SAME GRAPES, DIFFERENT WINES
Flavor is not determined only by the grape variety, but also by the region where the grape is grown and how wine is made in that region. A case in point is the Australian Shiraz versus Northern Rhone Syrah. Both use the same Syrah (Shiraz) grape, but the two have very different climates and use different techniques to make their wines. As a result, Australian Shiraz is typically full of jammy fruit flavors with pepper and chocolate; while Northern Rhone produces lean, brooding Syrah with muted fruit wrapped in dark, nonfruit flavors and aromas like smoke, leather, tar and meat.
There are nearly 10,000 varieties of wine grapes, but only about 50 are widely known.
A VARIETY is a sub species of ‘vitus vinifera’ (the wine grape) with characteristic aromas and flavors. In fact, Italy has several hundred varieties of grapes, many of which are found nowhere else on earth.
VARIETALS are the types of wines made from a specific variety of grape. For example, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are two types of varietals.
In order to appreciate wine, it’s essential to understand the characteristics different grapes offer and how those characteristics should be expressed in wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel are all red grapes; but as wines their personalities are quite different. Even when grown in different appellations and made using different techniques, a varietal wine always displays certain core characteristics, which are inherent in the grape’s personality.
Sauvignon Blanc should be a touch herbal. Zinfandel is zesty, with pepper and wild berry flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon is marked by plum, currant and black cherry flavors and firm tannins. Understanding what a grape should be as a wine is fundamental, and knowing what a grape can achieve at its greatest is the essence of fine-wine appreciation.
Different varieties of grapes get made into different kinds of wines. Chardonnay. Cabernet. Merlot. Again, these are all types of grapes, but they can actually make numerous styles of wines – and so it pays to know a bit about their inherent characteristics in relationship to other varietals.
Australia produces Shiraz wines that are chewy and a bit like a peppermint patty, with a distinctly minty note sandwiched between its chocolaty fruit. Syrah from Santa Barbara is dense, yet juicy, with black fruit and even black-olive flavors and firm tannins. Northern Rhone Syrah are lean, with lots of spice and mineral tones.
Stay tuned: Soon, this site will include “typical” grape characteristics of the main grapes you are drinking in your wines.
Currently, these charts may be helpful to you to connect your favorite wines to others with similar characteristics of which you may not have considered.
Wines from around the world:
The mantra of real estate buyers everywhere — “location, location, location” — is almost as important for wine buyers. In fact, every region around the world is judiciously set in what grapes it grows and what styles it uses to create wines.
While certain foods and beverages carry a general notation of their origin, like Idaho potatoes and Sumatra coffee, wine can be narrowed down to the precise plot of land where the grapes grew.
Wine makers must choose only the best, most suitable grape varieties for their type of soil, climate and locale to have a good shot at making a great wine.
And in many countries, if wine makers want their wine to wear the region’s prestigious name, they must plant only the grape varieties approved for their specific, legally defined region. This is especially true in France and Italy.
Wine regions can be categorized into Old World and New World. Old world wine regions date back to the Roman Empire era and include France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. These European regions had years to witness the impact of terroir (local soil, climate, geography, etc.) on wine production and refine their wine making methodology. They emphasize terroir and traditions in their wine making.
The New World wine regions include Australia, America, Latin America, South Africa, and New Zealand. Without years of terroir knowledge, these regions rely on technology to obtain good yield and quality wines. For example, many Austalian and Californian vineyards rely heavily on oak aging and natural compounds to enhance structure and flavor.
Old World wines, emphasizing traditions and terroirs, are earthier, more minerally, and more tannic. Relying more on technology than traditions, New World wines are fruiter, less tannic, and creamier.
These charts help you narrow down which grape profile the wine of a specific region may provide.
Wine labels from many European countries, most notably France, don’t highlight the grape variety. Rather, they give top billing to the geographic region that produced the wine.
Many of these Old World regions have become synonymous with the wine itself. Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chablis, Chianti… all of these are regions in France or Italy famous for producing their specific brand of wine.
Most New world regions label their wines by grape variety. Most Old World wine regions label their wines by appellations (regions) and not by the variety of grape used.
Rule of thumb: the more specific the appellation on the label, the better you can expect the wine to be.