Frequently Asked Questions About Wine and Champagne

Frequently Asked Questions About Wine and Champagne

Frequently Asked Questions About Wine and Champagne

You had the questions, we have the answers

The Tipsy Grape presents the most commonly asked questions and answers concerning wine and Champagne.

Q: What is the main source of wine bottle corks?

A: The bark from cork-oak trees in Portugal and Spain are the principal suppliers. The bark is harvested about once every 9 years and some trees have been known to yield bark for more than 250 years. Refer to our article Synthetic Corks vs. Natural Corks for more information.

Q: Why do people decant their wines?

A: Decanting, which is to transfer the wine from a bottle to another container, is done for the purpose of aerating the wine or to remove sediments from the wine. Aerating a wine is sometimes necessary to allow off-odors to escape from an older wine or to soften the harshness of young wines. More information is available in the article How to Serve Wine - Wine Decanters

Q: What wine goes best with the food I am serving?

A: We have a very thorough article on this very subject. Please refer to our Wine and Food Pairing Guide for the answer.

Q: Do I serve my red wine at "room temperature"?

A: Unless your "room temperature" is around 59-68° F (15-20° C), you'll need to chill your wine. The easiest is to keep it in the commercial fridge and take it out half an hour before serving. A short dip in the ice bucket would do as well.

Q: What are "Reserve" wines?

A: The "reserve" wines of many vineyards are supposed to be wines that are of better quality than the non-reserve or normal version of the same wine label. However, note that this term is unregulated in the US and in France.

Q: What is AOC?

A: This is the abbreviation for Appellation d'Origine Contrôllée which means "protected place name". It is France's official category for its highest ranking types of wine whose name, origin, grape varieties and other defining factors are regulated by law. Hence, AOC wines are typically better and of course, more expensive.

Q: What is the "New World" when referring to New World Wines?

A: This is a collective term for those winemaking countries of the world that are situated outside Europe like US, Australia, Chile, South Africa etc. "Old World" wines used to be more subdued and understated in their flavors vs the "New World" wines but there is a changing trend.

Q: What is Ice Wine?

A: Also known as "Eiswein" in Germany, it is a sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes with the ice discarded, making it very concentrated in flavor, acidity and sugar. Rare and hard to make (thus very pricey), it is available from Germany, Austria and Canada.

Q: What is Botrytis Cinerea?

A: Botrytis Cinerea also called the noble rot, is a mold that attaches itself to the grapes and shrivels and dehydrates them so that their sugar becomes concentrated. Botrytis is caused by a combination of humidity, fog and temperature that allows the mold to develop. Many sweet wines nowadays are made deliberately by this method.

Q: What is Beaujolais Nouveau?

A: Beaujolais Nouveau is wine released on the third Thursday of November to be drank as soon as it is released. After the grape is harvested, they are put into vats and their own weight crushed the bottom grapes and fermentation begins. It is then bottled and sold.

Q: Do all wines improve with age?

A: No. Most wines (more than 90%) should be consumed shortly after it is released. Only a pedigree wines of fine vintage improve with age. Red wines usually can age better than white wines.

Q: What is the "dome" in the base of a wine bottle called? What is the purpose?

A: The "dome" is technically known as the "punt". Some of the many valid reasons include, allowing sediments to collect around the punt, allowing pourer to hold the bottle from the bottom with the thumb in the punt and greater strength and stability of punted vs flat bottom. Nowadays, it is used out of tradition because a punted bottle is equated with a higher quality (same reason many wines use corks when crown caps or synthetic corks are just as practical)

Q: Why does the waiter give you the cork to examine?

A: Some reasons that have been going around are - it's for you to smell it, it's for you to make sure what they opened is what you ordered or even, for you to keep as a souvenir. The most acceptable answer is that you can make sure the cork is still in one good piece and not rotten or broken. If it is so, chances are the wine will be affected by the cork.

Q: What temperature should I store my wine at and is the glass I serve it in really that important?

A: Let's break this answer up into two parts.


Some say that the idea of red wines at room temperature originated in the drafty châteaux of France where 65 degrees Fahrenheit was likely indeed to have been room temperature. All wine is meant to be served cool, and if you're drinking reds alfresco in August, by all means, cool the wine in your refrigerator for a spell. There are few things more unpleasant than hot red wine on a hot summer day!


