Archive for March, 2010

Where do the different flavors in wine come from?

March 17th, 2010

grape_vineWe all know that dry wines and sweet wines alike have different characteristics, qualities and tastes. And we know that as you cook with wine, you boil away the alcohol and water, amplifying the flavors and making the differences more pronounced. This makes it important to understand how these flavors will affect your cooking.

But where do these flavors come from? How do different wines end up having different flavors?

Essentially, wine gets its flavors from three different areas: Terroir, Grape Varietal and Winemaking Decisions.

Let’s explore each of these in a bit more depth.

Terroir

This is everything about where the grapes grow, including soil, climate and farming practices. You’ll find wines from certain regions end up having distinct flavors. A famous example of this are qualities such as “minerality” in a wine.


Varietal

Unlike terroir, however, the grape varietal of your wine will have a big impact on the flavors in your meal. Different grapes have different flavors/qualities and they also behave differently in fermentation. For example, Muscat grapes can be sweet, low acid, intensely aromatic and hearty. Cabernet grapes can be thick, drying and rich. Sauvingnon Blanc grapes can be lemony, acidic, crisp and sharp. And these differences will have a direct impact on the flavors wine imparts in your cooking.

Winemaking Decisions

The decisions made when making the wine also have a huge impact on the flavors imparted when cooking with a wine. Here, the winemaker decides things like which yeast or which malolactic strain she will choose to ferment her wine (the yeast is what turns the sugar into alcohol and the malolactic strain is what gives Chardonnay its “buttery” qualities). She also decides things like how long to leave the grape skins in contact with the fermenting juice (determining flavor intensity and color), how much sweetness the wine will have, whether she will age the wine in oak barrels (another huge flavor changer) and a whole host of other decisions about the wine’s final flavors.

This is why you can’t just simply choose a “Cabernet” or a “Chardonnay” to cook with. Each winemaker’s take on how a wine should be can be dramatically different. Chardonnays can be oaky, or crisp and acidic, or fat and buttery. Cabernets can be heavily oaked, or tannic/drying, or acidic – or they can be restrained and soft, sweet and round.

Conclusion:

You just never know how an individual wine will taste. And this is why ACADEMIE wines are such a great choice for your cooking. Unless you’ve tasted every dry red wine on the shelf, it’s hard to know which will have the most complementary flavors for your meal. Our wines are blended and balanced with quality wines sourced from California’s premier wine regions specifically for your cooking. As you cook with our wines, pour yourself a glass and think of the flavors our wines lend to your cooking. After all, you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. And with ACADEMIE, it’s never been easier to do just that!

How long will wine last?

March 10th, 2010

cork_openedThe most common question we get about our wines is, “How long will the wine last before it goes bad?”.

It’s a tricky question because the meaning of “bad” is different for different people.

In this blog post, we’ll break the answer down into a few easily understandable components which should make the answer more clear.

Bad generally means three things, 1) Loss of aromatics/flavor, 2) Oxidation or staling, 3) Wine spoilage.

Let’s dig into each of these one by one:

1) Loss of aromatics/flavor

Once you open a bottle of wine, you expose it to oxygen – wine’s mortal enemy. Of course, in moderation, oxygen is a good thing. Corks actually let oxygen into your wine at a *very* slow rate, allowing your wine to mature and develop complexity over time. But once you pop the cork, your wine is subjected to an onslaught of oxygen.

Check the label on your wine bottle. You’ll see a big notice that says “contains sulfites”. All wine labels have to say this by law because all wine has sulfites naturally. When this sulfite level is at a “healthy” level, your wine is in a sense insured against oxidation and spoilage. Not only does a correct sulfite level prevent bacteria from living in your wine, it also prevents oxidation. Every time oxygen comes in contact with your wine, it “binds up” a bit of the sulfites, dropping the level slightly. Within a short time of your wine being open, all sulfites will be bound up, which means that your wine is no longer “protected”. This can happen within an hour or less.

At this point, the oxygen starts to oxidize your wine and the wine’s aromatics and flavor start to reduce dramatically. This is the first step of your wine “going bad”. All these flavors and aromatics are what make your wine so nice to begin with. If you leave a wine out for a day or two exposed to oxygen, you’ll come back to it and notice that it’s a shell of its former glorious self. But the wine may not be considered stale yet. That will take a few more days.

2) Oxidation or staling

Oxidation has arrived when your wine has lost the majority of aromatics and now starts to develop “stale” flavors. These are noted by sherry or raisin-like qualities, or even squash or pumpkin notes. They are generally not all that pleasant.

