Is A French Gangster Trying to Swindle You? And Other Things to Think about on National Wine Day

It’s National Wine Day! Who knew? Does anyone have time to keep up with these holidays anymore? If it wasn’t for Twitter, how would we even know what to celebrate?

Usually I let these holidays float on by me like dust in the wind but May is Oregon Wine month and I happen to know a lot about wine. I’ve been writing a wine book  for a local restaurant and have so much random knowledge about wine stuffed in my brain it’s giving me a hangover.

Instead of bogging you down with jargon and non-sense tasting notes, here are three of the most interesting Wine facts I’ve learned this month – for the seasoned Wino and Varietal Virgin:

Why do people swirl the glass?

Swirling a glass of wine adds oxygen to the glass. This dampens the bitterness in wines that are very dry because of tannic acids. The oxygen also makes aromatic notes in the wine easier to smell.

But if you’re not a sommelier or a wine sipping expert, don’t do this. You risk sloshing your precious wine all over yourself and others and honestly, the act of pouring wine from bottle to glass aerates it pretty well. If you, like me, prefer to drink straight from the bottle, carry on!

What’s with sniffing with cork?

Sniffing the cork doesn’t tell you much (if anything) about a bottle of wine. Sommeliers presenting guests with the cork of the bottle comes from an old tradition, originated in Bordeaux, France. Since Bordeaux wine is some of the most expensive wine in the world, counterfeits we’re very common in the early 1900s. Bootleggers would take fancy chateau wine labels and slap them on a two buck chuck passing them off as the real deal.

The guest would be presented with the bottle’s cork so they could inspect it for authenticity. Although, I suspect a lot of those diner didn’t really know what they were smelling for. Today, it is customary to give guests the cork of an expensive bottle and sniffing the cork has become a more modern addition to this tradition. Also, it’s super awkward when someone just hands you a cork like, “What a strange gift, here, let me smell it!”

What makes a wine organic?

First, let me say that I really feel like the “Organic” thing has gotten way out of hand. Producers have to pay an arm and a leg to legally be allowed to put “organic” on their label. I know from my time working in coffee that this prices out a lot of farms that actually care about being fair trade and all natural because they can’t afford organic certification.

ANYWHO, the standards for organic wine are even foggier as “Organic” means different things in different countries. In the U.S., organic wines are “wines made from organically grown grapes without added sulfites”. In Europe and Canada, organic refers to “a wine made from organically grown grapes that may contain added sulfites.” You will occasionally see European wine labeled as “bio”, this also means organic but not “US Organic”. Who’s to say what’s better?  Its alcohol, alcohol kills all the bad stuff anyway, right?

And don’t get me started on this sulfite mess. I’ll probably end up writing a whole blog about sulfites…

So, what have we learned?

Don’t throw wine on your date, corks smell like corks even if there’s a chance an old French Gangster is trying to swindle you, and organic is maze you should navigate at your own risk.