Taste of Wine

De-mystifying wine: What’s in your glass?

In travels near and far, I meet a lot of wine consumers who love this classic beverage and want to learn more, but questions do persist about content.

Grapes made into wine are helped along during the winemaking stage by a number of additives, assuring its preservation and flavor. Photo courtesy of Napa Valley VintnersTanya Beers of Simi Wines in Sonoma presents her selections to Chris Guillet, manager of La Gran Terraza Restaurant on campus at the University of San Diego. Photo by Frank Mangio


Transparency is always a good thing in any product. I expect that the label on wines will be a little more crowded with revealing information as the government will be pushing for calorie counts and other data to keep us “informed and safe.”

My friends at the International Wine Guild in Denver, Colo. peeled back a typical bottle of wine and found that wine is not really a natural, organic product, but like most other food and drink, there are additives that stabilize the beverage, so it lasts longer and tastes better. So let’s take a peak at what those ingredients are.

Sulfites are the most discussed additive in wine. It may not have been that way, except that in the U.S. it is mandated that sulfite content appear on wine labels as a government warning. Since 1987, American producers have to mention sulfites, even though the additive keeps unwanted bacteria and yeasts under control, and acts as an anti-oxidant. It also keeps oxygen levels low in wine, which is the biggest destroyer of the flavor of wine. According to the Wine Guild report, wine producers have to print this warning if the sulfite content is more than 10 parts per million. Sulfite sensitivity impacts about 1 percent of the U.S. wine consuming population. Wine has nowhere near the sulfite content as, for instance, dried fruit at 1,000 parts per million.

Yeast is an additive that turns natural grape sugars into alcohol by way of a three-step process. This chemical process is essential for making wine, beer or spirits.

Tannins found in wine are: stems, the inside surface of the skins and seeds. This adds bitterness and astringency to wine. Tannins add to the flavor profile, mouthfeel and the ability to age. But, too much tannin can make a red wine undrinkable, especially a young red.

Sugar is added to either increase the alcohol content or increase the sweetness of a wine. It is a must in cooler or cold climates where wine is produced without benefit of the warm sun, such as Germany.

Fining agents are used to remove visible particulates in wine and clear it up. A common fining agent would be egg whites and milk products.

Additives like calcium carbonate, a form of chalk, accomplish acid control. It’s the active ingredient in Alka Seltzer and it is common in cold climates. In warm climates, just the opposite happens as acidifiers are used such as malic, tartaric and citric acid to help increase the acid level. Acidification is rare in old world wines like France and Italy, but a common practice in new world wines like California.


Simi Wines Impress at USD Wine Dinner

La Gran Terraza is a beautiful, panoramic old-world Spanish décor restaurant, suitable for the finest restaurant rows in the country. In fact, it is located on the campus of the University of San Diego, and was awarded one of the top ten restaurants in San Diego by the respected Open Table, the popular Internet table service.

There is a lot to like about this dining room, starting with the incomparable view, and featuring the creativity of the Chef De Cuisine, Mitch Weaver. On this pleasant summer evening, chef was serving four styles of wood fire pizza, including a Ricotta Stuffed Squash Blossom. Simi Wines of Sonoma poured a selection of fine wines, and for the pizza pairing it had a 2010 Cabernet. For the final course, Simi chose a 2010 Merlot ($20), which was a big favorite, to mate with a Pecan Dusted Rack of Lamb with Spinach Pancetta Salad. The next wine dinner at La Gran Terraza will be a Sanford Wine Dinner Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. Cost is $50. The restaurant will re-open for dinners Aug. 27 Tuesdays through Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. Lunch is currently offered Monday through Friday from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m. For more information, call (619) 849-8205.


Wine Bytes

Bentley’s Steak & Chophouse and Meritage Wine Market of Encinitas present a Robert Craig Napa Valley Wine Dinner Aug. 8 at 6 p.m. $75. Call (760) 632-9333 for an RSVP.

Wines from Central and Southern Italy will be poured at Bacchus Wine Market, downtown San Diego, Aug. 9, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Cost is $20. Drink wines from Tuscany, Abruzzo, Sicily, Calabria and more. Details at (619) 236-0005.

Europa Village Winery in Temecula presents a Mystery Theatre in the Vines Aug. 17 and Aug. 18 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. It’s “Polter Heist” an audience participation murder mystery. It shows during a gourmet dinner with a glass of wine included. Tickets are $59 for Saturday and $49 for Sunday. For information and tickets, call (951) 216-3380.

Kitchen 4140 in San Diego has a winemaker’s dinner Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. in the new Wine Room. Chef Kurt presents Hall and Walt Wines of Napa Valley and Sonoma, leading Bordeaux style wineries. $100 for a six-course meal with wine pairings and winemakers from both wineries. Call (858) 483-4140 for details and an RSVP.


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