At this point, you’re going down the path of truly “bad” wine. The next stop is spoilage.

3) Wine Spoilage

Because your sulfite level is no longer protecting your wine, anything floating around in the air can “infect” your wine. You really can’t prevent it. If your wine is left out and exposed to oxygen, at some point it will start to spoil. It will start to develop very harsh and unpleasant flavors. This is the process vinegar goes through, but vinegar is made by injecting certain strains of bacteria into wine to get certain qualities. You probably won’t do this though, so you’re stuck with wild yeasts and bacteria from the air, so generally your spoiled wine won’t be too pleasant.

This is the last stop in your wine spoilage and will happen within a few weeks at room temperature.


How to avoid this:

1) One of the best ways to keep your wine from going bad is to use it quickly. ACADÉMIE wine bottles are smaller than a normal wine bottle (375ml instead of 750ml like a traditional wine bottle). This means two things: First, you’ll use the wine more quickly. You can generally get between 2-6 meals out of one of our wine bottles, depending on how much you use at a time. At this rate, your wine won’t have time to go stale because you’ll have already used it all.

Next, less air can “live” in the headspace of a smaller wine bottle. If you use half of a full size wine bottle, you’ve doubled the amount of oxygen in the headspace. ACADÉMIE’s smaller bottles lessen the staling potential of your wine.

2) Another great way to prevent staling of wine is to get it in the fridge ASAP. As soon as you open your wine, use it and get it cold. This dramatically reduces the rate at which wine goes bad. One common problem with regular wine bottles is that they are too big to fit into your fridge, especially with the cork poking out. ACADÉMIE’s smaller wine bottles are much shorter than a normal wine bottle and usually fit in the fridge door.

3) There are tools out there that can prevent staling and are pretty darn cheap when you consider how much wine they “save”. Vacuvin creates a hand-pump vacuum that sucks out air in a bottle’s head space with a special stopper.

You can check it out here: Vacu Vin Concerto 3-Piece Wine Saver Set with 4 Stoppers

Conclusion:

And there you have it folks. Wine will go “bad” within hours or days, but will truly taste “bad” within weeks. You can slow this process down by getting your wine in the fridge as soon as it’s opened.

What’s a “dry wine” anyway?

March 4th, 2010

Woman with laptop in the kitchenAdmit it. You’ve been there at one point or another. Even if you know all about wine, at some point you saw the words “dry red wine” and thought, “what the heck is a dry red wine?”.

I was there. In college I would see this on recipes and would usually just pick another recipe.

I mean…c’mon. First off, I didn’t know what a dry red wine was. Varietal names swirled in my mind and I knew some were considered “dry”, but not which. Even if I did know though, how could you tell me that something as vague as a “dry wine” is appropriate for a recipe?

They didn’t tell me to “add 2 tbsp of spice”. They told me which spice.

Why don’t they do this with wine?

The intent of this blog post is to clarify what dry wines are and hopefully show you how rediculous it is to call for something as vague as a dry wine in a recipe.

So lay it on me. What’s a dry wine?

Wine is made from grape juice – we all know this much. Basically (mind you, this is a big simplification), winemakers smash up some grapes of a certain type and ferment the juice with wine yeast.

But yeast doesn’t ferment juice. Rather, it ferments sugar. And here in lies the key to the term “dry”. Dry simply means that most of the sugars in the juice have been fermented out and turned into alcohol. As such, usually “dry” wines are less sweet or sugary.

That’s it. Off-dry wines have a bit more sweetness to them. And sweet or fortified wines have even more residual sugar.

There are all sorts of ways to control the sugar content in wine-making land, all of which are beyond the scope of this post (and do you really want to know about them anyway?).

“Dry wine” simply means wine without much sweetness. You’ll notice that this doesn’t say anything about flavor. All wines have different flavors. And when you cook with these wines, the inherent flavors are going to amplify as you burn off the alcohol and water and concentrate them in the cooking process.

So why don’t recipes go a bit more into depth and tell you which wine to use? Well, even if they did tell you a varietal, that may not actually help much. A Chardonnay can taste very different depending on the wine-maker’s take on Chardonnays. They can be tart and acidic. Or round and buttery. Or very oaky. Who knows how this or that winery’s wine will taste.

A quick note about ACADÉMIE wines

We’ve developed our wines’ profiles with chefs to ensure that you’re always cooking with the wine that will make your food taste best. Best of all, the wines taste great. You can drink them while you cook (if you so choose). After all, we know you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. And we help you take the next step – making sure that this good tasting wine will actually help your recipe taste the best it possibly can.