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

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Archive-name: drink/wine-faq/part6
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Copyright: (c) 1995-2000 Bradford S. Brown (Notices/Disclaimers in pt. 10)
Last-modified: 2000/06/01
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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
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. 

--
 

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