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Tasting Wine

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Tasting Wine

You don’t need to analyze wine to enjoy it, but if you pay attention to what you’re tasting you’ll find that you’ll be better able to identify what you like or don’t like in a wine. It’s a bit like languages: You don’t have to speak Italian to visit Italy, but if you know a few words, your enjoyment can be greatly enhanced.

Before you taste make sure there are no distracting odors in the room, like cooking smells or perfume. The only thing you should smell is the wine in your glass.

Glasses should be clean and dry and filled with only a small sample of wine (about a quarter of the glass). Wines all have certain components and characteristics in common. When we taste, we use sight, smell and taste to recognize the above various components and to assess the quality and health of the wine. So let’s give it a go.

Appearance

A good look at the wine can tell us about the condition and even age of the wine.

Clarity: is the wine clear and bright (as it should be) or is it hazy or murky?

Intensity: is the color pale or deep?

Color: hold the glass at an angle against a white background (table cloth or sheet of paper) and assess the color in the middle of the bowl of the glass and at the rim. White wines start life pale and darken with age. Red wines out a deep, bright purple and gradually turn ruby, mahogany and eventually brown as they age.

Smell or “Nose”

Swirling the wine in the glass allows its aromas to be liberated into the air, so give your glass a whirl and then take a deep sniff. What are you looking for?

Condition: does it smell clean and attractive or is there any mustiness or off-odor?

Intensity: is the nose faint or pronounced?

Character: what does it smell like? This may seem difficult initially, but you can do it. Just as you can tell the difference between the smell of bacon and coffee, you can also identify some of the possible smells in wine. Here are some things you may smell: fruit, grapes, lemon, grass, peaches, raspberries, blackcurrants, flowers, apples, vanilla, oak, smoke, plums and many, many more. Remember that there are no right or wrong answers, here. It’s simply an exercise in thinking about what you’re drinking.

Taste or “palate”

Now the fun part — you actually get to drink the stuff! Take a sip of wine and swirl it around the mouth so that the wine is in contact with all parts of your mouth: tongue, gums, soft palate. Even better, tilt the head forward so that the wine is behind the front teeth and then slurp air into the mouth over the wine. This seems weird at first, and goes against everything your mother taught you to do at the table, but it’s worth it. You can taste much more of the wine if you aerate it in this way.

So what are you looking for?

Sweetness: an easy one. Sweetness is immediately noticeable on the tip of the tongue. If there’s no apparent sugar the wine is called “dry”.

Acidity: very important if the wine is to be refreshing and balanced. Lemon juice and vinegar are acidic. Too much and the wine tastes too tart; too little and the wine is known as “flabby”, tasting heavy and just not refreshing.

Alcohol: a vital component in wine, but one that shouldn’t stand apart from the other elements if the wine is to be balanced. When the alcohol is too high, there will be a bit of a burning sensation after the wine is swallowed.

Tannin: a natural preservative found in grape skins and stalks, tannin is the stuff that makes young red wines seem harsh and leaves the mouth feeling dry. If you want to know how tannin feels when it’s not in wine, brew some very strong black tea and you’ll soon know! Tannin’s role as preservative is extremely important in high quality red wines that are made to age for many years.

Body: an indicator of how the wine feels in the mouth. Pinot Noir or Beaujolais tend to feel quite light in the mouth while Bordeaux or Australian Shiraz tend to be full and dense. So, the progression for both reds and whites is light-bodied, to medium bodied, to full-bodied.

Fruit: the taste and intensity of the fruit in the mouth; generally, the better the wine, the more evident the fruit. Also, younger wines will often display more fruit than mature wine. Length: how long the taste of the wine lingers in the mouth after swallowing is a good indication of the wine’s quality: the longer the better.

Conclusions

Having considered the above elements, what did you think of the wine?

Quality: you might think it’s obvious to say that a $100 bottle of wine is likely to be high quality and a $5 wine low quality, but the assessment of quality goes beyond this. A wine that looks clear and bright, has a pronounced, intense nose, shows good fruit and balanced acid, sweetness and alcohol, and has a long finish might be an inexpensive wine. It would be classified as good quality, though, because it is a good example of its type. So as your tasting progresses, question the wine. Is it a good example of its type?

Maturity: this is a measure of the wine’s readiness to drink, which is not the same thing as its age. Many wines are made to be drunk as soon as they are bottled while others require years (or decades) of maturation in bottle to reach their optimum state. Simple wines, which are designed to be drunk young, will not improve with age. Rather they will deteriorate and be over the hill if kept too long.

Faults: Thankfully, modern winemaking practices have reduced most of the problems we used to commonly find in wine, but there’s still one which affects around a small percent of bottles: bad corks. “Corked”, the term used to describe the affliction, has nothing to do with cork floating in the wine, but rather (not to get too technical) a condition in which the wine has reacted with a substance in the cork, producing a musty, corky smell and taste, reminiscent of wet cardboard. The wine should always smell clean and appealing. The cork problem is the reason behind many wineries switching to synthetic closures or screw caps, which are now widely used with aromatic varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. So don’t be put off is you see a screw cap on your wine. It doesn’t mean cheap wine, it means the winemaker is sick of cork problems and wants to preserve the freshness of the wine.


No minimums, no memberships, just great wines.

Wine in Washington


 

 

Sweet Wine Club
Sweet Wine Club
– $ 39.95
As the name implies this club tailors to the sweet wine drinker in your life. But not all sweet wines are the same and this club is designed to showcase those differences. Members may travel to Italy and try a slightly effervescent Moscato d’Asti, to Germany to sample one of their many styles of Rieslings, or stay in America and try a Washington State spicy Gewurztraminer. Many styles and choices will be featured in our newest club so hop on board we are going for a sweet ride.

 

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Located on approximately the same latitude (46ºN) as some of the great French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Washington State wine “Touring” country includes 9 federally recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s), commonly known as appellations; three of them share territory with Oregon State. Climates of individual Washington wine regions differ dramatically, being cross cut north to south by the Cascade Mountains.

A variety of climates and soils combine with the long summer sunlight hours of northern latitudes to create prime growing regions, predominantly in the valleys and on the hillsides of areas east of the Cascade Mountain range. Washington wineries benefit from grapes ripening in these areas which experience about two more hours of summer sunlight each day than in California wine regions. Gradually cooling autumn temperatures in Washington also help wine grapes reach full maturity, while maintaining desirable acid levels.

Vineyards on the east side of the Cascades grow 99% of Washington’s wine grapes. Seven of the state’s eight official AVA/appellations are located here — the macro appellation of the Columbia Valley encompasses the smaller Yakima Valley AVA, Red Mountain AVA, Walla Walla Valley AVA, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope and Rattlesnake Hills (Washington State’s newest appellation). The Columbia Gorge AVA begins at the western edge of the Columbia Valley AVA and continues west and south to areas along the Columbia River in both Oregon and Washington. Two other emerging regions benefit from the huge rain shadow created by the Cascade Mountains, the North-Central Washington region (often referred to as the Columbia Cascade region) and the Lake Chelan area (AVA application in process).

All totaled, Washington wine regions produce more wine grapes than any other state in the U.S., except California. Wine grapes are now the fourth most important fruit crop in Washington State behind apples, cherries and pears. The following wines are in limited distribution. Look for them when in Washington state.

