What is wine?


Wine is the fermented juice of grapes

Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol + Carbon Dioxide (CO²)

The sugar is in the grape juice and the yeast is present on the grape skins and in the air

Fermentation ends when the alcohol reaches around 15%

 

Three major types of wine


Table wine: 8-15% alcohol

Sparkling wine: 8-12% alcohol + CO²

Fortified wine: 17-22% alcohol

(All wine fits into at least one of these categories)

(Table wine is all that concerns us today)

 

New World vs. Old World

New World wine regions (California, Australia, Chile) usually list the grape variety on the label

Old World wine regions (France, Italy, Spain) list the region, village or vineyard where the wine

is made, but usually not the grape

 

What's a vintage?

As grapes ripen, their acidity decreases while their sugar increases
Grapes are picked when they reach the sugar/acid ratio for the style of wine they’re to produce
The “Vintage” is the year that the grapes were harvested
In the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed

Northern Hemisphere harvest is between August-November 

Southern Hemisphere harvest as early as January-March 

 

The Winemaking process

Freshly picked grapes are sorted

De-stemmed and  crushed

Placed into a vat with  (red) or without skins (white)

Fermentation occurs (4-  20 days)

Pressed

Barreled and aged

Filtered and bottled

Image credit: Winefolly.com

 

What kind of grapes make wine?

The major wine grapes come from the species Vitis vinifera

Both old world (Europe) and new world (America) wine producers use Vitis vinifera

The Native American grape species (Vitis labrusca) is still grown in the U.S. but some describe

the wines as having a ‘foxy’ aroma and flavor.

 

The White Wines of the World

There are about 50 major white grapes used for white wine

The big three (from lightest to fullest):

Riesling

Sauvignon Blanc

Chardonnay

 

Where do the big three grow?

Riesling: Germany; Alsace, France; many New World regions (e.g. New York State)

Sauvignon Blanc: Loire Valley, France; Bordeaux, France; New Zealand; California

Chardonnay: Burgundy, France; California, Australia, Champagne, France

 

The Red Wines of the World

There are about 40 major red grapes used for red wine

The big three (from lightest to fullest):

Pinot Noir

Cabernet Sauvignon

Syrah/Shiraz

 

Where do the big three red grapes grow?

Pinot Noir: Burgundy, France; California; Oregon; Champagne, France; New Zealand

Cabernet Sauvignon: Bordeaux, France; California; Chile

Syrah/Shiraz: Rhône, France; Australia

 

Why is geography important?

All major wine regions fall between 30 and 50° latitude, north and south of the equator

It is between these two bands where various “microclimates” are found which give the correct

balance between warm and cool, sun and rain, etc. for the production of fine wine

 

Microclimate

Or better put, terroir, is the environmental factor affecting the quality of grapes:

Soil

Slope

Sun

Wind

Temperature

Et cetera

When the terroir, grape variety, vintage and winemaking are in sync, great wines are the result

 

The wines of the Old World

France, Germany, Italy and Spain all have great white and red wine traditions

The new world wine regions have tried to mimic these wines, sometimes successfully, and sometimes not

Each country has its own special regions where red and/or white wines are produced

 

The white wines of France

There are four major white-wine producing regions in France

Alsace

Loire

Bordeaux

Burgundy

 

The white wine regions of France

Alsace: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot gris and Pinot blanc

Loire: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Melon

Bordeaux: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc

Burgundy: Chardonnay

 

The white wines of Germany

Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner

 

The white wines of Italy and Spain

Both Italy and Spain produce world class white wines but traditionally, white grapes are

planted in colder (more northern regions) while  red grapes are planted in warmer (more

southerly regions)

Pinot Grigio and Rias Baixas are examples of world class wines from Italy and Spain

respectively

 

The red wines of France

There are three major red-wine producing regions in France 

Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc

Burgundy: Pinot Noir

Rhône: Syrah, Grenache

 

The red wines of Italy

There are three major red-wine producing regions in Italy

Piedmont: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto

Tuscany: Sangiovese

Veneto: Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella

 

The red wines of Spain

There are three major red-wine producing regions in Spain

Rioja: Tempranillo, Garnacha

Ribera del Duero: Tempranillo (Tinto fino)

Cataluña: Cariñena

 

European grapes in the New World

As previously mentioned, learning the grapes grown in the wine region is the key to

understanding Old World wines

All of the above mentioned varietals have been attempted in the New World wine regions

The French varietals are by far the most important and have come to known as the

“international varietals”

 

New World wine regions.

California, Oregon, Washington

Australia, New Zealand

Chile, Argentina

South Africa

Canada

These and other regions are gaining in popularity as they perfect their skills with the

“international grape varietals”

 

“The Big Six”

Becoming familiar with these grapes.

Riesling:

The classic white grape of Germany

To many, the greatest of white wines

Dry and full in Alsace

Often minerally, yellow/green apple, white

peach, citrus and floral

 

SAUVIGNON BLANC

CRISP AND FRESH

Gooseberry, Citrus, Melon, Grassy

Asparagus, “Cats Pee”

 

CHARDONNAY

CLASSIC WHITE GRAPE OF BURGUNDY AND CHAMPAGNE

Full flavor and crisp acidity

Best in calcium rich soils

Lemon, green apple, melon skin

Often matured in oak; this adds toastiness, vanilla, and spice flavors

Another great transponder of place

 

Pinot Noir

Classic grape of red Burgundy and Champagne

The single variety of AOC Côte d’Or reds

Light in tannin

Raspberries, strawberries, red and black cherries

Can become quite earthy/barnyard/ exotic with age

Incredibly sensitive to terroir

 

Cabernet Sauvignon

Firm Structure

Aromas and flavors of Currants, Blackberries

Cassis, Olives, Anise, Herbs

 

Syrah

Known as Shiraz in Australia

Powerful and full-bodied

Black pepper, Raspberry, Mulberry, Liquorice

Chocolate, Leather and game when mature