I like to provide information that helps people get more enjoyment out of wine. Today I thought I would share some fun wine basics. These are questions I often get at my wine tastings.
Question: When people say they taste grapefruit or berries in wine, were grapefruit and berries added?
Answer: No. We use food terms (e.g., grapefruit and berries) and non-food terms (e.g., leather, wood, tar and earth) to describe what we are experiencing when we smell and taste a wine. It would be much easier if we could say, “Wow, this Chardonnay tastes exactly like a Chardonnay,” but that wouldn’t be very helpful.
Question: What is the difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay?
Answer: Sauvignon Blanc wines are made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Chardonnay wines are made from the Chardonnay grape. Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp wine, while Chardonnay is a smooth, buttery wine.
Question: When it says Merlot on the wine label, is there anything else in the bottle?
Answer: For the wine to be called a Merlot, juice from Merlot grapes needs to account for 75% of the juice in the bottle. Otherwise, the wine needs to be called a table wine or a blend. The wine maker does not need to tell us on the label whether the wine is 100% Merlot.
Question: So you’re telling me that the name on the wine bottle is the name of the grape the wine is made out of.
Answer: Yes and no. Yes, if a wine comes from a New World wine country (any country other than France, Germany, Italy, Spain or Austria), and at least 75% of the juice comes from a single type of grape. For example, in North America or New Zealand, if the label says Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir is inside. No, if a wine comes from France, Germany, Italy, Spain or Austria (known as the Old World wine countries). In these countries, the “wine name” is actually the name of the region. So, if you’re looking for a Pinot Noir from France, you need to know that Pinot Noir is produced in France’s Burgundy region, and you need to look for a bottle that says Burgundy on it.
Question: When it says 2007 on the wine label, what does that mean?
Answer: That is the vintage, or the year the grapes were grown and picked. For the vintage to be on a label, that year’s grapes need to account for 95% of the juice in the bottle. If less than 95% of the juice comes from that year, the wine is a non-vintage wine.
Question: Why do two 2009 Merlot wines taste so different when they’re both made from Merlot grapes of the same vintage (year)?
Answer: Many different factors contribute to a wine, including terroir (the grape’s growing environment), clones (the two wines might come from different Merlot clones, which are natural mutations), and wine-making techniques (this subject could take up many blog articles).
Question: What is the difference between normal wine and sparkling wine?
Answer: Normal wine is fermented grape juice. Sparkling wine is fermented wine. In other words, sparkling wine goes through a secondary fermentation process that produces the bubbles.
Question: What exactly do sweet and dry mean?
Answer: Sweet wine is wine with residual sugar. Here’s how the residual sugar gets into the wine. The wine maker adds yeast to the grape juice. The yeast converts the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol. If this fermentation process doesn’t convert all the sugar, you are left with residual sugar in the wine. A dry wine has almost no residual sugar. It’s interesting to note that Americans like a hint of residual sugar, even in our driest wines. It’s also worth noting that tasters often identify a very fruity wine as a sweet wine, even if there is little residual sugar. It can be difficult to tell the difference between fruity and sugary when wine tasting.
If you have any questions about wine basics, please share them here. I would love to answer them in subsequent blog posts.