For a wine lover, a good custom wine glass is an indispensable tool, almost as necessary as a palate and a nose. What is a good glass? It should be clear and mostly unfaceted so you can see the wine clearly. It should be thin-rimmed and thin-walled and should be of a shape that delivers the prettiest possible aromas to the nose.

The Tipsy Grape offers a variety of personalized wine glasses that are sure to be a hit at any party.

Q: What are the crystals at the bottom of white wine?

A: Cold, northerly vineyards such as ones found in Germany, and even in the cooler microclimates of California and Oregon, tend to produce wines high in acidity. Most wine producers throughout the world chill their wines for a few weeks near freezing before bottling. This process, called cold stabilization, turns excess tartaric acid into crystals that can be left out of the bottled wine. Some wines are not cold stabilized, as there are some winemakers who feel this somehow reduces the quality of a great wine. These wines will, upon refrigeration, show more crystals in the bottle, either stuck to the cork or in the bottom of the glass. The crystals are harmless, tasteless, odorless and if you can collect enough of them, you could sell them to your grocer as cream of tartar, a common thickening agent in cooking!

Q: What is the sediment in the wine?

A: Many fine wines, especially the older red wines have sediment or deposit in the bottle. This sediment is nothing more than the result of the wine's development and hopefully, improvement. It is not only normal but desirable for fine wines. To remove, decant the wine.

Q: Is sediment good or bad?

A: Sediment most often appears after the wine is fully mature. Some winemakers bottle without any filtration and these wines may leave a deposit on the bottle within the first few years after purchase.

Sedimental deposit can arise from several sources. It may be tartaric acid, the predominant acid in grapes, mixed with coloring matter. Or it may be tannin and coloring matter, or anthocyanins that have bonded together and precipitated to the bottom of the bottle. As this process has occurred, the wine has become softer and less tannic, as well as lighter in color as tannin and anthocyanins turn into tiny particles. Concurrently, darkly-colored wines have more anthocyanins to shed and more sediment at maturity. Light-colored grapes such as Pinot Noir rarely have much sediment.

When you see sediment building up in the bottom of the bottle, the wine is exhibiting its complete maturity and may need drinking. Certainly fine sediment is a sign of good storage. It's also important to transport the wine carefully so that the well-stored bottle doesn't become cloudy, and it's necessary to decant the bottle.

If you do need to decant, pour the wine gently into a very clean glass decanter and watch the neck and shoulder of the bottle for chunks of sediment. Stop pouring when the fine sand is beginning to enter the neck of the bottle. Later, when you are desperate for a little more of your great bottle, use cheesecloth to strain the sediment. Avoid coffee filters, which use chemical adhesives to bind their fibers together, and leave a residual taste.

Q: What's the best way to store my wine?

A: The rules of wine storage are simple; the darker, the colder, the less movement, the better. There is no doubt that any temperature over seventy degrees Fahrenheit ages wines quickly. More importantly, any temperature over eighty degrees damages wines irreparably. If that temperature seems unlikely to you, check that wine rack in the kitchen!

Wines should stay in the basement until they are served. If you don't have a basement, at least keep the wines in the dark. Light is the enemy of wine, as much as it is for beer; keep your wines protected from light, both natural and artificial, whenever possible.

Humidity is less definitive of an issue. Though it's not absolutely necessary that the area be above 80% relative humidity, it's true that very dry conditions can compromise the good condition of the cork. A cork is an imperfect closure, however, one that is well-designed to last twenty to thirty years. But if the temperature in the cellar fluctuates greatly, the cork is bound to lose its necessary elasticity.

Cork is also compromised during shipping, especially if the bottle is older. Try to ship and transport wines as little as possible because if an older bottle has been moved a number of times, the cork can become softened or even broken up.

Q: What are Meritage wines?

A: The Meritage Association is a group of American wine producers who were unhappy with the rule in American wine labeling that required all wines be composed of at least 75% of the varietal listed on the label. Though the rule is helpful in providing a guarantee of a bottle's contents, many winemakers saw a greater advantage in blending different varietals together.

