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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

So, which grape variety are you exactly drinking?

How many grape varieties can you
name in these wines?
Wines shown here come from my private
collection which have all been taste-tested.
Yes, that is the question. How many wine consumers actually know, what grape variety or varieties, are contained in a wine that they have purchased from a wine shop, or ordered in a restaurant when only the appellation of the wine is printed on the label? A survey which has been conducted among friends and acquaintances as well as among various headwaiters and even restaurant owners, have indicated clearly that very few are familiar with this very important aspect of wine knowledge.

Wine corks.
When one orders a wine produced in most of the New World wine producing countries, one, in all probability will know from the label what grape variety or varieties have been utilised to produce that particular wine from.

Grape variety indicated.
For example when grape varieties such as: Cabernet Sauvignon; Merlot; Syrah/Shiraz; Grenache; Malbec; Carmenere; Sangiovese; Aglianico; Nero D'Avola; Pinotage; Pinot Noir or Pinot Nero; etc are mentioned on the label, then the wine would be a red wine which was produced from that grape variety or at least contains not less than 85% of that grape variety.

Similarly if it states on the label grape names such as Chardonnay; Semillon; Sauvignon Blanc; Fiano di Avellino; Greco di Tufo; Falanghina; Chenin Blanc; Riesling;  Gewurztraminer; Viogner; etc, then the wine would be a varietal produced from these grapes.

What is the wine varietal?
Or grape variety?
But, and here is where the question arises, what if the wine is listed on the wine list, or the label shows only the appellation, such as Chateauneuf du Pape; Cote Rotie; Hermitage; Meritage; Barolo; Barbaresco; Chianti; Gavi di Gavi; Amarone; Valpolicella; Sancerre'; Chablis; Pouilly-Fuisse; a Bordeax appellation such as Appellation Margaux Controllee; or a Burgandy appellation such as Domaine Prieur Brunet; Taurasi; Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Monetpulciano? There are many others of course, as one is never sure with a Vin de Pays (now IGT-Indication Geographique Protegee'), from France unless one knows the winemaker and with 230,000 French winemakers, in various regions, this is an insurmountable task. For example, there are about 10,000 winemakers or chateaux in Bordeaux obtaining grapes from some 13,000 growers.  So let's stick and concentrate on the known appellations, for which I'll try to give you some concise information with respect to the grape varieties that are permitted, or used, to make such wines:

Bordeaux appellation.
What is a Bordeaux wine? A Bordeaux Blend? A Premiere Cru or a Grand Cru? A lot of information has already been given in the feature on French appellations earlier, so we will not delve much further, except for the grape varietals.

Red Bordeaux, which can come under various appellations, AOP- Appellation D'Origine Protegee (formerly AOC), IGP - Indication Geographique Protegee' formerly Vin de Pays, etc.,  is in most cases a blend of various varietals. The permitted grape varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon 70%; Cabernet Franc 15%; Merlot 15%.  Petit Verdot may be added about 5% whilst reducing the Cabernet Franc and th Merlot. Malbec and Carmenere are also permitted to be used in the blend but are not frequently used in modern blends.

White Bordeaux which is known as Sauternes is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc 20% and Semillon 75% and Muscadelle 5%.. Other grape varieties such as Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Ondence and Mauzac may also be used in small quantities in the blend for white Bordeaux.

St.Emilion and Pomerol: 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sancerre' - comes from the Loire Valley and is produced from Sauvignon Blanc, evolving into one of the finest white wines in the world.

Chablis and Pouilly-Fuisse.

Burgandy: The predominant grapes of Burgandy are Pinot Noir for the red wines and Chardonnay for the white wines.
Chablis and  Pouilly-Fuisse are two of Burgandy's famous white wines which are produced from the Chardonnay grape.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape: This is the mother of all blends as not less than 13 (sometimes 14) different grape varieties are permitted to be used in the blend of the final wine. These red grape varieties are: Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Cinsault which comprise the bulk of the blend, to which may also be added Counoise, Muscardin, Terret Noir and Vaccarese. The white grape varieties which may also be used the blend are: Grenache blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Picardan, Rousanne and Picpoul. In recent vintages, the blend has been comprised from the first four varieties, and nearly no white grape varieties are used for the red wine blend. There is, but, a limited production of white Chateauneuf-du-Pape made from the white varieties.