Spring Barrel tasting is your chance to get a jump on tasting and purchasing some of the best wines in wine country. A visit to the Valley on this weekend will allow you to sample yet-unfinished wines from the barrel.

Barrel tasting allows tasters a sneak preview of upcoming vintages from their favorite wineries. This special weekend in the Yakima Valley features winemakers and cellar staff who are on hand to share insights and answer questions on the winemaking process. Many of the 50 participating wineries make special efforts to enhance the wine tasting experience by adding delicious cheeses, sauces, salsas, and even desserts to the mix along with special tastings and education.

As the oldest wine region, or appellation, in Washington State, Yakima Valley has many small wine towns whose residents enjoy sharing a rural lifestyle with visitors. The region produces a wide array of wine varietals grown in vineyards that range from the Yakima Valley to hillside plantings. The three-day barrel tasting allows visitors and locals to leisurely visit the numerous wineries that have made the Yakima Valley region one of the most interesting and prestigious viticultural regions in the country

Wine Buying Tip

Wine Buying Tip

This is the only Wine Buying Tip you ever need to know!!!

1. Know your store

Every wine shop is different. Different focus, different selections, different pricing structures. Choose the one that works best for you. If you are new to the wine game and every bottle on the shelf is over $50 then you are probably in the wrong place. Look for stores that have either organized wine tastings or have wine available by the glass. What better way to know if you like a wine before buying than to taste it?

2. Have a plan

Have in mind what the wine is for before you are bogged down by numerous regions, prices, etc. Are you looking for a simple wine to serve with dinner or planning a party for twenty? Knowing what you are looking for before you are in the store will help you to make better selections than just walking in and browsing until something strikes your fancy.

3. Don’t be afraid to bring resources

There is a myriad of different sources of information on wine out there and bringing some with you to the store can only help in making an informed decision. Books, magazines, brochures and even, ahem, websites provide valuable information on producers and vintages that it is impossible to keep track of. The difference between a good vintage and a so-so vintage can be the difference in a wonderful wine and a so-so one. Resources such as The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate and even yours truly at winegeeks.com offer ratings of individual wines that can be extremely useful when selecting a wine, but remember: just because a wine isn’t rated or has a mediocre score doesn’t mean it is a bad wine. These are guidelines and someone else’s opinion.

4. Survey the land

Don’t get caught in one section of the wine store. While some locales are very well organized, many are not, and the best bargain of the day may be just around the aisle. A quick trip around the shop to gain your bearings might be a good way to make sure that nothing is missed.

5. Develop a relationship with the owner/salesperson

Never be afraid to ask for help or a recommendation. Running into the pushy salesperson may be inevitable, but usually anyone working in the store will share your enthusiasm for the grape and asking what they like may get you a great bottle of wine. Also any salesperson worth their salt can get a feel for what you enjoy after a few trips to the store or even after answering just a few well-placed questions. Return trips and evaluations of what you tried last week can help the salesperson to judge your tastes.

6. Price does not equal quality

While a monstrous price tag may be well deserved for that bottle of 20-year-old Bordeaux, wines today are increasingly priced according to start-up costs for the winery or even the level of investment from outside sources instead of quality or reputation. In fact, wines from the traditional wine growing regions are sure to be higher in price than something from a less known vineyard area regardless of how good the wine is. Use your resources!

7. Look for value regions and 2nd labels

Many wine regions are known for their ability to produce very nice wines at still reasonable prices. Spain, Australia, Argentina and Chile are just a few countries to try. Another option is to try wine from areas just outside of more well known wine growing regions. Instead of the pricey Pomerol in Bordeaux, try Lalande-de-Pomerol. Same grape (Merlot) from just down the road at a much lower price. Also, look for the 2nd labels of more established wineries. These are wines sold under a different label from a quality winery sold at a lower price, a practice quite common in Bordeaux and gaining steam in California.

8. Be willing to experiment

Trying something new can be a great way to learn about new wines and new countries. Try a recommendation from someone at the shop, sample a new region, or even go with the advice of the shelf talking card pinned next to a wine. It may be the best wine that you have ever had!

9. Buy discounted wine

Most shops offer a 10% discount on wine sold by the case, mixed or not. Look for any close-out specials or wines on sale. Because it is half-off doesn’t mean it is terrible. Wines are often sold at what the state dictates, and it may be more than what the market will bear. These may be marked down significantly before the next vintage arrives, and can offer significant savings to the consumer.

10. Buy wine online

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There are numerous sites that offer online sales of wine. These sites can offer wines at considerably less than your local store or have hard to find rarities. Be forewarned: Many states do not allow point-to-point sales of wine or alcohol. Most sites will list which states they can ship to. This is a contentious issue soon to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, but until then make sure you read the fine print.

Well, there you have it. This is by no means all you need to know when buying wine but it will certainly help you along your way. Use these ten points and the trepidation of wine buying should fade to the bottom of your stomach like the tannins of an old port. It should be loved and looked forward to like shopping for any thing of beauty, like going to the car parts store for your ‘67 Chevy or to the jewelry store on Valentine’s Day. The best part is how much do they have at the jewelry store for less than ten dollars?

Wine Guide: Storing Wine

Storing Wine

Many people think that if they’re going to store wine at home then they need a cellar. But the word “cellar” conjures up images of dark, cavernous chambers cut out of bedrock, or slick, temperature and humidity-controlled rooms lined with mahogany wine racks. All very nice, but not at all necessary. We recommend you interpret “cellar” somewhat loosely.

There are four main things to consider when storing wine: temperature, light, vibration and keeping the cork wet.

Temperature: Both red and white wine likes to be kept cool. 55°F is ideal, but more important than this magic number is that the temperature doesn’t fluctuate. Better a constant 65°F than 40° one day and 80° the next.

Light: Bright light and sunlight can damage wine as it ages in bottle, so the darker the room, the better. Total darkness is easily achieved by simply closing the lid of the case or the closet door.

Vibration: Areas subject to heavy foot traffic (or vacuum cleaners) should be avoided as wine, unlike martinis, should be neither shaken nor stirred.

Keep the cork wet: Laying your bottles down on their sides keeps the wine in contact with the cork, which in turn prevents the cork from drying out. Dry corks contract, allowing air to pass into the wine and wine to leak out. If air gets in, it renders the wine dull and lifeless and it will taste more like old sherry than wine.

If you keep these basic requirements in mind, you’ll find it remarkably easy to find a place to store your wine, and you won’t need a cellar at all. A corner of the basement, a closet in a spare bedroom, your shipping box or the cupboard under the stairs will all do nicely. And remember, the longer you plan to store your wine, the more important these factors become. If a newly-purchased wine is to be drunk in a day or two, it really doesn’t matter too much where you keep it, but if the wine is to be kept for weeks or months then find it a nice cool, dark spot.

Now, some wines require not months but many years, even decades, of bottle aging before they’re ready to drink. This is a small percentage of all the wines made, but nonetheless, it is an important one. Where you store these high quality (and often expensive) wines designed for long aging takes on a special importance if your investment is to be protected. In this case you may want to consider one of the commercially available wine storage units, which come in a variety of sizes and finishes. Another alternative is off-site storage, where you rent a locker in a temperature and humidity-controlled wine storage facility. This option is great for wines that you don’t plan to drink for some years and has the added advantage of being out of reach; a real bonus during those weak moments.

