Brancaia 2012 Iltraia (94WS 92WE)
- Size: 750ml
- Item Code: 085000020555
- Vintage: 2012
#52 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2015 – Named for a hillside in the estate vineyard, Brancaia in Maremma, the 2012 Ilatraia (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc) is a wine with intense aromas and flavors of licorice and blueberry. Full-bodied, with ultra-fine tannins and a long finish.
La Mancha is a vast, flat land that accounts for one-third of Spain’s vineyard. In the past, the region is known for its bulk, inferior white wines. With the DO change in 1995 (allowing new varietals and irragtions), the region has produced tasty reds. For good value wines, look for: Torres Filoso and Vinícola de Castilla.
Rioja is, without dispute, the best known Spanish wine region. Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache) are the two primary grapes; these grapes develop beautifully in a limestone-rich soil and moderate climate environment. Over 60% of the wine produced in Rioja are “Rioja Joven” and meant to be drunk young. La Rioja Alta is a better known producer who focuses on Rioja Reserves and Gran Reservas.
Rioja prices have gone up but despite being a DOCa, the quality of wine is still quite inconsistency. If you have to pay the price, look for reliable producers such as Allende, Campillo, Marques de Riscal, Marques de Vargas, Montecillo, and Remelluri.
With 1,200,000 hectares, Spain has more land under vine than any other country in the world. As of 2004, data from OIV indicates that Spain has 35% more land under vine than Italy or France. However, due to harsh climate, historic setbacks, and past regulatory constraints on irrigation, Spain lags France and Italy in yields and volume of wine produced.
Spain is also the home to many varietals. Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache) are widely planted. Grenache, planted in Southern France, is actually Spanish in origin. Other varietals include Viura (or Macabeo), Albarino, Verdejo, Airen, and Palomino and Pedro Ximenez.
Note there there are many local names for the same grape. For example, the massly planted Tempranillo is known as Ull de Llebre in Penedes, Tinto Fino or Tinta Del Pais in Rebera Del Duero, Tinta de Toro in Toro, and Cencibel in Valdepenas!
Spanish Wine Regions:
- Rioja Tempranillo and Grenache
- Galicia & Castilla y Leon Tempranillo, Albarino
- La Mancha Various
Like France and Italy, Spanish wines fall into a similar quality tiered system:
- Vino De Mesa: Lowest, most basic table wine category. Wine is often made from blended grape varietals and regions. No vintage date nor associated region allowed.
- Vino Comarcal: Like france’s vin de pays, the wine is associated to a classified region.
- Vino De La Tierra: Equivalent to France’s VDQS — a category down from DO.
- Denominaciones de Origen (DO): Wine subjects to rigid regional regulations on grape variety, yields per hectare, alcohol level, and production methods.
- Denominaciones de Origen Calificada (DOC/DOCa): The most prestigious category created in 1986 to further differentiate the DOs. There are ~55 DOs in Spain but only two — Rioja and Priorato — are prestigiously classified as DOCa.
Unlike Italy, Spain does not have a IGT category. To differentiate higher quality wine that does not satisfy the criteria of DOC (e.g. producers in the DO regions want to use a different grape or vinification method), a subcategory within Vino De Mesa was created. These higher quality wines are allowed to have a vintage year and the broader non-DO classified region on its label.
Useful Terms: DO wine must go through a certain period of aging time. Look for the following terms on the wine label to assess the quality and complexity of the wine:
- Vino de Cosecha: Vintage wine, with >85% of the grapes harvested in the vintage year.
- Crianza: Crianza means nursury in Spanish. The wine must be aged in oak barel for 6 months and in bottle for 2 years before being sold to public. * Riserva: Wine must be aged at least 3 years, of which 1+ yr must be in oak barrels. * Gran Reserva: Produced only in the best years, with approval from the local viticulture authority.
Tuscany is one of the first wine regions in Europe. It is also one of Italy’s top wine producing regions (after Piedmont). Despite producing many wine varieties, Tuscany is best known for: Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, and Carmignano.
Chianti Classico is also the region where most Super Tuscans are produced. SuperTuscans are the untraditional Italian wines that use Cabernet Sauvignon as a blend. The IGT classification was created to recognize their quality.
Southern Italian wines are most often perceived as cheap and mediocre. In fact, many wine regions have blamed Southern Italy for flooding the market with bulk, low-quality wines. This resulted in the Italian government intervention, offering incentives to reduce low-quality production.
Nonetheless, some wine experts love this area for its truely unrestrained Italian style. Look out for the wines from the following regions. They are DOCG/DOC in classification and good bargains:
- Salice Salentino: a full-bodied fruity red made from regional grape Negroamaro.
- Taurasi: a full-bodied red made from regional grape Aglianico.
- Vermentino di Sardegna: a dry white made from grape Vermentino.
Piedmont is the most well-known Italian wine region, housing the esteemed (and expensive) Barolo and Barbaresco sub-regions. It is also the home of the Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto grapes.
Nebbiolo based wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco are intense, tannic, and complex. Highly tannic, these wines benefit from long aging and are best accompanied by food. Despite coming from the same grape, terroir and local traditions have given each an unique style. Barolo is more intense, reminiscent of tar. Barbaresco is plummier and more fruity.
Barbera, compared to Nebbiolo, is lighter, less tannic and more acidic. It is the most planted grape in Piedmont, making variety of wine (light to dense, still to sparkling). Alba, Asti, and Monferrato are three subregions in Piedmont well-known for it.
Dolcetto is another common grape in the region. Though it literally means sweet little thing, Dolcetto is dry. It is lighter, velvety in texture, less tannic, and fruitier than Nebbiolo and Barbera. Alba, Acqui, and Asti are three regions who lend their name to Dolcetto (e.g. Dolcetto d’Abla, Dolcetto d’Acqui, and Dolcetto d’Asti).
Despite its overshadowing reds, Piedmont also has three famous whites:
- The sparkling Asti Spumante is one of the most exported Italian wines.
- Cortese di Gavi — a dry, crisp, lean white made from the Cortese Grape — is described by Hugh Johnson (a renowned wine writer) as “Italy’s most prestigious white wine.”
- Arneis di Roero challenges France’s Pinot Blanc with its highly aromatic, almondy flavor.
Italy is the home to many grape varietals including Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Corvina, Garganega, and Trebbiano. Italian wines are distinctive in that their reds carry a salivating sweet-sour or even bitter taste. Their whites are bone-dry and neutral.
Being the most diverse wine producing country, Italy has thousands of wine varieties and over 300 DOGs. We will focus on the three key regions: Piedmont in the northwest, Veneto in the northeast, and central Tuscany. We will also take a quick look at Southern Italy. Just like Southern France, it is a region with potential.
Italian Wine Regions:
- Piedmont – Nebbiolo
- Tre Venezie (Veneto) – Many including Garganega, Trebbiano & Corvina
- Tuscany – Sangiovese
- Southern – Many regional grapes
Italy’s quality designation system is similar to France’s. It classifies wine into 4 levels of quality:
- Vino da Tavola: Literally means “table wine”. This is the lowest quality category. Minimal (or no) regulation is imposed on this category. For example, vintage date is not required. Also, there can be no association to region.
- Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT): Like the French’s Vin de Pays — takes the characters of a specific region. This category was created to include quality wine produced in a DOC region but does not comply with its criteria. For example, SuperTuscans (Sangiovese blended with Cabernet Sauvignon) would fall under this category.
- Denominazione D’Origine Controllata (DOC): Wine subjects to rigid regional regulations on grape variety, yields per hectare, aging requirement, and vinification methods.
- Denominazione D’Origine Controllata E Garantita (DOCG): A category for the most prestigious subregions in the DOC. Distinctive style, appellation reputation, and commercial success are the additional criteria.
Italian classification system has gone through rounds of improvement. Compared to France where one-third of the wine produced falls into the AOC category, only 14% of Italian wine is qualified DOC/DOCG. There are 300 DOCs and ~32 DOCGs. The majority (over 75%) of Italian wine falls in the vino da tavola category.
Useful Wine Label Knowledge
There are different ways to name an Italian bottle. Good to know when reading Italian wine labels:
- DOC and DOCG wines can be named in two ways:
- By appellation; for example Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino.
- By varietal (or color for blends) plus the region of origin. For example, “Nebbiolo d’Alba” is the label name for a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape in the Alba region. Likewise “Rossi di Montalcino” is a red wine made from blended grapes in Montalcino.
- A wine label with minimal information (just a brand name and color) hints that it is a basic table wine.
- Classico indicates a more prestigious region for the grape. Valpolicella Classico, for instance, is the region known for superior Valpolicella.
- Riserva and Superiore do not assure quality. Riserva implies additional aging and superiore means higher alcohol level. Given that Italy has 300 DOCs, these words are informative but definitely not indicative on the quality of wine.
The region, aka Midi, produces majority of France’s vin ordinaire and vin de pays. Its principal grapes are Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Grenache.
In the recent decade, Languedoc-Roussillon wine has improved dramatically in quality. Australian and other international wine companies have invested in the region (in particular Vin de Pays d’Oc) and influenced viticulture with their modern-world technology. Compared to its neighbors, wine from Vin de Pays d’Oc has a softer and rounder New World style.
Alsace is well-known for its variety of white wines: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Chasselas, and Sylvaner. Pinot Noir is the only red grape grown in Alsace. Influenced by its German neighbors, Alsace labels wine by grape varietals and uses a tall, slender bottle. Despite its German reminiscence, Alsace wine is quite French in style — aromatic and dry.
Useful to know: The Grand Cru appellation established in 1983 has loosen its quality standard. There are more than 50 qualifying vineyards, including some mediocre ones. In addition, there is no enforcement regulating the use of the Grand Cru labels. Large qualified estates with multiple terrains can label their wines Grand Cru regardless of quality difference. Many producers such as Trimbach and Beyer will not label its best wines Grand Crus.
The Rhône can be divided into two regions with different viticulture philosophy: Northern Rhône focues on one principal grape — Syrah; Southern Rône produces blended wines, allowing as much as 13 grape varieties in some bottles. Thus Northern Rhône wine tends to have an intense, smokey character while the Southern wine assumes a rounder personality (The juicy Grenache grape is often used as a dominant blend).
Hermitage, Côte Rôtie, Crozes-Hermitage, St. Joseph, and Cornas are the most well-known Northern Rhône communes focusing on Syrah. There are fine differences in these subregional wines. For example, Hermitage Syrah is well known for its deep color, intense nose, and full-bodied structure. Crozes-Hermitage, the largest appellation the northern region, offers softer Syrah, blending it the lighter Marsanne and Roussanne. Hidden amid these Syrah focused communes, the small Condrieu appellation produces Viognier. Because of the low production volume, Condrieu commands highest price for its dry white wine.
Majority of the wine in Southern Côtes du Rhône is red, though ~15% is dedicated to rosé and white. Key appellations include Coteaux du Tricastin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueryas, Gigondas, Tavel, Beaumes-de-Venise, Côtes du Ventoux, and Côtes du Lubéron. As mentioned earlier, southern Rhône reds are blended with many varietals. For example, reds from Châteauneuf-du-Pape (a well-known appellations) are composed of Grenache (50-70%), Syrah (10-30%), Cinsault, Mourvèdre and other reds (~20%) and Marsanne other white varietals (5-10%). In addition, Côtes du Ventoux is an appellation famous for its Vin Doux Naturel — a delicious dessert wine made with the Muscat grapes.
Loire Valley is better known for its white than reds. It is the home of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Muscadet.
Loire Valley appellations
Spread along the Loire River, Loire Valley is divided into four subregions: Upper Loire, Touraine, Anjou-Samur, and Muscadet.
The Upper Loire makes great Sauvignon Blanc, with esteemed appellations such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Touraine makes a variety of red, white, rose, and sparkling wines. Vouvray is well-known for its fruity Chenin Blanc. Chinon and Bourgueil offer easy-to-drink Cabernet Franc based reds. Simple and light, Touraine reds are not meant to be aged.
Chenin Blanc is the primary grape of Anjou-Samur. Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume are the key communes making Chenin Blanc based sweet white wines. If you like to collect Chenin Blanc, look for Savennières — its austere white wines will age into a complex, full white wine with fruity bouquet. In the Nantes region, Muscadet is the home to a simple, bone-dry white wine that has become a popular aperitif and seafood companion.
Burgundy, or Bourgogne, is the home of 3 distinctive wines: silky Pinot Noir, intense Chardonnay, and fruity Gamay (Beaujolais). Though one-third the size of Bordeaux, it is far more complex. As a result of the ancient inheritance laws requiring subdivision of land, each vineyard has many owners. So in addition to knowing vineyards, wine buyers have to know the owners or their négoçiants (agents).
Burgundy is composed of 6 main regions: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Beaujolais, and Mâconnais. Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune are the northern and southern parts of Côte d’Or — the Golden Slope — a region whose cool climate and elevated land make it one of the best home for the volatile Pinot Noir and complex Chardonnay.
Bordeaux is the home to many of the world’s most esteemed wine estates: Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion, Château Mouton-Rothschild, and Château Pétrus. It is also one of the most diverse wine producing regions. 304,000 acres (123,077 hectares) of land is dedicated to viticulture, spreading across Médoc, Graves, Sauternes and Entre-Deux Mers.
The river Gironde divides Bordeaux into two halves. The upper Left Bank regions (Haut-Médoc, Médoc, Pessac-Léognan) specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon. White wine dominates the southern Left Bank with Graves producing Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauternes / Barsac specializing in sweet wines. The Right Bank regions, namely Pomerol and St. Emillion, are famous for its Merlot.
Champagne is the home to the sparkling wine the accompany all types of celebration. It is made from 1 white and 2 red grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
- Champagne is usually non-vintage. Producers blend several vintages to achieve consistent quality. Non-vintage champagne can be drunk young; though further bottle aging will give it more roundness and color.
- Vintage champagne is made in great years only. As 80% of the grapes come from one year, vintage champage is concentrated in flavor and best aged for a decade before drinking.
- Champagne is classified by its levels of sweetness. Extra Brut means bone-dry with less than 0.5% of residual sugar per liter. Brut is the norm, with 0.5-1.5% of residual sugar. Sec despite meaning dry in French, is quite sweet with 2-3.5% residual sugar. Semi-Sec and Doux are even sweeter, with 3.5-5% and 5.5-8% sugar per liter.
- There are over 100 companies (or marques in French) making Champagne. It is useful to know the Tête de Cuvée (top of line) for each marque. For example, Dom Perignon is the Tête de Cuvée of Moët et Chandon and La Grande Dame is the Tête de Cuvée of Veuve Clicquot.
- Blanc de Blanc is the most delicate and lightest of all champagne. It is made solely from Chardonnay. As only one quarter of the land is designated to Chardonnay production, Blanc de Blanc commands a high price!
- Blanc de Noir, on the other hand, is made solely with red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It has more complexity than the average non-vintage Champagne.
France is a critical contributor in the history of viticulture. It is the birthplace of many important grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc. In addition, its government controlled classification and appellation systems had set an example for the wine systems in other European countries.
French Wine Regions
Regions Key Varietals
- Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
- Burgundy, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauternes
- Rhône Valley, Syrah
- Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc
- Champagne, Champagne
- Alsace, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat
- Languedoc-Roussillon, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Grenache
Administered by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO), France’s classification system was established in 1935 to fight trade frauds and to differentiate wine quality.
All French wines are categorized into 4 levels of quality:
Vin de table: Literally means “table wine”. This is the lowest quality category. The wine, often blended, can be made from any French grapes.
Vin de pays: Village wine — takes the characters of a specific region. Some wine producers love this loosely regulated category as it offers room for creativity.
Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS): Not that many wines fall into this category. It is a graded-down version of AC.
Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée (AC or AOC): Wine subjects to rigid regional regulations on grape variety, yields per hectare, alcohol level, and production methods.
Over 30% of the wine produced in France is designated as AOC, <1% as VDQS, 25% as Vin de Pays, and the rest Vin de Table.
Many wine critics have complained that France’s appellation system protects wine regions more than consumers. The strict regulation ensures producer compliance and protects the regional name and style; however it is not give consumers a full quality assurance that the wine will taste great.
Nero d Avola
Nero d Avola (“Black of Avola” in Italian) is “the most important red wine grape in Sicily” and is one of Italy’s most important indigenous varieties. It is named after Alvola in the far south of Sicily and its wines are compared to New World Shirazes, with sweet tannins and plum or peppery flavors. It also contributes to Marsala blends.
Negroamaro is grown primarily Puglia (or Apulia), which is often referred to as “the heel of the Italian boot” and in particular Salento where Negroamaro dominates the vineyards. The name comes from negro (black) and amaro (bitter), which describe characteristics of the grapes. The wine itself is very dark and does have a hint of bitterness to it, but in a good way.
Nebbiolo is a late-ripening grape that is responsible for the great wines of Piedmont’s Langhe and Monferrato hills: Barolo and Barbaresco. These are the most coveted of Italian wines among international collectors. Notoriously difficult to cultivate, Nebbiolo tends to be planted in the warmest hillside sites, where drainage is excellent. Barolo comes from Nebbiolo planted on the hills southwest of the town of Alba, while Barbaresco is made from Nebbiolo grown just to the north of Alba. Both of these wines show aromas and flavors including but not limited to cherry, plum, raspberry, licorice, mushroom, and leather. Especially with younger examples, expect plenty of bold tannins: these are big wines. With extended bottle-aging, these wines will mellow and show greater austerity. The richness and tannic intensity of top Nebbiolos makes them fine partners for strong flavored grilled meats and stews, as well as dry, aged cheeses.
Muscat grapes can be found in temperate grape producing areas across the globe. The color of the grapes ranges from white to almost black. Though Muscat ripens early, it is often left out on the vine till the fruit starts to shrivel in order to produce grapes with higher natural sugar content.
Muscat grapes are very versatile and are used in a variety of wine styles. The sugary Italian Asti Spumante, the sweet and strong Australian fortifieds, the South African Constantia, the Pisco brandy popular in Chile and Peru, the Metaxa brandy liqueur from Greece, France’s Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise- a fortified wine with delicious orange aromas and Clairette de Die- a sparkling white wine with a fruity musky palate are just a few of the many fascinating drinks extracted from this fruit. Muscat is known to be the oldest domesticated variety of grapes. Indeed, University of Pennsylvania scientists examined pots from the burial mound of King Midas and found out that Muscat grapes were a key ingredient to the alcoholic beverage served at his funeral feast.
One of the more versatile red grapes in the world, Grenache thrives in southern France and Spain (where it is known as Garnacha). Ranging in style from light and fruity to deep, brooding and intense; the grape also suits a variety of ambitions: Grenache can be used in inexpensive wines that offer immediate satisfaction, but it is also successful in barrel-aged, cellar-worthy wines that don’t come cheaply.
Grenache vines tend to perform best in dry and hot growing regions. For example, in the southern Rhone, Grenache is the dominant grape in the appellation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which has emerged within the last decade as one of the “hottest” categories in the North American market. These wines are generally 75-80 percent Grenache, generally with some Syrah and Mourvedre blended in to provide color, spiciness, and complexity. Even in the space of this one appellation, we find that wines range from restrained middleweight entries to low-alcohol, high-acid powerhouses that ooze ripe fruit. The latter wines are responsible for much of the current attention being paid to the area. For rich, Grenache-dominated wines, look to bottlings from Clos du Caillou, Deomaine de Marcoux, and Chateau Rayas.
Elsewhere in the Rhone Valley, many wines produced under the Cotes du Rhone appellation are also dominated by Grenache. Compared to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, these wines are significantly less expensive and can’t compare with regard to richness and intensity. Still, we can recommend the more interesting entries on their own merits: bright fruit flavors and immediacy. Look to Chateau Pesquié and Chateau de Segriés.
Further down the Mediterranean, Grenache (or, rather, Garancha) shines in the up-and-coming Spanish region of Priorat. In this rugged, rocky area in Catalonia, ancient vineyards have recently been upgraded, and production has shifted from bulk wines to high-quality bottlings. These wines are either 100 percent Garancha, or they also have some Carignane blended in. Expect inky wines with both sweetness and spice. We like the offerings from Cellar Vall Llach and Clos Erasmus.
Rhone varieties have become increasingly popular in New World vineyards, and Grenache is no exception here. In California and Australia, these wines can be even more rich and luscious than their Old-World cousins. From California, we recommend wines from Alban Vineyards and Beckmen Vineyards; while in Australia, we like Clarendon Hills.
Single varietal Grenache wines as well as Grenache-dominated blends are best paired with grilled meats, stews, and game.
Gamay (Gamay Noir ) is a purple-colored grape variety used to make red wines, most notably grown in Beaujolais and in the Loire Valley around Tours. It has been often cultivated because it makes for abundant production rather than due to the quality of the wine made from it, but makes wines of distinction when planted on acidic soils which help to soften the grape’s naturally high acidity.
Petite Sirah ( Petit Sirah/Petite Syrah/Duriff) is the deeply colored, tart, tannic, and peppery red grape found mainly in northern California, where a few producers are fashioning polished wines from old vines. It is in no way related to Syrah, although its origins are said to be somewhere in southeastern France where it is known as Durif. Petite Serve these full-bodied, tannic red wines with grilled foods and roasted game.