Hermitage -  is produced in the Northern Rhone region of France and is produced from the Syrah grape variety.  Small quantities of white Hermitage are produced from Rousanne and Marsanne grapes.

Meritage - Californian produced imitation of red Bordeaux and must be produced from two or more of these grape varieties:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Carmenere or Petit Verdot.

Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara and Ghemme - Four of the finest Italian red wines produced in the region of Piedmont. These wines are produced from 100% Nebbiolo grapes.

Chianti Classico and Riserva.
Chianti- Chianti Classico (Gallo Nero), Chianti Riserva -  is produced in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy. These three categories which are all classified DOCG, have different viticulture and production rules, and may be produced from 100% Sangiovese grapes or a blend comprised of  not less than 75% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo and up to 20% of any other approved grape including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. For the best Chianti choices always go for Chianti Classico (with the black rooster emblem -gallo nero) or a Riserva from renowned producers.

Vino Nobile de Montepulciano.
Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are also products of the Province of Tuscany, produced in the regions as implied in the name, viz Montalcino and Montepulciano respectively. These wines are produced from 100% Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Prugnolo Gentile varieties. Vino Nobile de Montepulciano can also be comprised of a blend of a minimum of 70% Prugnolo Gentile grapes, 10 to 20% Canaiolo Nero and small amount of Mammolo.

Amarone, Ripassa, Valpolicella
Classico Superiore.
Amarone della Valpolicella; Ripasso della Valpolicella; Valpolicella Superiore.
These wines are produced in the Veneto region of Italy and are produced from a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grape varieties. Rich red wines with class.
Ordinary, cheap Valpolicella found in supermarkets has nothing to do with these superior brands and cannot be compared for quality.

Gavi di Gavi.
Gavi di Gavi or Cortese di Gavi is one of Italy's major white wines which is produced in a restricted area of the Province of Alessandria in Piedmont. If made within the commune of Gavi it can be labeled as Gavi di Gavi. Otherwise it is labeled just Gavi or Cortese di Gavi. The grape variety from which this wine is produced is the Cortese.

Soave Superiore DOCG - white wine, hproduced in the Veneto region mainly around Verona. Grape variety is the Garganega.

Orvieto Classico DOC - produced in Umbria around the Commune of Orvieto from where it gets its name. Grape blend varieties used primarily for the best wines are: Grechetto 30% or more; and Trebiano 50% or more; but blends of Malvasia Drupeggio, Verdello and Canaiolo Bianco together with the first two may be used.

Taurasi Riserva.
Taurasi - This is another DOCG Italian appellation, which is produced in Campania, Italy, from the Aglianico grape variety.

Nero D'Avola Vrucara.

Super-Tuscan; Brunello;
Chianti Classico; Vin Santo.
Appellation label.
Varietal Selection
Grape indicated by name.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The International Wine Appellations and Classifications.

A Famous French Appellation.
In the previous feature I highlighted, in concise form,  the changes to the French wine appellations which came in force in 2009. France has since 1855 been the world's leader in controlling the quality of the country's wine production, so how do the other wine producers, Old World, as well as New World countries compare or try to emulate France in this sphere?

The following is a description of the appellations of several countries which I'm sure will be of interest to every wine afficionado:

France has been covered in the previous feature, so we will not dwell on it any further here.

QbA Classification Germany.
GERMANY -  In Germany quality is graded and classified according to the ripeness of the grapes at harvest and appellations are issued by the German authorities as follows, (lowest grade first):

Deutscher Tafelwein - Medium-dry Table wine.

Deutsher Tafelwein Landwein - Dry or semi-dry regional country wine.

Quatlitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete QbA - quality wines from one of the thirteen recognised and designated, grape growing, quality regions of Germany, which are: Ahr, Mittelrhein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Franken, Hessiche Bergstrasse, Wuttemberg, Baden, Saale/Unstrut and Sachsen. To be classified QbA these wines must conform with regional appellation laws and are rigorously tested for compliance and issued with an AP number. These laws ensure that the wine is from one specific wine-growing region, is mde from approved grape varieties which have reached sufficient ripeness for quality wine. As the sugar in most grapes in these regions is low, chaptalization (the addig of sugar during fermentation) is allowed to raise the alcohol level to the required level..

