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Subject: Wine (the beverage) FAQ, part6 of 10 [LONG]

This article was archived around: 30 Sep 2000 17:19:28 GMT

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Archive-name: drink/wine-faq/part6 Posting-Frequency: monthly Copyright: (c) 1995-2000 Bradford S. Brown (Notices/Disclaimers in pt. 10) Last-modified: 2000/06/01 U.S. WWW (HTML) Mirror: http://www.sbwines.com/usenet_winefaq [newest] U.K. WWW (HTML) Mirror: http://www.bath.ac.uk/~su3ws/wine-faq/wine-faq.html
What's In a Name? ----------------------------------------------------------------------- A "variety" is just a grape, and a "varietal" is a wine made up of 100% of a particular variety of grape. However, United States law allows that a wine may be labeled in the manner of a varietal if it contains 75% of that variety of grape. So, the next time your bottle says Cabernet Sauvignon, check the label. Perhaps your "Cab" also contains something like Merlot, Cabernet Franc or some other grape. (This isn't a bad idea, since you can give a Cabernet a "smoother" quality by blending in "smoother" grapes.) French wines follow labeling rules which are a bit different. A red Burgundy is made of 100% Pinot Noir, grown in the Burgundy area of France. A French Bordeaux is made with different grapes (see "Meritage," below), but again is grown in the Bordeaux area of France. So your rule for French wines is that they are known by the geographical area of origin (also known as "appellation"), not by grape. Another example is Chablis (which happens to be an area in Burgundy), which is made of 100% Chardonnay. Also, the vintner must follow certain standards and practices in the production of the wine, set out by the Appellation d'Origine Controlee (A.O.C.). The A.O.C. also sets out standards for the quality of wine which range from Vins Delimites de Qualite Superieure (VDQS--the best quality) to Vins de pays ("county wines") to Vins ordinaires (ordinary wine). The A.O.C. system is used throughout Europe. One note about the A.O.C. Like just about all laws, there are those who must feel that they must be broken. There are the oft repeated rumors that unethical producers will dilute their wine with grapes not in accord with the law. It has been said that much of the impetus to give the southern Rhone communes their own appellations was to put a stop to the practice of illegally blending those wines into Burgundy. The final word, as always, is that vigilance is required on the part of the government and the consumer. So a quick summary of these rules are that United States wines are characterized by what goes into them while French wines are characterized by where the grapes are grown. Winemakers may also put a very specific area from which their grapes are harvested on the label. For example, there are excellent U.S. Pinot Noirs that come from the "Rochiolli vineyard" in Sonoma. A single producer thus might have a line of 4 or 5 Pinot Noirs, perhaps all from Sonoma, but not all from the same vineyard. Often (but _not_ always--to each their own), "better" (or at least more expensive) wine comes form a "better" vineyard. In the United States there are places called "Approved Viticultural Areas" or AVA. If 75% of the wine is grown in that AVA the AVA may be placed on the label. Other terms may be placed on the bottle which the winemaker used to denote a "better" wine (perhaps based on the style of production, aging, grapes, etc.). One such term is "reserve." You may feel, however, that a non-reserve wine (usually less expensive) tastes better to _you_ than what the winemaker has labeled "reserve." _Meritage_ French Bordeaux is made from a blend of grapes. It might contain, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The amounts differ (for example, in the Bordeaux appellations St. Emilion and Pomerol, Merlot tends to be the dominant grape, while in the Medoc (Paulliac, St. Esteph, Margaux, and St. Julien), Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant. The important point, is that no matter what the grapes, it is a "blend" of grapes, though it might be that something like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon will be a very large percentage of the wine. In the United States, a wine cannot be called by its varietal name unless that grape is at least 75% of the wine. As a merchandising tool, a new name has reached the marketplace. Producers in the United States creating blend wines (usually with less than 75% of any particular grape) have agreed to use the term Meritage to designate a high quality wine using Bordeaux style blends of grape varieties. While "Meritage" is a blend that is often used to denote an upscale wine, blends (not labeled Meritage) as such can represent a very good value in the purchase of wine. Look for, example, wines denoted "Table Wine" instead of with any particular grape. _The Fine Print, U.S. Style_ We've mentioned some definitions previously, but there are those who like to get into the nitty gritty--especially the United States Treasury Department which is the agency that runs the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobaco and Firearms (now there's quite a mix!). Here are some more definitions more or less specific to the U.S.: A _*varietal wine*_ is named for the grape variety or varieties from which it is produced. In order to be named after that one grape, the wine must contain not less than 75% of that specific variety. If two or more grapes are named, the total for each must be printed on the label and the total must equal 100%. The rule follows for Vitis vinifera wines and French-American hybrids only. On the other hand, Vitis labrusca can be labeled as a varietal with only 51%. Of course you might want to know about the State of Oregon which requires that varietals must be 100% of the specific variety. A _*propriety wine*_ is a uniquely named wine whose name is the property of the producer. Examples include wines like _*Insignia*_ from Joseph Phelps Winery or _*Le Cigare Volant*_ from Bonny Doon Vineyard. A _*semi-generic wine*_, is a wine named for and made in the style of a European geographic district. Wines like _*"California Chablis,"*_ or _*"American Burgundy."*_ Since the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) has never defined what "in the style of" means, wineries can make up anything they want. A _*generic wine*_ might be something like _*"Red Table Wine,"*_ _*"White Table Wine"*_ or the like. The _*Appelation*_ of a wine says tells you where the grapes are from: If the appellation is the nation or a state, 100% of the grapes which go into the wine must come from the United States or the specific state. Now a winery which gets grapes from a neighboring state (for example, a California vintner getting Pinot Noir from Oregon), may label the wine "Oregon." But, if the state is not a neighboring one (for example, a California vintner getting Cabernet from Washington State), the only permitted appellation is "American." That makes sense, doesn't it? If the appellation is a _political_ designation within a state (say a county such as Napa, Sonoma or Mendocino), not less than 75% of the grapes in the wine must originate from within that political boundary, and it must be tied into the varietal minimum. If the appellation is a _geographic_ designation (for example, an American Viticultural Appellation, such as the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Stag's Leap District, Carneros or the North Fork of Long Island), then not less than 85% of the grapes must originate from within the boundary, and it must be tied into the varietal minimum. The_* vintage date*_ is _not_ the year in which the grapes were grown. Rather, it is the year in which the grapes were harvested. So, if you harvest Gamay grapes from Monterey on January 2nd, the vintage is the brand-new, two-day-old year. 95% of the grapes must be from this year. For an _*alcohol content*_ of less than 14%, wine may be labeled "Table Wine," or it may give a percentage of alcohol content that is accurate within 1.5% either way. So a wine labeled "12.5% Alcohol by Volume" may legally be anywhere from 11-14%. A wine labeled "13.5% Alcohol" may be as low as 12% but not more than 14%. However, if the wine is 14.01% or greater in alcohol, the precise number must appear on the label and it must be accurate--no leeway. The tax rate on alcohol contents 14% and above changes and the government wants the extra money! Champagne --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Champagne is a "sparkling wine" that comes (of course) from the Champagne area of France. Three grapes can be used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. It is produced by a technique known as Methode Champenoise. In Methode Champenoise, there is more than one major fermentation. The first fermentation takes two to three weeks. The wine is then placed in very sturdy bottles (to withstand the internal pressure that will be part of the process) along with sugar and yeast (Liqueur de Tirage). A temporary cap (just like the type you find on a bottle of beer or a very old bottle of soda) is placed on the bottle. The sugar and yeast cause a new fermentation to occur. Since fermentation produces carbon dioxide (the same gas that makes the bubbles in soda), which can't escape from bottle, what you get is carbonated wine. This fermentation also creates new sediment, which must be removed. This is done by placing the wines on their sides on racks at about a 45 degree down facing angle. Then every day the bottles are turned a bit (called "riddling" or "remuage"), and eventually also tilted farther down. After about 6 or 8 weeks, the sediment has now moved to the neck of the bottle, which the vintner then freezes. The bottle is opened and the force of the pressurized wine pushes the frozen sediment out of the bottle (this is called "disgorgement". Since the bottle is now no longer full, wine and sugar (depending on what sweetness desired) is added. The bottle is then given its permanent cork. Some say Champagne does not mature in the bottle, so you needn't bother cellaring it. Others argue that you may enjoy a little aging on some vintage Champagnes. Mostly, I think they're drunk quick. The French discourage (to put it mildly) the use of the word "Champagne" for sparkling wines made (even in the same manner) elsewhere in the world. Also know that not all sparkling wines are made using the Methode Champenoise. For example, instead of carbonating the wine in the bottle and hand turning the bottles every day, you _could_ put the wine into huge stainless steel tanks for the second fermentation. This will get you much cheaper carbonated--or sparkling--wine. [For the Future: how to open a bottle of Champagne; styles of Champagne, Naturel, Brut, semi-dry (demi-sec), etc.] Port ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Port is a "fortified wine." Brandy is added to the wine to stop fermentation before the yeasts eat all the grape sugar, thus yielding a sweeter wine and higher alcohol content. True Port comes from Portugal (the Duouro region, to be exact). But since winemakers in other countries have taken to producing "Port," Duouro Port makers have started to call _their_ Port, "Porto," or "Oporto" (from the city in Duouro). There are two main categories of Port: Vintage Port and Wood Port. _Vintage Port_ Wineries will decide ("declared year") that the harvest in a some particular year (or "vintage") is worthy of producing this port, which is aged for two years in wood from grapes of that harvest year only. It will also continue to mature once bottled. Not only are not all years declared to be vintage years, but not all wineries may decide within a particular year that _their_ wine is a vintage year, and even in a declared year (which may occur two or three times in a decade) perhaps only 10% of the grapes will go into vintage port (with the balance going to wood ports). So in most years there just is no vintage Port at all! Vintage Ports get much better with age. Generally don't drink them before they've aged fifteen years. Some can keep getting better for a long time after that--even one-hundred years. Like most good wine, a vintage port shouldn't be left around undrunk once opened. _*Single-Quinta Vintage Port.*_ Single-Quinta Vintage Port is true vintage Port--wine from one harvest year bottled unblended after two years in cask. When a shipper "declares a vintage," the vintage Port from that year usually comes from wines produced by grapes from various vineyards (quintas). It is said that no one vineyard has all the characteristics to make the best vintage Port--it needs to be blended with other vineyards to be the most complete and complex wine. However, sometimes a producer's single best vineyard will yield grapes fine enough to warrant bottling on their own, while the rest of the vineyards that would normally contribute to a vintage Port weren't as successful. The producer may then choose to vinify this wine from that single vineyard, or "quinta". This is called "single-quinta vintage Port" and the quinta name will appear on the label. So, whereas a Port labelled "Graham's 1991 Vintage Porto" is a vintage Port from a declared year, "Graham's Malvedos 1988 Vintage Porto" is a single-quinta vintage Port from the Quinta dos Malvedos, the best vineyard that Graham's owns. The one exception to this nomenclature is the Quinta do Noval, which is actually a producer, not a single quinta. (Noval's best vineyard is called Nacional, and its single-quinta Port is the rarest, most expensive, and reportedly best of all.) _Wood Port_ There are three sub-categories of Wood Port, based on color: Ruby Port, Tawny Port and White Port. _*Ruby Port. *_A dark red, somewhat sweet "full-bodied" wine which has probably been aged in wood for several years. _*Tawny Port. *_Not such a deep color, it is a "smoother," less sweet wine which may have been aged in wood for 20 years. The difference between tawny Port and ruby Port is simply the amount of time that the wine spends in the wood cask before it is blended and bottled. As the wine ages, the ruby-red color of the young wine becomes paler and browner. Top tawny Ports from the best producers are just as complex and fine (and expensive) as vintage Port, though they will have a different character. (If you find something labeled tawny Port which seems inexpensive--or shall we say, "cheap?," you may have found something produced by blending "tawny" Port with "white" Port. Needless to say, you'll tell the difference and Port connoisseurs will tell you that they aren't worthy of the name "Port" at all.) _*White Port. *_A sweet white wine made from white grapes grown in the Oporto region of Portugal. As with red Port, fermentation is stopped by adding brandy to the partly fermented wine. Not really like the other (red) Ports, which are usually drunk after a meal, this is usually drunk before a meal. Wood Ports will not get any better by cellaring, so you can drink them as you buy. _Decanting Port_ As you age your good Port it is going to "throw off" a good amount of sediment which is going to end up in your glass if you don't decant. So, get into the habit of decanting. Unless you like to eat sediment, of course. _For Further Information on Port_ I have no knowledge of, but repeat posted information that there is a a quarterly newsletter called Re: Port. P.O. Box 981, Cherry Hill, New Jersey 09003. Said to list availability and best retail prices for vintage