Carignan originated in Spain probably near the town of Cariñena in Aragon. It first appeared in the Pyrenées Orientales region of France in the Twelfth Century, and later expanded into Mediterranean France. Carignan is grown all around the Mediterranean. There are also large plantings in Argentina, Chile, Spain, and the United States, especially in California. Because Carignan wines tend to be hard and astringent and often lack character, the juice is usually blended with varieties such as Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah. Carignan adds characteristics such as body, color, fruitiness, and length. As it matures Carignan becomes softer and loses its astringency. It can be a fine accompaniment to grilled meats, Poultry, Rabbit, and Sausages.
Carmenere was once heavily planted in the Bordeaux region of southwestern France . This variety is one of the six varieties that are allowed for use in making red wines in Bordeaux. Because of problems ripening the crop each year, Carmenere is now almost impossible to find in Bordeaux. Today, it is most used in Chile where it was imported in 1850. It was originally mistaken for Merlot and continues to often be mislabeled in Chile as Merlot . Carmenere is a good blending grape but makes undistinguished wines when bottled as a single varietal. It’s wines are very soft and mellow and do not age well. In recent years, many Chilean wineries have bottled Carmenere by itself but these wines are rarely worth the money in relation to many other red wines. Red, of fruity spicy flavor.
Petit Verdot is thought to be native to western Bordeaux, likely present in the Médoc well before Cabernet Sauvignon and probably more prevalently grown. Plantings are sparse today but where it is grown, the variety’s contribution is significant. In Bordeaux Petit Verdot is confined to the left bank of the Gironde, where the deep gravel soils are warmer than the clay soils of the right bank. It ripens extremely late, after Cabernet Sauvignon, and in cool years may not ripen at all, or only irregularly. Wet growing seasons also work to its disadvantage. Hardy but not prolific, the Petit Verdot vine produces small, spherical, thick skinned berries of intense blue-black color, high in tannin, alcohol, acidity and phenolics, or flavoring elements. In the Médoc, in those properties where it is planted at all, it usually represents less than ten percent of the vines. Its grudging cooperation in the vineyard is likely why it is not more prevalent, since it is an excellent contributor of color, structure, fragrance and fruit density, though it lacks finesse. On its own, in warmer climates, it yields a dark, firmly structured, tannic wine of superb acidic balance with full, fresh, spice, pepper and black fruit flavors and aromas offset by an impression of violets. Also grown in Italy, Spain, California, Australia, Chile and Argentina.
Syrah Legends have long persisted regarding the origins of the Syrah vine: one, that it was brought to southern France from the Iranian city of Shiraz by the Greeks; or that the Romans brought it from Egypt via Syracuse; or another that it was introduced by Crusaders returning from the Middle East via Cyprus. In any case, Syrah was widely planted in the Rhône by Roman times, leading pragmatists to think it indigenous to France. Syrah is a warm-climate variety which thrives in various conditions, but great Syrah is less forgiving. It requires warmth, but not excessive heat, and thin, rocky, well-drained, heat-retentive soils exposed to abundant sunshine. Its tendency to coulure, or the failure of the flowers to develop into berries, dictates it be sited on slopes protected from wind. Vigorous and moderately to highly productive in sandy loam soil, its concentration and character are enhanced in the shallow granite and mica schist of the northern Rhône which stress the vine and curb yield. The small, thick skinned berries are deep blue-black in color, high in extract, flavor, aroma and tannin, and of good acidity which evaporates at the first instant of over-ripeness. Important throughout France’s Mediterranean basin, Syrah is usually blended with other varieties. In the northern Rhône appellations, among them Hermitage, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie, it strongly dominates blends which may include Viognier, Marsanne or Rousanne. In the southern Rhône, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Côtes-du-Rhône, it lends structure to Grenache and Cinsault. In the Languedoc-Roussillon it is blended with various other prolific grapes to enhance the whole. The rest of the world typically produces Syrah as a pure varietal, both in dry and fortified styles of wine. Syrah is a perfumed, seductively brooding wine marked by dense, rich, chewy black berry fruit with notes of tar, wood smoke, bacon, leather, chocolate, and sometimes violets. The tannins are steely yet elegant, and co-exist well with oak contact.
This ancient native Tuscan vine was probably first cultivated very early from the wild “vitis silvestris” by the Etruscans, and is one of Italy’s oldest red varieties. The name, from Latin “sanguis Jovis,” means “blood of Jupiter.”
Now widely disseminated throughout the country, it is Italy’s most prevalent red vine, and beyond its primary concentration in Tuscany is also extensively planted in Emilia-Romanga and Umbria. Genetically highly unstable, it is thought to have split in the early 1800s into two subvarieties, the superior Sangiovese Grosso and the Sangiovese Piccolo, and then into many clonal variations, some of which append a place name to Sangiovese.
Sangiovese is a moderatly warm-climate vine which is neither highly vigorous nor very productive. It ripens late and requires abundant sunlight, ideally planted on well-drained, south and southwest facing slopes. While fairly resistant, Sangiovese fares best in a dry climate and is especially vulnerable to harvest rain. Clay soil can yield good examples, but the finest come from vines planted in a crumbly shale called “galestro” and in a limestone clay called “alberese.” The fruit is low in color and extract, high in acid and tannin, only moderate in sugar and alcohol, and earthy rather than fruity.
Chianti and Chianti Classico absorb the lion’s share of Sangiovese, dominating a blend which may include a little Caniolo, Trebbiano and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is an important component in other D.O.C.G. and D.O.C. wines such as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Carmignano, Torgiano, Montefalco Rosso, Pomino and Rosso Piceno, as well as in numerous I.G.T. super Tuscan wines, sometimes with Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Only in the D.O.C.G. of Brunello di Montalcino is Sangiovese unblended as the specific clone of the variety called Brunello.
The wine’s character varies widely depending on zone of production, but classic Sangiovese offers bone-dry, earthy, tannic wines of medium body, high acidity and bitter cherry fruit offset by notes of herbs, mushrooms and barnyard which evolve to a velvety leatheriness. It takes well to oak contact, which adds notes of vanilla and tobacco. Also grown in Argentina, Romania, Corsica, California, Australia and Chile.
Merlot originated from the Bordeaux region of France. It typically produces a soft, medium-bodied red wine with juicy fruit flavors. A range of fresh flavors such as plums, cherries, blueberries and blackberries mixed with cocoa and blackpepper tones, often dominate this type of red wine. The tannin levels are typically lower than say a Cab and the fruit flavors are typically forward – making this a prime wine candidate for people that are just beginning to drink red wine. Merlot is often used to blend with other varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Merlot is extremely versatile as a food wine pairing well with everything from poultry, red meat and pork, to pastas and salads.
Pinotage is all South Africa. A crossing between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut in the early 1900’s created this national variety and the South Africans have worked for decades to tame the grape. Luckily, winemakers discovered how to turn this variety into high-quality wine and their results are delicious. Pinotage is a hardy, rustic grape, with gamey and smoky mixing with wild berry flavors. The styles of wine can differ, depending on the winemaker’s choices of fermentation temperature and oak. Almost always a deep, dark color, it can be an easy-drinking wine with upfront wild berry flavors, or it can lean towards smoky, musty undertones with firmer tannins. Both styles are quite good – particularly paired with some tasty barbeque. Get to know the producer to find out which style you prefer.
