Picking the right type of wine can be a daunting task, especially for a beginner who doesn’t quite know what they’re looking for. This post will help guide you through some of the most important things to know, from types of wines, to famous grapes and regions, and what to expect in terms of taste.
Welcome to FMMS’ Fortnight of Wine! As the harvest season approaches, we thought it would be the perfect time to take a deep dive into that most wonderful of elixirs. Over the next two weeks, we’ll have a few more posts than usual as we explore wine’s ins and outs, after which we’ll be be back to our regularly scheduled programming. So grab a glass of your favourite and read on, for as Andre Simon said, “Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.”
Monday, September 15 – A Brief History of Wine
Wednesday, September 17 – Varieties of Wine
Friday, September 19 – Sangria
Monday, September 22 – Conversations with a Wine Connoisseur
Wednesday, September 24 – Our Wine Tasting Experience
Friday, September 26 – Conversations with a Winemaker
Varietal vs. Blended Wines
Wine can be made from a number of different grapes, yielding vastly different red and white varieties. Most of these grapes originated in Europe, but are now planted all over the world. For example, Merlot, Shiraz, and Chardonnay grapes can be found from California to Australia. These wines can either be used by themselves, forming a Varietal Wine or they can be mixed together to create a Blended Wine. For example, Bordeaux is a very famous blended wine, generally made from 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Merlot, while certain Chiantis, made from 100% Sangiovese grapes would be considered a Varietal wine.
The Old and New Worlds
A further distinction is often made between the Old World and the New World. Old World Wines include all wines with a vast and rich history and are generally used to refer to European and Mediterranean wine regions; such as Italy, France, and Germany. The New World Wines are those wines made in…you guessed it – the new world! (essentially any place that Europeans didn’t know existed when they first started making wine). These wine regions include those found in Australia, South Africa, and the Americas.
Fortified Wines: Strong Enough For You?
A fortified wine is a wine that is fortified with additional alcohol during the fermentation process. This addition brings the level of alcohol in the wine up to 17%-20%. Winemakers originally fortified wine to preserve it as the ethanol found in the alcohol is a natural antiseptic. This method is still used today however, as it produces multiple unique flavours to the finished product.
Although commonly used in cooking, fortified wines can and should be appreciated on their own as a pleasant apéritif or digestif. Here’s a brief overview of three of them:
Port: Port typically comes in red wine varieties and has been produced in northern Portugal for centuries. It’s richer, sweeter, and heavier than regular wine and commonly served as a digestif after dessert (although white wine varieties are often paired with cheese as an apéritif).
Sherry: A favourite of Kelsey Grammer’s Dr. Frasier Crane, sherry is a dry fortified wine derived from white grapes in the south of Spain. It should be served in a custom sherry glass (or wine glass) which allows the aromas to really come through. It’s recommended to be served slightly chilled and it’s very enjoyable as an after-dinner sipping drink.
Vermouth: A fortified wine infused with various flavours (roots, bark, flowers, etc.) that originates from Italy. The two most prominent types are sweet and dry vermouth. Sweet vermouth, known also as red vermouth, can be enjoyed alone, but is best-known for cocktails such as the Manhattan or Negroni. White vermouth, originating in France, is lighter and more bitter and most famously used in Martinis.
Some Basic Wine Characteristics
Wine has many underlying flavours and characteristics. It can be fruity or dry; can have nutty, spicy, or earthy aromas; or can taste like blackberries, citrus, or even tobacco, and petrol. The number of flavours and aromas are limitless. Luckily, there are some basic characteristics that can help you understand the wines you’re tasting. These include;
Tannins: This is a compound that is often found in the peel and stems of grapes. Tannins give wine a dry and somewhat bitter taste. Have you ever drank a glass of wine which left your mouth dried out? That’s the tannins at work. This compound gives flavour and colour to the wine and also acts as a preservative. They’re often described as being similar to rubbing a ball of cotton in your mouth or placing a soaked tea bag on your tongue. Tannins are usually only found in red wine.
