Questions and Answers
By: George Balling
We are always truly honored by how many of you let us know that you read and enjoy this column when you come by the shop to pick up your favorite bottles. Many of you have trusted us with your questions about a myriad of wine related subjects. Most we answer on the spot, but we also know that many more of you may have the same or similar questions, so we work to answer many of them right here in your weekly wine column, here are some of the latest.
Riesling is going through a bit of a resurgence in requests right now. Many may think that Riesling is always sweet, and always inexpensive. Turns out neither is true. What makes any wine sweet or dry is winemaking, not the varietal it is made from. If fermentation is stopped before all of the sugar from the grapes is consumed by the yeast, then the wine will be sweet. If fermentation is allowed to complete the consumption of the sugars, then the wine is dry. Riesling like any other varietal is made sweet or dry and everything in between.
Many European Rieslings can be very “spendy”, they are many times sought after by the most sophisticated collectors. The ones from Northeastern France and parts of Germany will also show a petrol character in the aromas. You will pick it up when you smell and taste the wine, it is an oily character that may even resemble a bit of diesel essence. As off putting as that sounds it is actually very common in the wine and is considered a positive. It also comes from winemaking, and is not varietally driven. The petrol character comes from fermenting the grape juice in contact with the stems from the grape bundles, that is what produces this very distinct aromatic.
We’ve been working on answering wine questions since we opened the shop 16 years ago, and still one of the most frequent questions we get is about the ideal temperature to drink your wine. Part of the answer is your own personal preference of the temperature you like your wine, everyone is different. A good trick though that works for white and dry rose as well as red wines is this. If you keep your white and dry rose in your kitchen refrigerator, take it out of the fridge and set the bottle on the counter for about 20 minutes before you consume it. If you keep your reds at room temperature, place them in the fridge for the same 20 minutes prior to consuming the wine. If you have a wine refrigerator you are able to dial the temperature in to your preference. Fifty-five degrees is a good place to start and then you can adjust from there.
We have been asked a number of times about the accuracy of the alcohol levels of the wine quoted on the label. The answer is, it’s fairly accurate, but most likely not entirely so. Here is why. Wine labels must be approved by the Federal and in some cases State Governments prior to being used on wine bottles. The labels are sent in for approval most times prior to the wine being finished so what is allowed by the government is for the alcohol level to vary by ½ of one percent either higher or lower than what is printed on the label.
We are being asked more frequently about both gluten in wine and whether a wine is vegan, and how to know that. Virtually all wine is gluten free, the raw materials used in wine, grapes, yeast and the like do not contain gluten. In very rare occasions there are some winemakers that will use raw gluten that is extracted from grain as a fining agent to remove solids from the fermented wine. The process of fining is also what will cause a small handful of wines to not be vegan. Another fining agent used to remove the solids that can cause the wine to be cloudy are egg whites. Like the gluten, egg whites attach themselves to the solids and then precipitate out of the wine to the bottom of the barrel. Neither the egg whites nor the gluten remains in the wine so I would suggest that the wines remain untainted by either gluten or animal products however if your preference is to completely avoid either of them you should consume unfined wines. There is no requirement to disclose the presence of gluten or animal products on a wine label, and while your favorite wine professional may know the details, other times it is not disclosed to us. Your best bet then is to search out wines that are unfined.
We hope that helps all of you understand a bit more about the wine you drink, as always you are welcome to send more questions in, or ask the next time you come by the shop.