Stop Your Whining and Start Your Wining. There are literally hundreds of grape varieties; almost all the wine is made from roughly 15 or 20 varieties.
By David Levy (Illinois)
When Ken Altschuler asked me to start a wine column for his newsletter, he gave me no directions other than “be entertaining and maybe a little educational.” Taking that instruction, I add only two premises. One, that you are at least somewhat interested in the topic because you are reading this column and, two, that you like to drink wine and would like to learn more about it. So, let’s get started.
At its most basic, wine is nothing more than fermented fruit juice. It can be made from any type of fruit, but I am going to limit my discussion to wine made from grapes. There are literally hundreds of grape varieties. However, almost all the wine we consume is made from approximately 15 or 20 different varieties.
In Europe, a winery often blends different varieties of grapes to achieve a certain uniform taste from year to year. Depending on the quality of the grapes harvested, the wine-maker blends various varieties to achieve the wine’s taste, altering the percentage of each grape variety from year to year.
Stop Your Whining and Start Your Wining: The Single Variety of Grape
Winemakers in the new world (America, Australia, South America, South Africa, etc.), generally craft their wines from a single variety of grape. Indeed, to be called a “chardonnay” or a “cabernet sauvignon,” and be allowed to be bottled and sold as that particular varietal, it must contain approximately 80% of that grape variety (the exact percentage depending on individual state law).
In the late ‘70s the California vintners wanted to emulate their European brethren and create a blended wine for which they created a new name: Meritage. A bottle of wine from the new world that is not identified by grape variety is by definition a meritage. Opus One, Screaming Eagle, Dominus are all examples of a meritage wine.
Obviously, different grapes taste differently. In this column I will concentrate on different white wine grapes.
For a long period of time, the most popular white wine grape was chardonnay. In its most natural state, chardonnay flavors lean towards the crisp apple and pear. It is the primary grape of white burgundies such as Chablis, Montrachet and Mersault (all of these being different areas in the Burgundy region of France).
Stop Your Whining and Start Your Wining: The More You Learn, the More You Enjoy
It is very easy to manipulate its flavor. Generally speaking (unlike its European counterpart), California chardonnays are noticeably oaky in flavor. The oak taste comes from either the wine being fermented in oak barrels or the wine being fermented in huge steel tanks with oak woodchips mixed in with the liquid.
Sometimes a chardonnay wine is described as creamy or buttery. This is the result of it undergoing a secondary fermentation process called malolactic fermentation. Food that goes well with chardonnays includes mild fish, creamy pasta dishes, crab, shrimp, and chicken.
Sauvignon blanc is a native of France, particularly the Loirre Valley. You might have heard of wines such as pouilly-fuisse, pouilly-fume or scancerre. All of these wines are made with the sauvignon blanc grape.
Their flavor profile can be described as grassy, minerally and bone dry. However, the greatest sauvignon blancs come from the land down under and, particularly, New Zealand. At its best, New Zealand sauvignon blanc tastes like grapefruit or passion fruit. It has a crisp acidity that is great to quaff on a warm summer evening.
Sauvignon blancs go very well with a high acid cheese, such as goat cheese or feta, as well as dishes that have a high acid component such as lemon chicken or a simple grilled fish with lemon. It also goes well with many herb-based dishes, including those made with oregano, tarragon and thyme.
Stop Your Whining and Start Your Wining: The Pino Grigio Grape
The pinot grigio grape, which is also known as pinot gris in France, is bottled under both names in the new world. It is very similar to the pinot blanc grape. It has a mild flavor profile that reminds one of peaches or light citrus fruits. It has a moderate acidity or crispness. It will not overpower many foods and thus goes well with simple fish or chicken dishes, as well as Mediterranean fare.
Generally speaing, the pinot gris from the Alsece (a region in France) can stand up to slightly hardier dishes.
Though technically the same grape variety, the pinot gris in Alsece is a dramatically different style of wine. Among other things, it has substantially more acidity and a cleaner feeling in your mouth.
I leave you with one final piece of advice – get out and explore the world of wine. Don’t be afraid to try new wines. The more you learn about wine, the more you will enjoy it.
David H. Levy has been managing partner of Berger Schatz since 1997. Mr. Levy counsels clients in all areas of family and matrimonial law, including prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, marital settlements, asset valuations and distributions, parenting agreements, child-custody and child-support matters, and family law settlements. An experienced litigator, he regularly represents individuals in trials and appeals. A frequently published author, Mr. Levy has written articles on topics ranging from depositions, motions, and business assets to child support orders, among other areas of law. He is a well-known speaker and panelist at legal and business conferences nationwide, lecturing regularly on emerging issues in family and matrimonial law.