Qualitatswein mit Pradikat QmP - this is issued to the finest quality wines that have special attributes representing graduating ripeness levels which are in ascending order: kabinette, Spatlese'. Ausles, Beerenauslese (BA), Eiswein, Trockenbeerernauslese (TBA).

Two new classifications of dry wines, Classic and Selection, were established in 2000. Winemakers can produce wines under these classifications in all the thirteen wine-grape growing regions of Germany, provided the wines are above average in quality, harmoniously dry in taste, and made fom a traditional German grape variety - Riesling, Silvaner, Rivaner, Burgunder varieties.

AUSTRIA - operates the same system as Germany with an extra classification known as Ausbruch for rich, sweet wines.

LIP - Penfolds Australia.
AUSTRALIA - In 1990 Australia introduced a programme to promote the integrity of the information that is stated on the label. This programme is called Label Integrity Programme LIP. Information on the label have to denote vintage, grape variety and geographical indication. Those wineries registered in this programme are continuosly monitored by LIP inspectors who would dictate and issue the use of the classification under these conditions: If the geographical and wine varietal are indicated on the label, the grape variety (from which the wine is made) should be at least 85% of that particular grape, and the grape quantity used must be at least 85% sourced and grown in the region indicated.  With regard to the vintage year, also 85% at least, of the grape variety used, must have been harvested in the vintage year indicated.
The back label, front, neck and cap have equal status under Australian wine law, so information may appear on either the front or the back label. The volume of the bottle must appear on the front label.

As such this programme does not in anyway guarantee or stipulate quality requirements leading to, or of, the finished product, as this is left to individual winemakers to decide upon.

Wine of Origin South Africa.
SOUTH AFRICA -  The quality designation for South African wine is Wine of Origin, indicating the name of the region. If a vintage year is printed on the label, the wine must be produced from at least 75% of grapes harvested in the year labeled; If a grape variety is mentioned it must also be produced from at least 75% of grapes of that varietal. The Wine of Origin designation appears as a seal on the side of the neck of the bottle, and it certifies that any information given on the label relating to vintage, origin or grape variety is correct, but as in the case of Australia is not necessarily an indication of quality.
DOC Italian Label.

ITALY - Italian wine laws were commenced in 1963 with the introduction of the DOC Denominazione di Origine Controllata. In 1980 the DOCG Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita was introduced and awarded to selected regions which were producing wines of exceptional quality and renown.
The Chianti Classico Seal.
One has to note here, that the word "Garantita" in the DOCG classification, might seem to imply that the quality of the wine is guaranteed. It is not. The flaw in this system is the fact that these denominations are applied to entire regions in which the greatest wine in that region and the most ordinary and low quality get to say they are DOCG. For example all wines under the Chianti label are DOCG's but one can find superlative Chianti (Riserva, Classico and even just Chianti), but then again one can buy a bottle of the most plebeian Chianti in a supermarket for just Eur2.80 which come with the DOCG label.
Super-Tuscan IGT.
In 1992, a third classification, that known as IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica was created. Although this classification is supposed to be at the lower base of the Italian classification pyramid, one can find some great wines under this category, which although they do not conform to the DOC or DOCG rules, one can find some of Italy's greatest wines; Tignanello, Sassicaia, Solaia are three of the most well known, but there are various other "Super Tuscan" IGT wines that is a privilege to own and drink.
There are at present 41 regions which hold the DOCG classification, 350 regions hold the DOC classification, and some 130 whose wines are classified under the IGT system.
Under each and every classification, wine quality is the prerogative and choice of each individual winemaker.

To illustrate this I am producing here the DOCG classified, wine making, provinces of Italy, indicating the number of wines/regions within them that hold this classification:

Piedmont 12: Asti Spumanti; Barbera D'Asti; Barbera Del Monferrato Superiore; Barbaresco; Barolo; Brachetto d'Acqui; Gattinara; Gavi or Cortese di Gavi; Ghemme; Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore; Roero; Dolcetto di Ovada.

