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An Introduction to Wine: Grape Varieties of the World - Part Six

Our sixth installment of "An Introduction to Wine" will look deep in to the grape varieties of the world.  The great wines of the world are made from 8 grape types, 4 red and white.

Chardonnay

A medium to full bodied wine that is generally oaked in the new world. Crisp, lively acid with lemon and apple hints flavour this golden wine. Kimmeridgian limestone soils gives it a mineral character on the nose and taste. The marl and limestone soils are a good mix, with the limestone more used in the production of reds and the chalk used in producing whites. The acidity in good white burgundies is preferred for a longer term cellaring of ten to twenty years.

Chardonnay is grown in Italy, Spain, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, New World Australia, North America, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.
The New World focus is on fruit, softness and accessibility. Warmer climates growing chardonnay have a bigger, richer, honeyed, fruity wine while in cooler climates it will have more noticeable acid with tarter fruit, being not as rich. Examples of tart fruits would be pineapple, guava, mango.

Sauvignon Blanc

Light to medium body, strong piercing aromas with crisp acidity from stainless steel fermented. The acid must be kept in checked as most sauvignon blancs are made to be had young. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are famed for their acid tones, as their sauvignon blanc is fermented slowly and in 600 liter wooden casks. It has a herbaceous taste of elderflowers, gooseberries and lemon. Soils are chalky stones rich in marine fossils, with good drainage. Contrasting to new world New Zealand’s stone and gravel soils. In Pouilly-Fume the wines are similar in style with soils being much the same as Sancerre with a noticeable edition of flint.

Bordeaux takes lower yields for a higher quality. Distinctive bouquet of gooseberry fruit which becomes a mostly dry style. With one exception, the wine is blended with semillon and muscadelle to produce the best dessert wines in the world from Sauternes. Sauvignon blanc gives the backbone to age it for years and the semillon gives a fruit note. New world Sauvignon Blanc is styled with good fruit and high acidity.

Commonly grown in France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, California, Chile, Argentina and the new world.

Semillon

A medium to full body grape grown in gravel and quartz pebble soils, overtop of marl. Blended with sauvignon blanc, muscadelle, and semillon for the greatest sweet wines of the world from Sauternes. Ten to twenty year aging potential. Unfortunately, semillon is prone to rot because of its thin skin. Sweet wines are all botrytis affected grapes raisinated due to the misty autumn's by the river Garonne. Semillon and muscadelle give the fruit and body and the sauv. blanc gives it the acidity to age for years. It responds well to oaking with dry wines of Bordeaux (Graves and Pessac-Léognan).

The new world in Australia (New South Wales and Hunter Valley) has had the greatest success in producing beautifully crafted and very long-lived wines with its key of warm, hot, dry weather. South Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and Greece has scattered plantings. When it’s young, it's creamy, soft and bursting with pear and white peach. Aged, the nose has citrus, marmalade, toast, honey, nuts and sweet spice.

Riesling

Light to medium body, and one of the best grape vines going with its ease of growth. Capable of making all different styles, crisp and dry, off dry, sweet and rich and sparkling. Germany is the best producer with its continental climate, warm summers, cold winters and clearly defined spring and autumn seasons. The Vosges mountains allow Alsace to be one of the driest vineyard areas in France for it runs behind the vineyards, with its Eastern slopes, and sandstone, chalky, loam, alluvial or even volcanic soils. Germany plants on steep slopes, and grows on top of slate soils for high sun exposure. Low degrees of natural sugar in the grape calls for must-enrichment. German wines also tend to have high natural acidity counterbalanced by de-acidifying the wine (calcium carbonate) or the addition of unfermented grape juice called Süssreserue. Permitted up to Auslese quality. German rieslings are graded by their must weigh called Prädikat grades.

  1. Kabinett QMP - grapes were picked at normal harvest but riper than grapes for QBA. Most delicate. Can not be sold before the beginning of the January following the vintage.
  2. Spätlese - (“harvest late”). Late harvest wine. Can not be sold until the march following the vintage.
  3. Auslese - means harvested from or selected. The wine is specially selected extra-ripe bunches of grapes. Some of the grapes used may well have been affected by noble rot.
  4. Beerenauslese - Beeren means berries. The grapes were individually selected. The grapes will have been affected by noble rot. Fermented out fully the must would achieve 18% vol.
  5. Trockenbeerenauslese TBA - Trocken means dry, but it is not how the wine is finished but on the condition of the grape when harvested. Only produced in the greatest vintages. Raisin-like fruit with high concentration of acid. <ust has potential alcohol of 21.5% vol.

