Wine Quote of the Day
“In Europe, we thought of wine as something healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication, nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”
—Ernest Hemingway. A Moveable Feast
In this class we discussed some of the differences between New World and Old World wine classifications and labeling. We also tasted wines from each of six primary grape varietals:
Big Six (Lightest to Fullest)
2. Sauvignon Blanc
4. Pinot Noir
Highlights from the class are below, and you can view a PDF of my full notes here.
Answers to the “What Do You Know?” test here.
New World classification: Varietal (Merlot, Cabernet)
Old World classification: Geographical (France, Bordeaux, Medoc)
Wine classification is generally broad for generic, lesser quality wines and specific for complex, higher quality wines.
- Applied to New World wines.
- Grape listed on bottle is regulated.
- In California and Washington the wine must contain at least 75% of the specified varietal.
- In Oregon, the specified varietal must be 90%.
- In Alsace, France the specified varietal must be 100%
Lower required percentages allow vintners to compensate for weaknesses in the wine.
- Applied to Old World wines.
- Wines are usually named after the region in which the grapes are grown.
- The names of American wines in this category are unrelated to the geographic location or varietal origin and have no relationship to European wines using the same designation.
- Jug-Based wines consist of a blend of different grapes and are often of lower quality than grapes that compose varietal wines.
- In California, wine makers have been producing wine styled after Bordeaux. “Meritage” (pronounced like “heritage”) is typically the name given to these wines. They’re generally made from 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the balance being varying quantitites of other Bordeau-style grapes.
Elements of Viticulture
It’s estimated that there are as many as 10,000 strains, clones, and hybrids of Vinifera grapes. Only about 30-40 of those grapes varieties are actually used.
1. Grape Varietal
The type of grape is probably the single most important factor in the taste of the wine. The flavor is also affected by:
- the age of the vines
- soil composition
- exposure to sun, rain, climates, and microclimates
- grape handling and fermentation
- type of yeast used
- aging, use of wood
The same varietal can be grown in different parts of the world and create different-tasting wines.
2. Climate (Weather and Location)
Wine grapes grow best in temperate climates. The challenge is to ensure enough acid in the juice to balance the sugar content.
- Warm climates = more sugar, higher alcohol content
Too much sugar = flabby, flat wine
- Cool climates (i.e. Burgundy) = more acid, less sugar, lower alcohol content
Too much acid = sour, overly crisp wine
Some regions are allowed to practice “chapitalization,” adding additional sugar to the wine.
Unlike most crops, which require rich, fertile soil, most grapes make better wine if grown in poor, rocky soil with good drainage. Soil types that are ideal for specific varieties include gravel, sand, limestone, and clay.
Appellations and Regions
- The French term “Appellation” refers to a viticultural region distinguished by geographical features which produce wines with shared characteristics.
- In 1935, France set up the Appellation D’Origine Controlle (AOC) laws, a countrywide system based on geography for controlling the origin and quality of wine. These strict guidelines specified vineyard location, grape varietal, growing technique, crop yeield, grape ripeness and ensuing alcohol content and winemaking practices.
- In the U.S., appellations are known as “American Viticultural Areas” (AVAs). American labels may identify a wine’s AVA when a minimum of 85% of the wine comes from that location.
4. Plowing, Planting, and Pruning
- In most Vinifera vineyards, cuttings of the desired varieties are grafted onto Vitis Labrusca.
- Pruning creates less yield, higher quality.
Grapes ripen in late summer or early fall, depending on the grape varietal, climate, and desired qualities of the finished wine. The overall goal is to balance the sugar and acidity of the wine.
1. Harvest and Pressing/Crushing
- Grapes are put into the crushing/destemming machine.
- Juice (free run) is now separated or drained from skins, pulp, juice, and seeds (must).
- Free run is transferred to oak barrel or stainless steel vat.
- Must is pressed in order to extract more juice (second pressing).
- Residue is called “pommace” (sometimes made into Grappa).
2. Fermentation and Maceration
- White powdery film on grape skin contains yeast (called bloom). Yeast eventually breaks down sugar into CO2 and alcohol. Some vintners use purchased yeast rather than bloom, which can be unpredictable.
