Assortment of wine from Domaine Chandon in Yar...
Assortment of wine from Domaine Chandon in Yarra Australia showing their sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot noir wine as well as a still pinot noir. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most cultures have some substance that they use to relax inhibitions and induce euphoria. Overindulgence leads to intoxication, the word acknowledging that the substance, whatever it is, damages the body in some way. It is toxic. The most widespread substance that is used is alcohol, and the reason it is so common is probably because it is easy to produce and acquire. Just let some fruit go rotten.

Of course, rotten fruit is pretty nasty, and people are ingenious, and it was soon discovered that fruits and grains and some root vegetables could be made to ferment without first going rotten. In fact it is a yeast that is the agent which facilitates the necessary chemical reaction, which takes in sugars in some form and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. “Alcohol” when referred to in relation to recreational drinking is ethyl alcohol or ethanol, a substance that has now and then suggested as a fuel for cars.

English: Bai jiu, or Chinese white hard alcoho...
English: Bai jiu, or Chinese white hard alcohol that was made locally in Haikou, Hainan, China, and sold in a dedicated alcohol shop. The signs hanging on the stone bottles show alcohol percentag above, and price in yuan (2009) below. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alcoholic drinks can be made from practically anything and can contain varying levels of alcohol, from relatively low alcohol drinks like beers and ales, through to wines, which represent the strongest drinks that can be made by simple fermentation and on to distilled alcoholic drinks which contain large amounts of alcohol.

English: Elderberries Ripe elderberries growin...
English: Elderberries Ripe elderberries growing by the Roman wall at Calleva Atrebatum. Elderberries can be used in a number of ways, including making elderberry wine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wine is these days made from grapes, and alcoholic drinks made from other fruits are usually referred to as “fruit wines“. There is an unfair implication that “fruit wines” are not real wines and are inferior to grape wines. While “fruit wines” are generally not as good as grape wines, the reason is probably more to do with the centuries of development and improvements that have gone into modern grape wines than any inherent superiority of grapes as a prime ingredient of wines.

Wines are typically made from the grapes of Vitis vinifera though occasionally other grapes are used, and hybrids of V. vinifera with other species are not uncommon. Wines are classified as either white or red, the colour coming from the colour of the skin of the grapes that were used in the production of the wine. Rosé wines are usually pinkish or pale red and are usually made from red wine grapes. The paler colour results from the removal of the skins at an early stage of production.

Several French rose wines from the Rhone Valle...
Several French rose wines from the Rhone Valley and Provence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are all sorts of varieties of wine, named after the varieties of grape vines that produce the grapes. I’ve a couple of books on wine which detail the genealogy of grape vines and it is a complicated messy and incestuous family tree. There are stories of skullduggery, stealing, and smuggling. There are stories of cataclysmic crop failures and noble experiments and migrations between countries.

Climate change comes into the picture too. Grapes are grown in areas of southern England where grapes have not been grown since Roman times, when younger and more robust varieties were grown. But the ability to grow grapes commercially in England can’t all be put down to global warming since techniques for protecting vines from frost (the main cause of crop failure in grape vines) have been vastly improved.

Madeleine Angevine growing in England
Madeleine Angevine growing in England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Smoke producing machines are used to protect vines from frost and helicopters have been used to good effect too. I’m not sure how these techniques work, but I believe they do. One of the most bizarre protection methods is to spray the vines with water which instantly freezes and cocoons  the buds in an envelope of ice apparently protecting them from freezing.

I find this stuff interesting, but the reason people buy wine is because of the alcohol in it, and the reason that they prefer some wines over others is the taste. I prefer red wines, because white wines seem astringent and too sweet. Which is odd because red wines can also be astringent and sweet! Well, maybe I am exaggerating somewhat, but the beauty of the wine is definitely on the tongue of the taster.

When tasters taste wine, they have a problem. Sweetness or dryness is pretty much describable, as is the tannin level, which gives all wines, red or white, its astringency, but when the subtleties of the flavour have to be described, especially to someone who has not yet tasted the wine, then there are issues.

Vineyard owned by California wine producer Fer...
Vineyard owned by California wine producer Ferrari-Carano in the Dry Creek region of Sonoma county. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wines may be described as “fruity” or “full-bodied”, which gives some impression of the experience of tasting the wine. The taster may have to descend to using analogies for further details. To quote from a bottle label : “This wine is fruit driven with flavours of red berry fruit and black cherries….”.

However, if you actually taste the wine, you won’t taste berries or cherries. What you will taste is firstly the major type, red or white. Secondly you are likely to be able to distinguish the variety, for example Pinot Noir, or at least the style for a blended wine. Then you will get the overall ‘shape’ of the wine (robust maybe, or delicate). You will note different aspects of the wine at different stages of drinking, at first hit, in the mouth and the aftertaste. I find that some wines have distinctive phases of this sort and others don’t.

You certainly don’t want to be analysing every sip of every wine when you drink it, but I do try to taste it like above at least on one mouthful, but I don’t always remember to do so. It does help you when you choose a wine in the store though.

Typical shape and design of a white wine tasti...
Typical shape and design of a white wine tasting glass. New Zealand wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To get back to the red berries and cherries for a moment, you may taste a wine and not be able to detect them in your tasting. That’s because, in my opinion, those tastes are not there as such. So what do the tasting notes mean by these comments? They mean that the taster is reminded by some flavours of the wine of some aspects of the taste of berries. A faint echo of the richly complex flavours of red berry fruit echoes in the mind of the taster, and that is all that he has to work with when trying to describe some of the flavours in the wine.

