torsdagen den 23:e december 2010

How to Choose the Right Soil for Growing Wine Grapes

French tradition insists that the chemical composition of the soil, especially its mineral content, can contribute to the taste of a wine. Reluctantly, some New World growers are beginning to agree.

"Look at the flinty, mineral character of Chablis, the earthy-gravelly flavors of Graves, or even the slaty taste of Mosel," say the French. Modernists, predominantly New World producers, don't accept the link between soil and flavor, and it has to be said that scientific inquiry hasn't given a lot of support to the traditional view. But New World producers are coming around to it. You should hear riesling producers in Australia's Clare Valley talking about the differences in the soils and the taste of the wines from Watervale and Polish Hill.

What no thinking winemaker now doubts is that the physical properties of the soil have an enormous influence on wine quality and broad style. To produce wine of quality, vines are generally better served by relatively poor soils that encourage the roots to grow, rather than fertile soils that promote foliage growth, ultimately at the expense of fruit-ripening.

Water and heat
Vines need soils that are well drained, but which are capable of holding water at depth for the roots to draw on when necessary. Where irrigation is essential (as it is in much of Australia and South America), this water-retaining capacity is likely to be even more crucial. In the northern hemisphere and other cool regions, the soils also need to be able to store heat - something which stony soils do well. It's no empty coincidence that the chalky Champagne soils, the limestone of Burgundy, the Haut-Medoc gravels, and the clay and gravel layers of Pomerol all fulfill these criteria. Europe, of course, has had centuries to get to know its soil types. Growers didn't necessarily know the science behind the successful soils, but they knew which ones, in which climates, suited which grape varieties, and which parts of which small slope produced particularly fine results. Of course, most of that knowledge is now enshrined in individual appellation controlee rules.

Looking for terroir
In the now more soil- and geology-conscious New World, growers are making up for lost time, exploring new regions, identifying prime sites, and seeing where one grape variety does better or less well than another. These growers are seeking, in the first instance, cooler, less easy climates; but, as the climate becomes more difficult, so the soil has more bearing on vine-growth and quality potential. New World growers may not be using the word terroir, but they are increasingly beating the same drum.

tisdagen den 21:e december 2010

Understanding Pinot Noir and Wine

Pinot noir has caused more grief to more growers and winemakers than any other grape, but still they persist with this tantalizingly fussy and fickle variety.

Producers in all corners of the world attempt to grow pinot noir because it is the grape of red burgundy - the grape behind Romanee-Conti, Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, and all the other great Cote d'Or reds - just as chardonnay is the variety behind the great white burgundies. But, while chardonnay will settle almost anywhere, pinot noir is frustratingly persnickety about its climate, its soils, the way it is handled during the growing season, and the way it is handled once the grapes are picked and the wine is being made in the cellar. As the Burgundians say, there is far more to their wine than mere grape variety.

Pinot noir can be coaxed into giving reasonably deep color and significant tannin, but generally it produces light to medium-colored red wines with relatively low tannin and acidity. It takes well to French oak, judiciously used, but not to the more robust, spicy flavor of American oak. In too cool a climate -perhaps an off year in Burgundy or Alsace - it ends up thin and pallid. In too warm a climate - which includes many of the places it has been tried in the New World - it becomes jammy. But, when everything goes right, it has the most seductive of perfumes and silkiest of textures. Raspberries, strawberries, and cherries mingle with roses, violets, incense, and hints of oriental spice. In burgundy, with time, some of the sweet fruitiness gives way to richer, more savory, game and truffle flavors - a gout de terroir, or local taste, that has almost entirely eluded the New World.

Some of the finest red burgundies from the Cote de Nuits need several years to reach their peak and then, gratifyingly, stay there for a long time; but most pinot noirs are ready to drink more or less as soon as they are bottled and don't last nearly as long as cabernet sauvignon of equivalent quality.