- Temperature control during fermentation is critical. Too much heat creates characterless, unstructured wine with too little fruit. Temperatures that are too cold lead to low sugar and alcohol content.
- When grapes are pressed, juice is allowed to remain in contact with skin and seeds for a period of time. Skin = tannins, color, and flavor.
- Color: Wine color depends on contact time with skin.
- Tannin: “Phenolic Compounds” are a group of astringent substances found in the skins, seeds, and stems, as well as in oak barrels. Tannin provides structure, texture, and ageability.
- Flavor: More complex flavors and aromas are present due to the release of “flavanoids” from skins and seeds.
- Fermentation stops with sugar is gone or alcohol level reaches 15%.
3. Secondary (Malolactic) Fermentation
- Malo (fruit) Lactic (milk)
- Most red wines and some white wines undergo a second fermentation by bacteria called malolactic fermentation (abbreviated ML).
- After fermentation is complete, the wine is allowed to settle and the residue separates.
- Wine is periodically drained from the dead yeast cells (lees) in a process called “racking.”
- Wine can also be filtered through “centrifuging” (spinning) or “fining” (using egg white or other protein to remove impurities.
- Clarification softens tannins.
- Method of aging depends on desired style.
- Aging in oak barrels adds spice, vanilla, and other smoky flavors. The strength of these flavors depends on how long the wine is aged. Some wines are ages for several years to soften harsh tannins and to allow desirable flavors to develop.
- Aging in stainless steel tanks preserves the grape flavor and fruit aromas.
- Some wines are blended with one or more varietals to add complexity or style before bottling.
- Other wines may skip this process depending on the desired style.
- Wines are usually held for a few weeks to recover from “bottle shock,” a condition that causes a temporary loss of delicate aromatics.
- Bottles are sealed to prevent any oxygen from entering and destroying the wine.
- If desired, wine will be “bottle aged” in order to integrate wine components and add extra complexity.
White Wine Grapes
Primarily green or white in color, about 50 major white grapes are grown worldwide, 24 in California alone.
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Chenin Blanc
- Pinot Blanc
- Pinot Gris
Ramge of Color (Young to Old)
Green Tint > Straw Yellow > Golden Yellow > Light Brown > Brown Amber
- Green Tint: Young, fruity, immature. 6 months to 1 year from harvest.
- Straw Yellow: Majority of whites. 1 to 3 years from harvest.
- Golden Yellow: Mature, 3 to 5 years. Probably aged in oak.
- Light Brown: 5 to 10 years.
- Brown Amber: Past its useful life, likely to be oxidized.
Red Wine Grapes
Primarily red, purple, or black in color, about 40 major red grapes are grown worldwide.
- Pinot Noir
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cabernet Franc
- Petite Syrah
Ramge of Color (Young to Old)
Purple > Ruby > Red > Brick Red > Brownish Amber
- Purple: Young, fruity, immature. 6 months to 1 year from harvest.
- Ruby: Majority of reds. 1 to 3 years from harvest.
- Red: 3 to 5 years.
- Light Brown: Mature, 5 to 10 years.
- Brown Amber: Past its useful life, likely to be oxidized.
Rosé Wines (roh-ZAY)
Made from red, purple or black grapes.
- Often referred to as “blush” or pink wines. Blush wines are typically made from red grapes.
- The color comes from red grape skins. Winemakers shorten the contact time of the skins and juice after crushing (typically 2-3 days).
- The most well-known rosé wines are made in Provence (praw-VAHNSS) and Tavel (ta-VEHL), France. Rarely complex and never ages, rosé wines are totally dry or barely sweet, tart and fruity.
- White Zinfandel is an American twist on rosé that is engineered to be sweet.
- Some of the most popular fruit wines include red raspberry, blackberry, and cherry.
- Often the fermentation takes place under cold conditions to maximize the retention of the fruit’s character.
- Well-made fruit wines are a delicate balance between the fruit’s natural acidity and residual sugar. If the finished wine is too sweet, it tends to be cloying; too dry, and it’s astringent.