As your collection of wine grows you’ll need to keep track of it. An old-fashioned cellar book where you record each new wine that goes into your cellar and cross them off as you take them out, works just fine. These days, however, there are also numerous cellar software programs that make it easy and fun to manage your wine collection.

Learn About Wine from California

Learn About Wine from California

California wine has a long and continuing history, and in the late twentieth century became recognized as producing some of the world’s finest wine. While wine is made in all fifty U.S. states, it is California where the great majority (up to 90% by some estimates) is produced. California would be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world if it were an independent nation.
The early years of California wine

In 1769, Franciscan missionary Father Junípero Serra planted the first California vineyard at Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Father Serra continued to establish eight more missions and vineyards until his death in 1784 and has been called the “Father of California Wine”. The variety he planted, presumably descended from earlier Mexican plantings, became known as the Mission grape and dominated California wine production until about 1880.

California’s first documented imported European wine vines were planted in Los Angeles in 1833 by Jean-Louis Vignes. In the 1850s and 1860s, Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian soldier, merchant and promoter, made several trips to import cuttings from 165 of the greatest European vineyards to California. Some of this endeavor was at his personal expense and some through grants from the state. Considered the one of the founders of the California wine industry, Haraszthy contributed his enthusiasm and optimism for the future of wine, along with considerable personal effort and risk. He founded Buena Vista Winery and promoted vine planting over much of Northern California. He dug extensive caves for cellaring, promoted hillside planting, fostered the idea of non-irrigated vineyards and suggested Redwood for casks when oak supplies ran low.

In 1861 Charles Krug established Napa Valley’s first commercial winery in St. Helena.

In 1863, species of native American grapes were taken to Botanical Gardens in England. These cuttings carried a species of root louse called phylloxera which attacks and feeds on the vine roots and leaves. Phylloxera is indigenous to North America and native vine varieties had developed resistance. European vines had no such evolutionary protection. By 1865, phylloxera had spread to vines in Provence. Over the next 20 years, it inhabited and decimated nearly all the vineyards of Europe. Many methods were attempted to eradicate phylloxera but all proved temporary and none economical.

Finally Thomas Munson, a horticulturist in Texas, suggested grafting the European vinifera vines onto American riparia rootsocks. So, there began a long, laborious process of grafting every wine vine in Europe over to American rootstocks. It was only in this manner that the European wine industry could be retrieved from extinction.

In 1879 Captain Gustave Niebaum established Inglenook Winery in Rutherford, California a small village (in Napa County, California). It was the first Bordeaux style winery in the USA. Captain Niebaum’s wines became world renowned. His Inglenook wines won gold medals at the World’s Fair of Paris in 1889.

During the period when the Europeans were contending with phylloxera, the American wine industry was ironically flourishing. By 1900, America had a fully developed and proud commercial wine producing business. Many California wines received medals in European competitions. Barrels of California wine were being regularly exported to Australia, Canada, Central America, England, Germany, Mexico and the Orient.
Prohibition

The destruction of the American wine industry would come not from phylloxeria but from Prohibition in the United States. Thirty-three states had gone dry at the outbreak of World War I. Wartime Prohibition was enacted in 1919, followed by the Volstead National Prohibition Act and the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, forbidding the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”

Through a loophole allowing each home to “make 200 gallons of non-intoxicating cider and fruit juice per year,” thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens became home winemakers and bootleggers. Prices for fresh grapes shot up, because of the increased demand and a railroad shortage of refrigerated freight cars in which to ship them.

Growers began replanting fine wine variety vineyards to juice grape varieties that shipped well. The massive plantings produced a constant surplus of low-quality grapes that persisted until 1971.

By the time of National Repeal, effective December 5, 1933, the industry was in ruins. Although some wineries managed to survive by obtaining permits to make wines used for medicinal, sacramental and non-beverage additive purposes, production dropped 94% from 1919 to 1925.
Repeal

Even after Repeal of Prohibition, several states stayed dry: Kansas until 1948, Oklahoma until 1957, and Mississippi until 1966. Seventeen states chose to establish monopoly liquor stores with limited selections. Today 10% of the US area and 6% of the population remain dry.

Anticipating Repeal, speculators and others soon flooded the legal market with quickly and poorly made wine. Dilettantes published books and articles warning Americans about rigid rules that must be followed to serve the proper wine with the proper food from the proper glass at the proper temperature. Faced with low quality products with which to risk committing social blunders and while remaining uncertain about the social acceptance of any alcohol, most Americans stayed away.

The only group of wines that sold well were the fortified dessert wines. Taxed at the lower rate of wine as opposed to distilled spirits, but with 20% alcohol, this group made the cheapest intoxicant available. Before 1920, table wines accounted for 3 of every 4 gallons shipped. After 1933, fortified wines were 3 of every 4 gallons shipped. It wasn’t until 1968 that table wines sales finally overtook fortified wines, regaining the status of most popular wine category.

Before 1920, there were more than 2,500 commercial wineries in the United States. Less than 100 survived as winemaking operations to 1933. By 1960, that number had grown to only 271. California had 713 bonded wineries before Prohibition; it took more than half a century, until 1986, before that many were again operating.

Prohibition left a legacy of distorting the role of alcohol in American life and ruining a fledgling world-class wine industry, which took decades of work to overcome. Research at the University of California at Davis and Fresno State University greatly assisted the new breed of vintners who arrived in California in the 1960s and who were committed to producing wine of the highest international standards.
Wine Revolution

André Tchelistcheff is generally credited with ushering in the modern era of winemaking in California. Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) founder and owner Georges de Latour hired Tchelisticheff in 1938. He introduced several new techniques and procedures, such as aging wine in small French Oak barrels, cold fermentation, vineyard frost prevention, and malolactic fermentation.

Brother Timothy; a member of Congregation of Christian Brothers was also very instrumental in the creation of the modern wine industry. After an earlier career as a teacher, he transferred to the order’s Mont La Salle located on Mount Veeder in the Mayacamas Mountains west of Napa in 1935 to become the wine chemist for the order’s expanding wine operations. The Christian Brothers had grown grapes and made sacramental wine in Benicia, California during Prohibition, but decided to branch out into commercial production of wine and brandy following the repeal of Prohibition. The science teacher was a fast learner and soon established Christian Brothers as one of the leading brands in the state’s budding wine industry; Brother Timothy’s smiling face in advertisements and promotional materials became one of the most familiar images for wine consumers across the country.

In 1965, Napa Valley icon Robert Mondavi broke away from his family’s Charles Krug estate to found his own in Oakville, California. It was the first new large-scale winery to be established in the valley since before prohibition. Following the establishment of the Mondavi estate, the number of wineries in the valley continued to grow, as did the region’s reputation.

Some California wine makers began to produce quality wines but still had difficulty marketing them. Frank Schoonmaker, a prominent journalist and wine writer of the 1950s and 1960s introduced the idea of labeling wines using varietal (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling) rather than generic names borrowed from famous European regions (Burgundy, Chablis, Rhine, etc.). Robert Mondavi was one of the first to label the majority of his wines by varietal names and was tireless in promoting the practice.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the quality of some vintners’ wines was outstanding but few took notice. On May 24, 1976, a blind tasting was held in Paris with a panel made up exclusively of French wine experts. After comparing six California Chardonnays with four French Chardonnays, three of the top four were Californian. All nine judges ranked Chateau Montelena the highest; Chalone Vineyard came in third and Spring Mountain Vineyard fourth. When reds were evaluated, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was ranked number one. This competition focused a great deal of attention on wines from the Napa Valley.

