By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Choosing a good wine involves many factors. The ripeness of the grapes, their acidity, and other elements all come into play when creating or ordering the right bottle. Could you focus in front of a server in a hazmat suit?
How does China host the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics amid the coronavirus pandemic? By placing athletes, the media, and workers in “isolation bubbles” that contain hotels, events, and transport. When international athletes or the media arrive, they take bullet trains, which have been closed off to the public, to the sites of their events and hotels. Security checks COVID-19 test results, travel histories, and clearance passes, and their visit proceeds in isolation.
Workers at the events wear full protective gear, as do hotel workers—including servers in restaurants. One of the more peculiar sights has been restaurant servers bringing wine to tables while in full hazardous materials—or hazmat—suits. Thankfully, guests are not required to don the same attire, enabling them to enjoy the fine wines at their hotels.
In order to become a homespun wine expert, one must develop a sense of the key elements of wine. In his video series The Instant Sommelier: Choosing Your Best Wine, Paul Wagner, Viticulture and Winery Technology Instructor at Napa Valley College, deciphers the mysteries of what makes a great wine.
Care for Some Cheese with That Wine?
“There’s an old saying among winemakers that wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar, and what they mean by that is simple: If you have perfect grapes, it’s easy to make good wine,” Wagner said. “If you have lousy grapes, it’s a lot harder to make wine that’s any good at all.”
So-called “perfect grapes” come from geographic locations with slightly warmer climates that produce perfectly ripe fruits. According to Wagner, locations like California, Australia, Chile, and Argentina feature more predictable and milder weather than much of Europe. This makes the challenge of getting very ripe grapes a bit easier in the New World.
“In California, it is rare for us to have a harvest where the grapes do not get at least as ripe as some of the top areas in Europe,” Wagner said. “We don’t struggle with rains at harvest, because it simply doesn’t rain as much in California as it does in Bordeaux. While the French winemakers often watch the weather carefully and pick just the day before a big storm, New World winemakers can often afford to sit and wait.”
The trade-off, however, is that in California vineyards, winemakers have to worry about their grapes becoming overripe. Therefore, they often find themselves fretting over their grapes just as much as their competition in Europe in order to get just the right ripeness on the vine.
Another factor in wine is as surprising as it is important.
“One of the things that keeps an apple fresh is the acid level in the fruit,” Wagner said. “If you slice an apple open, it will begin to turn brown after only a few minutes. That’s the fruit interacting with oxygen and oxidizing the apple.”
This process is the exact same as metal rusting, but it happens much more quickly. According to Wagner, salad bars use lemon juice to keep their fruits and vegetables from oxidizing. Lemon juice is very high in citric acid. It may sound like an unpleasant part of the winemaking process, but it makes a big difference.
“A wine with the right balance of acid will taste fresh and lively, and will keep tasting that way for a lot longer,” he said. “A wine made from grapes that are just a bit overripe will not have the same amount of acid, because as the fruit gets ripe, the acid levels drop, just like in an orange or an apple.
“And with lower acid levels, the wines can taste flat and tired.”
Winemakers around the world—especially in Napa and Sonoma—use sorting tables to inspect every single grape before it goes into a fermenting tank. According to Wagner, if it looks a little overripe, sunburned, or moldy, it goes in the trash. This stage of the operation comes at a price.
“They’re expensive,” he said. “Not only are you throwing out some of the fruit, but you are also paying a staff of three to 10 people to stand there and inspect the grapes. That costs real money.”
Fortunately, they don’t have to wear hazmat suits.