Answers to your wine questions

Wine drinkers, from connoisseurs to beginners, will have a range of wine-related questions which the experts have tackled in the Good Taste magazine.

Here are some of those challenging questions:

Where does SA rank in the world as a wine producer?

Where does South Africa stand in relation to other countries when it comes to wine production? Are we a major producer or just a tiny drop in the world’s wine ocean?

More of a splash than a drop. South Africa is the 7th largest producer of wines in the world, with France at the top of the scale, followed by Italy and Spain. The newest statistics (2009) show that South Africa produces about 100-million litres of wine annually, which accounts for four per cent of the world’s total production. France and Italy each make about four times as much.

What is meant by the term “terroir”?

I recently read about a wine competition called the SA Terroir Awards. What is meant by the term “terroir?” Does it mean soil?

Terroir is a “borrowed” word from the French and it has no direct English translation. Like “Cul de Sac”, it is now part of the English language. And it means rather more than just soil. The term encompasses all the natural features that make one particular site different from all others as far as grapevines are concerned. These include factors like rainfall, type of soil, prevailing wind direction, whether the vineyard is north or south facing and so on. If we believe wine is made in the vineyard rather than the cellar, then each vine is unique because no two terroirs can ever be exactly the same.
If, however, we believe wine is created in the cellar, then terroir may not be as important to us as some consider it to be. The character of any wine can be altered drastically in the cellar with modern technology. Many mass-produced wines are. The whole concept of “terroir” is one that is debated endlessly among winemakers. If you don’t find it interesting, just relax and enjoy the wine.

What does “grip” in a wine mean?

What do people mean when they say a wine has “grip”?

Grip (or “bite”) is an expression used to describe a wine that has a noticeable tannin or acid component. In young wines this is sometimes an indication that the wine will age well, with the tannins softening with maturity. As with all wine, however, it’s a matter of balance. Too much tannin in a red wine or (more commonly) too much acidity in a white wine can result in a harshly unpleasant drink. A good wine should taste good from the beginning of its life, merely changing and accumulating charm as it ages. Don’t expect a nasty, rough young wine to develop into something grand. It’s only in fairy tales that ugly ducklings turn into swans. In real life they just end up as ugly ducks.

What is a wine funnel used for?

I have inherited a strange-looking antique silver funnel, which has a strainer built into it and a long spout with a curved end. I am told it is a wine funnel. What is it for?

Yes, it sounds like a wine funnel, once part of every wine connoisseur’s equipment. Before the days of cold stabilisation or filtering, wines that were stored for a while developed a sediment of tartrate crystals in the bottle. It was traditional to decant these before serving, and the funnel you have inherited would have been used for transferring wine from the bottle to the decanter. The strainer, obviously, would remove any large crystals, and the curved spout would ensure that the wine trickled down the side of the decanter, rather than splashing down and causing froth and bubbles, which could have introduced too much oxygen into the wine.
Many high-quality wines are still marketed as “unfiltered”, and you may well still find sediment in your bottle. It’s not a bad idea to put your funnel back into use for the job it was designed to do. Your guests should be madly impressed.

How do I get rid of grit at the bottom of my glass?

I have been told that the sediment in the bottom of a bottle of old wine consists of harmless tartrate crystals and often indicates good quality. Be that as it may, I don’t enjoy having grit at the bottom of my glass. Should I decant the wine?wine-sediment

Decanting is fine, if it’s done properly. The wine bottle should be stood upright for at least 24 hours before decanting, to allow the sediment to sink to the bottom. It must then be uncorked as gently as possible to avoid shaking, and poured very carefully into the decanter—preferably with a candle or light behind the bottle to allow you to see when the sediment starts moving toward the bottle neck. Renowned wine master Jancis Robinson mentions in her Oxford Companion to Wine that there’s nothing wrong with simply filtering the wine through a paper coffee filter to get rid of sediment. Sounds like a good idea.


Taken from: Good Taste magazine (online)



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