Intricacies of Wine

Posted On December ,

Today I feel It’s been a while that I have spoken to you guys, I don’t know why but yes, I have a feeling of a renewed relationship.  Let’s start with a question…. Do you have any regrets in your life? Or what do you regret about your life?

I recently came across this question. Usually people talk philosophical only when they are drunk beyond their limits and this time was no different. After a bottle of Glen (a brother from a Scottish mother) you are rendered to such thoughts even if one doesn’t wants to.  Somehow the past becomes more important to you than your present or the future. Yes, my friend asked this to me and it began an astounding thought process (everything is astounding when you are drunk) which is still going on. Let’s begin with what are regrets.


Feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that one has done or failed to do). This is the googled meaning of the word but does it makes you understand what it means to you? No.

Regrets in simpler terms are disappointments over ones actions generally used in first person scenario (our own).  Any of our carelessly committed actions which did not give us the satisfaction they were intended to give are known as regrets as we are never happy or completely satisfied with anything in our life. Economics taught us that “Human wants are unlimited and the means to satisfy them are scarce”. I would also say that to completely understand the human behavior “Human expectations are also unlimited and the means to satisfy them are scarce” and if we or someone else cannot satisfy our own expectations it will result in regret.

Now, having regret in singular or plural form is very person specific. Let me talk about myself by saying that “I have no regrets in my life” I know you might have a sneer on your face thinking that I am just saying just for the heck of it but let me explain.

Do you believe that some thought process goes in before you commit anything? For me it certainly does. I might not remember it now but yes all the major decisions are conclusions of a big thought process. and the result, good or bad was estimated and expected before only. For eg:  I have the Last 50 rupees in my pocket and I haven’t eaten for the whole day.  I am standing right in the middle of 2 shops, one which is a food store and the other which is a Lottery store. While I stand thinking about what to eat I overhear someone saying there is a draw in an hour for the price money of 50,000/- on the ticket purchase of 50 Rupees. What do I do? Considering all the permutations and combinations there are very few chances of me winning the lottery. But I still go ahead and buy the ticket as I know that if I win the lottery I can do n number of things from the price money including a wholesome meal which won’t come in 50/- Rs.

I did not win the lottery. Now, do I regret the decision of buying a lottery ticket? No, because I had calculated that the Lottery ticket was a risk that I was taking and I knew It already that the chances of me not winning are more than the chances of me winning. So it was a gamble that did not pay me well. So why should I regret my decision of buying the ticket and not the food.

This is just one example but even if there was something else like, I wanted to get in to Management studies but without my will I got into Hotel management which landed me in this career, do I regret this? No, because I am happy with my career and even If I was not it was a decision made for my good by my family back then and this is the course of life the almighty had chosen for me.

There is a lot to the details of life than to the life itself and I believe that if I understand the Intricacies of life one by one, slowly I’ll start understanding life and living the life the way I was meant to be.

This gets me to a topic very important which might be discussed earlier but I’ll take it again so that we don’t err on these details ever again. It’s more of the FAQ module here as explaining them in detail might make it difficult for you to understand the most basic of the answers.

Climate Change and Wine

There are many who believe that climate change does not affect the wine making, but it is a fact that alcohol levels in wine are increasing, and some grape varieties ripen, where they wouldn’t have 20 years ago.

Why is alcohol level an indication of higher temperatures?
Higher temperatures produce riper grapes, which have more sugar. During fermentation, the sugar turns to alcohol, so more sugar leads to more alcohol.There is an associated decrease in acidity. 

Different grape varieties prefer different temperatures

If the temperature is higher than ideal, the grapes will ripen, but the wine will lack freshness and acidity.

If the temperature is lower than ideal, then the grapes won’t ripen properly, and the wine will be tart and acidic.

If the temperature is much higher than ideal, then the vine simply shuts down, and nothing happens.

Which countries are most affected?
Those at the current extremes of temperature for growing vines:-

  • Much of Australia and Spain, for example, have vineyards in regions with high temperatures. They will have to adapt to survive.
  • Countries further from the Equator with more marginal climates, such as England, will now be able to grow a much wider range of grape varieties.

What can the adversely affected regions do about it?

  • Plant different grape varieties, which are more tolerant of the hot weather.
  • Train the vine branches so that leaves physically shade the grapes.
  • Allow plants to grow between the vines, as this lowers the soil temperature, and there is less reflected heat from any stones.
  • Plant new vineyards at higher altitude.


Sugar in Wine

Sugar plays a vital role in the wine in your glass, even if you can’t taste it directly.

