It never hurts to be a little more educated (or reeducated) about wine basics, no matter your age or what your favorite wines are. I enjoy expanding my wine repertoire and trying new varietals now and then. For most of my adult life, I’ve enjoyed both red and white, but lately, I’m in a sparkling frame of mind…after all, Champagne is always a good idea!
As a reminder, if you subscribe to Wine Spectator and/or are a Sommelier, I’m sorry but you will not like what I have to say here, thanks for stopping in!
So here goes. After reading this, consider yourself educated “enough” to make it through the wine store (not just buying wine because of the fun label) and get you through a complicated wine list! I also hope I get you to thinking of wine in a different way.
First, what is a varietal?
A varietal is a specific type of grape.
There are thousands of varietals in the world (for instance, in the red wine category alone, Pinot Noir, Red Zinfandel, Burgundy, Cabernet, Primitivo, and Merlot are ALL red…I could add hundreds more!)
So, in order not to bore you, I am focusing more on the color/depth categories of the varietals versus the names of the varietals, which tend to bear more geographical/language significance than flavor. Also, if I went into the hundreds of specific grapes (varietals) by wine type (red, white, sparkling, etc.) this article would be a novel.
Does where a varietal come from affect the taste and finish of a wine?
Flavor can be affected from where the varietal is grown and harvested in the world, including the very dirt and climate it was grown in. Other factors such as how it is crushed or aerated, if it is organic or not, if it has sulfites from the aging process or what vessel it was aged in can show in the flavor profile. Even family lineages in a vineyard means something. All these things come into play to result in various flavor notes. There are an infinite number of things vineyards are doing to result in unique and beautiful wines.
Does the wine-making process matter or effect the taste of the wine?
No. Not really.
Wine making processes and details are different with every type of wine and can be for different grapes. From harvesting, composition, to aging and bottling, every winery does it differently. But no, the process doesn’t matter. I’m cutting through the BS here.
Let’s take cake making as an example of a process…Is there only one way to bake a cake? Absolutely not... Some cakes are super easy to make and come in mixes; you can make small cakes in paper called cupcakes; you can make mug cakes in the microwave. You can complete a pastry course at Le Cordon Bleu and make fancy cakes and make all kinds of cakes from cookbooks. You can make your mom’s famous coconut cake. Some cakes you don’t even have to bake. Does that mean one cake is better than another? Possibly, but again, what kind of cake you like versus exactly how it is made determines how you eat and enjoy cake in your lifetime.
With buzz words like capped or corked, aged in barrels of cedar, aged with pitted cherries, wines that have no sulfites or are organic…. all of this can get overwhelming. These methods are huge talking points for vintners, who enjoy explaining in detail their wine’s attributes and points of difference so you will buy their wine. They must differentiate themselves as much as they can to sell in a very crowded wine market. Oh, and the ever-popular wine labels can lead to a wine getting picked at the store, or not!
There is so much to learn, but who reads that stuff? Better to GO to your local vineyard instead. Many basics are the same across the board and they are interesting to visit, especially if the Vintner takes your through a tour.
I hope that will be enough wine making process information to last your entire life, to help you realize that the wine-making process is today mostly a sales pitch. And process doesn’t really matter if you don’t like it. A $10 bottle can taste as wonderful to you than a $50+ choice!
Does the age of a wine matter?
How a wine is aged, in general, does not mean it will be better! Yes, I said it. With improved scientific knowledge of growing, harvesting, aging, and bottling, excellent wines are produced that age a year or less! It is now ALL about your personal flavor repertoire.