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Entries in wine wednesdays (18)


Grapes, Grapes, Grapes

Last week I talked about the basics of how grapes get turned into wine. This week, let’s talk about grapes.

As I mentioned last time, almost all commercially produced wine is made from Vitis vinifera grapes. There are, however, a huge number of varieties within this species. The technical name of for these are cultivars, but you’ll usually heard these referred to as varieties or varietals. You’ve probably heard of some of them: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel. Figuring these out, having a sense of what flavors these tend to produce, is for me the first step to understanding wine.

So how to do you know what varietals are in a bottle of wine? That depends on where the wine is from. In most New World wine — wine from North and South America, or from Australia — the varietal will be listed right on the label, so that helps. In the US, labeling laws vary from state to state, but usually a wine must be composed of at least 75% of a varietal to be labeled that way. So if you get a bottle of Zinfandel from California, at least 75% of the wine in there comes from Zinfandel grapes.

Sometimes you’ll encounter what’s called a “proprietary blend” which has no single grape that makes up the minimum required percentage. For example, in my cellar I’ve got several bottles of the Foothils Reserve from Foxen Vineyard. This is a blend of Cabernet Franc (44%), Merlot (41%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (15%). The producer doesn’t have to disclose these percentages, but more and more are putting them on the back labels or in tasting notes as consumers become more savvy.

And then you get European wines, which often have no names of grape varietals at all on the bottle. That’s because most European wine labeling laws operate on the basis of geography. In order for a wine to be labeled with the name of a region, it has to be made with a certain grape or blend of grapes determined by what was historically grown there. Chianti, for example, is a region in Tuscany (Toscano). In order to be labeled Chianti, a wine must be made with grapes grown there, at least 80% of which are Sangiovese grapes. If the grapes are grown in the region but are not Sangiovese, you can’t call it Chianti. Most regions, however, are nested inside of other regions with less restrictive rules. So a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Chianti must be declassified and labeled as a Toscano. Depending on the region, the producer may or may not put the grape varietals on the label. In fact, until recently it was illegal for producers of Bourgogne Blanc — that is, white Burgundy — to put Chardonnay on the front label, even though these wines were 100% Chardonnay. You just had to know that white Burgundy was Chardonnay.

This gets further down the whole “how do I read a wine label” road than intended, but it’s a useful preview of a topic I’m going to come back to. Next time I’ll get into the major varietals and what seeing them on a label should tip you off to. But in the meantime: What are varietals are you drinking?


Fitness: Rest day (and waiting for new running shoes)
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 367 words, 268 seven-day average, 267 average, 33648 total, 352 to go for the week; 22-day streak

Winemaking: The 50,000-Foot View

For our first wine-blogging Wednesday, let’s start at the beginning.

Wine is a fermented beverage made from the juice of grapes. You can make it from all sorts of different grapes1, but almost all commercially produced wine comes from Vitus vinifera, the European wine grape.

Grapes are perennials, and grape vines produce a single crop of grapes each year. They bud in the spring; produce that year’s stalks, leaves, and clusters; and lose their leaves after harvest in the fall. Each vine produces multiple clusters, though vineyards managers do prune bunches, sometimes very aggressively.

Once the grapes are picked, they are crushed to get the juice out. The juice contains sugar, which means it can be fermented. During fermentation, yeasts2 eat the sugar and produce two important by-products: alcohol and carbon dioxide. The fermentation is done in containers that let the carbon dioxide escape, but the alcohol stays behind. With that step complete, the grape juice is now wine.

Some wines will also undergo what’s called a secondary fermentation, where a bacteria transforms one kind of acid in the wine into another kind. Depending on the wine-making style, the wine is either held for a while in stainless steel tanks or aged in barrels. For how long? It depends. When it’s done, it’s bottled, labeled, held for a little while3, and then sold. Eventually the bottle gets opened, the contents are poured into glasses, and the wine is drunk.

That’s the basics. Any questions so far?

fn1. Grapes a very prone to genetic mutation, so there a numerous grape species, hundreds of grape varietals, and thousands of clones.

2 Similar to the ones that make bread.

3 How long? Again it, depends.


Fitness: Ran 2.5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 400 words, 364 seven-day average, 267 average, 31769 total, 731 to go for the week; 14 day streak

Wine Away

Several folks on Twitter asked me to start blogging about wine, so for the foreseeable Wednesday will be wine day on the blog. As with Reader Request Month, I think this will work best if you ask me questions.

So, what do you want to know about wine?

Fitness: Ran 2.25 miles + One Hundred Pushups, Week 1, Day 2 (6-8-6-6-13)
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 155 words, 402 seven-day average, 261 average, 29223 total, 777 to go for the week

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