Among the New World regions making headway with pinot noir are Oregon, cooler areas of California (such as Carneros, Russian River Valley, and Santa Maria), and New Zealand (including Martinborough, Marlborough, and Central Otago regions). Australia has had some success in the cooler regions of Victoria (for example, Yarra) and in Tasmania, but much is used, as it is in Champagne, to produce sparkling wines. South Africa and Chile are both having a try.

Aside from France, the European countries that take pinot noir most seriously are Germany (where it appears as spatburgunder) and Austria (under the name of spatburgunder or blauburgunder). Pinot noir has also spread across eastern Europe, but the Burgundians need not lose any sleep over that.

måndagen den 20:e december 2010

How to Serve Wines

Efficient equipment, serving wine at the appropriate temperature, and choosing the right wine for the occasion all play their part in enjoyment of wine.

It's possible to spend an alarming amount of time and money on wine paraphernalia, but don't be persuaded that you need to. After all, the only essential for opening a bottle of wine in a civilized way is a corkscrew - and the only essential for drinking it, in an equally civilized way, is a glass. Some corkscrews and glasses are better than others, but that's about as far as it goes.

Aeration
An awful lot of - doubtless very enjoyable - effort has been expended on trying to find out whether wine needs to "breathe" (to aerate it), and whether it should be decanted. As there have been no incontrovertible conclusions, no doubt a lot more selfless effort will go into the study of it in future. I fully intend to do my part. What is unarguable is that opening a bottle to let the wine breathe commits you to drinking it, but makes very little difference to the wine, because far too little is in direct contact with the air.

Advocates of decanting believe that the wine exposed to air in this way undergoes an aroma-enhancing, softening, mini-maturation process. The arguments against decanting are that the same aerating process will take place anyway once the wine has been poured into the glass, or, simply that the effect is negligible. My own view is that decanting can help to "open up" high-quality, concentrated, young wines - sometimes even white wines such as burgundy - and it can help to soften rather tannic, young reds, such as Barolo, Ribera del Duero, and Californian cabernet sauvignon.

Suiting the occasion
Food is not the only consideration: season, time of day, and occasion can all point you in particular directions. A 14.5 percent-alcohol zinfandel is not often the best of lunchtime wines, nor the best wine to serve to someone who normally only drinks fairly neutral Italian whites; Vinho Verde can lose its appeal on a cold winter's evening; and the backyard on a summer's day is not a good place to serve a venerable bottle - its precious aromas will waft away in no time. Something like a New Zealand sauvignon would be much more suitable.

söndagen den 19:e december 2010

Wine Grapes Information - Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet sauvignon is to red wine grapes what chardonnay is to white: successful, adaptable, widely traveled, and enduringly popular.

Championed by pioneers in the New World since the 1960s, cabernet sauvignon has put down roots in almost every winegrowing country. Despite this globetrotting, its homeland is undisputedly Bordeaux, its reputation established by the cms classes of the Medoc and Graves and the fine, long-lived wines from such chateaux as Lafite, Latour, and Margaux.

As its spread suggests, cabernet sauvignon is an adaptable variety, although it is not quite as forgiving as chardonnay. Because it ripens late, it fails to mature fully in climates that are too cool, producing thin-bodied, "green," herbaceous wines. It is rare in the Loire, even rarer, mercifully, in Germany, and needs nurturing in New Zealand. Equally, in too hot a climate, it can give jammy, simple flavors.

Those areas aside, one of the marks of cabernet sauvignon is that, wherever it is grown, it remains true to itself. A Pauillac (Bordeaux), with its mineral, cedary, cigar-box flavors, is very different from a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon from South Australia, with its big, incisive cassis, menthol, and clove flavors. But through these regional styles cabernet sauvignon retains its distinctive personality.