Fruit: Wines generally have an underlying fruit flavour. For example, red wines often taste of red or black fruits such as blackcurrants or other berries while white wines often have a citrus flavour.
Body: This generally refers to the sense of alcohol in the wine and to how long the taste of wine lasts in your mouth after swallowing. Wines with higher ABV are generally more full bodied.
Acidity: This gives wine a tart taste and leaves a tingly sensation in your palette.
Sweetness: Wine can range from being very sweet to very dry tasting or anywhere in between.
Check out http://winefolly.com/review/wine-characteristics/ for a more in-depth guide. We’ll also look at this more closely when we talk about our wine tasting experience at Vineyards Restaurant and Wine Bar.
There are actually thousands of wine grapes out there, so a full list would be a little hard to put together. There are however, some grape varieties that could be considered the most famous and we’ve listed some of them below. (Some very good grapes will definitely be missing from this list. It is far from exhaustive, so let us know in the comments which ones are your favourites and why.)
Some Popular Reds
Some popular red grape varieties, from strongest and driest to sweetest and most fruity are:
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most famous types of red wine grape in the world and is produced in almost all wine-producing regions. The grape’s origins lie in 17th century France and the apparent chance crossing of the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grape varieties. Wine from this grape is quite dry and full bodied with a lot of complexity. It also has a fair amount of tannins.
Shiraz, like the Cabernet Sauvignon, also has its origins in France, but is now grown around the world. Wine from this grape is slightly sweeter and fruitier than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot is quite easy to drink and has fewer tannins than the wines previously mentioned. This makes the wine sweeter and drier. Because of that, many people consider Merlot to be a great starter wine for new red wine drinkers.
Pinot Noir is one of the lightest red wine grapes. There are very few tannins in this variety and the flavour is quite fruity. It’s ideal for anyone who doesn’t like the strong flavours usually associated with red wines.
Some Popular Whites
Similar to the red grapes listed above, some popular white grape varieties from dry and strong to sweet and fruity are:
Chardonnay hails from the Burgundy region of France but is also quite common in other parts of the world. This grape produces a dry, full-bodied white wine with very strong flavours.
Pinot Grigio is typically found in Italy, especially in the north, but can be made anywhere in the world. Wine from this grape is both sweeter and fruitier than Chardonnay.
Riesling grapes originate in Germany, but are also common in Eastern North America. This wine is much sweeter than Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. It has a very fruity flavour and often has an aroma of fresh apples.
Moscato grapes produce a very sweet wine, most suitable for dessert or served by itself. The wine is common in most wine growing regions of the world. Even people who don’t like wine (Do those people exist?) will surely enjoy a good Moscato wine and probably ask something like “Is this grape juice!?”.
Some Famous Regions
Wine is produced all over the world, from California to Europe and all the way to Australia. Some of the more famous regions include:
Bordeaux: This is an Old World wine from France, and we aren’t kidding when we say it. Wine production was first introduced to this region during Ancient Roman times and is still produced to this day. Bordeaux is generally made with a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc grapes. The region is split by the Gironde Estuary, with regions on the left bank using mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and regions on the right bank using mainly Merlot. Left bank wines will be quite tannic, dry, and strong with a lot of body while the right bank wines will be much less tannic, sweeter, and have less acidity.
Chianti: Another Old World wine, this time from the Tuscany region of Northern Italy. This wine also has a lengthy and rich history with its roots dating back to 13th century, although the first true definition of the Chianti area was in the 1700s by Cosimo De Medici, The Grand Duke of Tuscany. Chiantis are generally made with at least 75% to 80% Sangiovese grapes. This grape is similar to the Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of strength and tannins, giving a full-bodied, dry red wine.
Napa Valley: A famous New World wine growing region situated in Napa County, California. Premium wine has been produced here since the 1960s. The area is famous for many grape varieties, but the leading red and white grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, respectively.
Now that you’ve read this post, you know everything there is to know about wine… wait, that can’t be right… well, at least you know some of the important basics!
If, like me, you are eager to continue your journey into the world of wine, here are some useful resources:
Cover Photo - "Wine Cellar" by Daniele Zanni