The hardest part is selecting one

By Judson T. Allen

Put down the beers and the bottles of vodka and cognac: it’s time to embrace an aromatic yet eclectic beverage that exudes class, sophistication and that has known medicinal benefits. Being able to know the character of certain wines will offer you the opportunity to match the right wines with certain food dishes.

Wine is an alcoholic beverage produced through the fermentation of grapes containing sugars. Yeast carries out fermentation converting the sugars into alcohol, adding to the spirit of wine. Grapes, which are the foundation of wine, are richly flavored, sometimes colored and high in fermentable sugars.

When becoming a connoisseur of wines, one must know the different types and styles before making the right choice for your meal. There are different types of wines, but my favorite white wines are Sauvignon Blanc (so-veen-yawn blah), Chardonnay (shar-doe-nay), Riesling (rees-ling) and Muscat (moos-cat). My favorite red wines are Zinfandel (zin-fan-dell), Merlot (mare-lo) and Cabernet Sauvignon (ca-burr-nay so-veen-yawn).

These types of wines are based on many different variables. The alcohol concentration varies among table wines having content up to 15 percent and fortified wines up to 22 percent. The sugar concentration varies upon the fermentation of the grape juice. The more fermented the grape juice, the drier the wine. Wines possess three main colors: red, white and ros‚. Red wine takes its color from grape skins and flesh of the grape; in white wine, the grape skins and flesh are removed, and only the juice is fermented. Ros‚ wine is made by leaving the grape juice in contact with the skins for only a few hours.

Most people also assume that the older the wine, the better the flavor. Although there is some truth behind this, it’s not always correct. The fact is most people drink wine “young”; while some wines “mature” and become better, others will not and should be drunk immediately or within a few years.

The style of wine has to do with the individual grape and winemaking factory. The style encompasses the wine’s character and features of its composition. Wine is cultivated throughout the world, with each wine region having different characteristics that influence style and taste. France is considered the best region in the world to find wines of finesse and elegance. The Napa Valley in California is the biggest producer of American wine.

So which wine do you choose for that certain meal? Chardonnay is a full-bodied dry white wine, with flavors of pears, melons and green apples, which compliments poultry and game birds, veal and pork, seafood and pasta with cream sauces. Sauvignon Blanc is a light to medium-bodied dry white wine, which accents seafood, ethnic dishes such as pastas, curries salsas, spicy sausages, vegetable dishes, luncheon salads, tomato sauces and olive oil base dishes. Riesling is a light to medium-bodied, semi-sweet white wine excellent with crabmeat, appetizers and finger foods, pork and salads. Muscat originated in ancient Egypt and has a sweet and floral aroma with a sweet and fruity flavor. It enhances the flavors of mushroom dishes, cheese or crab fondues and fish.

When it comes to red wines, Merlot is truly an American favorite. This wine has earthy notes, with a conservative dryness and supple aftertaste. This classic wine enhances the flavors of duck, pork, red meat, lamb, cheese dishes and tomato-based pasta dishes such as lasagna. Ros‚ is a sweet wine made only from red grapes and compliments smoked foods, quiche, ham and Mexican and Thai foods. Blanc de Noir is dry and made strictly from black grapes – this wine goes great with fairly rich foods like smoked salmon and deserts.

Although consuming wine can be the perfect accompaniment to any dish, red wines consumed in moderation have been shown to possess medicinal benefits. Possessing many different chemicals that work together to fight such diseases as some forms of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol, wine is studied at many hospitals and research institutions. “A sip of wine a day can possibly keep the doctor away.”

To experience the euphoria from grade vineyards to wine tasting rooms, visit a local winery called Alto Vineyards, located on 4210 N. Duncan Road in Champaign. Here you will be able to learn a little bit more about the many varieties of wines.