This is partly a question of flavor: the blackcurrant, veering to sweeter black fruits in warmer regions; the cedar or pencils of Bordeaux; the mint or eucalyptus that often signal Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek, and Washington State; the green pepper that typifies cooler climates; and the chocolate and clove or licorice of warmer areas. But it is also a question of structure, the feel of the wine in the mouth, and it is the characteristics of the berries that determine this.

Cabernet sauvignon grapes are small, thick-skinned, dark, and bluish. They give deep-colored wines and, because of the high proportion of pits and skins to juice, wines that are naturally tannic and potentially long-lived. With assertive flavors and a tannic framework, the wines are suited to aging in oak barrels, especially French; so the flavors of new oak - vanilla, toast, spice, chocolate, coconut - are frequently part of the profile of the wine.

Another element is the blend. Even where it takes all the glory, cabernet sauvignon is often a blend with softer, juicier varieties, notably merlot and cabernet franc in Bordeaux. In the New World, it stands alone more often, but producers are increasingly trying out Bordeaux blends to add complexity.

fredagen den 17:e december 2010

Where to Buy Wine?

Whether you're in a store, a restaurant, or overseas, price is almost always a consideration, but there is more than that to buying a good bottle.

Buying wine ought to be one of life's pleasures, and yet navigating wine shelves and restaurant wine lists can be a daunting experience. Even a supermarket may have as many as 600 different wines from more than 20 countries - and no one with any wine knowledge on hand to give advice. If you don't want or need help, that's fine, but, if you do, there are probably better alternatives.

Stores, merchants, and mail order
In many countries, most wine is sold through supermarkets. In Britain, for example, they generally offer large lines of well-made, ready-for-drinking wines at competitive prices. Increasingly, they have wines made for them to their own specifications - modern, easy-going, fruity styles made by itinerant Australian or Australian-influenced winemakers (so called flying winemakers). Supermarkets also focus on mass-market, heavily promoted wine brands, on which profit margins are generous. What they can't offer to any very useful extent, because of their size and the nature of their business, is wines from small, independent producers, wines that are daringly innovative or idiosyncratic, and wines that need aging - although some offer a few token wines of these kinds in their flagship stores.

Unsupported by sales of laundry detergent and pet food, prices in chain stores and wine warehouses tend to be higher, but the best of these retailers list more of the world's interesting, limited-production wines and are staffed by people with enthusiasm and at least some knowledge.

For the most individual selections of wines, together with personal service and passion for the subject, you need to seek out independent wine stores, some of which are partly or wholly mail-order businesses. They are also the principal retail source of the finite volumes of sought-after, sometimes cult, wines that are allocated around the world and which sell out almost as soon as they are offered. Some retailers also put on tasting events - fun, educational, and intended to encourage you to buy more wine.

Mail-order wine clubs are a variation on the theme, often with more club events, newsletters, and so on. They range from one-man operations to large enterprises. Either way, they should be offering wines that aren't available in the big chains -either because quantities are too small, or, conversely, because the club is big enough to buy up all available stock or has its own winemakers in the regions. Buying wine online is yet another variation on the theme, but one that has yet to catch on significantly, even among the established mail-order wine companies who have added cyberspace as another avenue.

torsdagen den 16:e december 2010

Wine Grapes Information - Cabernet Sauvignon


Cabernet sauvignon is to red wine grapes what chardonnay is to white: successful, adaptable, widely traveled, and enduringly popular.

Championed by pioneers in the New World since the 1960s, cabernet sauvignon has put down roots in almost every winegrowing country. Despite this globetrotting, its homeland is undisputedly Bordeaux, its reputation established by the cms classes of the Medoc and Graves and the fine, long-lived wines from such chateaux as Lafite, Latour, and Margaux.

As its spread suggests, cabernet sauvignon is an adaptable variety, although it is not quite as forgiving as chardonnay. Because it ripens late, it fails to mature fully in climates that are too cool, producing thin-bodied, "green," herbaceous wines. It is rare in the Loire, even rarer, mercifully, in Germany, and needs nurturing in New Zealand. Equally, in too hot a climate, it can give jammy, simple flavors.

