The Many Types of Wine

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sorry folks that this second part took so long, but I have been crazily finishing up a very interesting project for a client of mine that involves horse racing.  And the horse he told a client of his to purchase just won the Triple Crown!

So, let’s get down to business.

There are several different ways to look at the types of wine there are.  First, let’s start with the basics.

Wine is divided into several main categories: white, red, rose/blush, sparkling, fruit, dessert, and fortified.  Within that, you also have cases in which a wine might fall into several of these categories.  Fruit wines are, of course, made from fruit, but you can make a sparkling wine and add fruit to it as well.  White wines, while usually made from white grapes, can also be made from red grapes.  Rose wines are always made from red grapes, but also could have a portion of them being from white grapes.  Sparkling wines can be made through a variety of methods, and can be either rose or white in color.  Dessert wines are usually wines with higher levels of sugar which is achieved normally by harvesting grapes later, or when they freeze (ice wine).  Fortified wines, which usually fall under the category of dessert wines are made in various processes where unflavored spirits are added to the wine base.  Examples of these are Port, Madeira and Sherry.

The next basic thing to understand is whether a wine is vintage or non-vintage.  Vintage wines are made from the grapes of a single harvest, and so that bottle bears the year in which the grapes were harvested. Non-vintage wines can use grapes from many years, or be blended amongst wines produced from different harvests.  The former can and mostly will differ in taste along several nuances from year to year, while the latter will pretty much always taste the same.

From here, you have the quality of the wine, which can be determined by not only the quality of the grapes used, but also the domain/region from where it comes from.  Traditionally in countries such as Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain, trade associations and governing bodies along with a number of rules were established so as to set forth a certain quality of a wine and limits on what can be used in, how long it must be aged, and a number of other stipulations.  This might be something such as how much of a certain wine can be released each year with a certain name on it, and to ensure the integrity of that wine and what it is referred to as. 

An immediate example of this is Champagne, which is one of the most misunderstood style of wine in America. French law dictates that Champagne can only be made from three types of grapes grown in the Champagne region of France; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and/or Pinot Meunier.  Secondary fermentation must happen in the bottle and the wine must be aged in the bottle for at least eighteen months.  There is only one company that can produce a wine that can be labeled Champagne or Chablis outside of France, and that is Renault Winery in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.  This means that anything else saying “American Champagne” on it is one of the biggest wine scams out there; Barefoot, I am talking about you.

Now, is this to say that there are no sparkling wines that can rival Champagne [as a wine]?  The answer is no!  Go to Italy [where it is rumored that sparkling wine was first produced] and you will find wines with names like Trento and Franciacorta which use the same process, and most of the same grapes – Franciacorta substitutes Pinot Blanc for Pinot Meunier – and Pinot Nero (Noir) made in the Oltrepo Pavese region of Lombardia (Lombardy).  There are also some great sparkling wines done in the traditional (Champagne) method produced in the United States, several South American countries, South Africa and a number of countries in Europe.

Now, the denomination of wine can be very revealing, as wines that carry certain labels tell you more about them.  The first thing it should tell you is where the grapes are from.  The second it should tell you is the types of grapes used in it, and sometimes the minimum percentages of certain grapes used.  In Italy, you have IGP/IGT, DOC and DOCG as well as something called vino di tavola (basically table wine).  With the exception of the last one, it goes up in quality, with a wine meeting DOCG specifications having the highest standard of quality. 

In America, if a wine says Napa Valley or Sonoma County, then you know that all of the grapes used in that wine comes from that region.  If it says the name of the grape like Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc, then we know that 75% of the grapes used in that wine are from that grape.  If you were to get a Pinot Noir from Oregon, then it would have to be 85% Pinot Noir.  This is not to say that this standard always rules, as there are a number of fake wines out there, just like there are fake designer handbags.  Most interesting was that several years ago, most of the Pinot Noir wine under the label Red Bicyclette was not even Pinot Noir; they produced more bottles of it than there was Pinot Noir grown in the region that whole year!

The last types of wine I will address deals with the overall quality of wines.  You’ve got shitty wines, okay wines, good wines, great wines and exceptional wines.  In some cases, the measuring of wines to these standards is really just a bunch of historical bullshit more determined by who was making what and when, as well as who was reviewing it.  Not all people have the same taste profile and not all people follow behind what a smaller group determines is great.  Sure, Jaguar is a lovely car brand, but a Subaru is going to really be dependable for you.  And while Rolls Royce makes some phenomenal automobiles, not everyone can afford to purchase them , nor own and maintain them.  Like all things, some wines are overpriced because of the history that they have established [whether it has been five years or fifty] and some are great bargains.  There are crappy wines that people pay too much for because the producer has paid for some great advertising over time, and the wine reviewers thanked them in kind.  There are wines which don’t cost much and taste wonderful.

And now we come to the last basic thing, which is that there are sweet wines and there are dry wines.  Most wines are technically dry, and this is determined by the grams per sugar per liter of volume.  And the second thing that you need to know is that sweet wines are not meant to be consumed all the time, or with most foods.  This means that if you really want to become more familiar with wines, then you need to put down the Moscato and anything else that is cloyingly sweet.  The concept would be the same as having Kool-Aid or a fruity soda with steak or a burger.  Yeah, it was what they gave you when you were a kid, but you’re grown now, so act like it.

That’s it for now.  I have to review my notes and think about what the next step in the process will be.


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