Love of God Podcast Personalities
    He brings forth wine to gladden the
heart of man.  Psalm 104:15


A tipsy glass of red wineYears ago, being asked by a wine expert to bring a bottle over for dinner, I did the most sensible thing possible by scanning the supermarket isles of unfamiliar choices and carefully selecting the one with most attractive label. Let's just say that later that night my host took the task of beginning my wine education!

After years of intrigue, I'm still no expert but I have come up with pointers that vastly improve the topic clarity, the enjoyment, and most importantly: the suave-ness of the image (from the adult sippy-cup).

Congratulations—you're an expert

You know if a wine is good by this simple test: You want another glass! I can't believe how many people tolerate supermarket swill, assuming their palette is undeveloped. It's not worth it! Better none than a bad one. Fortunately, fabulous wines are available at great prices, with just a little familiarity on the subject. To help get us on our way, here are ten sips.

1. What is wine?

An energy transformation from sugar to alcohol occurs (fermentation) in a plant when yeast hits the right temperature. Grains translate into beer/whiskey; any fruit (other than grapes) yields brandy; and grapes turn into wine—the study of which is called oenology (pronounced "ee-nology").

As a Christian I believe there's something special and mysterious about wine, otherwise Christ wouldn't have chosen it to represent his life, paired with bread. Wine seems to be a souvenier of paradise, a foretaste of a richer gladness in Heaven.

2. Why can names be confusing?

Attempting to improve marketability California vintners borrow European names, but frequently do not retain the standard practice of labeling by grape type (varietal) and geographic area (generic). Common examples:

  1. "Burgundy" is not red wine, but a region in France (producing various reds and whites). So the CA name "Hearty Burgundy" is meaningless.
  2. "Chablis" is not white wine, but the sub-region in Burgundy (which only uses Chardonnay grapes). So, a 'Chablis' from CA is meaningless.
  3. "Champagne" is a region near Paris. Thus, Champagne wine is not necessarily sparkling wine and sparkling wine is not necessarily Champagne. (And French law restricts the name to that region only.)
  4. Australians call the French grape "Syrah" by "Shiraz", so Americans with both on their shelves often don't realize it's the same grape.
  5. CA vintners sometimes change standard grape names to boost appeal, such as when Robert Mondavi re-named Sauvignon Blanc to the "smokier" Fumé Blanc and significantly improved sales. But it's the same grape!

3. What's the trick to names?

The grape provides the strongest taste attribute, so start by determining which you prefer. These six grapes comprise 80% of the world's wine:

Note: visiting local wineries can help, but watch out

4. How does wine color contribute?

The color depends on whether or not the grape skins are included in the fermentation. When U.S. consumption shifted from reds to whites (from 1960s to present) CA vintners started making white wines from red grapes, such as Zinfandels and Pinot Noir (Blanc). So these wines may have a "red taste", but a white look.

5. Wine glasses

6. Chill, man, chill

Pro Temperatures

Heavy red 63°
Light red 58°
Rose/fine white    55°
White 50°

I've consulted at least eight well-known, reputable wine authorities, which unanimously agree that reds should be chilled despite the common modern practice to the contrary. "Best at room temperature" was meant for old European cellars. So always lightly chill reds— even though restaurants never will! For further proof, reference wine thermometers. Lastly, just try it and see if you don't like them better, especially during summer.

(Michael Franz from the Washington Post gave me this rough rule:
Whites: remove from fridge and drink after 20 minutes.  Reds: put in for 20 minutes.)

7. Decanting and debating

Decanting is the process of pouring wine from the bottle to a carafe to a.) separate the wine from its sediment and b.) aerate it. There is a great debate regarding whether aeration improves the taste. Many say aerate reds younger than four years, some say don't aerate at all—everyone is in agreement that simply removing the cork doesn't do anything, despite the common practice. So if aerating, use a carafe or pour your glasses early.

8. Corks

It is not necessary to smell the cork! A restaurant's trained wine steward (i.e., a sommelier) opens the bottle and presents the cork simply to verify it isn't dry. Since bottles should be stored horizontally, a dry cork may indicate air has entered and oxidized the wine. The enemies of wines are air, light, high temperatures, and vibration; so trendy, open wine racks aren't good for much more than fashion.

9. Tasting

10. Top-rated inexpensive wines?

Absolutely! Good finds are all over, especially from countries with lesser-known reputations, such as Chile, Australia and South Africa. 

For a few more dollars ($10-$14) you'll significantly increase the chances of a winner. Though any price range is no guarantee and you can definitely find world class wines for less. How? Start with pro picks: