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Answer: True.

As most wine drinkers know, wine can taste pleasantly salty—even when there’s no actual sodium chloride in it. Certain grape varieties, for example, can taste a bit salty (sangiovese is one), and wines made from grapes growing near a sea coast can, too. So maybe it was only a matter of time, but several winemakers in France and Portugal are now experimenting with adding salt to their wines, a practice that was described in ancient Roman texts. In particular, adding seawater was typical since it helped preserve the perishable beverage, in the same way that salt was used to preserve meat.

Contemporary vintner Hervé Durand’s family estate, Mas des Tourelles, in the southern Rhône Valley, stands atop the remains of a Gallo-Roman winery. Known for his “Archeological Roman Wines,” Durand makes a version of Turriculae, a wine made from an ancient recipe that includes seawater as well as ground fenugreek and iris flowers. In Portugal, Port producer Dirk Niepoort learned of the practice from a traditional wine producer in the Azores and convinced fellow vintners Anna Jorgensen and Anselmo Mendes to join him in experimenting with salt. Filling their fermentation vessels to 1% seawater, they found the results had a tangy, saline flavor that gave “more life” to the wine without overly diluting it. “As it is common with food, a pinch of salt is important to ‘awaken’ other flavors,” says Mendes. He has a point.

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Answer: False.

As a matter of fact, in order to maximize you Champagne’s effervescence, leaving a tiny bit of lint in your glass is paramount. As we all know, popping a Champagne cork reduces the tremendous pressure maintained in the thick bottle and releases the carbon dioxide dissolved in the wine. The gas molecules come suddenly out of solution and must collect together in order to form a bubble. Gerard Liger-Belair, a physicist (or “fizzisist”?) at the University of Reims and the world’s leading authority on bubbles, filmed Champagne using high-speed video and a microscope, and discovered that bubbles can form at a rate of 400 per second. Most bubbles form on imperfections or microscopic particles inside the glass, such as pieces of lint that floated into the glass or were left behind by a towel. Molecules of CO2 collect on the particle until together they become buoyant enough to detach and float to the surface as a single bubble. Another bubble of collected CO2 molecules then forms in its place, resulting in the telltale fine lines racing up through the wine. So for optimal effervescence, we recommend wiping Champagne and sparkling wine glasses with a clean, dry (but not lint-free) cloth before using them.

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Answer: False.

This is a concept that is often misunderstood. The three categories of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary aromas and flavors do not indicate the timing of when you perceive them, but rather, where they originated from in the overall winemaking process. Primary aromas and flavors come from the grapes themselves and remain unchanged in the wine. Pyrazines (those green bell pepper aromas and flavors), for example, are primary aromas/flavors. Secondary aromas and flavors are those that come as a result of fermentation (either the primary alcoholic fermentation or malolactic fermentation). The aroma and flavor of bread dough in Champagne, for example, is a secondary aroma/flavor that results from contact with the lees (spent yeast cells). And finally, tertiary aromas and flavors are those that come as a result of a wine’s storage or aging. Wines stored in oak barrels, for example, possess aromas and flavors (vanilla, baking spices, roasted coffee notes etc.) attributable to the oak.

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Answer: False.

The furry gray mold-covered grapes that make Sauternes may look like miniature mice, but that Botrytis cinerea mold (also known as pourriture noble or noble rot) is not washed off or in any other way removed before fermentation. In fact, it contributes to a Sauternes’ flavor—and not in a way that seems like something left too long in the back of the refrigerator. Botrytis adds an extra dimension, sometimes described as being faintly like sweet corn or mushrooms, to the overall complexity of the wines. The influence of Botrytis actually begins in the vineyard, as the beneficial mold punctures the grapes’ skins in search of water to germinate its spores, the water begins to evaporate and the grapes dehydrate. Inside the shriveled berries, the sugar in the juice becomes progressively more concentrated. The botrytis also alters the structure of the grapes’ acids, but the amount of acidity in the wine is not diminished—of crucial importance to balance the heightened sweetness in the finished wine.

 

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Answer: True.