Riesling examples from France, Germany, Austria, USA, New Zealand and Australia.
Australian rieslings from Clare Valley have a lot of body with less acid from the warmer climate. Lime powder is on the nose with fresh cut flowers and spice, coupled with flavours of lemons, limes and minerals, usually styled off-dry.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Medium to full body wines from a late budding, slow ripening small berry. Starting from Bordeaux and the left bank to Graves. Well drained gravel rich soils produce tannic wines with piercing black currant fruit. When aged it develops complex cedar wood and cigar box nuances. Bordeaux’s wines are blends of mostly cab sauv, merlot, cab franc, petit verdot and malbec. The finest vineyards are found on gravel where quartz pebbles and flint lie over a subsoil of marl, with a hovering maritime climate.
 
In the new world California, cab sauv based wines are rich in cassis, mint, eucalyptus and vanilla oak. Also planted in Australia in the Coonawarra with terra rossa soils. Red loam or clay over a limestone base to ensure good drainage. In Italy cab sauv is a key blending partner with the native sangiovese called a Super Tuscan.
 
Good plantings also exist in Spain, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and North America. Capable of long maceration and maturation. Nearby Washington’s cabs and blends are good examples.

Merlot

Medium to full body wine planted widely in Bordeaux, but adaptable to most soils as it is simple to cultivate. It is a vigourous naturally high yielding grape that requires lots of pruning, and without it can become overgrown, diluted and bland. Some earlier harvesting as it can quickly lose its varietal character if over ripened. In St. Emilion and Pomerol, planted in moist clay rich soils giving it a rich plum character.

Great blending partner with cab sauv with the merlot improving the mid-palate and intensity. Merlot is grown in virtually all wine growing countries yet it is very successful in California, Chile and Northern Italy.

Pinot Noir

Light to medium body, light in colour, body and tannins. A thin skinned grape that grows in small bunches that is planted in well-drained, deep limestone based subsoils in Burgundy, Cote D’or. Early ripening variety that prefers cooler climates and being easy to mutate means there are many different clones depending on climate and soil. Pinot noir has fewer colouring pigments, flavouring components and tannins, making it is prone to oxidation. Less colour means a higher fermentation temperature. Burgundy has no challengers, a combination of terroir and tradition.

Cote D’Or means “the golden slopes”. Terroir means combination of soil, climate and grape variety. Ripening can be difficult with Pinot Noir. Soils in Cote de Nuits is sandy limestone with marl and clay and in Cote de Beaune, solid limestone with subsoil of flinty clay. Flavours of strawberry, raspberry, plum, and dark forest fruits, with aromas of earth, spice, cedar and truffle. These wines can be styled from delicate and mineral to silky and rich. Pinot noir also plays a key role in the binding of champagne. 

California in Carneros and the Russian River Valley, pinot is bolder in style and fruit. New Zealand is successful growing pinot noir in Martinborough and central Otago. British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon have very good plantings.

Shiraz

A medium to full bodied well coloured wine rich in tannin and extract. In Rhone Valley syrah is a great age-worthy wine. Northern Rhone has 65º slopes in a narrow valley that are mostly hand harvested with a great selection of grape parcels. Terraces are cut into steep hillsides with granite sub soils. Cote-Rotie has the best sites, and Cote Brune possesses more clay and iron in its soils. In contract Cote Blonde takes more sand and limestone.

Up to 20% viognier is allowed in a blend. In the North the wines are wire trained allowing for straighter rows. Hermitage has more steep slopes, and 80% of its vineyards produce red with 15% roussanne and marsanne allowed in the blend. On the tongue they brim with pepper, spice, tar and light fruit background. After five to ten years they become smooth and velvety with pronounced fruits, raspberries, damsons, blackcurrants and logan berries. Reds usually require some time in oak before bottling.

In Southern Rhone syrah is blended for the most part with grenache, up to thirteen grapes can be used. Mourvedre, and cinsault to form a full bodied, age-worthy wine, high in alcohol from the heat. Famous large stones in vineyards called pudding stones reflect the heat. Syrah is wire trained from maximum ripening while most other grapes are spur pruned to form a free standing bush.

The Chateauneuf-de-pape wines are made from a blend of a number of different varieties, syrah is joined by grenache having high sugar and alcohol levels, with a thin skin meaning low colour and low tannin but matures quickly. Cinsault and mourvedre are deeper in colour with good tannins as backbone. The winds that come down the valley are called le mistral that can badly damage vineyards.

Australia has hot weather giving the grape a concentrated, full bodied tastes of plums, raspberries, earth, cedar and fresh ground peppers.

Don`t forget to visit us next week for our final installment of "An Introduction to Wine" where we will look at Tasting Notes.

Tags: Wine,, Wine Tasting, Wine Tips

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