"For Beginners Only

  by Fred McMillin


WineDay Reader: "Fred, what's fermentation?"

Fred: "Fermentation is the chemical process that converts grapes into money."

Newcomers' Questions

What is wine? Some 250 years ago French satirist Voltaire described wine as "the divine juice of September." Today, Webster's dictionary describes it as the fermented juice of wine grapes, or of other fruit or plants. We'll discuss only grape wine. One of the beginners' favorites is Sutter Home White Zinfandel.

How does fermentation work? Yeast converts the sugar in grape juice to ethyl alcohol (a liquid that remains in the fermenting juice) and carbon dioxide (a gas that normally escapes from the juice). The ancients were awed by this "boiling without heating." One of the earliest grapes involved in "bubbling without heating" was the Syrah. Try Fess Parker's.

How many kinds of grape wine are there? There are four major categories...

1. Still Table Wines—Most wines are of this type, the bubbles are gone and no major ingredient has been added. A good, inexpensive table wine is Glen Ellen Chardonnay.

2. Sparkling Wines—Some 300 years ago the modern cork was invented and bubbles could be retained in the wine. Sparkling wine was created in the French still-wine district of Champagne. If you want to try one of the best champagnes, the $100 Clicquot Grande Dame will fill the bill.

3. Fortified Wines—Some 500 years ago in France wine was first boiled and the alcoholic vapors collected to make "burned wine" or brandy, which could have six times the alcoholic content of table wine. Fortified wines have brandy added, raising a table wine's 13% up to 18 to 20%. The best U.S.A. brandies tasted by my panel were made in Ukiah, California by Germain-Robin. An exotic California fortified wine is Sutter Ridge Marsala, 18% alcohol; phone (209) 267-1316.

4. Aromatized Wines—These are made from from fortified wines by adding flavoring agents such as herbs, roots, barks, etc. Red and white vermouths are among the best known, such as those by Martini & Rossi; contact Laura Baddish, (212)867-6400.


WineDay Reader: "Fred, is wine good medicine?"

Fred: "An old German adage reads, 'There are a lot more old vintners than there are old doctors.'"


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