Pinot Noir (Franc Pineau, Noirien, Savagnin Noir, Morillon, Auvernat, Plant Doré, Blaueburgunder, Blauer Klevner, Cortaillod, Pignola, Pinot Nero, Pignola, Rouci and Nagyburgundi.) A wild vine present in Burgundy when the Romans invaded Gaul, Pinot Noir was among the first vines to be domesticated. The name ”pinot,” suggestive of its pine-cone shaped clusters, was in use as early as the fourth century. Its preeminence as the hallowed grape of the Côte d’Or dates from 1395, when Duke Philippe the Bold banned plantings of Gamay in Pinot Noir’s favor. In the early 1990s, research conducted by plant geneticist Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis revealed a common heritage between Pinot Noir and a number of other grape varieties indigenous to northern France. Based on DNA fingerprinting, she concluded that an original Pinot prototype and an obscure vine called Gouais Blanc are the parents of Pinot Noir and fifteen other Gallic varieties, including Chardonnay and Gamay Noir.
Pinot Noir is genetically highly unstable, and has mutated to over a thousand clones in Burgundy alone. Difficult and fragile, it buds early and ripens early, and so requires a relatively cool climate in order to remain on the vine long enough to develop flavor, aroma and complexity. Though it needs ample warmth to ripen fully, it is susceptible to too much heat as well as to frost, humidity and rot. The best soil profile for Pinot Noir is well drained, chalky clay, but it also fares well in marly loam. The unique presence in Burgundy of a mineral called montmorillonite, which facilitates the plant’s absorption of elements from the soil, may be one of the reasons why red Burgundies so precisely reflect their microclimates. Of moderate vigor and low productivity, the vine bears small, compact clusters of not very thick skinned berries which are high in acid, moderate in tannin, not very deep in color and delicately scented. What color it has can drop out during careless vinification.
Also a foundation variety of Champagne, Pinot Noir is seldom blended with other grapes, but is occasionally is vinified as a rosé. It has migrated successfully to cooler climates of the new world, notably the Carneros district of California, where it loses the earthy Burgundian stamp but acquires density and color, and less so to Germany where, as Spätburgunder, it is barely more than a fresh rosé.
The highest expression of this holy grail of wine is a silky, deceptively powerful wine of sweet, elegantly subtle red berry, summer pudding fruit with a tapestry of earthy, floral, mushroom and mineral notes and an airy, seductively complex perfume which reflects all of this. Also grown in the Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Oregon, the Loire Valley, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa.
Tempranillo (Ull de Llebre, Cencibel, Tinto Fino, Tinto Madrid, Tinto de la Rioja, Grenache de Logrono, Tinto del País, Jacivera, Tinto de Toro; may be the Valdepeñas of California) Legend has it that Tempranillo was brought to Spain by French monks on pilgrimage from Burgundy to Santiago de Compostela, and that it is a variant of Pinot Noir. Scientifically, the resemblance between the two is superficial, and the likelihood is that it originated in northern Spain and spread through Iberia from the Rioja and Navarra regions.
Plantings have remained concentrated overwhelmingly in Spain, but the vine is also important in Portugal, where it is known as Tinta Roriz or Aragonez.It is thought to have been first been planted in the Douro Valley in the 1700s by Robert Archibald at Quinta de Roriz, and is a primary grape in that region and the Alentejo. One of the confusing things about Tempranillo is that it is known by a different local name almost everywhere it is grown.
The vine takes its name from “temprana,” meaning “early,” in reference to its trait of ripening quickly. It buds late and needs only a short growing season characterized by sharp swings in temperature between hot days and cool nights to preserve the fruit’s acidity.
A vigorous, moderately productive vine, Tempranillo is best suited to chalky or sandy clay slopes which are not too arid. The thick skinned, deep blue-black berries are high in color and extract but low in acidity, and moderate in aroma, sugar, tannin and potential alcohol, vulnerabilities compensated by careful selection of microclimate and blending with other varieties.
In Spain, Tempranillo is the foundation of the great red wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, in concert with Garnacha and Mazuelo, but contributes, as Spain’s fourth most planted vine, to the wines of nearly every producing region. In Portugal’s Alentejo it yields dry wines, but in the Douro Valley it is one of the six best varieties, with Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Cão, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Amarela, for the production of Port.
Tempranillo can produce wines of exceptionally dark color which are lush and seductive rather than complex, with intense black fruit flavors of black cherry, raspberry, currant and notes of plums and tobacco. The grape takes gracefully to oak contact, which adds vanilla and coffee nuances. Lighter versions are deliciously red fruity and soft. Also grown in Argentina, Australia, South Africa and Mexico.
Since it was first planted there in the 1850s, California has laid claim to Zinfandel as its own. Because Zinfandel belongs to the vitis vinifera family of Europen vines, it cannot have originated there, but California did put Zinfandel on the map and remains by far its preeminent area of cultivation. Research to determine Zinfandel’s possible link to Italy’s Primitivo began in 1967, when plant pathologist Austin Goheen saw a resemblance between the two vines while in Apulia. He took Primitivo cuttings back to his base at the University of California at Davis, but could never conclusively determine the two to be identical. Goheen’s research led him in 1977 to a Croatian vine called Plavac Mali, again with inconclusive results. It was only in 1994 that Carole Meredith, a plant geneticist at Davis, established, through DNA typing, that Zinfandel and Primitivo are genetically the same, but clones of the same variety and not identical, and that neither is indigenous to Italy. She picked up on the Croatian trail with scientists Ivan Pejic and Edi Maletic, and found Plavac Mali in fact to be the offspring of Zinfandel and a vine called Dobricic, but this still did not establish Zinfandel as Croatian. Finally in late 2001, Pejic discovered an obscure plot of nine vines called Crljenak Kastelanski, which Meredith proved to be identical to Zinfandel. Whether it was earlier brought to Croatia from Greece or Albania is unclear. Zinfandel’s route to America was not through Italy at all, but through Austria in 1820, when George Gibbs brought cuttings from Vienna to Long Island. The name, in use since 1832, probably arose through confusion with the Austrian Zierfandler vine. In 1851, the vine travelled to California, and Agoston Haraszthy, father of California viticulture, is believed to have first planted it. By 1889, Zinfandel was the state’s most widely planted vine, firmly rooted in Napa and Sonoma.
In the Cabernet craze of the early 1980s, Zinfandel might have disappeared had it not been resurrected by Robert Trinchero, the first to introduce white Zinfandel from Sutter Home, and Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards, who made the first serious red Zinfandel. By 1998, Zinfandel was again California’s most widely planted fine red vine.
Zinfandel is moderately vigorous and requires a long, warm, abundantly sunny growing season with hot days and cool nights to fully develop its flavors and maintain acidity. The vine is best suited to thin, minerally, well-drained soils which help curb is high productivity.
It ripens early and notoriously unevenly, often yielding green berries and raisins on the same bunch at harvest. The semi-compact clusters bear medium sized, thick skinned dusky blue-black grapes of intense berry flavor, good acidity, firm tannins and soaring sugar levels which can reach seventeen percent potential alcohol.