Lacking a prestigious name by which to label these blends, the producers coined the term "Meritage" to designate wines that are composed of Bordeaux-style blends. Thus a red meritage wine must have at least two of the classic Bordeaux grapes in it (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot) and a white meritage is made of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and, technically, Muscadelle (rarely used).

The term Meritage (pronounced MER-i-tage, not mer-i-tage) was the result of a six month search in the early 1980's for a term to replace those then in use: Proprietary Red, Red Table Wine or Bordeaux-Style Blend.

Whether or not it's pronounced correctly, or if it will be a footnote in wine history 20 years from now, the grand Meritage experiment has actually served to improve American wines. The rule stipulates that a Meritage wine be one of the two most expensive wines from the participating winery. In many cases, this in effect elevated what might have been an interesting blending experiment to winery flagship.

Q: Are French oak barrels the best?

A: There are plenty of reasons to argue that position. All Bordeaux (great Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc), Burgundy (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) and some Rhône wines (Syrah and many other varietals) are about the flavors of French oak. These winemakers demand French over Yugoslavian, German or American oak. Historically, however, the great Bordeaux wines produced between the World Wars were aged most often in American oak. And prior to World War I, most Bordeaux were aged in Yugoslavian oak.

Most oak barrels are neutral. These include those made from Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Yugoslavian and other Eastern European oaks. At the opposite extreme, American oak tends to be highly flavored and reminds some people of vanilla, coconut, sawdust, even dill pickles Yes, dill pickles. The Australians are particularly fond of this flavor and they have coopered American oak by classic French methods to produce barrels that are intensely flavored but delightful to use with white or red wines.

French oak is smoky and less obtrusive. Part of the difference is due to coopering methods, partly due to the climatic conditions of central and southern France. Many people feel there is no better barrel for Chardonnay than a French oak barrel.

For red wines, the possibilities are less proscribed. Oaks from Missouri, Kentucky and north to Minnesota are excellent when coopered for wine and not whiskey. Oregon has shown promise with its oaks as well.

Q: Why are some wines aged in wood barrels?

A: The symbiosis between wood barrels and wine was first noticed by the Romans. The Celts invented the modern barrel, utilizing iron hoops and producing barrels for transport of many goods, not the least of them wine. Happily, oak barrels added character to wine and so their use has always been widespread in Europe. Though woods from chestnut to redwood have been used (and still are), the wood of choice has always been oak. In fact, oak trees also supply the wood used to cut corks for closures.

Barrels have several effects on wine. One is that the wines are exposed to small amounts of air as they lie in the barrel, both from the air trapped inside the barrel and the air invading whenever the bung is removed to check the wine or replace any wine lost through evaporation. If the wine were already in the bottle, or locked inside a stainless steel tank, the influence of air would be tremendously diminished. This controlled aeration relaxes the wine, fattening it and aging it.

Oak barrels also impart the flavor of oak, and can greatly alter the taste of a wine dependent upon how large the barrel is, how new, how the barrel was coopered and at what point and for what period of time the wine is held in it.

These are all decisions on the winemaker's recipe card. Seemingly small choices can yield radically-influenced wines. For a time, American winemakers believed a lot of oak flavor meant quality wine. Recently, the style has shifted a bit to reflect the opinion that wine should smell like fruit first; oak last.

Q: Has Champagne always been a sparkling wine?

A: No. It was a still wine until the 17th century when a Benedictine Monk named Dom Perignon is credited with developing the Champagne method of putting bubbles in the bottle. On his first sip, he exclaimed, "Come quickly! I am tasting stars!".

Q: Is Champagne a type of wine?

A: Yes, Champagne is made from a blend of red and white grapes and undergoes two fermentations to obtain its bubbles. After the first fermentation (similar to wine), sugar and yeast is added to ferment again and the sugar is converted into equal parts of alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. The gas is absorbed into the wine, causing bubbles.

Q: What does Doux on a Champagne label mean?

A: This term is used to describe the residual sugar or sweetness of Champagnes.

  • Brut - Very dry
  • Extra sec - Dry
  • Sec - Off-dry
  • Demi-sec - Sweet
  • Doux - Sweeter

If you have any wine or Champagne related questions, feel free to email us. In the mean time, take a look around our site and check out some of the great deals we have on personalized wine glasses and custom wine glasses, you won't regret it.