The influence of the France on the wine industry of the Priorat goes back to at least 1136, when the Cartoixa d’Escaladei Priory was established. The resident Carthusian monks, who had learned vineyard techniques in Provence, tended the land in the region for nearly 700 years until 1835, when lands were claimed by the Spanish government and redistributed. Following the ravages of phylloxera and a mass exodus of the population to find work in the cities, many of the vineyards were abandoned to the elements. That was until the early 1980s, when a group of enthusiastic young wine visionaries arrived in the region, led by René Barbier, Bordeaux-trained descendent of French viticulturists. Together with his friend, Rioja-born Alvaro Palacios, Barbier set about recruiting a handful of like-minded winemakers to join them in their quest to revive the area. They introduced fine winemaking techniques (like small new French oak barrels) and, in addition to indigenous Spanish varieties, used French grape varieties—including cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot. They adopted the French-inspired site-specific term of clos, meaning “protected” or “walled” vineyard in their winery names. These original five labels—Clos Mogador, Clos Dofí (now Finca Dofí), Clos de L’Obac, Clos Martinet , and Clos Erasmus–all received international acclaim for their outstanding wines in the middle 1990s, and have been making stellar wines ever since.

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Answer: True.

It’s common to think of a vineyard as a piece of land owned by a single vintner. In other words, vineyards are usually defined by the legal construct of a given person’s ownership. Even though the property within a vineyard may contain highly variable terroir, it is still considered one vineyard when it’s owned by one person. The opposite holds true in Burgundy, where “vineyards” and their names define a distinct terroir as observed and established centuries ago by monks attempting to define parcels of ground. Most named “vineyards” are subdivided into multiple parcels, each owned by different individuals. Perhaps the most well-known example is the Grand Cru vineyard Clos de Vougeot. At 125 acres (50 hectares; less than half the size of, say, Château Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux), Clos de Vougeot has 80 owners. Each of these owners makes a wine called Clos de Vougeot. That said, a handful of vineyards in Burgundy have only one owner. These vineyards are known as monopoles and they are rare.

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Answer: True.

Despite sharing their primary variety, each of these wines taste quite different. One reason is that Tuscany, the birthplace of all four, is a plethora of distinct mesoclimates. These are created by an endless succession of twisting, turning, undulating hills and low mountains. Another reason is that sangiovese, a finicky and demanding grape, has begotten hundreds of clones or genetic variations of itself. Over time, these variations have adapted to their local environments and taken on distinct flavor characteristics. There’s a flavor and feel to Tuscan wine that, to me, is dramatically different from wines made almost anywhere else. There’s a firmness and delicious espresso-like bitterness to the wines—the result of acidity coupled with tannin. Sangiovese is, like pinot noir, a grape relatively high in acidity. At the same time, modern winemaking methods have coaxed more color, power, and tannin from the grape. Significant acidity and tannin, when found together in the same wine, is not always easy to take. The best wines pull off the marriage. Top Tuscan wines never taste better than they do in Tuscany itself because one’s palate is usually coated in olive oil—a countermeasure against the firm, bitter bite of the wine.

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Answer: False.

Three of the most important wine words in Bordeaux are château, cuverie, and chai. Though we think of a château as a palatial estate, anything can be a château in Bordeaux—from a farmhouse to a garage. The word simply refers to a building attached to vineyards, with winemaking and storage facilities on the property. Within the château is the cuverie (coo-ver-EE), the building where the wine will be made, and the chai (pronounced shay), the cellar where it will be stored and aged.

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Answer: False.

Indeed, Hungarian, Greek, and Turkish have words for wine not derived from Latin. In Hungary, home of Tokaji Aszú, considered one of the great dessert wines of the world, the word for wine is bor. Modern Hungarians are descended from the Magyars, an ancient tribe from the Ural Mountains, who arrived in the region in the ninth century. While the vines and viticultural and winemaking practices they found dated from Roman times, the Magyars introduced their idiosyncratic language, one of the few languages in Europe today that does not belong to the Indo-European language family. With a language that predates the Romans, the Greeks speak of wine using words that include oínos (EE-nohs), derived from the name of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus, and krasí (KRAH-see). The ancient Greeks never drank their wine straight, a practice they deemed “barbaric.” They always diluted it with water in a vase called a kratiras, derived from the word krasis, which means “mixture.” Modern Turkey (which is partly in southeastern Europe) is the product of thousands of years acting as a crossroads between the East and the West. and its language, therefore, is a melting pot of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic. The Turkish word for wine is şarap (SAH-rahp) and comes via the Persian word sharab, meaning both “wine” specifically and “beverage” in general. Wine was so integral to daily life for the Persians that the word for wine derived from the verb sharaba meaning simply “to drink.”

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Answer: False.