port in the U.S. Apparently a sample copy is available. [For the Future: Expanded discussion of Port. I've got forty pages of notes!] Dessert Wines --------------------------------------------------------------------------- There are number of different wines which come under this category. Often very sweet, you don't really want to drink a lot of it at one time. For this reason you'll see dessert wines sold in the smaller 375ml bottles (as well as in larger bottles). At a recent picnic, the smaller bottle did quite well for eight of us. _Botrytis_ While the classification of "dessert" wines can include any number of things, this is where we'll deal with those wines that are affected by "the rot." Not just any rot, however, but the "noble rot,"Botrytis cinerea, a mold which causes the vine disease called grey rot. Some years (but not all), when conditions are exactly right, with warm, sunny afternoons and damp, foggy mornings, the mold doesn't rot the fruit, but affects it in a different way. About 90% of the water in the grape disappears and the grapes shrivel up. Since relatively little of the sugar is lost, you get extremely concentrated and sweet grape juice. These grapes can be harvested and treated specially. Noble Botrytis adds a honeyed, aromatic flavor characteristic of its own to the wine. In the end, what you get is a sweet and, when lucky, an incredibly complex and flavorful liquid that, as it ages, turns from pale yellow to dark gold, maturing and concentrating the flavors. The most famous of these wines is the French Sauternes, and the most famous French Sauternes is Chateau d'Yquem. It may take an entire vine to produce one glass of this precious liquid which is barrel aged for 3 1/2 years before bottling. But even then, it should not be drunk for at least 20 years! It merely gets better and better and could be drunk after 100 years. One can go on and on, gushing over this, but there is nothing quite like the myriad of intense flavors that come from an aged bottle of this rich, sweet, complicated wine. Chateau d'Yquem is so good that it stands alone, classified "Grand Premier Cru" (first great growth). Other Sauternes will be classified "premier crus" (first growth) and "deuxiemes crus" (second growth). Sauternes are often comprised of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvigon Blanc. Since what is normally lousy weather contributes to the attack of Botrytis, harvesting grapes can continue past the normal end of season, perhaps into December. Many wineries will produce a "late harvest" wine in the manner of the French Sauternes. So while you will find Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes in Sauternes, you can also find, for example, late harvest Riesling or Gewurztraminer. (I drank a late harvest Chardonnay once. Not great, but interesting. And a good way to get rid of essentially what was "rotten" grapes.) The U.S. wines I have seen do not age nearly as long as Sauternes, but will undergo maturation in the bottle for some time. Other truly great (you decide if they are "better" than Sauternes) sweet dessert wines produced from late-harvest, Botrytis affected grapes include (but certainly aren't necessarily limited to): _*German Beerenauslese*_ (BA) and _*Trockenbeerenauslese *_(TBA) from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheingau regions. They are made from nobly-rotted Riesling grapes. TBA is made from the most highly raisined grapes only and is outrageously sweet. Some say these are every bit as good as any Sauternes (including d'Yquem), and they are a lot rarer, since noble rot strikes Germany far less often than Sauternes. _*Sweet wines of the Loire valley*_ in France such as Anjou moulleux, sweet Vouvray, Quarts du Chaume, Rochefort, and Bonnezeaux. These are made from Botrytis-affected chenin blanc grapes. _*Wines of the Valpolicella district in Italy.*_ When fermenting raisined grapes fully dry, the result is the very rich-tasting, alcoholic, and long-lasting dry wine, Amarone. If they leave some residual sugar, the wine is called Recioto di Valpolicella. As we will see, you don't necessarily need Botrytis to create a concentrated wine. This can also be done by freezing the grapes or by letting them dry in the sun to some extent. Such wines won't have the Botrytis flavor which itself is a wonderful component of Botrytis affected wines--so long as you don't take it to an extreme, for wines overly affected by Botrytis can taste like shoe polish in early stages. It could take ten or twenty years to get rid of this problem. _Eiswein a.k.a. Icewine _ Another popular category of dessert wine is Eiswein (a.k.a. Icewine, although strictly speaking that is, I'm told, a trademark of the Vintners' Quality Association, Ontario, Canada). Eiswein is produced by leaving the grapes on the vine until start to become raisins and until they freeze (technically known as "cryoextraction"). Temperatures of -7C (20F) or below are required. The wine is then pressed, and the shards of (water) ice are removed. The combination of extremely overripe grapes with the concentration resulting from removing the excess water produces an extremely sweet, intense, luscious