What is sugar?
Sugar is the name  given to a wide range of carbohydrates, but only the simpler ones are sweet.

Glucose – one of the main products of photosynthesis in a plant, making up about 50% of sugars in ripe grapes. It is one of the three simplest types of sugar, known as monosaccharides. This is absorbed straight into the bloodstream during digestion.

Fructose – another monosaccharide, making up the other 50% of sugars in ripe grapes. It toois absorbed straight into the bloodstream during digestion.

Sucrose – the type of sugar you put in your tea, is typically produced from sugar cane or sugar beet, an very little is found in ripe wine grapes. Sucrose is in fact a combination of glucose and fructose.

Production of sugar in wine grapes
There is very little sugar in a grape until véraison, when the grape starts to change colour and ripen. Acidity decreases, and sugar contents rise, The trick here is to get the correct balance between the two. Sugar concentrations in ripe grapes can easily achieve 20%.

Adding sugar manually

  • Before fermentation – sugar in grapes is converted to alcohol during fermentation, but if the grapes aren’t ripe enough, sugar may be added to artificially increase the alcohol content. A process known as chaptalisation. If this is done carelessly, there isn’t enough fruit in the wine to balance the relatively high alcohol. This practice is banned in many wine regions.
  • Adding two lots of sugar – Champagne manufacture involves adding sugar and yeast to produce bubbles in the bottle, and then sugar at the end to take the edge off the acidity.

Yeasts turn the simpler sugars into alcohol plus carbon dioxide, but many other reactions also happen, and some of the complex sugars remain.

Effect of residual sugar in wine

  • Tasting threshold – for most people this is around 1% sugar content, but those who are particularly sensitive can detect 0.2%. A dry wine which is fully fermented out will have a sugar content of < 3 gm/litre, which is not detectable.
  • Balancing other tastes – sweetness balances acid and bitter tastes, making them less harsh.
  • Provides food for microbes – residual sugar in wine encourages bacterial growth unless it is properly protected. Sulphur dioxide is important here, 

In most wines, sugar just has a fleeting presence for a short while before the grapes are picked. It is created by photosynthesis, and consumed by fermentation.


What yeasts need to make them work
Yeasts need the right conditions to work their magic during wine fermentation:-

Temperature. They operate in a temperature range. Too low, and yeasts don’t function, too high and they are killed off. The grape juice may be actively heated or cooled to achieve this.

Nutrients. Sugar is the main one, but you need a source of nitrogen, which is provided by amino acids.

Winemakers may add selected nutrients.

  • Alcohol level. Different yeasts work in different ranges of alcohol content.

Winemakers split yeasts into two main categories

  • ‘Natural’ or ‘wild’ yeasts. These are the yeasts which are present in the vineyard, and stick to the grape skins. They are also on the wine equipment. These indigenous yeasts give the wine a local character, a sense of place. The term ‘terroir’ is often used to express this.
  • Cultured yeasts. These are developed to introduce particular characteristics to the wine, or to make fermentation more reliable. Usually, the indigenous bugs will be killed off with sulphur dioxide, and then the grape must/ juice will be inoculated with the cultured yeast.

What can go wrong with‘wild yeast fermentation?’

  • Problems with starting the fermentation. The grape must/ juice will contain a range of bacteria as well as yeasts, and these compete for the nutrients. You may end up with acetic acid (vinegar) rather than alcohol.
  • Inconsistency. A number of different yeasts may be involved during fermentation, with some dying off at quite low alcohol levels, and others taking over. If different yeast takes over, you can end up with a different wine than you anticipated.

There is no right or wrong answer about the use of wild yeasts, it rather depends on the market you are aiming at. Cultured yeasts will help to produce a consistent product, which is going to appeal to the big brands. Small producers may well enjoy the variability.

Screwcaps and Ageing

Screwcap closures have had some bad press, but in my opinion, any wine destined to be drunk within two to three years of production should be sold in a Screwcap bottle.

What is good about screwcap bottles?

  • The closure does not contaminate the wine. The wine may still be corked because of contamination during wine production, but at least the screwcap won’t have caused it.
  • Every bottle will be the same as the next. There are some caveats, and you should follow them. Every natural cork is different, whereas every Screwcap closure is identical.

What is bad about screwcap bottles?