The red wines evaluated in 1976 were retasted in two separate blind tastings (the French Culinary Institute Wine Tasting of 1986 and the Wine Spectator Wine Tasting of 1986) and also in the The Wine Rematch of the Century. In all retastings, a California red was chosen first, while the French wines lost positions in the rankings.

In Oz Clarke’s New encyclopedia of Wine, Mr. Clarke writes that California “was the catalyst and then the locomotive for change that finally prised open the ancient European wineland’s rigid grip on the hierarchy of quality wine and led the way in proving that there are hundreds if not thousands of places around the world where good to great wine can be made.” He observes that “until the exploits of California’s modern pioneers of the 1960’s and ’70’s, no-one had ever before challenged the right of Europe’s, and in particular, France’s vineyards, to be regarded as the only source of great wine in the world.”

Fred Franzia and his Bronco Wine Company has caused recent waves in the business of California wine marketing. The company’s low priced Charles Shaw wine which is sold exclusively by Trader Joe’s markets along with the company’s other labels have attracted new entry level wine consumers to the fold but also has alienated many of the smaller vintners in the state by placing some downward pressure on pricing.

Backed by continuing research, California vintners continue to innovate in attempts to further enhance the quality and competitiveness of their products. The story of California wine continues to evolve.

Learn About American Wines

Learn About American Wines

In the United States wine is produced commercially in all fifty states with the majority of the wine produced in California. California by itself produces enough wine to be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world. Major wine production also occurs in New York state (5%), Washington state (4%), and Oregon (0.6%).
The History of American Wine

The first Europeans to explore North America called it Vinland because of the profusion of grape vines they found. However, settlers would later discover that the wine made from the various native grapes had flavors which were unfamiliar and which they did not like. This led to repeated efforts to grow familiar Vitis vinifera varieties. The first vines of Vitis vinifera origin planted in what is now the United States were planted in Senecu in 1629, which is near the present day town of San Antonio, New Mexico.

However, the discovery in 1802 of the native Catawba grape led to very successful wine-making in Ohio. By 1842 Nicholas Longworth was growing 1,200 acres (almost two square miles) of Catawba grapes and making the country’s first Sparkling wine. In 1858, The Illustrated London News described Catawba as “a finer wine of the hock species and flavour than any hock that comes from the Rhine” and wrote that sparkling Catawba “transcends the Champagne of France.” But the successful operations in Ohio ceased when fungus disease destroyed the vineyards. Some growers responded by moving north to the shores of Lake Erie and its islands, where mildew was not a problem.

The Finger Lakes region of New York State developed a successful wine-making industry beginning in the early 1860s when the Pleasant Valley Wine Company began using carefully-selected derivatives of native grapes to produce wine. In 1865 the Urbana Wine Company (which marketed its wine under the Gold Seal label) was established. 1880 saw the establishment of the Taylor Wine Company. By the late 1800s, wines from the Finger Lakes were winning prizes at wine tastings in Europe.

In California, the first vineyard and winery was established by Spanish missionaries in 1769. California has two native grape varieties, but they make very poor quality wine. Therefore, the missionaries used the Mission grape, which is called Criolla or “colonialized European” in South America. Although a Vitis vinifera, it is a grape of “very modest” quality.

The first secular vineyard was established in Los Angeles by an immigrant from Bordeaux, Jean-Louis Vignes. Dissatisfied with the Mission grape, he imported vines from France. By 1851 he had 40,000 vines under cultivation and was producing 1,000 barrels of wine per year.

Major wine production shifted to the Sonoma Valley in northern California largely because of its excellent climate for growing grapes. General Mariano Vallejo, former commander of the presidio of Sonoma, became the first large-scale winegrower in the valley. In 1857, Agoston Haraszthy bought 560 acres near Vallejo’s vineyards. In contrast to Vallejo and most others, Haraszthy planted his vines on dry slopes and did not irrigate them. Today, the value of dry farming to creating superior wine is generally recognized.

Haraszthy has been called the “Father of Modern Viticulture in California.” He wrote Report on Grapes and Wines in California, a manual on vineyard management and wine making procedures in which he urged experimentation with different grape varieties in different soils and different parts of the state. He also urged the government to collect cuttings from Europe and distribute them to growers in California. In 1861, the State Legislature commissioned Haraszthy to travel to Europe and purchase a diversity of grapevines. He did so, and obtained 100,000 vines of 300 different varieties.

In 1857, Charles LeFranc established what became the very successful Almaden Vineyards, where he planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Semillon, and many others. LeFranc produced good wine as did his son-in-law, Paul Masson. In 1861 Charles Krug founded his namesake winery and began making wine, founding the first winery in the Napa Valley. Originally a Prussian political dissident, Krug learned the trade of the vintner as an apprentice to Haraszthy in the Sonoma Valley. Krug expanded on what he learned from Haraszthy and began a winemaking tradition in the Napa Valley. The land on which Krug founded his winery was part of his wife’s (Carolina Bale’s) dowry. Krug became an important leader of winemaking in the Napa Valley. He was also a mentor for Karl Wente, Charles Wetmore and Jacob Beringer, all of whom became important vintners.

Early on, the Napa Valley demonstrated leadership in producing quality wine. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, Napa Valley wines won 20 of the 34 medals or awards (including four gold medals) won by California entries. This was the high point that was followed by 40 years of natural and human-caused disasters. Severe frosts, the outbreak of the phylloxera louse which destroyed Vitis vinifera vines, an economic depression, the San Francisco earthquake that destroyed an estimated 30 million gallons of wine in storage, and the disaster of national Prohibition from 1920 through 1933.

Some wineries managed to survive by making wine for religious services. However, grape growers prospered. Because making up to 200 gallons of wine at home per year was legal, such production increased from an estimated four million gallons before Prohibition to 90 million five years after the imposition of the law. Unfortunately, quality grapes do not ship well, so producers ripped out their vines and replaced them with tough but poor quality grapes such as Alicante Bouschet and Alicante Ganzin.

Following Prohibition, American wine making reemerged in very poor condition. Many talented winemakers had died, vineyards had been neglected or replanted in poor quality grapes, and Prohibition had changed Americans’ taste in wines. Consumers now demanded cheap “jug wine” (so-called dago red) and sweet, fortified (high alcohol) wine. Before Prohibition dry table wines outsold sweet wines by three to one, but after the ratio was more than reversed. In 1935, 81% of California’s production was sweet wines. The reputation of the state’s wines suffered accordingly.

During the 1970s a system was established to identify appellations of origins, using the term American Viticultural Areas (AVA). An AVA guarantees that a minimum of 85% of the wine in the bottle comes from grapes grown in that AVA. The use of individual vineyard names guarantees that 95% of any wine using a vineyard name must be made from grapes grown in that vineyard, and from within a recognized AVA. There are 165 AVAs, of which 93 are in California.

Leading the way out of the abyss was research conducted at the University of California, Davis. Faculty published reports on which varieties of grapes grew best in which regions of the state, held seminars on winemaking techniques, consulted with grape growers and winemakers, offered academic degrees in viticulture, and promoted the production of quality wines. The results of their success would be demonstrated decades later at the Paris wine tasting in 1976, the nation’s 200th anniversary.

Learn About Wine from Spain

Learn About Wine from Spain

Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world, the largest being France and the second Italy. Historically, Spain has been known from the production of fortified wines and the best known Spanish wine is considered by some to be the fortified wine Sherry, which is produced in the region surrounding Jerez de la Frontera. Other wine regions well known outside of Spain include: Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorato, Cava and Penedès.

In Rioja, the law permits the use of four red grape varieties. Tempranillo is the primary grape used, followed by Garnacha (also known as Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo. The latter two are excellent but difficult to grow varieties. Crianza wines are those that have been aged for two years, Reservas are aged three years, and Gran Reservas (also known as Reserva Especial) are aged at least five years.

Ribera del Duero lacks the long history of Rioja and was recognized as an official wine region in 1982. Priorato is a region with low yields and produces wines of rich intensity. Notable pioneer Rene Barbier is credited by some with bringing fame to this region. Penedes produces both red and white wines, but is mainly known for being the region that Cava was first made by the Reventos family who own and operate Codorniu . The largest Spanish wine brand name, Torres, is a major producer there.
History of Wine in Spain

It has been said that the grapevines spread through the mediterranean thanks to the Roman empire. Spain has had early Greek settlements (the word “Iberian” is claimed to have a Greek origin) and was Romanized by the first Century B.C. (the Roman word for Spain is “Hispania”). As a consequence, Spain has a long tradition in winemaking. However, until about 25 years ago, Spanish wines were generally not merchandised and they were little known internationally, Sherry (called vino de Jerez in Spain) being a major exception as it has long been actively sought by British merchants and exported to the United Kingdom.

Spanish wines usually aged in Spanish and French oak (nowadays American oak barrels are commonly used). They often had high alcoholic graduation, and in some cases the oak aging process was too long, overpowering the wines freshness and fruit character. The poor development of brand quality standards made difficult the identification of good wines to foreign customers. However, the use of marketing has helped them to rise to a point where they are now competing successfully in the international market.

Wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. has made mention of the following Spain’s great estates: Artadi, Clos Erasmus, Alvaro Palacios, Tinto Pesquera, Dominio de Pingus, and Bodega Vega Sicilia. Mas La Plana 1970 (then known as ‘Gran Coronas Black Label’) received first place in the important Cabernet blend category of the Wine Olympics, a major wine competition.
Geography and climate of Spain

Spain is located in southern Europe. The influence from the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean Sea provide a warm/hot and dry climate. This climate results in high yields for Spanish grapes/wines. The harvest occurs from August – October.
Classification of Wines from Spain

Denominación de Origen is an appellation primarily used for Spanish wines, but also other foodstuffs. It is parallel with the hierarchical AOC system of France (1935) and Italy (1966) although Rioja (1925) and Sherry (1933) preceded the full system. As of 2006, 72 wine regions have EU QWPSR (Quality Wine Produced in Specific Regions) status:

* Denominación de Pago (DO de Pago): Individual single-estates with an international reputation. There are 3 wine regions with this status.
* Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa/DOQ – Denominació d’Origen Qualificada in Catalan): Regions with (allegedly) a track record of consistent quality. There are 2 wine regions with this status.
* Denominación de Origen (Denominació d’Origen in Catalan – DO): mainstream quality-wine regions. There are 62 wine regions with this status.
* Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (VCPRD): a ‘starter home’ for wine regions climbing the quality ladder. There are 5 wine regions with this status.
* There are also some 55 country wine areas (Vinos de la Tierra – VdlT) which do not have EU QWPSR status but which may use a regional name.
* The simplest wine is classified as Vino de Mesa. This wine has no vintage or area designation on the label (apart from ‘Produce of Spain’) is falling in quantity of production every year.

The 72 recognized wine producing regions in Spain grow a wide diversity of grapes, mostly of native origin. The great variety of wines with unfamiliar names causes confusion among many consumers.

Rioja wines are labeled according to the amount of aging the wine has received. These are the national minimum, but many producers far exceed them:

* Cosecha wines (meaning “vintage”) are young and are not usually aged in wood. Alternatively, these may be the new-wave ‘High Expression’ wines which don’t use the traditional epithets as they are considered to be old-fashioned: the price should be a guide as to which is which.
* Crianza wines are aged for two years with at least one year in a cask.
* Reserva wines are aged for at least one year in an oak cask and at least one year in oak, with a further year in either.
* Gran Reserva wines are aged for at least 18 months in oak, and at least three years in the bottle and a minimum of five years total at the winery.

Sherry

Sherry is produced in southern Spain in the region of Jerez. Palomino is the most popular grape to produce sherry, but Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez are also used. Sherry is made using the Solera system to blend wine of different vintages. Younger wine is moved through barrels of older wine to develop flavor.

Sherry has many categories

* Fino Sherry is a very light and delicate Sherry. These wines are characterized by flor (the surface growth of yeast in the barrels). From 15 to 18% of alcohol.
* Manzanilla Sherry comes from the Sanlucar district along the sea coast. The sea air leads the Sherry to develop a salty taste. These wines also have flor. This wine is produced using exactly the same process than Fino, but as weather conditions are very different in Sanlucar district it grows to a slightly different kind of wine. From 15 to 19% of alcohol.
* Amontillado Sherry is similar to Fino, however it does not have the as much flor development. These are deeper in color and drier than Finos and are left in the barrel longer. From 16 to 22% of alcohol.
* Oloroso Sherry is deeper/darker in color and have more residual sugar. These are more fortified. From 17 to 22% of alcohol.
* Cream sherry is very rich and can be a good dessert-style wine. From 15,5 to 22% of alcohol.
* Pedro Ximénez Sherry is very rich and is the most popular dessert-style wine. It’s made from raisins of Pedro Ximenez grapes dryed al the sun. About 18% of alcohol.
* Palo Cortado Sherry is very rare to get, as its an Oloroso wine that gets older in a different way only produced by nature (not able by human interaction). From 17 to 22% of alcohol.

Recently Sherry wines are used in very different kinds of high cuisine dishes to add special flavour. For example pork steak with Oloroso (very intense taste), artichoques with amontillado wine (short but deep taste), or pedro ximenez (reduced to 50% of its liquid content) with cakes of fruits.
Wine regions in Spain

Spain has a relatively large number of distinct wine-producing regions, more than half having the classification Denominación de Origen (DO) with the majority of the remainder classified as Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT). There are two regions nominated as Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) – Rioja and Priorato – the flagship regions of Spanish winemaking. In 2006 the Spanish government passed a new law permitting Vinos de Pago, a method of identifying and regulating individual estates reputed to be among the finest in the country. Since it embraced the EU-sponsored QWPSR (Quality Wine Produced in Specific Regions) regulatory code – Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (VCPRD) – in Spanish, production of Vino de la mesa has declined and geographically-verifiable production has become the norm.
Denominación de Origen Calificada

The Rioja is easily the most famous wine-producing region in Spain. It focuses on red wines and is often called the Napa valley of Spain. The top red wines are made predominantly from Tempranillo with Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo blended in. Many of the vineyards are field planted and bring in lower yields. The Priorato is a relative newcomer, based in the hills to the west of Tarragona.
Denominación de Origen

A full list of regions can be found at the main Spanish wine regions page. Notable DO regions include:

* Campo de Borja has recently become more prominent. It features a number of cooperatives who produce Garnacha and Tempranillo.
* Jerez-Xérès-Sherry
* Penedès is located near Barcelona and is notable for the production of the sparkling wine Cava. The more popular red wines produced here include Tempranillo (the number one red grape in Spain and equivalent to the Pinot Noir), Garnacha and Carinena.
* Rías Baixas is located in the Galicia region in the northwest of Spain. This DO is known for Albariño wine, Spain’s number one white wine. The other white grape varieties here include Treixadura, Loureira, Caino Blanco, and Torrontes. The popular red grapes in this region include Caino Tinot and Souson.
* Ribera del Duero is located just south of Rioja and challenged Rioja for the best red wines produced in Spain. Almost all of its wines are made from the Tempranillo grape.
* Rueda is located west of Ribera del Duero. This region produces good reds and whites less expensive than those from Rioja or Ribera del Duero.

Vino de la Tierra

Normally corresponding to the larger comunidad autonóma geographical regions, notable Vinos de la Tierra include:

* Andalucia
* Aragon
* Castilla y León
* Castilla-la Mancha
* Catalonia
* Extremadura
* Galicia
* Levante
* Navarra
* Rioja
* Balearic Islands

Learn About Italian Wine

Learn About Italian Wine

Italy is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. Etruscans and Greek settlers produced wine in the country long before the Romans started developing their own vineyards in the second century BC. Roman wine-growing was prolific and well-organised, pioneering large-scale production and storage techniques like barrel-making and bottling. Two thousand years later, Italy remains one of the world’s foremost producers, responsible for approximately one-fifth of world wine production in 2005.

Wine is a popular drink in Italy. Many Italians drink it with every meal and in-between, and offer it to guests as soon as they arrive. Grapes are grown in almost every part of Italy, with more than 1 million vineyards under cultivation. Each region is proud of its carefully tended, neatly pruned vines. In some places the vines are trained along low supports. In others they climb as slender saplings. The people of each region are also proud of the wine they make from their own grapes.

Most winemaking in Italy is done in modern wineries, but villagers, making wine for their own use, sometimes tread the grapes with their bare feet until the juice is squeezed out. They believe this ancient method still makes the best wine.

As far as generalizations can be made, Italian wines tend to be acidic, dry (light-to-medium bodied, and subdued in flavour and aroma. Because of these characteristics, Italian wines are, in general, a better accompaniment to food than they are beverages to be enjoyed on their own.
The History of Italian Wine

Although wines had been elaborated from the wild Vitis vinifera grape for millennia, it wasn’t until the Roman defeat of the Carthaginians (acknowledged masters of wine-making) in the second century BC that Italian wine production began to properly flourish. Large-scale, slave-run plantations sprang up in many coastal areas and spread to such an extent that, in AD92, emperor Domitian was forced to destroy a great number of vinyards in order to free up fertile land for food production.

During this time, viticulture outside of Italy was prohibited under Roman law. Exports to the provinces were reciprocated in exchange for more slaves, especially from Gaul where trade was intense, according to Pliny, due to the inhabitants being besotted with Italian wine, drinking it unmixed and without restraint. Roman wines contained more alcohol and were generally more powerful than modern fine wines. It was customary to mix wine with a good proportion of water which may otherwise have been unpalatable, making wine drinking a fundamental part of early Italian life.

As the laws on provincial viticulture were relaxed, vast vineyards began to flourish in the rest of Europe, especially Gaul (present day France) and Hispania. This coincided with the cultivation of new vines, like biturica (ancestor of the Cabernets). These vineyards became hugely successful, to the point that Italy ultimately became an import centre for provincial wines.

Depending on the vintage, modern Italy is the world’s largest or second largest wine producer. In 2005, production was about 20% of the global total, second only to France, which produced 22%. In the same year, Italy’s share in dollar value of table wine imports into the U.S. was 32%, Australia’s was 24%, and France’s was 20%. Along with Australia, Italy’s market share has rapidly increased in recent years.
Italy’s Appellation System

Italy’s classification system is a modern one that reflects current realities. It has four classes of wine, with two falling under the EU category Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) and two falling under the category of ‘table wine’. The four classes are:

Table Wine:

* Vino da Tavola – Denotes wine from Italy. NOTE: this is not always synonymous with other countries’ legal definitions of ‘table wine’. The appelation indicates either an inferior quaffing wine, or one that does not follow current wine law. Some quality wines do carry this appelation.
* Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) – Denotes wine from a more specific region within Italy. This appelation was created for the “new” wines of Italy, those that had broken the strict, old wine laws but were wines of great quality. Before the IGT was created, quality “Super Tuscan” wines such as Tignanello and Sassicaia were labeled Vino da Tavola.

QWPSR:

* Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
* Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

Both DOC and DOCG wines refer to zones which are more specific than an IGT, and the permitted grapes are also more specifically defined. The main difference between a DOC and a DOCG is that the latter must pass a blind taste test for quality in addition to conforming to the strict legal requirements to be designated as a wine from the area in question. Presently, there are 120 IGT zones. In February 2006 there were 311 DOC plus 32 DOCG appellations, according to the Italian Ministry of Agriculture.
Wine Regions of Italy

Italy’s 20 wine regions correspond to the 20 political regions. Understanding of Italian wine becomes clearer with an understanding of the differences between each region; their cuisines reflect their indigenous wines, and vice-versa.

Italy’s wine regions are:

* Aosta Valley (Valle D’Aosta)
* Piedmont (Piemonte)
* Liguria
* Lombardy (Lombardia)
* Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol
* Friuli-Venezia Giulia
* Veneto
* Emilia-Romagna
* Tuscany (Toscana)
* Marche (Le Marche)
* Umbria
* Lazio
* Abruzzi (Abruzzo)
* Molise
* Campania
* Basilicata
* Puglia
* Calabria
* Sicily (Sicilia)
* Sardinia (Sardegna)

Key Italian wine varietals

Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MIRAF), has documented over 350 grapes and granted them “authorized” status. There are more than 500 other documented varietals in circulation as well. The following is a list of the most common and important of Italy’s varietals.
Rosso (Red)