wine. Eiswein was originally developed in Germany in the 18th century, and is now produced in several areas along the northern and southern fringes of the world's wine-producing areas, including northern Germany, the northern United States, and New Zealand. However, the biggest production now comes from Ontario, Canada, where Eiswein has become a dominant (and to some, overpriced) part of the wine industry. In Germany and elsewhere, most Eiswein is made from Reisling, and a few other varieties. In Ontario, most is made from Vidal, a thick-skinned hybrid grape well-suited to the purpose. The result is a thick, fruity wine, with flavors ranging from apricot to fruit salad and tropical fruits. Ontario Eiswein is typically produced with juice at a level of 45 brix (as compared to 22 brix for a table wine). Often a "second pressing" of icewine grapes, with somewhat lower brix levels, is used to make a "Select Late Harvest" wine. The flavors of these "baby icewines" are similar to icewine, but with lower intensity and much lower prices. Some attempts have been made, in areas not "blessed" with a cold winter, to produce Eiswein artificially, by putting grapes in a freezer. The results are typically described as "good but not great." One reason is that the grapes are usually not left to overripen as much as they are when the "natural" process is used. On the other hand, it is usually a lot cheaper. A particular example of this (so far as the technique, at least) would be "Vin de Glacier" from Bonny Doon Winery in California; literally "Refrigerator Wine" (from a winemaker with a sense of humor). While an "ice wine" produces concentrated flavors, it does not, of course, have any of the flavors due to Botrytis, so it certainly is a different type of product. _Other Sweet Wines _ There are other ways to get sweet wines: _*Add sugar to dry wine.*_ This is the method used to produce the "Sauterne" and "Muscatel" that skid row winos drink. No serious, quality sweet wine is made this way. _*Stop the fermentation process *_before the yeasts have consumed all the grape sugars and produced a dry wine. This can be done in at least two ways: + Add a big dose of sulfites to anesthesize/kill the yeasts, or centrifuge and sterile filter the wine to remove the yeasts. This gives better results than adding sugar to dry wine, but it doesn't give you the same quality as starting with "Botrytisized" or dried grapes. + Add brandy to the fermenting grape must. When the alcohol level gets to 18% or more, the yeasts die and you're left with a sweet wine. This is how the fortified sweet wines such as Port, sweet Sherry, Malaga, Madeira, Marsala, and the "vins doux naturels" (naturally sweet wines) of the south of France are made. These are all potentially top-quality wines of great interest and complexity, which in addition to being very sweet have a fiery quality to them due to the added brandy. _ VIII. WINES AROUND THE WORLD --------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a hopeless cause for a Wine FAQ, since you can't win in what you include and don't include. I've gotten a lot of correspondence about the "bias" of the FAQ towards California. Any such partiality is unintentional and is a result of the fact that I know more about California and can use references to California for my examples. And France! Since there are hundreds (thousands?) of books about French wine, it is absurd to try to recreate that information in this FAQ. On the other hand, there are other areas of the world that have thriving wine industries. Some have lots of books written about them, and perhaps some don't. So I'm going to use this space to refer to wine growing areas that (to my limited, inexpert knowledge) have had less attention. All this material has been sent to me from various correspondents and it is important for me to note that I have not verified this material and can't even say that the information has been sent to me from wine growers or promoters who might wish to use this FAQ as a means of advertising. I've tried to eliminate any of that, but who knows! For those areas which are missing, I'm open to anyone who wants to send me more. Thanks to those who already have. _ARGENTINA _ Although Argentina is the fifth worldwide wine producer, only a little amount of it is considered high quality. In contrast with Chile, wine producers have historically gone for volume over quality, though from the 1970's one this has begun to change. Some red wines have now been noted for their quality. Wine is grown in Argentina all along the Andes Mountains, which acts as a border between Chile and Argentina. Production is concentrated in the warmer northerly provinces of Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja, Salta and the cooler southerly provinces of Rio Negro and Neuquen. Many varieties ("cepages") are grown. Predominant red grapes include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Italian varieties, including Barbera, introduced by Italian monks in the 1700's. Common white grapes include Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, as well as the local variety of "Torrontes" which is similar to Gewurztraminer. --