Photo Courtesy of Her Beauty
Culture 16 September 2017
Wine - the answer to all our Friday night questions and Saturday morning sorrows.
But how much do you know about that drink that can both haunt and excite your daydreams?
We've enlisted an expert to provide a little education before your next dinner party or trip to a wine bar. Let's call it wine 101. You might even call yourself a connoisseur after you've finished.
Can I find a wine without sulfites?
While you can find wines without added sulfites, all wines contain sulfites. Yeast produces sulfites naturally during fermentation. Sulfites are an antioxidant and act as a preservative, which keeps wine from spoiling prematurely, and, therefore, are essential to winemakers. Depending on how the grapes are grown, picked and then processed, different levels of sulfites can appear in the wine and winemakers may decide to add additional sulfites to prevent spoilage. Even if a winemaker chooses to add sulfites, wine actually contains fewer sulfites than many other common foods. Just a small handful of dried fruit, for example, can have ten times the amount of sulfites as a typical wine.
Gevrey Chambertin, Burgundy
What are tannins?
Tannins are polyphenols found in most plant-based compounds, most notably seeds, grapes, wood, tea, roasted coffee beans, chocolate and dark leafy greens. They often appear as bitter or astringent in our mouth and are noticed most prominently on the back of our tongue. When it comes to wine, most of the tannins are coming from grape skins and are sometimes picked up from the oak that is used during fermentation/aging.
Is it possible that I am allergic to red wines?
Yes. While people think that they are allergic to sulfites, most people who have reactions to wines are actually allergic to tannins. Tannins are found in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. Most white grapes are gently crushed before fermentation and the wine does not have much contact with these grape components. Whole red grapes, however, are used for red wine production and both tannins and color are extracted from the skins. Therefore, it is usually only red wines that tend to cause some people grief. A tannin allergy usually presents as nasal congestion or headaches and is often less intense with thinner skinned grapes like Pinot Noir and Gamay. It should be noted that these symptoms almost always show themselves immediately. If you find yourself with a headache well after drinking wine, then you most likely just need to drink more water.
How long can you keep a bottle of opened wine?
This is a question that I get all of the time and there are several important things to note:
- Old wine won’t kill you (but if you keep it long enough it might turn into vinegar)
- Once you open a bottle of wine, the oxygen inside slowly breaks down the wine and the flavor becomes muted. This is noticed by some people the next day and by most people the 2nd day.
- If you really like a wine only keep it until the next day (2nd-day max)
- A really bold, tannic red might be more delicious the next day because the oxygen will tame the tannins (same premise as decanting a wine)
- Sweet, fortified wines like ports and some sherries can last a month to several months.
Does age matter? / How long can I hold onto a bottle of wine?
Wine is constantly evolving, even inside a sealed bottle, and you cannot keep it forever. Flavors will change and eventually decline until there is nothing delicious left. The extent to which that occurs greatly depends on the wine, how it is stored, and your own preference. While they are safe to drink, wines that are past their prime might not be the most interesting or even palatable.
Over time tannins will soften, acidity will lessen, and fresh fruit flavors will turn more into dried fruit characteristics which, eventually, will also disappear. All of this happens at different rates depending on the wine and could happen within just a couple of years or roll out slowly over a couple of decades. To complicate matters, everyone prefers wine at different periods of its life. Some people prefer a young red for its more bold, tannic qualities while others swear by an older wine for its softer, more nuanced features.
I always recommend this one important rule: if you like the way the wine tastes now, then drink it now! You might not care for it as much in a year or two and you certainly cannot hang on to the flavor that it possesses now. It’s fleet, like a moment in time.
It is also important to note that if you are planning to age your wines then you should have a cellar or a wine fridge. A normal living environment with monthly and daily temperature fluctuations can ruin the wine. If you don’t have an aging option, then storing your wine in a cool dark place does a decent job for the short term. I wouldn’t recommend keeping the wine longer than a year though.
Wine cellar. Photo courtesy of vinote
Does vintage matter?
Yes and no. To the average wine, consumer vintage shouldn’t be too much of a concern as long as you know that the wine will most likely taste slightly (to drastically) different with each vintage.
