American Wine Labels
When selecting an American wine you will notice it is labeled with the three V’s. These are Varietal, Vintner (or winery) and Vintage. As we saw earlier each varietal of grape has a vastly different character. This also holds true for a wine’s vintner and vintage. Each vintner has its own preferences for what makes a wine good and will leave their own influence on a wine as it is made. The vintage is the year that the grapes were harvested. It can also have an effect on a wine as changes in sunlight and weather will effect a grape as it grows.
In addition to the above the appellation of the grape will also be listed. This is the area in which the grapes are grown. Wine appellations in America can be thought of as concentric circles. Generally speaking more specific appellations will make better wines. A wine labeled “California” is allowed to source its grapes from anywhere in California. However a wine labeled as “Napa Valley” must source its grapes from only that area. Even more specific still is a wine labeled as “Estate Bottled”. Here all of the grapes must come from the same vineyard; and must also be fermented, aged and bottled on the premises.
So you have chosen a wine and have a bottle in hand. The next step is to open the bottle and drink it right? Not just yet. Tasting wines means much more than drinking it for the flavor alone. The appearance, aroma and taste of a wine all contribute to a wines final character.
The first impression that a wine gives is from its appearance. How does it looks in the glass? Here the first thing to notice is a wines color which is a good indicator of age. White wines will begin their lives with a slight green hue. With time this slowly darkens and changes to a golden amber color. Young red wines are typically deep red or sometimes purple. As they age this fades into an orange or brick tone. To see the color of a darker red wine you can tilt the glass and hold it against a white tablecloth or paper. The color at the wine’s edge is a good estimate for its true color.
The second and less obvious thing to notice about a wine’s appearance is its clarity. This is how easily it is to see through the wine. In the case of red wines you can hold the glass in front of a bright light. Again this can be an indicator of a wine’s age. As wine ages sediment tends to form inside the bottle. A cloudy wine is not an indicator of poor quality.
The final thing to notice about a wine’s appearance is its legs which shows how alcoholic the wine is. Legs are found by swirling the wine around and watching how the droplets fall back into the glass. A more alcoholic wine will have more legs then a wine with less alcohol.
To get an idea for the aroma of the wine swirl the glass again to get the aromas into the air in the glass. Now see how it smells at the rim of the glass. Then tilt the glass and see how it smells right at the wine level. Does it have the typical smells associated with its varietal? What stands out about the wine? Are there any subtle undertones? Aroma is the most important component of a wine. Make sure to take some time on this step to really examine it.
Here is where we finally get to taste the wine. We are not tasting only for the flavor of the wine but also for the other details that we can detect. How thick does it feel in your mouth? does it have any sweetness to it? Does it feel astringent? Are there any flavors that linger after you swallow? To get a better idea for the taste of a wine you can combine sipping with swirling the glass for the aroma as we did earlier. Another technique is to really swish the wine in your mouth like a mouthwash before swallowing. The important thing here is to get the wine aerated so it is easier to taste.
This weeks wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Robert Mondavi Winery. I have chosen this because Napa Valley Cabernets have gained in popularity lately to the point where they are the benchmark to compare other Cabs to. This is a good place to start.
In my notes this is a full bodied wine with a dark red ruby color. It has the aroma of black raspberry and cherry with slight black pepper and vanilla notes. Both the tannins and acid are well balanced and not overwhelming.
This wine would pair well with a rare steak, dark chocolate or blue cheeses.