Wine for the Novice

Posted: January 9th, 2009 under food, health.
Tags: , , , ,

I enjoy an occasional glass of wine, but I don’t really know that much about it. If you want to be truly enlightened about wine, do yourself a favor and use this resource, Winegeeks. You will learn about the different types of grapes and wines; the wine making process; smelling and tasting wine; buying, ordering, and storing wine; and how to throw a glass of wine into the face of a cheeky scoundrel. (Just kidding about the last one.) Also Kenwood Vinyards has a very helpful glossary of terms pertaining to wine.
Tempranillo Wine
It took me a while to acquire a taste for wine. Now I am starting to appreciate both the potent and subtle aromas, flavors, and textures that make each wine unique. Terms like astringent and full-bodied are used to describe the texture. Some wine scientists came up with the “aroma wheel” to describe all the different possible smells present in various wines. My personal favorite: Microbiological: yeast, sauerkraut, sweaty, horsey, “mousey.” Brent likes to use the term jet fuel to describe the taste of wine. Now I wonder how he knows what jet fuel tastes like…

I learned some interesting facts from John Cleese in “Wine for the Confused”. Many growers try to prevent the grapes from growing; they’re kept very small so the flavor is concentrated. Yeasts, which are necessary to produce alcohol, exist naturally in the vineyard and collect on the grape skins. Once the grapes have been crushed, these yeasts (or artificial yeasts added by the winemaker) interact with the sugar in the grape juice to produce alcohol, a process known as fermentation. Wine can ferment for three days or three years, depending on the style of wine the winemaker is trying to produce. The winemaker must also decide which type of container to ferment the wine in. Oak and stainless steel barrels are today’s most popular choices. So what are the differences are between red and white wine?

White wines are wines that contain little or no red pigmentation. These wines are almost always made from white grapes, but can be made from black grapes as well. Winemake rs can make white wine from black grapes because the juice in most black grapes is actually clear. White wines can be sweet or dry, or somewhere in between. Popular white wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Red wines are made from black grapes and have a red or blue tint. Most grapes have colorless juice, so to make red wine the grape skins, which contain nearly all of the grapes’ pigmentation, have to remain intact with the juice during all or part of the fermentation process. Besides the difference in color, the primary difference between red and white wines comes are tannins. They are found in the grape skins, and are transferred into the wine while the skins are in contact with the juice. Found mainly in red wines, they provide a dry, puckery sensation in the mouth and in the back of the throat. They also help preserve wine, allowing most (but not all) red wines to be aged longer than white wines. Popular red wines include Beaujolais, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.


Rosé wines are pink in color, and can be referred to as rosé, pink or blush wines. Rosés are made from black grapes, but don’t fully turn red because the grape skins are removed from the juice mere hours after contact. This brief contact with the grape skins gives the wine a pink color from the slight transference of red pigments from the skins. Rosés can also made by blending together white and red wines. This brief skin contact also ensures that a minimal amount of tannins enters the wine. Many rosés are sweet, with White Merlot and White Zinfandel serving as great examples. However, the best and most traditional European rosés are bone dry.

~Ryan Snyder,

There is also sparkling wine in which extra carbon dioxide is trapped in the wine; dessert wine which has a high sugar content due to late grape harvest; and fortified wine in which spirits are added to prematurely stop the fermentation process, leaving high amounts of sugar in the wine.

I often wondered why people swirl their wine around in the glass. Apparently the size and speed of the “legs” or “rivulets” of wine that streak down the sides indicate the wine’s body and viscosity. And the more impressive the legs are, the higher the alcohol content. “So what?” I say. You already poured the wine, so you may as well drink it whether you like the appearance of the viscosity or not. Oh, also the swirling lets oxygen mingle with the wine and allows it to open up so the aromas become more prevalent.


I also learned about wine from various countries. Italy produces more wine, and makes it in greater variety, than any other nation (2 billion gallons per year). France is the second-largest wine producer, and the standard for fine (and expensive) wines which tend to be more dry (less residual sugar) and acidic. German wine is lighter and sweeter with a typically low alcohol content. The wine from Spain is a balance between the serious French wine and the fun Italian wine, and is also the cheapest.