Tuscany 7: Brunello di Montalcino; Carnignano Rosso; Chianti (8 sub regions); Chianti Classico; Morrellino di Scansano; Vernaccia di San Gimignano; Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Veneto 4: Bardolino Superiore; Recioto di Gambellara; Recioto di Soave; Soave Superiore.

Abruzzo 1: Montepulciano d'Abr4uzzo Coline Teramane.
Campania 3: Fiano di Avellino; Greco di Tufp; Taurasi.
DOCG and IGT Wines from Campania.
Emilia-Romagna 1: Albana di Romagna.
Fruili-Venezia Giulia 2: Ramandolo; Colli Orientale del Friuli Picolit.
Lazio 1: Casanese del Piglio.

Lombardia 4: Franciacorta; Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico; Svorzato di Valtellina; Valtellina Superiore.

Marche 2: Conero; Vernaccia di Serrapetrona.
Sardinia 1: Vermentino di Gallura.
Sicilia 1: Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
Umbria 2: Montefalco Sagrantino; Torgiano Riserva.
California Wine Label -AVA

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - The American Viticulture Area AVA is the American version of the French AOC system. The word "Appellation" or "classification" will not appear anywhere on the bottle. There will be the name of the region of grape harvest and production, for example: California (State) or Sonoma or Napa Valley, or maybe something more specific. If the region or viticulure area is on the label, then 85% of the grapes in that wine must have come from that area. A vineyard designated wine must contain not less than 95% of the grapes harvested from that vineyard. Vineyard names must be used together with the county or AVA names.
Wine laws in the USA are administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

Rioja DOC wine label.
SPAIN - Certifies the origin of the grape in a wine under the classification Denominacion de Origen DO which were enacted in 1932 and revised in 1970 and is in a way similar to the French AOC now AOP laws. These laws define and protect wines from specific geographic areas.. This classification is administered by the Instituto Nacional de Denominaciones de Origen INDO, under the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. This system administers a broad range of agricultural products ranging from wine, olive oil cured hams and cheeses.
There are fiftyfour DO's or officially recognized and geagraphically defined wine regions in Spain. Rioja has a special classification of Denominacion de Origen Calificada DOC (Qualified Denomination of Origin)

DOK and DOKS wines of Malta.
MALTA - had been toying and preparing legislation to control the production of wine since 2001, but eventually these laws were enacted and came into being in 2007, through LEGAL NOTICE 416 of 2007, amended by Legal Notice 168 of 2011. The DOK Wines Production Protocols (SL436.07). Subsidiary Legislation 436.07 was passed in 2007 and the D.O.K. WINES PRODUCTION PROTOCOLS REGULATIONS came into being on the 1st of May, of that year.
Wine production quality in Malta took a gigantic leap forward through these regulations, which control everything in winemaking from the vineyard to the bottle.
The classifications of note are the DOK Denominazzjoni Originali Kontrollata;
DOK-S Denominazzjoini Originali Kontrollata-Superjuri (the S denotes a higher alcohol content over 12%), and the IGT Indikazzjoni Geografica Tipika.
As with all other appellations and classifications of all other countries, final wine quality rests on the winemakers' style and production methods, but one is assured that grape varieties used in wine, bearing these classification notation on the label, are sourced from approved vineyards in Malta or Gozo, which have been cultivated and harvested by vignerons, under controlled conditions by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Wine analyses and tests, prior to approval and the award of the clasification labels are analysed and tested in laboratories in both Malta and in Siena, Italy.

It is also important to note that all winemaking countries produce vast quantities of VdT's Vino di Tavola, Table wines, or as they might be known in the USA jug wines. These wines do not normally fall under the appellation laws and are in the main inferior in quality.

It is also pertinent to note, that wine quality varies within the same country, or from country to country, for wines with the same classification, and a higher appellation does not guarantee that they are as a matter of fact, better than top class wines that are classified under a lower appellation.
E.G. several IGT classified Super Tuscans, or French super garage wines (Vins du garage) produced by garagistes , etc are amongst the best wines for quality in the world.

Tignanello IGT.
Grand Cru
Sassicaia IGT.