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Donít Diss the Grape: Knowing What Youíre Drinking Part 1

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wines are like people, you can't write off one kind entirely, sometimes you just need to meet just one that you like.

So, I was having a conversation with a lady the other night, and the topic turned to wine.† As we were discussing it, she mentioned which types of wines that she liked, and also mentioned that she used to like Merlot, but donít like them anymore because they feel to heavy to her.† I proffered that Merlot is actually one of the lightest wines of the four traditional red varieties that people drink (Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon; Malbec is well known in France and other places, but it really a recent introduction to the [larger] American market).† I started to tell her that just because the wine says one thing, that is in regards to the grape identified on the label, that there are many other factors that have to be addressed.

Factor One: The grape itself
I think more than anything else, this is the most important thing to consider.† The grape on the label is impacted by so many things, and there are some other things that most people donít realize.† The first thing that I would like to get into is the growing of the grape.† In this, the basic variables/factors include: where the grape was grown (climate and soil); rainfall; length of growing season; when the grapes were harvested; pesticides; herbicides and fertilizers used; degree days (time at which the grapes spent at certain temperatures and humidity throughout the course of the day); and age of vines.

I remember getting into a discussion with someone that wanted to tell me that Shiraz and Syrah were totally different grapes, even though he didnít realize that they were the same.† He attempted to make the argument that because one was grown in Australia and the rest outside of it, then that makes them two different grapes.† Thatís basically a postulation to say that two siblings are totally different when they share the same genes, even though they might be raised two different places.

But back to the issue at hand, the fact is that all of the aforementioned factors play the first major part in shaping the wines taste.† And what many people may not realize is that all wineries may not grow their own grapes, instead either purchasing harvested grapes, if not the juice(must) from other growers and then making their wines.

Factor Two: Is it just this/that grape?
The next factor is whether or not the bottle itself is purely one grape.† Depending upon the laws within a country in particular that govern wine production, and then the regional (or state within the U.S.) laws and standards, there might be some more guidelines that have to be followed.† Within the U.S., a wine must contain 75% of the grape that is mentioned on the label, with the other 25% being either one other grape or a combination of other grapes.† Certain states, such as Oregon, might raise that level to 85% depending upon the particular grape being used.† In some places known as American Viticultural Areas, such as Napa, there has been self-regulation by wineries/producers within a region that a winery must exist within a geographic boundary, and that all grapes used in that wine have to have been grown in that region.† Of course, this comes with the ability to use that region prominently on the label.

Factor Three: The production
Anyone can make wine, but that doesnít mean that it will be good.† Anyone can take a good piece of meat and make it terrible, and some people can take a poor piece of meat and make a masterpiece (the French are very good with their sauces and letís not forget the joys of soul food).

Once you have the grapes, you then have everything that goes into the pressing, the fermentation and the aging.† If you ferment for too long, you might get vinegar.† If you let the juice stay in contact with the skins for too long, you might get something else (White Zinfandel folks).† There are also techniques such as Malolactic fermentation.† If you want sparkling wine, you can choose to do the second fermentation in the bottle (traditional method or Champagne method) or in a steel tank (Charmat method).

Factor Four: The Aging
And then there is the aging.† You can age too short, or too long.† You can age in oak or stainless steel.† You can age with the lees or without.† If you observe Rioja wine from Spain, they all use the Tempranillo grape, but the difference between the different types (including Reserva and Crianza) all deal with the amount of time that the wine ages, with the longer aging producing a better wine.

Factor Five: Optimum Drinking Age
Lastly, a lot of people donít realize that there are wines that are made to be drank between the time that they are bottled and maybe two to three years later.† Other wines might need to sit for five to fifteen years before their full potential is realized.† And then there are even other wines that can sit for numerous decades and just keep getting better and better.† These latter are usually wines which have either a higher alcohol content, or are simply richer.† This would include Port, Madeira, and Amarone, as well as some robust blends from Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Wrapping it all up
Now that we have went through all of the factors, you can now realize that you can not necessarily write off a wine [just like you canít jump the gun and do that with people either] based off of a bad experience or two with a certain one.† Even in the case that you have found a wine that you love, occasionally you can get a bad bottle, either the victim of cork-rot or bad storage.† And then there is the case when you get a good year (vintage) and no other releases of that wine taste as good as that particular one (this was Meridian Chardonnay for me Ė 1992).

Quintessentially, we have to give wine a chance.† No matter what, youíll enjoy the journey, even if you donít like every glass.
Ha ha!

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Our Mission: The Black Winer strives to expose African Americans [and others] to wines, without the flair, stuffiness, and airs of elitism and snobbery that you get from sommeliers and high level wine enthusiasts. We believe in finding something that you like the taste of, outside of the basic brands that you have been force-fed over the years through a combination of ethnically targeted advertising, and what people in your family have historically been drinking.

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