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Jul 12, 201710:20 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

The Language of (Wine) Love

At some point in a person’s education about wine, there is a good moment – a point at which many mysterious matters suddenly become clear. The clouds part, stories that have been told fall into place, and the casual drinker becomes the devoted appreciator.

That is a golden time. Up to then all the chatter about wine has made no sense. Sensory evaluations, chemical discussions, nuances of taste and aroma, and just figuring out what is worth spending time with and money on has been a blur.

And, as it so often does in education and love, something clicks. That one key fact becomes the missing-link entry point to pleasures and joys. It is evident that the light in the tunnel is not an oncoming train but rather the first rays of …. of…what?

Because as soon as you think you are “getting” it, some dork pops off about RS, VA or TCA or tannins and you are back again rolling around in the darkness like some naïve child in a room full of Ph.D.’s. The language of wine, those words which give meaning to a completely sensual experience, has to be learned. It’s a lot like you never even went through the tasting phase of your education and instead had to show up for class on final exam day but had skipped the entire semester. Did not even buy the textbook.

You are once again feeling like wine is a topic you want to know about but the topic itself, and those who got to this point before you, are ready to shut the door and never open it again, at least not for you.

To try to make things better, and to move you along to opening a bottle of wine with curiosity or something, let’s spend some time with terms and succinctly identify a couple of aspects of wine and the terms used.


Terroir – a French term exclusively because in English we have no equivalent word. Terroir (tahr, wa) is simply everything. Temperature, sunlight, wind, soil, rain, the gentle touch of the winemaker, the genetics of the grapevine, the presence of birds and insects, whatever. Grapes are an amazing crop and they remember every single minute of every single day in their existence.

Dry – Many of you think that dry means not sweet.  That’s true, sort of. However, a wine can indeed be dry and still be sweet. Dry merely means that all the sugar from the fruit has been converted through the fermentation process into alcohol. 

Sweet – And now we are in a tricky bit. Some grapes, by their very nature, are sweet, fruit sweet (think Riesling). You can have a “dry” Riesling where all the sugar is now alcohol, but the wine can still be “sweet” because of the biological make-up of the grape. In effect, in grapes and therefore in wine there is sugar sweet, a condition enhanced by sunlight and temperature, and there is fruit sweet thanks to DNA. The issue here is both biological for the grape and the limitations of humans’ ability to actually taste more than five components of everything we put in our mouth. 

Tannin – That quality of wine that gives the impression of being dry, chalky, astringent. Tannins come from a wide variety of sources such as the skin of the grapes, the seeds, the stems and even the wooden barrel used for storage and aging. That explains why red wines have higher tannin levels than white wines. And tannins provide qualities that allow the wine to age well.

As a side note many wine drinkers believe that tannins cause them headaches. The relationship between tannins and headaches is still being evaluated and debated. But if you are one of the users who believe that red wines cause you headaches, you should know that there are a lot of tannins in chocolate, nuts, apple juice and tea. If you are not bothered by headaches after enjoying those foods, then likely your headaches are not the fault of tannins. All wines have histamines that interact with blood circulation. White wines, however, have a higher level of histamines than red. So if you are not developing headaches from white wine, then likely the cause of your headaches are not histamines. Complicated, yes?

Grapey – You would think that calling a liquid made from grapes as grapey would be a compliment. Not true at all. Grape juice should be grapey. Wine should be more complicated, more elegant and actually not have grape flavors akin to grape juice or grape jelly. 

Fruit Flavors – Cherry, strawberries, melon, peaches, apricots. Many newbies to wine hear descriptors about fruit flavors and aromas in wine and believe that those actual fruits were used in the making of the wine. Under no circumstances is this true. No fruit other than grapes is used in grape wine production. Sometimes wine is made from those fruits, and sometimes wine is combined with those fruits. That always happens with sangria, for instance. But, for the most part, whenever someone describes wine as having a fruit characteristic, it is only the grapes expressing themselves in a wide range of sensory experiences.

Acid – The pH value of wine is in the acidic range, not toward the alkaline side. Since the pH scale uses 7.0 as the mid-number, wine falls somewhere between 2.5 and 4.0. The most common acids found in wine are malic, tartaric and citric. Acid provides the pucker power of a wine, sometimes causing humans to make a face as the wine reaches the final stages of our tongues. The terms “tart” and “crisp” come to the fore. All wine has acid sensations. Sometimes, as the case with a bold cabernet sauvignon, the acids are masked by other components, such as tannins. But the acids are there and the more pronounced, to a point, the better the wine will pair with food.

Corked – Even wines sealed with a screw cap can be “corked.” When a wine is in this condition, the wine tastes and smells like old, soggy cardboard. This is caused by TCA, which is the result of bacteria decaying in the wine or in the cork, or both. Some people have high thresholds of experiencing this situation, while others can pick up minute quantities in the wine. TCA has no negative health issues only aesthetic issues. A corked wine is difficult to enjoy with its mustiness and a lack of brightness and freshness.

You can drink a corked wine and you won’t have any health issues. Why you would do such a thing is beyond me, but, hey, it’s your wine. Me, I would take it back to the seller and demand a refund of another bottle.

Life is too short to drink bad wine.




Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine. Be sure to watch "Appetite for Life," hosted by Tim every Thursday evening at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m., on WLAE-TV, Channel 32 in New Orleans. Previously broadcast episodes are available for viewing at http://www.wlae.com/appetite-for-life/


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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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