Enjoying wine does not have to be an intimidating process. With only a basic understanding of wine you can discover that enjoying it is not too difficult at all. Before blindly picking out a bottle from the shelf for a tasting it is important to know what you are looking for. Each particular wine has its unique characters even when comparing two wines that are both seemingly similar! To understand wine it is important to have a general idea of how they are made in the first place.
How are wines made?
Wine takes a long journey from grapes on a vine to bottles on a shelf. Of the thousands of grapes in the world today only certain grapes are good for making wine. The best grapes for winemaking originated in France and have since spread their vines around the world. These are known as the nobel varietals. Each particular nobel grape has its own unique varietal character. This character can be influenced for a desired effect both in the vineyard and in the winery.
The Seven Nobel Varietals
Depending on who you ask there may be dozens of nobel varietals. The line can be drawn in different places for varying reasons. I like to keep things simple and stay with the original seven before expanding out to other varieties. I group the grapes into groups based on their color. This is not to be confused with grouping wines by their color. Red grapes can be made into white wine as in the case of a Zinfandel.
This is one of the biggest most assertive of all of the reds. It is known for its tannins which cause the dry feeling that the wine leaves behind after it is sipped. Cabernets are typically full bodied and are aged in oak casks to add another layer of flavor ranging from almonds and vanilla to smoke. Cabernets typically have an aroma of dark fruits including cherries, black berries and currents.
Merlot is similar to a Cabernet. It is also aged in oak barrels and is known for its tannins however its tannins are much less pronounced. Merlot can be spotted by its creamy smooth mouth feel. Typical aromas in a merlot are black cherries, chocolate and coffee.
Pinot noirs are typically aged in oak barrels that have previously been used to make another wine. It has a low tannin level and a bright red color. Typical aromas in a Pino Noir are red fruits, leather and mushrooms.
The last of the reds. Syrahs have a large amount of tannin. It can stand alone and is commonly blended with other varietals to add to its complexity. Syrahs have a berry, black pepper and chocolate aroma.
Chardonnays can undergo Malolactic Fermentation. This is a second fermentation of the wine that imparts a rich buttery mouthfeel. It can also be aged in oak or stainless steel depending on what characters the vintner wants to bring out in the wine. Typical aromas in a chardonnay are green apple, pear and citrus.
Rieslings are almost always made in stainless steel to preserve its typical floral aroma. Rieslings can be made anywhere from dry to sweet depending on the particular style of the winery. Rieslings are known to have lemon, peach and apple aromas.
Sauvingnon Blanc is almost always produced in stainless steel. It is best known for its green aroma ranging from cut grass to asparagus. It also has mellon grapefruit, lemon and lime aromas.
In the coming weeks I will feature a wine that represents one of the nobel varietals in its own post. Here I will be going over each varietal in more detail along with my personal impression of the particular wine. I will also touch on how wines are influenced throughout their journey to the shelf. If there is a particular wine you would like to see be sure to let me know in the comments.