Those areas aside, one of the marks of cabernet sauvignon is that, wherever it is grown, it remains true to itself. A Pauillac (Bordeaux), with its mineral, cedary, cigar-box flavors, is very different from a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon from South Australia, with its big, incisive cassis, menthol, and clove flavors. But through these regional styles cabernet sauvignon retains its distinctive personality.

This is partly a question of flavor: the blackcurrant, veering to sweeter black fruits in warmer regions; the cedar or pencils of Bordeaux; the mint or eucalyptus that often signal Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek, and Washington State; the green pepper that typifies cooler climates; and the chocolate and clove or licorice of warmer areas. But it is also a question of structure, the feel of the wine in the mouth, and it is the characteristics of the berries that determine this.

Cabernet sauvignon grapes are small, thick-skinned, dark, and bluish. They give deep-colored wines and, because of the high proportion of pits and skins to juice, wines that are naturally tannic and potentially long-lived. With assertive flavors and a tannic framework, the wines are suited to aging in oak barrels, especially French; so the flavors of new oak - vanilla, toast, spice, chocolate, coconut - are frequently part of the profile of the wine.

Another element is the blend. Even where it takes all the glory, cabernet sauvignon is often a blend with softer, juicier varieties, notably merlot and cabernet franc in Bordeaux. In the New World, it stands alone more often, but producers are increasingly trying out Bordeaux blends to add complexity.

onsdagen den 15:e december 2010

Wine Grapes Basic Riesling


Riesling is as unfashionable as chardonnay is fashionable, but there's no question that it is one of the world's supreme grape varieties.

Riesling is not nearly as accommodating as chardonnay about its vineyard environment, but in the right, cool German climate it produces extraordinarily intense, yet fabulously light and elegant, fruity wines; wines which, because of their acidity, can age over many years and still taste fresh. The wines span the spectrum of sweetness, from modern, bone-dry rieslings to the very sweetest Trockenbeerenauslese, made from grapes concentrated by botrytis cinerea, the benevolent fungus known as noble rot.

Rieslings also span the alcoholic range: more so than any other variety. The classic semisweet German styles (Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, and so on) are often 8 percent alcohol or less, while the new dry wines may be 12 percent. Dry Alsace and Austrian rieslings are around 12 percent, while some dry Australian rieslings reach 14 percent, although the norm is lower, especially in the top riesling regions of the Eden Valley (part of the Barossa) and the Clare Valley.

Riesling is not as tractable as chardonnay in the winery either. It doesn't like oak - but there again, it doesn't need to. Its wines have such inherent aroma, structure, and balance, they don't need the added flavor, depth, or richness that new oak barrels give. In fact, new oak destroys riesling's essential integrity.

The hallmark flavors in German riesling range from floral notes, crisp green apples, and slate (especially in the Mosel), to riper fruit (peach and apricot) and spice in the warmer Pfalz, to lemony, mineral characters in the Rheingau. The sweet wines often have aromas of honey, and mature German riesling develops a telltale gasoline smell (which sounds odd but isn't). Alsace rieslings tend to have an appley, steely, mineral character. Australian rieslings are appetizingly lime-scented and become toasty with age (although they are not oak-aged). Australia also produces good botrytis-affected, honeyed, sweet wines, as does New Zealand. California makes sweet, late-harvest rieslings and Canada makes intensely concentrated, sweet icewines.

If riesling is so wonderful, how has it attracted such opprobrium? Although there are some poor wines, the damage has largely been done by wines that have become mistakenly associated with riesling, and by wines posing as riesling. Liebfraumilch and the other very cheap, sugary, watery German wines are mostly made from second-rate varieties entirely unrelated to riesling. Similarly, cheap, semisweet wines from eastern Europe, now labeled laski rizling and olaszrizling, but in the past spelled riesling, have nothing to do with the real thing.