir”) that affect the grapes in different ways:
- Weather conditions
- Different wine making techniques (fermentation, use of oak versus stainless steel, length of aging)
Thus we end up with the millions of different bottles of wine on shelves in wine shops around the world today. Is it really that complicated? Well, yes. Wine “expertise” has evolved over time, as wine making has become more popular and more varied. As wine makers gain experience, many wish to experiment with what their grapes are capable of. And the lure of the wine industry has resulted in explosive growth in many regions in recent years. BC, for example, has seen the amount of land under vines grow from 1,400 acres in 1988 to about 10,500 acres today; the number of licensed wineries has grown in just the past six years from 90 in 2004 to 164 today.
It’s enough to make your head spin.
However, the key to enjoying wine is to not become overwhelmed, but to simply discover and explore what you like … and this is different for everyone! If a wine exists, it’s because someone thought it was good enough to make. There are no right and wrong answers! Finding what appeals to you can be a fascinating, intoxicating (ha!) journey. And with a few techniques in your wine appreciation tool belt, the process of discovery can be rich and rewarding.
Thus, the next posts will look at how to assess wines using our five senses, starting with sight.