In terms of familial relationships the flavour being described by the taster is not as close as brother or sister to the flavour mentioned by the taster. It’s more a second cousin twice removed relationship, and the taster is not saying that it is the second cousin twice removed, but that it reminds him or her of the second cousin twice removed. So you may think that there is hint of gooseberry in flavour of the wine and for you there are.

I think that the ability to even register some flavours varies from person to person and not just in wine. One person may taste something complex and say “mint”, while another may say “cloves”.

Wine tasting bar at Ridge/Lytton Springs, Sono...
Wine tasting bar at Ridge/Lytton Springs, Sonoma, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So where does it leave those of us who read wine labels and try to match the description with the label? Well, unless you drink a lot of wine and have an ability to distinguish the flavours that is practised, and have a similar sort of palate to the usually anonymous taster, then the bottle labels or tasting notes don’t mean a great deal. If it says “robust” or “full-bodied” for example, most people would be able to agree, but if it says “hints of gooseberry” you may well not agree that those flavours are there. It might remind you more of apples.

Image of an old Kazakhstan wine bottle.
Image of an old Kazakhstan wine bottle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hey Noni No

It was a lover and his lass,
   With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green cornfield did pass,
   In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

I haven’t written a poem for a long time and I was lacking a topic for today, so I started on a poem about the spring. However it didn’t work, wasn’t working, so I gave up and quoted the bard, above.

Spring seems to engender creativity to match the burgeoning growth and fecundity of nature. As the days get lighter in the mornings the birds seem to get louder and louder as well as earlier and earlier, so that you almost feel guilty when indulging in a lie in.

spring (Photo credit: promanex)

The birds are of course breeding, nest building, and raising young. Round here that seems to mean that the Tuis rattle through the air, crashing from tree to tree. Tuis are not clumsy flyers, but are noisy ones. This means that the smaller and quieter birds get on with their business less noticeably, though a fantail was curiously looking at me while he was hopping about in the bushes. Who knows what he was up to?

Fantail 1
Fantail 1 (Photo credit: A. Sparrow)

The feathered pommie immigrants are mostly songbirds, and so thrushes and blackbirds are evident in the dawn chorus. Oh, and there are plenty of chattering sparrows here. I may have mentioned this before but in the UK the sparrow population is still declining, and if the sparrows here continue to prosper, it could be that we could send some back to repopulate their original homelands.

English: House Sparrows on a restaurant roof n...
English: House Sparrows on a restaurant roof near Mt. Cook in New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have had a really good spring so far and all the plants and animals are a week or two ahead of where they would normally be. In particular the grapevines are reported to be doing really well this year. The danger is that a wintery throwback may occur, nipping all the buds off the sprouting plants, including the vines, killing early insects and dooming some of the new chicks to starvation. I understand that early and luxurious growth is not necessarily good news for the wine industry either, since restricted growth concentrates the flavours or something.

Grape Vine
Grape Vine (Photo credit: Fire Engine Red)

The wine industry use helicopters to reduce the effects of late frosts. Hiring a helicopter for a few hours is apparently a cost-effective way of fighting frosts. This has led to conflicts between wineries and their neighbours in some places – who wants to be woken by a helicopter at 2am?

Hmm, well, I started talking about spring and seems to have moved on to talking about wine. One more comment about wine before I move on. New Zealand has many wineries and most welcome visitors to taste and buy wines. Many are small and welcoming and others are large and welcoming.

One of the smaller ones is Salvare. We enjoyed a platter of food there on the deck overlooking the vineyards. We also sampled their wines and their olive oil in a very relaxed atmosphere.

One of the larger ones is Mission Estate. Mission Estate was set up by a religious order and is a luxurious place with an award-winning restaurant and is located on the outskirts of Napier. We had tea there in the grounds of the splendid house overlooking the vineyards and Napier. There was a wedding being hosted there in that lovely environment.

If you go there be sure to see the Quiet Room which reflects the religious nature of the founders of the Estate. While we were there I bought a very nice bottle of wine, ironically produced in Marlborough and not Hawkes Bay and I would have bought the t-shirt if there had been one in my size!

These two wineries are merely examples of ones that we have visited. There are many, many others and scattered amongst the vineries are artisan breweries, olive oil producers and similar enterprises most of whom welcome visitors, (though opening times vary).

Back to spring in Wellington. Apart from the deafening clamour of the birds and their to-ing and fro-ing, spring is evident in the foliage. The lawn, which I last cut a week or two is showing a green flush already and the bushes are all sprouting pale green leaves. There is a small bush by our front door which is home to stick insects later in the year. Being a northern hemisphere species it loses its leaves in the winter and becomes stick-like and dead-looking and is now bursting into leaf. No stick insects yet, though.

Water spheres on spring larch foliage
Water spheres on spring larch foliage (Photo credit: OpenEye)

The temperatures have been high for this time of year, mostly. Clear skies have meant the occasional nippy morning and cars left out have had films of ice on their windscreens, but generally spring this year has been very pleasant. However, we are currently heading for a reminder that winter is not long gone, since the forecast is for wild weather on Tuesday and Wednesday. Batten down the hatches!

English: Spring storm, Queen Charlton The scen...
English: Spring storm, Queen Charlton The scene is similar to 180243 by Derek Harper. It is included for the difference in conditions, weather and time of year. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)