It has been well documented that consuming alcohol in moderation can reduce mortality by reducing cardiovascular disease and cancer. It accomplishes this by reducing bad cholesterol (LDL) and raising the good cholesterol (HDL) level, and it also acts as an anti-coagulant (blood clotting preventative).

Wine contains antioxidants which inhibit bad cholesterol from being incorporated in the artery wall. The antioxidants also reduce the damage caused by the body’s free radicals (toxic waste products) which help cause degenerative diseases in the body. Wine in particular contains the strongest antioxidants in nature, particularly resveratrol. It should also be noted here that the fermentation process of converting grapes into wine enhances the antioxidant level many times over, plus produces alcohol, which helps the absorption of antioxidants. This explains why wine is far superior for your health than taking concentrates grape extract which has been advocated by some misguided people.

~Dr. Philip Norrie, MBBS, MSc, MSocSc (Hons)

I have heard much about the health benefits of red wine in the past, which is why I tend to choose red wine over white. Red wine contains much more resveratrol than white, as it is found in the skin of the grape.

However, Dr. Norrie published an article with studies revealing that both wines reduce diastolic blood pressure, but white wine also reduces systolic blood pressure and reduces free radicals and blood clotting more than red wine. Why are the antioxidant molecules in white wine apparently more effective than those found in red wines even thought they are present in greater numbers in red wines?

The answer lies in the research of Dr. Troup, a physicist at Monash University in Melbourne. Dr. Troup used an electron spin resonance spectroscope to examine the actual size of the various antioxidant molecules in wine and showed that those in white wine are smaller and thus more effective because they can be more easily absorbed. A biochemical analogy would be to compare the smaller more effective immunoglobin IgG molecule which gets to all the bodies tissues to provide antibody coverage, whereas the larger immunoglobin IgM is restricted to the vascular system for its area of operation. In a letter to the Editor of the International Journal of Food Science and Technology titled ‘Free Radical scavenging abilities of beverages’ Troup et al pointed out that ‘if the health promoting properties of wines are related to their superoxide-scavenging abilities, then white wine is at least as effective as red’.

~Dr. Philip Norrie, MBBS, MSc, MSocSc (Hons)

Also, a recent study reveals that white wine contains the antioxidant, tyrosol, which may have the same effect as resveratrol in red wine.

Just remember: Drink in moderation. Moderate drinking is defined as an average of two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

A drink is defined as 12 ounces (oz.) of beer, 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits. The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol than women do.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go enjoy a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc.


  1. As usual, excellent post. I admire your research and dedication to continual learning.

    Wine is still gross. Pass the Guinness.

    Comment by brentdanley — January 11, 2009 @ 10:51 am

  2. The wonder ingredient in wine is resveratrol. The current studies performed by researchers have shown great promise for resveratrol treating the diseases of aging. There are numerous articles that I have linked to at my website – – that document the findings for the potential health benefits in treating heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and other diseases.
    Concerning supplements containing a high quality and potency of resveratrol that is necessary to achieve the dosage levels utilized in the lab tests, there is a new product called Vivix. Shaklee Corporation, the number one natural nutrition company in the U.S. (, has produced a liquid resveratrol supplement that is 10 times stronger than resveratrol alone due to its patented formulation of polyphenols.
    Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz are both users and promoters of Shaklee products and Oprah has featured Roger Barnett, Chairman and CEO of Shaklee (, on her show.
    So for a highly researched resveratrol supplement of exceptional quality, please visit – – to discover more about Vivix.

    Comment by David Hynes — January 12, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  3. @David Hynes, thank you for the link to your site. It is interesting and insightful. I think we can agree that resveratrol is beneficial to our health. Although I think I’d prefer ingesting it through wine rather than supplements. ;-)

    Comment by Kirsten Uhler — January 19, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

  4. Kirsten, I totally agree with it being preferable to obtain your resveratrol via a glass of wine. Unfortunately, the research shows that the levels of resveratrol in wine are too low to provide the benefit that is has been shown in the research. The level found in Vivix is ten times that found in wine and Vivix is all natural, made from the muscadine grape. It’s the combination of polyphenols in Vivix that provide the level of potency. The leading researcher in resveratrol and anti-aging worked with Shaklee in developing Vivix.

    Comment by David Hynes — January 19, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

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