Depending on care of cultivation and age of vines, Zinfandel assumes many personalities, and is occasionally blended with a bit of Petit Sirah. It also contributes to many of California’s fortified wines. Well made dry Zinfandel is an aromatic, brawny, full bodied, densely textured wine with jammy, briary flavors of black fruit, plums and raisins. It may exhibit pronounced notes of pepper, spice, rose petals and chocolate on the nose and the palate, and takes well to restrained oak contact, which lends nuances of cedar, vanilla and tobacco. Also grown in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and fourteen other U.S. states.
Recent studies in ampelography, using the relatively new application of DNA fingerprinting, have determined that cabernet franc is one of the genetic parents of cabernet sauvignon (the other is sauvignon blanc). Both cabernet varieties are among the five major grapes of Bordeaux. The differences between franc and sauvignon become apparent when grown and fermented in close proximity.
Cabernet franc vines bear thinner-skinned, earlier-ripening grapes with lower overall acidity, when compared to cabernet sauvignon. Yields are similar, although cabernet franc normally buds and ripens somewhat earlier. Cabernet Franc leaf.Consequently vineyards in climates where rain is a harvest-time threat often plant this grape, in place of or in addition to cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet franc vines survive cold winters better than cabernet sauvignon, but are more susceptible to being damaged by Spring frosts.
France has by far the most cabernet franc plantings of any wine producing nation with over 35,000 acres. There are significant plantings of cabernet franc in St. Emilion, the Loire Valley (where it is known as Breton), and south west France (aka Bouchy). There are cabernet franc vineyards in Romania, Hungary, the Balkans, and the Friuli region of north eastern Italy (aka cabernet frank). New plantings in the 1990s in Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina show promise. In the United States, cabernet franc is planted in Long Island, New York, and in Washington state. California has about 2,000 acres, mostly planted since 1980, over half in Napa and Sonoma.
Depending a great deal on vineyard practices, the flavor profile of Cabernet Franc may be both fruitier and sometimes more herbal or vegetative than Cabernet Sauvignon, although lighter in both color and tannins. Over-cropping and underexposure each tend to accentuate the vegetative flavor elements. Typically somewhat spicy in aroma and often reminiscent of plums and especially violets, Cabernet Franc is more often used as a secondary or tertiary element in varietally-blended red wines, such as Bordeaux or Meritage, instead of as a stand-alone varietal bottling.
Cabernet Sauvignon makes the most dependable candidate for aging, more often improving into a truly great wine than any other single varietal. With age, its distinctive black currant aroma can develop bouquet nuances of cedar, violets, leather, or cigar box and its typically tannic edge may soften and smooth considerably. It is the most widely planted and significant among the five dominant varieties in the Medoc district of France’s Bordeaux region, as well as the most successful red wine produced in California. Long thought to be an ancient variety, recent genetic studies at U.C. Davis have determined that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the hybrid offspring of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Cabernet sauvignon berries are small, spherical with black, thick and very tough skin. This toughness makes the grapes fairly resistant to disease and spoilage and able to withstand some autumn rains with little damage. It is a mid to late season ripener. These growth characteristics, along with its flavor appeal have made Cabernet Sauvignon one of the most popular red wine varieties worldwide. The best growing sites for producing quality wines from Cabernet Sauvignon are in moderately warm, semi-arid regions providing a long growing season, on well-drained, not-too-fertile soils. Vineyards in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, much of the Napa Valley, and around the Paso Robles area of the Central Coast have consistently produced the highest-rated California examples. Typically, Cabernet Sauvignon wines smell like black currants with a degree of bell pepper or weediness, varying in intensity with climatic conditions, viticulture practices, and vinification techniques. Climates and vintages that are either too cool or too warm, rich soils, too little sun exposure, premature harvesting, and extended maceration are factors that may lead to more vegetative, less fruity character in the resulting wine.
Bonarda or Genuine Bonarda Piemontese, as the name suggests, a red Piedmont grape which is now somewhat rare in its native Italy. Experts are divided as to whether Argentine Bonarda is indeed actually Bonarda Piemontese, or Bonarda Novarese (another Piedmont grape also known as Uva Rara) – the confusion is not helped by the fact that there are several other varieties that are sometimes known as Bonarda. Argentina’s National Institute of Vitiviniculture is, however, clear that the variety is not Croatina, which is a Lombardy grape also known as Bonarda Oltrepo Pavese.
Whichever it is, Bonarda was until recently the most widely planted wine grape variety in Argentina. It has only recently been surpassed by Malbec in area. Despite this abundance, it has not traditionally been used to produce varietal wines – being used instead for bulk production of table wines – though there are some notable and outstanding exceptions to this pattern. Bonarda wines can be lighter-bodied and fruity, full of cherry and plum flavours, with light tannins and moderate acidity. However with concentrated fruit from older vines, and especially when oak aged, Bonardas can also be big, fruity, dense and tannic wines with deep colour and fig and raisin characteristics.
Barbera is an ancient variety with its historical roots in Italy, where today it remains the second most widely planted red variety, after Sangiovese. The highest quality Barberas come from the Piedmont region, where fifteen times more acreage is devoted to it than to Nebbiolo. Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato each produce about three times as much wine as Barbera d’Alba. Colli Toronesi is produced in such small quantities it is rarely found outside its own region. Barbera is also produced in Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Sardinia. Barbera is also grown in Slovenia and is the fifth most widely planted variety in California. Although normally indistinct in aroma, when cultivated in temperate areas and cropped for quality, Barbera can exhibit an attractive ripe aroma of red fruit, currants or blackberries that can be enhanced by vanilla, smoky or toasty notes added by barrel aging. On the other hand, neutral aroma, high color and acidity are all good characteristics for blending with other grapes and this is how Barbera is most frequently used. Most California Barbera is grown in the Central Valley and finds its way into generic or proprietary blends. The Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Santa Clara and Sonoma, where very warm days are moderated by cool nights, produce some of the state’s best varietal Barberas.
Viognier seemed literally an endangered variety only a few years ago, but seems to be recovering worldwide in both popularity and acreage. Less than 35 acres remained planted in all of France, its homeland, in the late 1960s. Its newest realm, California, has 2,001 acres as of 2002 (although a considerable portion is not yet mature enough to bear a commercial crop) and there are also relatively new plantings in Australia and Brazil, as well as other U.S. plantings in Colorado, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. The major drawback of the viognier grape is that it is a very shy producer and somewhat difficult to grow. Although drought tolerant, it is easily infected with powdery mildew in damp conditions or humid climates. Like many other varietals, viognier must be harvested at its peak of maturity in order to display its unique aroma and flavor character. The grape’s tendency to develop high sugar but low acid can result in wines with neutral, merely vinous flavors and high alcohol. These cultivation problems and producer desires to capitalize on the grape’s somewhat rarity combine to make many Viognier wines relatively expensive.Viognier is the only grape used for the Northern Rhône appellations Condrieu and Château-Grillet (one of France’s smallest appellation contrôlée, with less than ten acres and only one owner). Viognier is also sometimes used to add fragrance and to soften and lighten the syrah in Côte Rotie. Plantings of viognier in France have expanded in recent years from the Rhône (1830 acres), to the Languedoc (3440 ac.) to smaller plantings in Roussillon (212 ac.) and Provence (272 ac.). Probably the main attraction of Viognier is its potentially powerful, rich, and complex aroma that often seems like overripe apricots mixed with orange blossoms or acacia. With as distinctive and sweet an aroma-flavor profile as Gewürztraminer, Viognier is nevertheless usually made in a dry style and seems to appeal more to the typical Chardonnay drinker. The distinctive Viognier perfume holds up even when blended with a large portion of other grapes. The fruit usually has very deep color, but is somewhat low in acidity. As California wineries experiment with Viognier-Chardonnays, Viognier-Chenin Blancs, and Viognier-Colombards, this may be the grape’s ultimate destiny, as a blender. Both Chardonnay and Viognier share tropical fruit flavors and a creamy mouthfeel. Even with little or no wood aging, Viognier can be as full-bodied as an oaky Chardonnay, but has much more distinctive fruit character. It also has a typically deep golden color, as well as rich and intense flavor.
