Wine FAQ’s

Classroom sessions often inspire my writing, because so many interesting questions are frequently posed by my students. Even if we veer off-topic, we cover a lot of broad and basic information, as well as enjoy the occasional hilarious exchange. Here’s a typical assortment of FAQ’s and my responses, which I hope you’ll find both educational and amusing.

FAQ: Why does wine have so many different fruit flavors that describe it? It’s all just grapes, right?

A: Yes, wine is made by fermented grapes only. But there are many varietals of wine grapes, and each varietal makes wine with typical flavors. Those flavors can taste like fruits, flowers, vegetable, earth, or more. Learning to taste and recognize flavors helps you tell them apart. We’re learning that Cabernet Sauvignon tastes distinctly different than Pinot Noir, right? Knowing how to describe flavor is a big part of wine knowledge.

FAQ: Seriously, no other fruit? The slide says banana and the pineapple flavors-

A: Grapes only.

FAQ: Okay, but you said cherries and plums-

A: It’s just grapes, really.

FAQ: Okay, but that guy said lemongrass and wet wool-

A: I promise you that they didn’t add lemongrass or wool to the wine. The wine’s made from fermented grapes. The flavors can differ from each other because 1) they’re different varieties, 2) they could be grown in very different climates, 3) the terroir in which the vine is planted can also affect flavors, and 4) sometimes the wine maker likes to tinker with the flavors.

FAQ: Why does some Chardonnay have a buttery flavor?

A: That’s a decision of the winemaker. They can use a process in winemaking called malolactic fermentation, in which tart malic acid is converted into softer tasting lactic acid. This can result in a buttery aroma or flavor.

FAQ: So it’s not real butter.

A: Nope. The acids are naturally present in the fermenting grapes.

FAQ: Can butter flavor come from oak?

A: No, but that’s a very common misconception. Oak treatment adds flavors like vanilla, nuttiness, toast, or smoke to Chardonnay in particular.

FAQ: What does oak taste like in red wine?

A: Oak in red wine can taste like coconut, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cedar, or coffee.

FAQ: But they don’t literally add those spices.

A: Correct.

FAQ: What’s the difference between Old World and New World?

A: Generally, Old World wines refer to wines crafted in Europe- France, Italy, Spain, etc.. New World wines refer to everywhere outside of Europe- such as North and South America, New Zealand, Australia, Africa.

FAQ: You forgot Canada.

A: Canada’s included in “everywhere outside of Europe”.

FAQ: What about Germany?

A: That’s IN Europe.

FAQ: What about Portugal?

A: Portugal is in Europe also.

FAQ: Oh. Oops. But port’s not wine, right?

A: Portuguese fortified wine is produced from grapes grown from a specific region in Portugal, and made with distilled grape spirit. So it’s wine, but it’s called “fortified wine”because it contains a higher level of alcohol.

FAQ: Can port wines be called port outside of Portugal?

A: It depends. In Europe, no. Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only the product from Portugal can be called port or Porto.

FAQ: What if it’s made here in the U.S.?

A: The U.S. isn’t in Europe, so we don’t have to use those guidelines.

FAQ: What about Canada?

A: Um…didn’t we just check Canada’s location?

FAQ: You forgot Hungary.

A: Hungary is in Europe, so they can’t make the same style of wine and call it port or Porto. Are we good? (Looks for heads nodding.). Let’s move on, folks.

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