The now iconic terms are actually related to the archaic words for “hill.” Many of Bordeaux’s best vineyards are often on slight hillocks and/or on very well-drained soils of gravel and stone. As testament to this, their names: Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Lafite Rothschid, and Chateau Cos d’Estournel often pay tribute to this critical feature. While many of the vineyards of Bordeaux—and especially of the Médoc, including Margaux, Pauillac, St.-Julien, and St.-Estèphe—appear quite flat, there are gently rolling hills that create variations in topography, orientation to the sun, soil, and drainage patterns.

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Answer: False.

Although tooth enamel is the hardest tissue in the body, it’s extremely susceptible to staining and the erosion caused by acids, a primary component in all wines. Yet experts actually recommend you wait at least 30 minutes after drinking wine before brushing. “After drinking wine, your mouth is an acidic environment. Brushing the acid into your teeth increases the risk of erosion,” warns Dr. John Aylmer. Better still, brush before drinking as well, to minimize the amount of plaque that wine can stick to in the first place.

Naturally, red wine is the usual suspect for purple teeth because it contains a large amount of chromogens, pigment-producing substances that bind to teeth and cause staining. (Chromogens are also found in coffee and tea, two other classic culprits.) Tannins, abundant in grapes skins, aid in this binding effect. However, white wine is no innocent bystander. White wine is typically higher in acid, which weakens your teeth’s enamel and leaves them more vulnerable to colorful food and drink.

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Answer: True.

The sweet fortified wine known as Port, from the Douro region of Portugal, is one of the most complex and ageworthy wines in the world. Of the top five most important styles, aged tawny Port gets my vote for the most sublime style of Port. (So-called young tawny Port, simple and not aged very long, are not often exported). Its flavors—toasted nuts, brown sugar, figs, and vanilla—are like some otherworldly sophisticated version of cookie dough. And the texture of a great tawny is pure silk. The wines used in the blend for an aged tawny are usually wines of the highest quality. Tawny Ports are kept a minimum average of ten years in barrel until they become tawny/auburn in color.

All Ports begin as a sweet wine with about 7 percent residual sugar (70 grams sugar per liter), fortified to about 20 percent alcohol. It is the maturation and aging processes that set the styles of Port apart. Tawny Ports are blends of Ports from different years. Each of those Ports has been kept in barrels for a long period of time. Tawny Ports are labeled as either 10, 20, 30, or 40 years old, and sometimes even more. The age listed on the label is the average age of all the wines used in the blend. And it’s not a rough guess. Port Shippers are required to document the wines in the final blend, and then that final blend is sent to the Port Wine Institute to be taste-tested by an expert panel before the tawny Port can be certified and sold.

A word about sweetness. While Tawny Port is sweet, it does not taste saccharin or candylike. At least the great ones don’t. Indeed, Tawny Port made well should start off tasting sweet but finish tasting dry. That’s because the acidity, alcohol, and tannin in the wine are all carefully calibrated to balance out the sweetness. Tawny Ports are among the best-loved Ports in Portugal, France, and Britain, where they are often drunk (chilled) both as an aperitif, as well as at the close of a meal.

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Answer: False.

The exposure of vineyards and grapes to strong, sustained smoke may result in wines that smell smoky, burnt, bacony, medicinal, or like an ashtray—all examples of what is commonly described as “smoke taint.” When tree wood burns, aroma compounds called volatile phenols are released. In the vineyard, these compounds can permeate the grape skins and rapidly bond with the sugars inside the grapes to form molecules called glycosides. Unfortunately, the effects of the smoke exposure are masked because the bonded phenols are indetectable by smell or taste. However, once grapes are fermented, the acidity in the resulting wine will begin to break these bonds, releasing the unpleasant aromas into the finished wine. Because “smoke taint” is absorbed into grapes on the vine through their skins and the vine’s leaves, both of which are removed during harvest and later during pruning, numerous studies confirm that smoke taint does not linger in the vine in a way that could affect future harvests.

While smoke tainted wine won’t harm the consumer, growers who suspect, or have tested for, smoke taint may choose not to make wine with grapes from affected vineyards. And although not making wine can have severe financial repercussions, the grapes can still be used in other ways. Grapes can be harvested directly onto the ground to decompose into natural fertilizer. Smoke-affected grapes are safe to use as a source of feed for livestock and for the production of neutral alcohol spirits. Smoke taint compounds can also be mostly removed during the distillation process (for example, in the production of brandy).

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Answer: False.

