For the average wine beginner wine is a complicated subject due to lack of knowledge familiarity and not knowing where to start.
In this series of blogs, I shall try to shed some light on several subjects to introduce wine to beginners and enthusiasts as well. My goal is to eliminate the intimidation factor and stress that arises when we are gathering with friends and family at an event or restaurant and we try to pass on the task of ordering or requesting the right wine to suit the occasion, our taste and what we are eating as well. So let’s get started by learning about wine.
Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grapes.
Fermentation is a chemical process where yeast (natural or commercial) consumes the sugar in the grapes and converts it to ethanol and carbon dioxide.
Different varieties of grapes and strains of yeasts produce different styles of wine. At a later session I shall address grape varietals (types) and yeast strings (organic & commercial).
Wine is mainly bottled traditionally in 2 different types of bottles:
Claret: Mainly used for Red wine varietals and sometime for Sauvignon Blanc, which is a light wine varietal.
Burgundy: Mainly used for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals.
Please note that the above is just the way that most wineries use these 2 different shaped bottles to package their wine Also, wine bottles come in different sizes; the most common size is 750 ML.
375 ML - Also known as ½ bottle
750 ML - Also known as Bottle
1.5 L. - Also known as Magnum = (2 bottles)
3 L. - Also known as Jeroboam or double magnum = (4 bottles)
4.5 L. - Also known as Rehoboam = (6 bottles)
6 L. - Also known as Methusalem or Imperial = (8 bottles)
9 L. - Also known as Salamnazar = (12 bottles)
12 L. - Also known as Balthazar = (16 bottles)
15 L. - Also known as Nebuchadnezzar = (20 bottles)
For centuries corks have been used as a sealer/stopper for all bottled wine.
Just about every tree has an outer layer of cork bark, but the cork oak (Quercus suber) is the primary source of most cork products in the world.
These trees primarily grow in countries that run along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where there's plenty of sunshine, low rainfall and high humidity. The countries that produce the most cork include Portugal, Algeria, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia.
So, why does the cork oak tree have a thicker layer of cork bark than other trees? The tree evolved to protect itself from the harsh conditions of the forests near the Mediterranean. These forests experience frequent droughts, brush fires and temperature fluctuations. Cork is actually made of water-resistant cells that separate the outer bark from the delicate interior bark. It has a unique set of properties not found in any other naturally existing material. It is lightweight, rot resistant, fire resistant, termite resistant, impermeable to gas and liquid, soft and buoyant. It's these properties that make it ideal for stopping wine bottles. How do we obtain cork from a cork oak tree?
Stripping the bark -- A cork oak must be at least 25 years old before its bark can be harvested. Its cork can then be stripped every 8 to 14 years after that for as long as the tree lives. The cork is stripped off during June, July and August using a long-handled hatchet to cut sections out of the bark. These sections are then pried away from the tree. Workers must be careful not to damage the inner layer of the bark, otherwise the bark won't grow back.
Washing the cork -- The cork slabs that are cut away from the tree are boiled and the rough outer layer of the bark is stripped away. Boiling the cork also softens it, making it easier to work with.
Punching Bottle Stoppers -- From the slabs of cork, holes are punched out to make bottle stoppers. This leaves the slabs full of holes. These bottle stoppers are then sorted and shipped to various destinations. The stoppers can at this time be printed or branded with names or logos.
Uses for Scrap Cork -- Once the bottle stoppers have been punched out of the cork slabs, there is some leftover cork scrap. This scrap is ground up, molded into large blocks and baked in ovens to make other cork products, such as cork tile flooring and cork message boards.
Cork has been used as bottle stoppers for more than 400 years. It is possibly the best suited material to use as a bottle stopper because it contains a natural waxy substance, called suberin.
This substance makes cork impermeable to liquids and gas, and prevents the cork from rotting.
In the past few years there has been other wine bottle stoppers that have been used but none have been widely used and welcomed by most consumers that look forward to the romance of popping a cork and enjoying a bottle of wine in the company of others.
Also, corks play a significate roll in wine aging while cellared in under proper conditions in the bottle. Something that we shall address in details when discussing wine aging.
Until next time, Cheers!