For me, vintage is less about paying attention to specific years and more about celebrating the fact that each year is unique and different flavors arise due to the new year’s specific growing conditions.
Some areas of the world, like California or Argentina, have less fluctuation during the growing season. Other places, like France and Australia, encounter varied growing conditions from year to year resulting in some vintages greatly benefiting from (and needing) aging while other vintages being immediate stunners that can be consumed young.
Often, larger producers will strive to create a wine that tastes similar from year to year by replicating a specific flavor through blending and/or chemical manipulation. Smaller producers often celebrate the difference in years by letting that difference shine through. These small producers try to make the best wine possible and hope that their consumers understand that their wines might taste different with each vintage.
Corks or Screw Caps: does it make a difference?
Nowadays, so many great wines are under screwcap that we shouldn’t consider this a sign of an inferior wine. While the jury is still out on whether screw caps are as good as corks for long term storage of wine, this most likely will not be an issue for us impatient drinkers who can’t keep our wine shelves stocked.
At what temperature should wine be served?
While everyone has their own preference, here are some rules to ensure that everyone is happy and that your wine is always tasting great:
1. Don’t serve your white wine ice cold. The average temperature of a refrigerator is 37 degrees and at that temperature, you won’t taste much at all. Think about eating a peach straight out of the fridge versus a peach that has been sitting on your counter for hours. It’s a good rule to pull your wine out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you’re going to serve it.
2. Don’t serve your red wine warm. More abrasive attributes like tannins and alcohol are highlighted at warmer temps. Room temperature is often between 70-75 degrees which are too warm for showing off those reds. Red wines should have a slight chill on them so it’s a good rule to put them in the fridge for about 20 minutes before you’re going to serve them.
3. Hold your wine glass by the stem or base. Our hands are very warm and can quickly bring that nicely chilled wine up 10-30 degrees in a minute or two.
4. At a party, it is always better to serve wine colder rather than warmer. By cupping the bulb of a wine glass with your hands, you can quickly warm up a chilly wine. It is much more difficult to make a wine colder especially once you’ve poured it for your guests. You end up running the risk of people throwing ice cubes into a really great wine and, while I approve of serving a red wine cold, I don’t approve of someone watering down a good wine.
I normally buy my wine based on labels, is that bad?
Almost all of us are attracted to bottles based on how they look. How can you avoid it? There are hundreds of bottles that we have probably never encountered and we don’t know where to start. There is nothing wrong with being drawn to something because it is pretty BUT if it’s a good wine shop with a knowledgeable staff then use their expertise to your advantage. If not, go for the labels. My biggest recommendation when doing that, though, is to avoid the bells and whistles. I rarely choose bottles that come in overly ornate packaging because, all too often, part of the price is in the packaging.
How do you know what you're buying in a wine shop if you're not an expert?
Ask for help! I know this could be intimidating but, in reality, only a very small percentage of customers walking into that shop know anything about wine. If it’s a good wine shop, the owner or clerk should be able to offer recommendations. I like to go simple for my first buy and see if they recommend something in the $15-$20 range. If they end up recommending something great, then next time I can get bolder with my money. I prefer the shops where the owner or buyer works on the floor because they know their product well and are usually very excited about sharing their finds. The other thing I recommend is taking classes when you can. The more you learn, the more you’ll figure out exactly what you like. You don’t need to know anything about any of the wines in the shop as long as you know how to tell the clerk what you want it to taste like.
Does price really matter?
This is a question I get fairly often and if you take a class with me you will quickly learn that, while I am a snob when it comes to flavor and quality, I am not a price tag snob. There is an absurd amount of wine in the $15-$30 range that is fantastic and if you allow yourself to explore different grapes and different regions you’ll find amazing deals. Just keep an open mind and ask for help.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing $100 bottles out there and, yes, when you taste them you can see why they are priced at the range. Once you get past $100, however, the price is often about the brand and the demand for the wine rather than about the wine inside the bottle.
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With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.
When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.
Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan
Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.
Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.
The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.
Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits
The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.
With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.
Tip 3: Start slow and strong
If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.
Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.
Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.
When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.
Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness
From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.
Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.
Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.
A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.
Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition
In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.
If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health
While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.
For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.
While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.