It was in the late 1600s, about a century and a half before Bordeaux’s 1855 Classification, in Hungary’s famous Tokaj-Hegyalja (TOKE-eye hedge-AL-ya) region that the first system for ranking wine on the basis of quality was developed. The Tokaj region produces both dry and sweet wines, but it is the lusciously honeyed wine Tokaji Aszú for which it is world-famous. Indeed, Tokaji Aszú has been called “the Sauternes of eastern Europe,” but perhaps the phrase should be reversed and Sauternes should be called “the Tokaji Aszú of France,” since it was in the 17th century in the Tokaj region, not Sauternes, that the world’s first sweet, botrytized wines were made. Not long after those first Tokaji Aszus were made, Hungarian Prince Rákóczi issued a royal decree assigning the vineyards of Tokaj rankings of first, second, and third class, using the Latin designations Primae Classis, Secunde Classis, and so on. In addition, two vineyards, Csarfas and Mézes Mály, were given a special designation, a sort of super-first-class status called Pro Mensa Caesaris Primus, or “chosen for the royal table.” In total, 173 vineyards were classified, and others that were not particularly well-sited were listed as unclassified. Throughout much of the forty-year Communist regime in Hungary from 1949 to 1989, with vineyards in poor condition, the classification system was largely meaningless. But in 1995, the top producers of Tokaji formed an association called Tokaj Renaissance, with the goal of reviving the significance of the old classification system. And finally, as an important aside, Bordeaux’s 1855 Classification system did not rank vineyards. It ranked estates.

You can read Karen’s blog, “The Sensory Appeal of Tokaji” here, and more Fascinating Facts about “the king of wines” here.

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Answer: True.

Red wines contain about 50-75 parts per million of sulfites, whites contain about 100-150 ppm, and dried fruit typically contains almost 3,700 ppm (and French fries have more than 1800 ppm). Yet there is a pervasive belief among U.S. wine consumers that the sulfur dioxide (SO₂) that can legally be added to wine to inhibit microbial spoilage and to keep it from immediately oxidizing, causes headaches. Many steer clear of wine for this reason. Perhaps that’s because since 1988, a sulfite warning label has been required by law on all bottles of wine sold in the U.S. that contain 10 parts per million SO₂ or more. Andrew L. Waterhouse, a professor of enology in the department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis has said: “There’s no data showing sulfites cause headaches. But people ascribe all sorts of nasty things to sulfites because there’s a label.” Sulfur is found in the natural environment (it’s part of the earth’s crust) and sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation, so some amount of sulfite is going to be found in wines whether it’s added or not. Meanwhile, the FDA estimates that only about 1 percent of Americans are sulfite hypersensitive—and 5 percent of that 1 percent are asthmatics, for whom sulfites can cause difficulty in breathing. But not a headache. The so-called “red wine headache” is more likely the result of the drinker being dehydrated or of alcohol, tannins, histamines or sometimes high residual sugar, rather than the 0.005% of SO2 in the glass.

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Answer: False.

Ok, trick question—Barolo and Barbaresco, two of Italy’s most legendary and serious reds, are not grape varieties but the names of wines made in the Alba region of Piedmont from nebbiolo grapes. The red grape barbera is Piedmont’s most widely planted variety and the region’s favorite every night dinner wine. Vineyard estates in Piedmont, Italy’s preeminent wine region, are meticulously cared for and mostly small (the average vineyard estate is 3 to 5 acres/1.2 to 2 hectares), which reflects vintners’ philosophic belief that great wine is the progeny of a single, perfectly adapted grape variety—in this case, nebbiolo. Supremely complex and riveting, Barolo and Barbaresco are esteemed throughout Italy because nebbiolo, one of the world’s most site-specific grape varieties, is one of the most difficult to master. No place else in the world has more nebbiolo than Piedmont, and no place else has had more success with this complicated grape. Barolo and Barbaresco are highly structured, expensive wines that can be aged for years, even decades. Today most are made in a way that renders them softer (but not soft, exactly) at a younger age, and thus enjoyable earlier. These formidable, firm, black-red wines are meant for carnivorous drama—for whole roasted pigs or lambs—or with grand pastas showered with white truffles (Alba, after all is the Shangri-La of these mythic culinary fungi) and costing a ransom. Needless to say, Barolo and Barbaresco are decidedly not what the Piedmontese drink with dinner every night. That distinction goes to barbera (and another lovely red, dolcetto) a vibrant, mouthfilling, slightly rustic wine of the same name, oozing with a wealth of fruit flavors. Barbera is an easy companion to food, thanks to its relatively high acidity and low tannin. Read Karen’s past Wine to Know reviews of VIETTI “Perbacco” Nebbiolo Langhe 2016 and GUIDO PORRO Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Santa Caterina” 2018.

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Answer: False.

