Have you ever been in a position when you do want to try something new and don’t know where to start?
A lot of people whom I meet really enjoy their wines, but are oblivious of the grape varieties that they are made from – most people just categorise them as being red or white.
Upon someone requesting a “red”, I have often had eyes staring out at me with confusion when I enquire if they’d prefer a merlot, cabernet sauvignon or a shiraz; or if I ask whether they’d like a cabernet sauvignon or say a chardonnay, in case they want a “white”.
I can’t blame them: wine has so many different varieties (just as cheese does!) that you have to develop your taste by tasting it, and more importantly, savouring wines with awareness.
Wine is one of the oldest beverages ever known to man, dating back to early civilisations in the regions of Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan, southern and coastal Iran and Turkey with the oldest winery being found in Armenia. In the period of the rise of the Egyptian civilisation, a liquid with grapes started to be used for rituals. This became known to the Phoenicians, as they came in contact with Egypt, and they spread it further to the outside world. But it was due to the Greeks that wine became a symbol of trade, religion and health. As the Greeks started to colonize areas around them, it travelled to Italy. Bachus, the Roman wine god that signifies wine was a central part of Italian culture and as the Roman Empire expanded they planted vineyards from France to Germany to Spain to Portugal and the Mediterranean lands as far as Eastern Europe. Initially consumed as an intoxicant, wine went on to become a sort of style statement which only a few could afford or appreciate the taste. Now, widely grown by passionate vineyard owners, it is gaining momentum as a drink that can be had during a casual get together with friends.
Wine reached India from Persia, I suppose, after a journey of thousands of years, and my own journey with wines started when I was quite young.
We were allowed to sip wines when a bottle was opened at home and probably it was the fact that it was accessible to us to taste and it was something we got comfortable with (and not intimidated by) that aroused my curiosity.
As I grew older, I was curious about how wine was made in different regions of the world, why its taste differed with each variety, how to pair a wine with food and what must one enjoy to savour it. The most important learning I have to share, which I learned when I was working with a wine company in Mumbai, is that one’s preference in wine is a very personal choice, and you may have your own opinion about it that may differ from what many people think.
Savouring a wine to me is a bit like meditation…you have to be totally aware of the sensations and flavours hitting your palette and enjoying each sip unfolding the various characteristics it inherits from its produce and the region of its birth. Each bottle of wine has a story to tell and as you open it that story unfolds in ways you could never imagine!
So the most important question first – Where and how do I start ?
Picking The Right Glass to drink from
A wine is experienced well only when you sip it in a glass which suits it. Each alcoholic beverage has a particular glass in which it tastes the best.
For example, there are different glasses for white and red wines (in some places they serve the same kind of glass for both) and you must start be tasting the wine in the right glass.
Sure you could drink wine from a coffee mug or even straight from the bottle, but then you will not experience the true flavour of the wine. I read somewhere that “a wine glass holds a tasting experience”. So if you’d like to enjoy the journey of the wine then do make the effort of drinking it in a wine glass.
Different wines have different glasses suited to them because each wine has a different style and flavour it wants you to experience. Your senses play a big role in this experience. The wine glass family is also known as stemware. A few general pointers to look for while buying a wine glass (and you don’t have to spend a lot to buy a good one!):
- A wine glass should have a long stem, This is to enable you to hold the glass by not coming in contact with the bowl so that you don’t disturb the temperature it has been served in. Tumbler wine glasses (i.e. bowls without the stems) have been used sometimes for wine but traditionalists prefer the stem variety. Please don’t hold the bowl of the glass, always the stem or base.
- There will be many kinds of wine glasses. Some will have bigger bowls than others:
- Red wine: Usually should be experienced in a bigger and wider bowl.
- White wine: Should be experienced in a slimmer and smaller bowl variety to preserve its aroma and cooler temperature.
- Wine glasses must be simple and clear to be able to visually enjoy the colour of the wine.
The important part of the glass is the rim. It is this rim that controls the aroma which goes into the nostrils. Also, the height of the stem, base of the bowl and the bowl itself are always created in proportion to one another to make you experience the wine in totality.
Caring for your glassware:
- Always wash your glassware separately. Use a dishwasher if you have one. Otherwise you can wash them by hand.
- Use two cloths while cleaning your glassware. One to hold the stem and the other to hold the bowl since the stem might break due to rough handling.
- Always store your glassware away from kitchen cabinets to avoid it taking in kitchen odours and staining.
“Finding an appropriate glass to drink your wine in makes it easier to enjoy the bouquet, flavour, texture and finish of the wine.”
Where to buy wine glasses?
In India, you could buy one of the best known Brands such as Riedel (a very well known Austrian company that has been creating wine friendly stemware since 1950) online.
In the U.A.E, where I am based, you make buy them again online, in the various shops that stock wine or in home stores like Tavola , Crate and barrel or Bloomingdales.
Do I need to buy expensive wine glasses?
It depends upon you completely. You could also pick up wine glasses from the supermarket, but the quality of the glassware may not be that great (for example, whether it is hand or mouth blown or machine made, the amount of lead it has in it etc.) The better the craftsmanship, the more the price. That being said, there are many varieties for all prices. Just remember the main rules of glassware, and try to fit that in to your budget.
Investing in a good wine glass will ensure great experiences when you drink your wine. So take your first step into the world of wine: Go and get that glassware that suits your wine style!
Next: Learning the basic grape varieties.
Story contributed by Sunaina Dhir Shivpuri