Category:Wine terms

Wine terms: Old World and New World

image Or, the Christopher Columbus view of the wine world.

That ?s because Old World refers to European wines ? primarily those made in France, Italy, Germany and Spain. New World wines are those made mostly in Columbus ? New World ? California (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the U.S.) and South America, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

How does New World differ from Old World? In style, and styles are different because the Old World differs from the New World in climate, soil, and approach. Or, in other words, terroir. (And yes, one of these days, I ?ll get around to the terroir discussion.)

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Wine terms: Varietal

wine terms varietalA varietal is the grape used to make the wine ? nothing more complicated than that. Chardonnay is a varietal. So are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sauvignon blanc and all the rest.

The strong of heart can check out this wine grape glossary, which details hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of varietals. Most varietals used to make wine are European-style grapes, sometimes referred to as vinifera (from the Latin term used to describe the species of grape). Wine in the U.S. is also made from native grapes like the concord and catawba, and hybrid grapes, which are crosses between vinifera and native grapes. It ?s easier to make quality wine from vinifera, which is why it ?s used most of the time.

After the jump, more about the term varietal:

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Wine terms: Appellation

Sonoma County's appellations Or, where the grapes in the wine were grown. Appellation is the technical term for region. And, needless to say, it can get quite complicated.

There are two things to keep in mind about appellation: First, it matters, even for the cheapest wines, because wines from different regions taste differently. A merlot that says California on the label is going to be different from a merlot that says Napa. Second, the system works like a pyramid ? the country is at the base, and the various smaller classifications and sub-classifications sit on top of each other. Hence, a wine can be from California, Napa Valley and Stag ?s Leap.

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Wine terms: Good and bad and why they don’t matter

If you like chardonnay, it's good wine. If you don't like it, it's bad. So what's the middle ground? Regular visitors here may have noticed that the Wine Curmudgeon doesn ?t label wines as good or bad. Instead, I try to describe the flavors and suggest pairings. The adjectives I use, like well-made or professionally made or classic, are objective – ? they should be accurate regardless of who is writing them.

This doesn ?t mean that I don ?t have opinions, of course (in what may be the wine understatement of the year). Rather, it ?s that good and bad are subjective, and don ?t help anyone understand wine. What I think of as good ?- a subtle yet powerful Puligny Montrachet from Sauzet, for example – ? others might consider bad. They might prefer the oak and vanilla flavors of classic Napa chardonnay, which I think tastes like drinking a baseball bat.

This is also why scores are so useless; they ?re just extensions of good and bad. The writer who gives an octopus inky, 16.5 percent alcohol shiraz a 93 says more about his or her palate than the quality of the wine. If I did scores, the same wine could get a 78 for the same reasons.

After the jump, a look at why good and bad don ?t apply to wine, using one of the best-made wines I ?ve ever had as an example.

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Dessert wines: An overview, part II

image This is the second of two parts discussing dessert wines ? ports, sherries, sauternes, ice wine and the rest. Part I, which looked at dessert wine in general, is here.

Can you pair dessert wines with food? Yes, but it ?s generally not worth the trouble. They stand on their own. Also, don ?t be discouraged by the prices, which are high. A dessert wine serving is half or less than that of a dinner wine, and one or two glasses is more than sufficient.

One other note: Dessert wine labels are confusing, not just because there are so many different kinds, but because we don ?t deal with them very much. Don ?t be afraid to ask for help. Sherries and ports, for example, are labeled according to quality and style, a complex process that is more than most of us need to know. It ?s helpful to know that an LBV port is different and less expensive (and sometimes a better value) than a vintage port, but it ?s not crucial.

Finally, these wines are only a tiny sample of what ?s out there. As always, look, taste, and see try different things. And then pour yourself a glass, sit back, and enjoy. A fire place is optional, but it certainly doesn ?t hurt:

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Dessert wines: An overview, part I

Port is aged in wood barrels, but its production is much more complicated than table wine. This is the first of two parts discussing dessert wines ? ports, sherries, sauternes, ice wine and the rest. Part II, which will offer dessert wine suggestions, is here.

The Wine Curmudgeon has a deep, dark guilty secret (and, no, it ?s not Yellow Tail). It ?s dessert wine ? sweet, rich, luscious, and often pricey dessert wine.

In those respects, it is frequently everything that drives me crazy about the wine business. But dessert wine almost always gets the benefit of my doubt, because it is that much fun to drink. Pour a glass after a dinner, sniff it, swirl it around in the glass, and sip it. More often than not, it caps off the evening without recourse to over-chocolated desserts, the current chef-fusion-fruit concoction or whatever form of cheesecake is making the rounds.

It ?s not necessarily a holiday wine, but it does pair well with this time of year.

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Wine terms: Vintage

There are two things to know about vintage. First, it refers to the year that the grapes used to make the wine were harvested. Hence a wine label that says 2007 means that the grapes in the wine were picked in 2007. Second, in 90 percent of the wine made in the world, the vintage doesn’t make any difference.

This, of course, is not what most wine drinkers — or non-wine drinkers, for that matter — think. We have been taught that vintage is one of the most important elements in wine making, and even people who don’t drink much wine are always asking: “Is this a good vintage?”

Instead, they should be asking: “Is this a quality producer?”

The basics of vintage start with weather. The grapes’ growing conditions are different each year, since the weather is warmer or colder or rainier — all of which affect the quality of the wine, how it tastes, and how long it will age. If there isn’t  enough rain, there is often little the winemaker can do to make up for the difference, and the wine will be different from a year in which there is enough rain.

There are also government regulations regarding vintage and its cousin, non-vintage, which refers to wine made with grapes from more than one vintage. Interestingly most champagne and sparkling wine is non-vintage (which is a topic for another day).

What we need to know about vintage is that there are three main reasons why it isn’t important for most wine, or about 9 out of 10 bottles on store shelves:

• Most wine is made to taste the same regardless of vintage. Producers want the wine to be consistent from year to year, so they try to even out any variations. The best example is $10 California grocery store merlot, which is amazingly consistent not just from vintage to vintage, but from producer to producer. They know what their customers want, and they make the wine that way.

• Technology has changed the way grapes are grown and the way wine is made. Many high-volume producers have high-tech vineyards, with sensors in the ground that track moisture content, temperature and the like. This allows producers to fiddle with growing conditions by changing the amount of water the vines get to account for rain and temperature variation. The goal here, again, is to make sure the wine is consistent from vintage to vintage.

• Grapes today are grown in regions of the world where the weather is almost always conducive to winemaking. In France and Germany, summers are shorter and cooler, and vintage is more important than in California or Australia. The joke among European winemakers that I talk to is that there is no such thing as a bad vintage in California. There are only good vintages and better ones.

When does vintage matter? Generally, the more expensive the wine, the more important vintage is. It’s irrelevant in a $10 wine, may matter a bit in a $25 wine, and comes into play in wine that costs $50 or more. And how many of us drink $50 wine regularly?

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