Semillon is a golden grape variety which is most often blended with Sauvignon Blanc to produce Sauternes. As well as being influential in French wine production, it is also important in South America, South Africa and Australia.
Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine grape variety whose spiritual home is western France, but which has successfully made its way into emerging and established wine regions all over the world. While the grape might be more readily associated with the Loire Valley (for its pivotal role in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume) it is more likely to have originated from Bordeaux, where it was typically blended with Semillon, as it still is today. The late 20th century, however, saw the emergence of a new wine region vying for status as the Sauvignon Blanc region; Marlborough, in the south island of New Zealand. The rapid development of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc phenomenon has been one of the most dramatic changes ever seen in the wine world. The intense and readily accessible flavors offered by a classic Marlborough ‘Savvy’ (as it is informally known in that part of the world) have captured a vast market across the world, from the United States and Canada to the UK and northern Europe, Australia and Japan. In 2011 Marlborough produced roughly 65% of New Zealand’s total wine output, and 75% of that was Sauvignon Blanc. Outside France and New Zealand the variety has proved relatively successful in New World regions like California, Chile (particularly the Casablanca and San Antonio valleys) and South Africa, where some bottlings are truly world class. Even in Australia the variety can thrive in the cooler coastal areas of the south, and back in Europe, the cool, sunny sub-alpine slopes of Alto Adige and Friuli in northern Italy have proved well-suited to produced high quality Sauvignon. The key selling point of Sauvignon Blanc is its straight-forwardness – the flavors are rarely hidden away in the background. Also, the correlation between the perceived flavors and their descriptors are some of the closest in the wine world; Sauvignon Blanc is a great wine with which to begin wine tasting lessons. Classic Sauvignon Blanc aromas range from grass, nettles, blackcurrant leaf and asparagus to green apples and gooseberries, and even to more esoteric notes like cat’s pee and gunflint. The latter of these is a tell-tale sign of a wine from Pouilly-Fume, where the flint flavor (known there as pierre a fusil) derives from the presence of high levels of chert in the local limestone soils. So pronounced and consistent is this effect that Sauvignon Blanc was once widely known as Blanc Fume in this part of the Loire.
Rousanne is a white Rhône grape which, with Marsanne, is often blended into Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph. As well as France, the variety is also grown in Italy, Australia and California where it is used in both blending and for varietal wines. It is also known as Bergeron (Savoie appellation of Chignin), Fromenteau (Rhône) and Rosana (Spain). It is still occasionally incorporated into white wine blends such as with Marsanne.
Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) A mutation of Pinot Noir, which it resembles in the field, Pinot Grigio is the Italian white wine most recognized by American wine consumers. It is most prominent in Alto-Adige, Veneto and especially Friuli, where the finest examples are made in the Collio area. Italians pick the fruit early as it has a tendency to drop acidity when it ripens fully. Pale, straw-yellow or very light copper in color with a bright and flowery fragrance. Firm acidity gives Pinot Grigio a mouth watering appeal. Generally offers nice mid-palate balance with a short, clean finish. A perfect aperitivo/cocktail wine, Pinot Grigio’s crispness primes the palate for food. It pairs well with all seafood, whether raw, lightly sauteed, grilled or lightly sauced with cream or butter.
Prosecco is grown in the Veneto region, of Italy, where is it used ion both sparkling and still wines. Where locally found under the synonym name Serprina, it is usually a varietal, or may be blended with Verdiso. It is grown, to a limited extent, in Argentina and is can be known as Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene.
Pinot Blanc is a genetic mutation or clone of pinot gris, which is in turn, a clone of pinot noir. The leaf structure, clusters and berries so resemble Chardonnay that there are many vineyards in Europe where plantings of the two grapes are intermingled. This may have led to some confusion and mis-naming of grapes as “pinot chardonnay” (chardonnay is decidedly not of the pinot family). Aroma in pinot blanc is very light, non-distinct, nearly neutral. It is balanced with high acid and can be full-bodied. California winemakers frequently get fairly good results by applying the same techniques as they might to Chardonnay, barrel fermentation, lees stirring, full malolactic, etc.
Muscat is a very ancient variety and, with its strong and distinctive perfume, was probably one of the first to be identified and cultivated. Nearly every Mediterranean country has a famous wine based on muscat and varying from light and bone dry, to low-alcohol sparkling versions, to very sweet and alcoholic potions. Of the four principal varieties of the muscat grape, including Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Blanc, Muscat Hamburg, and Muscat Ottonel, the most widely propagated and also most representative of the family character is Muscat Blanc, known as Muscat Frontignan in France and Moscato di Canelli in Italy.
A deep pink-skinned grape that is used to make a strongly perfumed white wine. The Moschofilero grape is grown primarily on the plateau of Mantinia in the Peloponnese and is the only grape allowed in the Mantinia appellation wine. Conditions are usually good enough to warrant a harvest in October. This grape can also be used to make fruity and spicy rose wines, as well.
Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape from France’s Loire Valley, also grown with much success in South Africa and California. This white wine can range from dry to very sweet depending on the time of harvest, producing flavors that vary from apple, melon, lime and pear with hints of vanilla and honey. The best Chenin Blanc offers high acidity combined with a touch of viscosity – leaving an oil-like mouth feel. Chenin Blanc can be an excellent pairing for salads, mild to spicy rice dishes, sushi, seafood and white meats.
Fiano -Fiano is a white Italian wine grape variety that is grown primarily in the Campania region of southern Italy and on the island of Sicily. In Campania, this fairly strong flavored white wine grape is particularly noted around Avellino where the Denominazione di origine controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wine of Fiano di Avellino is produced. The grape has a long history in the Campanian region and is believed to have been the grape behind the ancient Roman wine Apianum. Even today, the name Apianum is permitted to appear on wine labels of the DOCG wine Fiano di Avellino. Outside of Italy, several Australian wine producers have begun to use the grape. Production seems to be increasing, although the number of vineyards growing it is still small. One place of production is in the McLaren Vale wine region of South Australia. Beyond its strong flavors and intense aroma notes, the Fiano grapevine is noted viticulturally for the relatively low yields it produces
Marsanne, the most widely planted white grape of the northern Rhone Valley, has a long history— not in single varietal bottlings, but rather as a blending grape. In Hermitage, Marsanne is blended with Roussane to produce the white wine of the appellation; in our opinion, white Hermitage is one of the most overlooked great wines of the world. Incidentally, along with Roussane, up to 15% of Marsanne can be added to the red wines of Hermitage under AOC regulations. When Marsanne is bottled on its own, expect a light straw colored wine that is rich in body, with hints of spice, melon and pear.