  • Removing a screwcap just doesn’t have the same theatre as removing a cork. Sadly, I can’t think of any solution to this problem.
  • Production of ‘reductive’ chemicals in the wine because air is excluded. These are sulphur compounds which may be produced in the bottle because of the absence of air. These compounds disappear quickly after a bottle is opened, but can be excluded by modifying the winemaking process.
  • A little bit of oxygen appears to be necessary for a wine to age gracefully. Original screwcap allowed almost no air to reach the wine.
  • Screwcaps were associated with cheap wine, so producers of quality wine tended to shy away.

New developments

  • The seal in a screwcap is provided by padding at the top. Different materials are being used for this padding, which allow different amounts of oxygen to pass through. This means that they can potentially be used for ageing fine wine.
  • The obvious thing is to try long term tests, and some tests were initiated in the 1980s in Australia. However, the prestigious Château Margaux in Bordeaux has started their own long term trials. Endorsement by one of the great old names in the wine business would make all the difference in the acceptance of screwcaps. Time will tell.

By choosing the correct seal, there will be screwcap closure for every wine, but it may take a while to prove the point.

The serving temperature of a wine is important

A wine’s serving temperature is probably the most important factor in your enjoyment. It won’t make a great wine out of an average one, but it will make the most of what you’ve got.

Serving reds at room temperature

The proverb used to be – serve a red wine at room temperature. That was fine in the days before central heating, but now ‘room temperature’ is usually over 20ºC (68ºF) , which is just too high. Any red wine is just bland if it is too warm.

Serving dry whites straight from the fridge
A domestic fridge can get a bottle down to 5ºC (41ºF), if you leave it in there for long enough. At that temperature the wine will just numb the taste buds, and you won’t smell much either.

Serving sweet white wines
These should be served well-chilled, 8°C to 10°C, 46°F to 50°F, is a good guide. Lighter sweet wines can be served at even lower temperatures. Lower temperatures make sweet wines less cloying.

Serving sparkling wine
Freshness is important in a sparkling wine, so its temperature should be lower than a dry white. Serving straight from the fridge at a little over 5ºC (41ºF) is ideal.

The affect of ambient temperature
Once a wine has been poured, its temperature will quickly move to that of its surroundings.

  • If it’s a warm day, then start the wine at a lower temperature.
  • If the weather is cold, then serve the wine at the correct temperature – you can always warm it up in your hands.

The 20 minute rule
This is as simple a rule as you are likely to get. 20 minutes before a meal:-

  • Put the red wine into the fridge.
  • Take the white wine out.

There is a lot of basic yet to be covered but let’s take it one step at a time and then I am sure the intricacies of Wine will be handled as carefully as the Intricacies of Life.

About the Writer: RACHIT SHARMA
Rachit is a Mumbai-based Sommelier working in the hospitality industry since November 2005 and especially in wine and beverages since 2011. Rachit has handled esteemed Standalone Restaurants like The Olives, Mehrauli to 5 star hotels like The Lalit, New Delhi and Taj Mansingh, New Delhi, as a sommelier on the floor. He was also the head sommelier during the 2011- 12 seasons for Maharajas’ express, India’s finest and world’s second best luxurious train. He has also had his stints in the wine and beverage retail with Reliance Fresh at Delhi and Mumbai. He has also done a Craft course on wines and beverages offered by IWBS in New Delhi. To gather expertise on the subject he has gained his Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, London, UK. He has also worked as a sommelier with a 7 star cruise-liner in U.S.A. He has conducted wine tastings as well as olive oil appreciation programs. He has taken wine and beverage training for the staff of some very respectable hotels. He was the part of the organizing team of The Corralejo Tequila Mixology championship and the Indian Sommelier championship.

About Writer

Rachit Sharma

Rachit is a Mumbai-based Sommelier working in the hospitality industry since November 2005 and especially in wine and beverages since 2011. Rachit has handled esteemed Standalone Restaurants like The Olives, Mehrauli to 5 star hotels like The Lalit, New Delhi and Taj Mansingh, New Delhi, as a sommelier on the floor. He was also the head sommelier during the 2011-12 seasons for Maharajas’ express, India’s finest and world’s second best luxurious train. He has also had his stints in the wine and beverage retail with Reliance Fresh at Delhi and Mumbai.

He has also done a Craft course on wines and beverages offered by IWBS in  New Delhi. To gather expertise on the subject he has gained his Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, London, UK. He has also worked as a sommelier with a 7 star cruise-liner in U.S.A.

He has conducted wine tastings as well as olive oil appreciation programs. He has taken wine and beverage training for the staff of some very respectable hotels. He was the part of the organizing team of The Corralejo Tequila Mixology championship and the Indian Sommelier championship.