* Sangiovese – Italy’s claim to fame, the pride of Tuscany. Its wines are full of cherry fruit, earth, and cedar. It produces Chianti Classico, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso, and many others.
* Nebbiolo – The most noble of Italy’s varietals. The name (meaning “little fog”) refers to the autumn fog that blankets most of Piedmont where it is grown, a condition the grape seems to enjoy. It is a somewhat difficult varietal to master, but produces the most renowned Barolo and Barbaresco, made in province of Cuneo, along with the lesser-known Sforzato, Inferno and Sassella made in Valtellina, Ghemme and Gattinara, made in Vercelli’s province. The wines are known for their elegance and bouquet of wild mushroom, truffle, roses, and tar.
* Montepulciano – The grape of this name is not to be confused with the Tuscan town of Montepulciano; it is most widely planted on the opposite coast in Abruzzo. Its wines develop silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin.
* Barbera – The most widely grown red wine grape of Piedmont and Southern Lombardy, most famously around the towns of Asti and Alba, and Pavia. The wines of Barbera were once simply “what you drank while waiting for the Barolo to be ready.” With a new generation of wine makers, this is no longer the case. The wines are now meticulously vinified, aged Barbera gets the name “Barbera Superiore” Superior Barbera, sometines aged in French barrique becoming “Barbera Barricato”, and intended for the international market. The wine has bright cherry fruit, a very dark color, and a food-friendly acidity.
* Corvina – Along with the varietals rondinella and molinara, this is the principal grape which makes the famous wines of the Veneto: Valpolicella and Amarone. Valpolicella wine has dark cherry fruit and spice. After the grapes undergo passito (a drying process), the Amarone they yield is elegant, dark, and full of raisinated fruits. Some Amarones can age for 40+ years.
* Nero d’Avola – Nearly unheard of in the international market until recent years, this native varietal of Sicily is gaining attention for its robust, inky wines.
* Dolcetto – A grape that grows alongside barbera and nebbiolo in Piedmont, its name means “little sweet one””, referring not to the taste of the wine, but the ease in which it grows and makes great wines, suitable for everyday drinking. Flavors of concord grape, wild blackberries and herbs permeate the wine.
* Negroamaro – The name literally means “black and bitter”. A widely planted grape with its concentration in the region of Puglia, it is the backbone of the acclaimed Salice Salentino: spicy, toasty, and full of dark red fruits.
* Aglianico – Considered the “noble varietal of the south,” it is primarily grown in Campania and Basilicata. The name is derived from hellenic, so it is considered a Greek transplant. Thick skinned and spicy, the wines are both rustic and powerful.
* Sagrantino – A native to Umbria, it is only planted on 250 hectares, but the wines are world-renowned. Inky purple, with rustic brooding fruit and heavily tannic, these wines can age for many years.
* Malvasia Nera – Red Malvasia varietal from Piedmont. A sweet and perfumed wine, sometimes elaborated in the passito style.

Other major red varieties are Ciliegolo, Gaplioppo, Lagrein, Lambrusco, Monica, Nerello Mascalese, Pignolo, Primitivo, Refosco, Schiava, Schiopettino, Teroldego, and Uva di Troia.

“International” varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are also widely grown.
Bianco (White)

* Trebbiano – Behind cataratto (which is made for industrial jug wine), this is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo. Mostly, they are pale, easy drinking wines, but trebbiano from producers such as Valentini have been known to age for 15+ years. It is known as Ugni Blanc in France.
* Moscato – Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d’Asti. Not to be confused with moscato giallo and moscato rosa, two Germanic varietals that are grown in Trentino Alto-Adige.
* Nuragus – An ancient Phoenician varietal found in southern Sardegna. Light and tart wines that are drunk as an apertif in their homeland.
* Pinot Grigio – A hugely successful commercial grape (known as Pinot Gris in France), its wines are characterized by crispness and cleanness. As a hugely mass-produced wine, it is usually delicate and mild, but in a good producers’ hands, the wine can grow more full-bodied and complex. The main problem with the grape is that to satisfy the commercial demand, the grapes are harvested too early every year, leading to wines without character.
* Tocai Friuliano – A varietal distantly related to Sauvignon Blanc, it yields the top wine of Friuli, full of peachiness and minerality. Currently, there is a bit of controversy regarding the name, as the EC has demanded it changed to avoid confusion with the Tokay dessert wine from Hungary.
* Ribolla Gialla – A Slovenian grape that now makes its home in Friuli, these wines are decidedly old-world, with aromas of pineapple and mustiness.
* Arneis – A crisp and floral varietal from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th century.
* Malvasia Bianca – Another white varietal that peeks up in all corners of Italy with a wide variety of clones and mutations. Can range from easy quaffers to funky, musty whites.
* Pigato – A heavily acidic varietal from Liguria, the wines are vinified to pair with a cuisine rich in sea-food.
* Fiano (wine) – Grown on the southwest coast of Italy, the wines from this grape can be described as dewy and herbal, often with notes of pinenut and pesto.
* Garganega – The main grape varietal for wines labeled Soave, this is a crisp, dry white wine from the Veneto wine region of Italy. It’s a very popular wine that hails from northeast Italy around the city of Verona.

Currently, there are over 3,500 distinct producers of Soave.

Other important whites include Carricante, Catarratto, Coda de Volpe, Cortese, Falaghina, Grillo, Inzolia, Picolit, Tocai Friulano, Traminer, Verdicchio, Verduzzo, Vermentino and Vernaccia.

As far as non-native varietals, the Italians plant chardonnay, gewürztraminer (sometimes called traminer aromatico), riesling, petite arvine, and many others.
Super Tuscans

The term “Super Tuscan” describes any Tuscan red wine that does not adhere to traditional blending laws for the region. For example, Chianti Classico wines are made from a blend of grapes with Sangiovese as the dominant varietal in the blend. Super Tuscans often use other grapes, especially cabernet sauvignon, making them ineligible for DOC(G) classification under the traditional rules.

In the 1970s Piero Antinori, whose family had been making wine for more than 600 years, decided to make a richer wine by eliminating the white grapes from the Chianti blend, and instead adding Bordeaux varietals (namely, cabernet sauvignon and merlot). He was inspired by a little-known (at the time) cabernet sauvignon made by relatives called Sassicaia, which openly flouted the rules set down for traditional wines in Tuscany. The result was the first Super Tuscan, which he named Tignanello, after the vineyard where the grapes were grown. Other winemakers started experimenting with Super Tuscan blends of their own shortly thereafter.

Because these wines did not conform to strict DOC(G) classifications, they were initially labeled as vino da tavola, meaning “table wine,” a term ordinarily reserved lower quality wines. The creation of the Indicazione Geografica Tipica category (technically indicating a level of quality between vino da tavola and DOCG) helped bring Super Tuscans “back into the fold” from a regulatory standpoint.

Learn About French Wine

Learn About French Wine

France is one of the oldest wine-producing regions of Europe. Regions in the south were licensed by the Roman Empire to produce wines. St. Martin of Tours (316-397) was actively engaged in both spreading Christianity and planting vineyards. During the Middle Ages, monks maintained vineyards and, more important, wine making knowledge and skills during that often turbulent period. Monasteries had the resources, security, and motivation to produce a steady supply of wine for both celebrating mass and generating income. During this time the best vineyards were owned by the monasteries and their wine was considered to be superior. Over time the nobility acquired extensive vineyards. However, the French Revolution led to the confiscation of many of the vineyards owned by the Church and others.

Despite some exports from Bordeaux, until about 1850 most wine in France was consumed locally. People in Paris drank wine from the local vineyards, people in Bordeaux drank Bordeaux, those in Burgundy drank Burgundy, and so on throughout the country. The spread of railroads and the improvement of roads reduced the cost of transportation and dramatically increased exports.

France now produces the most wine by value in the world (although Italy rivals it by volume and Spain has more land under cultivation for wine grapes). Bordeaux wine, Bourgogne wine and Champagne are important agricultural products.
France’s Appellation System

A number of laws to control the quality of French wine were passed in 1935. They established the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system, which is governed by a powerful oversight board (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine – INAO). Consequently, France has one of the oldest appellation systems for wine in the world, and strictest laws concerning winemaking and production. Many other European systems are modelled on it. With European Union wine laws being modelled on those of the French, this trend is likely to continue with further EU expansion.

French law divides wine into four categories, with two falling under the European Union’s Table Wine category and two falling under the EU’s Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) designation. The categories are:

Table Wine:

* Vin de Table – Carries with it only the producer and the designation that it is from France
* Vin de Pays – Carries with it a specific region within France (for example Vin de Pays d’Oc)

QWPSR:

* Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieure (VDQS) – Less strict than AOC, not often used
* Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) – Wine from a particular area with many other restrictions, including grape varieties and winemaking methods
* Today there are 450 different wine appellations in France, yet only 15% of all French wines enjoy the marketing benefits of AOC designations.