Gewurztraminer is a white grape grown predominantly in France, Germany, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, where the climate leans to the cooler side and the flavors have an opportunity to concentrate. Gewurztraminer can be made in dry or sweet varieties and are generally best if enjoyed sooner rather than later post-bottling. Some of Gewurztraminer’s flavor qualities include: honey, pumpkin spice, cinnamon, apricot, pear, and rose. These wines tend to pair well with Asian dishes or zesty-flavored fare like BBQ or chicken wings. The flavor and aromas often include rose, pear, citrus, spice and mineral.
Arneis is a native Piemontese vine which originated in the zone of Roero, is a vigorous vine of potentially high productivity. Approaching extinction in the early 1970s, it was revived by a few producers who recognized its potential as a stand-alone varietal wine, particularly when cultivated on chalky, sandy soils which lend it structure. The Arneis grape yields a crisp, aromatic, distinctive wine of medium body and an exotic fragrance of pears, stone fruit and almonds. Its distinctive personality is most expressive when the wine is fresh and young; subject to an inherent deficit in acidity, it should be consumed within a year of the vintage. The wine is also produced in a “passito” version from raisinated grapes. Also planted in Sardinia and Australia.
Albarino (Alvarinho or CAinho Branco) is the primary white grape grown in Spain’s coastal Rias Baixes wine region. It is a lovely, albeit quirky white wine grape that makes highly aromatic white wines with fantastic acidity and an emphasis on apple, pear and light citrus nuances. These wines are made to be consumed young and can be extraordinary when paired with many appetizers, Cajun fare, poultry, shellfish and grilled fish.
Riesling wines originated in Germany’s Rhein and Mosel river valleys, it was here that this white grape gained its tenacious foothold in today’s modern white wine market. A Riesling wine can span a broad range of styles, being produced in both dry to sweet variations as well as light to full-bodied. Its food pairing versatility and refreshing palate appeal are among the top reasons for this renewed love affair.
Riesling wines can be highly aromatic with apple, peach and pear at the forefront mixed with delicate floral undertones and often honey and spice on the nose. On the palate, Rieslings echo the apple, pear and peach along with citrus and tropical nuances. Rieslings tend to pick up a noticeable “minerality” from their native soils, explaining why hints of slate or limestone can be exhibited. When it comes to pairing Riesling with food, versatility is the name of the game. Rieslings may well be the most accommodating wine around for pairing with challenging flavors and spice profiles. From appetizers to desserts, pork, poultry or shellfish, and virtually anything in between the diversity of Riesling styles make them capable of handling just about anything you toss at them including the spice and zest of favored Asian, Mexican or even Moroccan foods.
German Rieslings are categorized based on their style (levels of dryness) and the grape’s ripeness level at harvest (i.e. Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, etc). When looking for a dry style of Riesling, the label’s buzz words will be Trocken (“dry” in German) or Halbtrocken (“half-dry” in German).
The ripeness classification system communicates when the grape was picked, so it’s an indicator of initial grape sugar levels not final bottled residual sugar levels. The wines in ascending ripeness level order are as follows:
Kabinett – This is the Riesling classification that is made from the grapes that are the least ripe, producing the lightest style of Riesling wine. They tend to have lower alcohol levels (in the 8-10% range) and are made in a drier style. As a Riesling wine, this is a fantastic option for pairing with a wide range of foods. Consider pairing a dry Kabinett with sushi, shellfish, goat cheese or Thai food.
Spätlese – Literally translated as “late picking” refers to the Riesling grapes that are picked late during the harvest season. This Riesling typically has a medium-body and ups the flavor intensity, due to its extra days of sunshine. This Riesling classification can be made in either a dry or sweet style. Consider pairing the drier form with creamy sauces, rich poultry or pork based dishes or crab; keep the sweeter version of Riesling for serving with Asian or Mexican fare – something with a bit of spice.
Auslese – Translated as “out picked” designating ripe grapes picked out from a specific cluster of berries. This Riesling can also be crafted into either a dry or a sweet version. This is the first Riesling range that may exhibit true dessert wine status. However, many Auslese wines are made in the dry style and make for an elegant pairing partner for heartier fare.
Beerenauslese (BA for short) – This Riesling is made into the luxurious dessert wines that are sought out for their compatibility with a myriad of dessert options but specifically peach-based desserts, caramel delights and even foie gras.
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short) – Translated as “dry berry select picking” designates a late harvest, Botrytis picking, where the berries have started to shrivel on the vine, concentrating the sugars). These Trockenbeerenauslese wines are the ultra concentrated, nectar like dessert wines that can claim quite a price. Give them a go with blue cheese, apple pie, fruit-filled desserts and sweet treats in general.
Eiswein – These are the famous dessert wines that are harvested from highly concentrated grapes that have actually frozen on the vine and are then pressed to produce a low-yield, high-flavor rich dessert wine.
There are also label residual sugar indicators to keep in mind: if the wine is dry, it is labeled as “Trocken” (dry); “Halbtrocken” (German for “half-dry,” meaning “off-dry”) and keep in mind that sweeter Rieslings can be made in either Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese or Beernauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) styles, it just depends on balance between the acidity, sugar, pH and alcohol.
Sauvignon Blanc originated in the Loire Valley of France. However, New Zealand has taken this grape to new heights in the cool Marlborough region, producing racy wines with tropical fruit and gooseberry flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is usually a dry white wine with distinctive herbaceous qualities. This wine is widely available as a single varietal or as a blend with Semillon. Typically a light to medium-bodied, crisp and refreshing white wine with notable acidity, Sauvignon Blanc offers a fairly wide range of flavors. From herbal taste sensations to veggie, and from flavors of grass, hay and mineral tones to a citrus and tropical flavor mix, Sauvignon Blanc displays a very unique wine tasting adventure. Sauvignon Blanc is a very food-friendly wine and terrific for appetizers such as artichoke dip, veggie dishes or dips, garlic or Italian seasonings in creamy sauces, fragrant salads – like Greek, Caesar or Garden, Thai food, fish (sushi), poultry and an endless list of possibilities.
Chardonnay boasts an impressive range of flavors from the expected buttered, oak overtones to the fresh, fruit flavors of apple, pear, tropical, citrus and melon, leaving a lasting palate impression. With a long and distinguished following, Chardonnay enjoys a very versatile image, with vintners offering a broad range of styles and structures. From rich, buttery Chardonnays that boast power and presence to the unoaked fruit-forward Chardonnays that allow the varietal character and expression to be in the spotlight, this white wine is capable of accommodating most palates and just as many food pairing combinations. Chardonnay will pair well with poultry dishes, pork, seafood or recipes that have a heavy cream or butter base. Also consider pairing unoaked Chardonnay with guacamole, garlic, salads, grilled shrimp or even curry dishes.