In the late 1800s, the aphid-like insect known as phylloxera destroyed most of the vineyards of Europe, South Africa, and many in the Americas. Relatively isolated from the rest of the world, Australia was one of the last wine regions to be invaded by the pest. Swift, and it must be said—Draconian—measures imposed in the state of South Australia made it the only winegrowing region on the continent and one of the few in the world to side-step the scourge. Even today, South Australia is phylloxera-free, as a result of the strict quarantine laws it put in place in the 1890s. Those laws protected what are now some of the oldest vineyards in the world—vineyards which possess the original genetic plant material of Europe’s indigenous grapevines. Two important examples are in the Barossa Valley. The Hewitson family owns the Old Garden Vineyard which contains the world’s oldest mourvèdre, planted in 1853. And Penfold’s famous Kalimna “Block 42” of cabernet sauvignon planted in 1888 is thought to be the oldest cabernet sauvignon the world over. While definitive records do not exist, some of these vines are thought to be first generation cuttings from the famous James Busby Collection of vines originally planted at Sydney’s Botanical Gardens in the 1830s.

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Answer: True.

South Africa is among the top 9 wine producers in the world. But while Black South Africans represent nearly 90% of the population, they represent fewer than 8% of wine producers. Elected in 1994, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was South Africa’s first Black president. Mandela’s release from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, in 1990, after more than twenty-seven years in confinement, paved the way for the lifting of trade sanctions and the importation of South African wine into the United States. During this time, many wineries were established or taken over by new owners and black entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to enter the wine industry. In 2010, Nelson Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe and granddaughter Tukwini launched the House of Mandela wine brand, which includes a chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, and a sparkling wine. Tukwini has said: “When we started out, many people thought that House of Mandela was just a little project, a gimmick that would not last.” For the Mandela family, who are part of the royal aba Thembu lineage and the Madiba clan, honoring the ancient wisdom of one’s ancestors and honoring the earth give meaning and purpose to life. Upon the release of their wines, the family wrote, “we have chosen wine as a bridge into the future.”

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Answer: True.

The Jurassic period occurred between 145 million and 200 million years ago and is best known as the Age of the Dinosaurs. It was named for the Jura Mountain Range, on the border between France and Switzerland, where limestone rocks of this age were first studied. The Jura skyline is punctuated by occasional limestone crags, the most dramatic of which are the reculées—steeply faced, horseshoe-shaped rock formations that form abrupt dead ends to valleys. The Jura is one of the smallest wine regions in France, known for producing wonderfully unique wines. The Jura’s most celebrated offering is Vin Jaune, or “Golden Wine,” made exclusively from the native white grape variety, savagnin. Vin jaune must be aged in oak casks for at least six years and three months, during which time it is neither racked nor topped up. As it ages, a film of yeast known as the voile (veil), forms on the wine’s surface, protecting it from oxidation. The resulting wine is golden in color with aromas of walnut, dried fruits, and toasted sourdough bread. The Jurassic period is also marked by the continued breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea, when oceans flooded the spaces between new landmasses, creating vast inland seas. One of the Jura’s four appellations, L’Etoile (the star), is said to be named for the ubiquitous star-shaped marine fossils which crunch underfoot throughout its vineyards.

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Answer: False.

Unlike virtually all wines, most Cognacs are expected to be consistent year after year. Cellar masters achieve consistency by a complex and continual process of blending different lots of brandy, each of which may be a different age. Cognacs are classified according to the age of the youngest oak-aged brandy (or eaux-de-vie) in the blend. So, the average age of a Cognac is usually considerably older. The original age designations of Cognac are in English because Cognac has been exported for centuries, and the first importers were English. Today 96% of production is sold outside of France. Dozens of other nicknames in both English and French have joined the lexicon, making Cognacs labels notoriously difficult to decipher.

The official aging classifications used most often:
VS – Very Special, 3 Etoiles, ***, Sélection, De Luxe                                           minimum of 2 years
VSOP – Very Superior Old Pale, Réserve, Vieux, Rare, Royal                            minimum of 4 years
XO – Extra Old, Hors d’âge, Extra, Ancestral, Ancêtre, Or, Gold, Impérial      minimum of 10 years
XXO – Extra Extra Old                                                                                            minimum of 14 years

Other aging classifications:
Supérieur, Cuvée Supérieure, Qualité Supérieure                                              minimum of 3 years
Vieille Réserve, Réserve, Rare, Réserve, Royale                                                   minimum of 5 years
Napoléon, Très Vieille Réserve, Très Vieux, Héritage, Très Rare, Suprême      minimum of 6 years