Whenever my friend Bernadette and I spend time together, we always latch on to some obscure topic that usually ends up in a friendly dispute. This time, the topic turned to wine as I opened a bottle of this juicy, full bodied Shiraz from Australia, that I have been really loving lately.
“No way – the god of wine is a gorgeous strapping youth!” Bernadette announced as she sipped her beer and I filled my glass with Shiraz. “Really? I’m thinking of someone more corpulent, with a big beard, round tummy with a really deep belly button,” I responded.
“But then again, maybe you’re right. I keep thinking of that amazing painting by Carravagio,” I said, envisioning a young man with muscular shoulders, proffering a glass of wine in a shallow cup, while toying with the tie on his robe.
Italian artist, the bad boy of the Baroque era, Caravaggio (1573-1610) depicts the “god of wine” Bacchus, or as he’s known to the Romans, Dionysus, in an almost rock star splendor. The attitude of his subject reflects the lifestyle of the painter. He divided his short, nine-year career as an artist between painting and engaging in fierce, drunken brawls in the streets of Rome where the local authorities knew him well. Throughout history, people have attributed the god Dionysus with a sort of frenzy that he created amongst his followers and those who delighted too much in his humanitarian gift of wine. But for the ancients, like the Greeks, getting drunk was frowned upon and only wine that was diluted with water was considered socially acceptable. The Greeks highly prized the rational mind and loved wine for its ability to inspire conversation, but most preferred to drink in moderation.
Wine grapes are cultivated throughout the world, and wine is one of the world’s most popular drinks besides coffee, tea, and beer. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to enjoy wine and here are some points to keep in mind when tasting and enjoying your next glass. Wine is interesting because it is a multi-faceted drink. It can be rich or delicate, have unique aromas that might even surprise you and has the ability to bring out or compliment flavors in food.
The color of wine can range from pale yellow to dark purple and brilliant ruby. The color in red wines comes from the pigment in the skin of the grape, those also happen to be the pigments that carry beneficial antioxidants, like resveratrol. The color of white wines can be from white grape skins or simply from wine that has been fermented without any skins all all. Occasionally, white wine is made from blends of white grapes and just the innards of red grapes like in the case of Pinot Noir that is often used in white champagne production. But does the color have anything to do with the quality? Wine experts say not – the quality has mostly to do with aromas, taste, and textures of each wine.
Aromas in a wine can be complex, but most people, even people who don’t know much about wine can smell them. Aroma has to do with several different factors, including the way the wine was produced, how it aged, and the enviromental factors surrounding the growing grapes, from the very soil to rain and daily temperature fluctuations. The last component, called terroir is the one that I find to be most fascinating since wine experts say that the grapes used for a particular bottle of wine tend to pull aromas directly from the soil they inhabited. Words to describe wine aromas include things like “grassy”, “bell pepper”, and “leather”. Perhaps you won’t notice those odors right away, but most people can catch a mouthwatering whiff of berries, spice, and herbs in charming, inexpensive wines.
The body of a wine refers to how the wine feels on your tongue and the total mouth feel or how it coats the inside of your mouth. Wines can range from thin to thick in viscosity, and are often described as watery, medium, full, or very full bodied. Imagine the difference in weight ranging from water to heavy cream, just to get the idea.
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Chardonnay refer to the actual names of the grapes used in wine production. Each grape has its distinct qualities that can lend characteristics to a wine, ranging from body, to color, to aroma. Many wines can be mixes of two, three, or more grape varieties, while the term “varietal” refers to wines that are made from a singular type of grape.
In Europe, most wines are known by their location and the lands on which the grape is grown. Quality control is maintained by tight regulations set up by the governments who break wines into two categories, one called “table wines” and the other “wines of quality”. Even if you’re not that familiar with this system, I’m sure you’ll recognize some of those famous names like ChÃ¢Ë†Å¡Ã‚Â¢teauneuf-du-Pape or perhaps Brunello di Montalcino. Since we don’t really have regulated appellations here in the US, most of us know wines by the vineyard that produces them or most likely by the grape name, such as Pinot Noir or Zinfandel.
As the old toast says, “Here’s to Your Health”. So is drinking wine as good for your heart as they say? Resveratrol is the component in wine that works as a powerful antioxidant, and the one that scientists and medical professionals are currently studying. Unfortunately, you would need to get a very high dose of wine – practically gallons – to get a high enough dose of resveratrol. Sadly, drinking that much alcohol is harmful to your health, however, there are recent studies that say moderate wine consumption for women may be healthy for the heart.