Many wine lovers feel they shouldn't ask questions about the very thing they love. Because of the snobbery that often surrounds discussions of wine, wine novices are intimidated when it comes to asking some basic questions. We want to empower all levels of wine lovers by providing information that helps you understand and enjoy wine. If you come up with more questions after reading this article, please send us your questions and we will do our best to answer them.
What does “contains sulfites” mean?
Sulfites have long been vilified in wine and are often blamed for allergic reactions and headaches. While a tiny portion of the population may have very real sulfite allergies, the majority of us have to look to other factors for why we get stuffy with certain wines. (If you think you’re allergic try eating dried fruit which has far more sulfites than a glass of wine.) And the headaches? More to do with the dehydrating effect of wine and alcohol, or the other additives that get chucked into cheap wine than the sulfite content.
So what’s the deal? Sulfites, or SO2, are a naturally occurring compound in wine grapes. In the U.S., the FDA requires any wine containing more than 10 parts per million of SO2 to be labeled as “contains sulfites,” even though all wine will have trace amounts. Winemakers have used sulfites for thousands of years as a tool to preserve wine. SO2 has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that protect wine from spoilage. SO2 can also halt the development of wine, therefore is less heavily used in wines that benefit from aging, and more heavily in the cheap plonk, you are buying from the supermarket.
If you want to avoid sulfites, there are ways to remove them from your wine. You can check out our list of the best wine sulfite removers and ways to buy wine without any added sulfites. We also have a quick list of questions that can help you determine if you are sensitive to sulfites.
How do you make Rosé wine?
Rose, with its intoxicating tones ranging from pink blush to almost amber to light ruby, is an incredibly versatile category of wine. It’s great for day drinking, pairing with appetizers, or bringing a little sophistication to a gathering. But how does it get its flirtatious color?
Here’s what you need to know. Rose is made from red wine grapes. The freshly pressed juice, or must, of almost all grapes, is naturally light or clear. Skin contact -- when thin fruit skin is immersed in juice -- imparts color to wine in a process called maceration. The same grape variety can produce different shades of rose or red wine based on how long the grape skins are exposed to the pressed juice. While skin contact won’t affect how sweet or dry the wine is, it will affect the wine’s flavor and texture. Tannins, for example, come from phenolic materials (skin, stem, seed) and affect more than color. Similarly, orange wine is the result of white wine grape juice that is allowed skin contact after pressing.
If you want to understand the process in more detail, read our interview with Colin Murphy the winemaker from Koehler Winery. He breaks down how Rose is made at his winery.
Why do people decant wine?
You don’t have to go to a fine dining restaurant to see a large glass container used for decanting wine. Every Bed, Bath and Beyond in America has a full selection and they are just as common in the home bar as they are in the fancy restaurant.
There are two reasons to decant: to separate older wine from any sediment and to awaken the wine’s aromas by incorporating oxygen. For an aged wine with noticeable particulates at the bottom of the bottle, gently pour the wine into the decanter leaving the debris in the bottle. For young, tannic selections, allowing the wine to “breathe” will unlock aromatic compounds. Pour and swirl to aerate. For a cheap wine that has more SO2 added as a preservative, decanting the wine will release some of the unpleasant smells and improve the aroma overall.
Bonus points for using a decanter -- it brings unmistakable sophistication to the table and delivers a sense of occasion. Are there wines that don’t benefit from decanting? Not really. Except for sparkling wine which would just become flat.
Know that you know the benefits of decanting wine, maybe you should buy yourself a decanter. We've got a list of the best wine decanters just for you!
Are box wines any good?
Yes, box wines can be high-quality and help save the planet.
Traditional glass bottles are heavy, costly to transport, and hard on the environment. Winemakers are making use of new packaging all the time to overcome these problems. Tetra paks, plastic bladders, boxes, and even cans have hit the market and contain myriad types of wine. Plastic bladders minimize exposure to oxygen and can extend the shelf life of an opened wine to as long as weeks -- a great option if it takes you more than two days to polish off a bottle.
Plenty of these options are filled with poor quality wine and sold for the novelty of the packaging alone. But there are palatable, affordable wines offered in all different shapes that are worth drinking. Especially if you are heading to the beach, a picnic, or a campsite, where the reduced weight is welcome. The only way to determine the wine’s quality is to give it a try.
What’s a corkage fee?
The corkage fee applies if a restaurant invites customers to bring their own wine, the corkage fee, which could be between $10-$40, entitles you to glassware and wine service for your table. It will also ease the blow to the restaurant that isn’t making any money off of your beverage selection.
If you haven’t already noticed, wine markup at a restaurant is substantial. Industry standards for markup vary between two and a half to three times the wholesale price. Wine is a huge source of revenue for many operators, particularly those who emphasize their wine program and hire a sommelier. If you want to bring your own bottle make it count. It should either be high-quality or valuable to you and should not be offered by the restaurant. No Two Buck Chuck allowed.