Being knowledgeable about wine is the height of cultural sophistication, and we’re quite the high-minded bunch, writes Elaine Lavery
There is a singular class of student wine drinker; the Tesco ‘White of the Week’ kind. The drinker is female, the wine is at room temperature and the container is a mug, unless you’re me. The amount of wine glasses I have left in student digs, or found broken in my handbag after a night out in protest would make Madame Bucket proud.
Most undergraduate students have not yet acquired a taste for wine. Drinking wine is a means to an end and that end is nothing more than to get annihilated. Indeed, many Irish people do not get past this point. Consumption of wine in Ireland has grown almost fivefold in the last twenty years; however, ninety-six per cent of the market in Ireland is for bottles costing twelve euro or less – it is then not much of a surprise that the Irish go for quantity over quality. In saying that, superb bottles of wine can be acquired for about ten euro.
There are six factors which affect how a wine tastes: grape variety, soil, climate, vintage (the weather of a particular year), viticulture (how the grapes are grown), and vinification (how the wine is made). The French have a word – ‘terroir’ – to describe the interaction of the climate, the soil and the landscape in giving character to the wine. In terms of climate, the best grapes grow between thirty and fifty degrees north and south of the equator. Interestingly, the lower the nutrients in the soil, the better the grapes produced, as the roots of the vine are forced to grow deep into the soil for the required minerals.
Two-thirds of the world’s wine is produced in Europe (the Old World), with Italy, France and Spain contributing the biggest outputs respectively. Looking to the New World it is California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand that dominate. Apart from the differences in characteristics of the wine produced, a major difference between Old and New World wines is that in Old World wines are usually named after the region they come from (e.g. Chianti, Chablis, Rioja) whereas wines from the New World they are usually named after the grape variety (e.g. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz).
There is so much to learn about wine. My advice: be curious, seek advice, and don’t always go for the cheapest bottle on the shelf.