France’s Wine Labling Practices

The labels on a bottle of French wine often carry important information that can help the consumer evaluate its potential quality. Following are some potentially important phrases:

* “Mis en bouteille au…” chateau, domaine, or propriété indicate the wine was actually made at the same location as it was grown. “Au chateau” means that it was bottled at the chateau printed on the wine’s label, using grapes from vineyards around the chateau itself. “Au domaine” means that it was bottled “at the field,” while “à la propriété” means bottled “at the estate.” “Mis en bouteille dans nos caves” or “mis en bouteille dans nos chais” means that it was probably bottled in a different place than it was grown, using grapes traded and bought on the open market.
* “Vigneron indépendant” is a special mark of independent wine-makers, to distinguish themselves from larger corporate winemaking operations and symbolize a return to the basics of the craft of wine-making. Bottles from independent makers carry a special logo that is usually printed on the foil cap covering the cork.

France’s Terroir

Terroir refers to the unique combination of natural factors associated with any particular vineyard. These factors include such things as soil, underlying rock, altitude, slope of hill or terrain, orientation toward the sun, and microclimate (typical rain, winds, humidity, temperature variations, etc.) No two vineyards, not even in the same area, have exactly the same terroir.
Wine Regions of France

* Alsace
* Beaujolais
* Bergerac
* Bordeaux includes Medoc, Graves, Saint Emilion and Sauternes
* Bourgogne or Burgundy including Chablis, Cote d’Or (which contains Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune) and Maconnais
* Champagne
* Jura
* Loire Valley, including Muscadet, Vouvray and Sancerre
* Rhone Valley including Cotes du Rhone, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage AOC
* Languedoc-Roussillon region including Minervois, Corbières, Faugères and Cabar~des.

Trends of French Wines

France has traditionally been the largest consumer of its own wines. However, wine consumption has been dropping in France for 40 years. During the decade of the 1990s, per capita consumption dropped by nearly 20 percent. Therefore, French wine producers must rely increasingly on foreign markets. However, consumption has also been dropping in other potential markets such as Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The result has been a continuing wine glut, often called the wine lake, that has led to the distillation of wine into industrial alcohol as well as a government program to pay farmers to pull up their grape vines through vine pull schemes. A large part of this glut is caused by the re-emergence of Languedoc wine.

Immune from these problems has been the market for Champagne as well as the market for the expensive ranked or classified wines. However, these constitute only about five percent of French production.

French regulations in 1979 created simple rules for the then-new category of Vin de pays. The Languedoc-Roussillon region has taken advantage of its ability to market varietal wines.

Learn How White Wine is Made

Learn How White Wine is Made

White wine can be made from any color grapes, even red grapes, as long as there is no contact with the skin of red grapes or maceration.

When making wine, the grapes are picked and sorted, the rotten ones discarded. The grapes are then quickly taken to the winery, to avoid being crushed by their own weight and then oxidizing.

If a winemaker is going for a lighter, unwooded style of dry white wine, the grapes are crushed and then seperated from their stalks by a crusher or a de-stemmer. Sulfur dioxide is then added to the grape juice to prevent the juice from oxidizing and spoiling. The sulfur dioxide helps to kill bacteria and any unwanted wild yeasts.

Sometimes when a bottle of wine is opened, you get a whiff of burnt matches. The smell is the sulfur dioxide. Once the wine is allowed to breathe a little, the smell quickly goes away.

The crushed grapes are then pressed, which forces the juice out, while leaving the skins. The grape juice is then pumped into a cold stainless steel tank and allowed to settle. Yeast is then added. Winemakers have the option of using either “wild” yeasts or cultured yeasts. Most winemakers today use cultured yeasts, because they are more predictable. Some winemakers who choose to use “wild” yeasts argue that using “wild” yeasts gives a wine more complexity.

Fermentation begins once the yeasts is added. The fermentation can be slow, warm, slow or cool. The normal temperatures for white wines is 50-77 degrees Farenheit (10-25 degrees Celcius).

Modern wineries can monitor and control the temperature of each vat through control panels. The winemaker can dictate the flavors and the character of a wine by controlling the fermentation temperatures. In general, cooler fermentation temperatures produce wines with a fruitier character. White wines, which mainly depend on primarily on fruit aromas, are almost always fermented at cooler temperatures than most red wines.

Fermentation can take between a few days and a few weeks, with a few days being more common.

The winemaker then pumps the top of the level of the wine into another tank and leaves the lees (dead yeast cells and other sediment that has settled at the bottom of the tank).

The temperature is then lowered, and a claryfying agent, such as egg whites, is added to gather up any other gunk that is floating around any extra sediment that may be floating in the wine. This process is called finning. Any clarifying agent that is added is later removed.

Grapes that did not receive enough when they were on the vine may be relatively low in its’ grape sugars, when this happens, sugar may be added to increase the alcohol level. This is called chaptalization. If these is not enough acidity in the wine, tartaric or citric acid can be added to balance the wine. This is called acidification. A winemaker can choose to do chaptalization or acidification, but not both.

The wine is then filtered and bottled.
Making Full-Bodied White Wine

To make full-bodied, wooded white wine, the process is followed up until the stage of fermentation. Before fermentation is finished, the wine is then pumped into oak barrels. The wine stays in the wine barrels for around 6 to 8 months to absorb the oaky vanilla flavors and to add complexity and character to the wine. Tannin is also absorbed by the wine, which allows the wine to age. Not all white wines are suitable to be aged in oak barrels.

The wine is then pumped into a tank, like before, then stabilized, fined, filtered and then bottled.
More on Oak Barrels

The type and size of the oak barrel that the winemaker chooses has a big influence on the flavors and character of the wine. New barrels give the wine a more oaky flavor than old barrels. Smaller wine barrels give the wine a more oaky flavor than larger wine barrels. American oak gives wine a more powerfull, oaky flavor as compared to French barrels. Oak barrels from one forest differ from oak barrels from another forest.

Oak barrels, of course, cost money, and winemakers sometimes look for a cheaper way to add woodsy qualities to their white wines. Some winemakers will use oak chips or staves. When dry white wine is fermenting in stainless steel tanks, winemakers may add oak chips or staves to the wine to add an oak flavoring. This, however, does not add the complexity and character that comes with aging wine in oak barrels.

Each winemaker has his or her own way of doing things, and skill level, which contribute to the wines’ style. The temperature of fermentation, the length of time in which the wine is allowed to ferment, the choice of barrel (if any) that is used, the strain of yeast that is used, and more, are part of a winemaker’s style.
Malolactic Fermentation

Almost all red wines, and some white wines (mostly wooded), undergo this second, “softening” fermentation. During malolactic fermentation, the crisp, hard malic acid is converted by bacteria to much softer, lactic acid. This can happen naturally, but winemakers can choose to induce it. This can be done by either keeping the new wine at relatively high temperatures, and/or by deliberately introducing the lactic bacteria. As well as making the wine more stable, malolactic fermentation also makes the wine taste softer, fuller and more complex. When winemakers overdo this, the wine becomes too buttery.

A winemaker can choose to add a little bit of complexity to the wine by stirring up the lees at the bottom of the wine.