Wine and Spirit Essentials
What kind of wine is Claret and where does it come from?
Those Brits! They have a different word for everything. Claret is an old-school UK-ism they still use over there when referring to the red wines of Bordeaux. The Brits have been big-time France fans for centuries: even back before good red Bordeaux was actually red. Claret is said to be an anglicized version of the French word clairet, which loosely translated means “pale” or “light.” That in turn is a nod to the deep pinkish colour many Bordeaux wines had way back in the day.
Although it has no legal leg to stand on in France, the term is easily pronounceable by the average Englishman, so it’s hung on in the liquor lexicon all these years. Never ones to let a good marketing opportunity slip by, many wineries (on both sides of the pond) have found it useful label fodder — identify some of their bigger-boned reds as Claret.
Why are wooden barrels used by wine- and spirit-makers for aging?
You use what you got — and what the world once had was lots of trees. Plus, history shows that man was pretty good at manipulating wood to his advantage: building houses, boats, toothpicks. You get the idea.
Initially the wooden barrel simply offered a watertight, easily transportable (remember, they roll) opportunity to store hooch. What both winemakers and distillers soon discovered was that the choice of wood and how it was treated prior to being processed added unique personality traits to their output.
What also makes wood an appealing resting place for wine and spirits is that it allows for evaporation (or what those in the know like to call the “angel’s share”). Though some liquid is lost, what remains becomes more concentrated — which, by the way, is a good thing.
What’s the difference between sparkling wine and Champagne?
Ah, one of the great mysteries of the modern world — right up there with Bigfoot and how anyone keeps allowing Angelina Jolie to adopt children. Not so simply put, one is a drink and the other is a place (that produces a drink named after itself). Confused yet?
It’s all in the wording. “Sparkling” is a category of wine that is either naturally or artificially carbonated. Champagne, on the other hand, is a nice little town about an hour east of Paris that arguably produces the finest sparkling wines in the world.
What really sets Champagne producers apart from their rivals is the method they invented to inject those nose-tickling bubbles into their beverages. The bubbles appear thanks to a process that involves a second fermentation inside each bottle. Though other countries have borrowed the technique, they can’t use the Champagne name because their wines don’t come from the region of Champagne.
How come some rum is white while others is black?
It’s all about the aging, dear reader. In the beginning everything comes out of the still clear (or, depending on your interpretation, white or silver). What determines the varying shades of dark is the amount of time the booze spends soaking up the personality of the receptacle it’s stored in.
Coming from the Maritimes, I know my way around a shot glass of rum and prefer it filled with a deep, inky black version loved by sailors, soldiers and the cast of Pirates Of the Caribbean. It gets that way by spending time in wooden barrels that have seen a healthy dose of charring on the inside. The longer the spirit cozies up to the blackened oak, the richer its hue. Ipso facto if the rum is aged in steel (or not at all), it retains all of its clear-as-water goodness — making is a perfect foil for cola or tropical-fruit juices.